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Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter at the shop

I was forced to close the shop a couple of times last week due to the weather. I am sure everyone has a story about this polar cold and snow. I have done a little tracking in the snow. It is amazing to see how many deer tracks there are out there. I have visited my usual haunts and have seen lots of mink tracks also. They are quite distinctive as the mink bounds like a squirrel along the edges of small streams as well as on the ice. The tracks size and shape are distinctive. It seems these hardy creatures are not hampered by the cold. I have seen several flocks of mallards and gadwalls along the same streams. Some are probably falling victim to the mink. I also see coyote tracks in very regular paths that they habitually follow, with more being added each night.

It seems such a miracle that these horrendously cold nights are being prowled by these creatures while we are warm and snug in our beds. I have been feeding the birds black oil sunflowers, about a hundred sixty pounds so far. I likewise am amazed that the birds are able to survive these frigid nights. I have seen several of the crabapple trees in my neighborhood being mobbed by dozens of robins, who seen very desperate for something to eat. I seldom see them at the feeder. The mild winters of the past few years have caused more and more too remain here all winter. All the crabapples have been stripped. It cannot be very easy to eat frozen crabapples. It is apparent the total numbers of birds are greatly increased by the number of people who faithfully feed the birds. I went to the Tractor store to get feed and saw large empty bird seed shelves and customer's shopping carts full of bird food. It was so crowded the last time I went, it looked like the mad rush at the grocery store.

The starlings and doves have been raiding the sumac bundles hanging outside my shop. They are moving very rapidly and seen more anxious than usual. I have seen the local Cooper's Hawk chasing them around the Bulldog across the street from the shop as well as the one in my back yard. Skip Hess recently wrote a column in the Star about his Cooper's Hawk. Every neighborhood has one. Ours I see cruising the different bird feeders in the neighborhood on a fairly regular basis, morning, noon and night. I was forty years old before I recall seeing one. They have made a remarkable recovery from DDT poisoning, and while their predation strikes some people as cruel, it is a part of nature. They serve to eliminate the less fit birds and put them to use feeding their families.

Otherwise I see large flocks of horned larks and a few flocks of bluebirds.

The cold weather has also been responsible for some of the strongest Sundogs I have seen in a long time. As I come west on 206th street from Lapel after closing the shop at five o'clock, they have been very striking.

The surreal sculpting of the snow by the wind has also made evident the erosive effect of the wind on the soil, as many fields show where fine windblown dirt has covered the snowdrifts.

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