Knowing My Place

I planned to accomplish so many things since I had time off this past week. And I did check a couple of items off my list, but . . . most of my time was spent wandering and wondering in the woods behind our house.

Sometimes I followed trails known only by those who like to zoom through this space and never really see.

Other days I bushwhacked, eager to discover what might present itself.

Always I was reminded that this has long been my classroom and its taught me many a lesson, including that the bracts of the Witch Hazel flower persist in the winter and offer a dash of color in the landscape. Notice how each flower consisted of four bracts that curl back. The ribbony flowers fell off in the fall. And I have to admit that there was a time when I thought these were the flowers.

While bushwhacking, debris on the snow drew my attention and of course I had to investigate.

Much to my delight, I found a couple of Pileated Woodpecker scats filled with insect bodies. And notice all the chiseled wood–it’s a lot of work, but I’m always happy to note via the scat that the attempt was successful.

Equally successful was the digging of a Red Squirrel who had cached a pile of hemlock cones and returned within the last few days to dine and leave behind a midden of cone scales–its garbage pile.

This is a truly wild place that serves as home to so many mammals and birds and I give thanks to them for leaving behind prints and other signs of their presence. Of course, I was looking for the resident Moose, who has eluded me so far, but the White-tailed Deer are everywhere, including sucking seed from our bird feeders every night.

The Turkeys haven’t discovered our feeders yet, but by their prolific tracks I know they are nearby.

I’ve also been noting many, many Snowshoe Hare tracks, some in places I don’t recall seeing them previously and methinks there is plenty of prey available for predators. One of the learnings these woods have offered is that the hare’s prints can throw one off on ID, especially when the snow is soft and its hind feet (top of photo as they always land in front of where the front feet landed and lifted off) spread out and leave more toe impressions than one typically sees.

Of course, no visit to these woods is complete without a check-in at the vernal pool. And this week I discovered two other pools to check on in the spring. But those are for another day three months away.

For all my wandering, actually spying wildlife is rather rare, but from inside our kitchen door sometimes we see so much. Every few nights a porcupine pays us a visit. And every night four healthy looking deer stop by as I said earlier. But on these stormy days, the feeders see the most action and today’s visitors included Tufted Titmice,

and American Goldfinches studying the scene.

Eventually, this male flew to the ground and dug in, much like the Red Squirrel in the woods.

Time and time again, he knew success.

Mr. Cardinal also dove in.

And his Mrs. came by as well. One day we actually spotted two Cardinal couples in the yard.

One of the joys of the feeders is that those who visit add color to the scene and it soon became apparent that red was the color of the day, this time with the spots on the back of the Downy Woodpecker’s head indicating it was a male.

Another male of another species also showed off his red coloration.

I was tickled to welcome a couple of House Finches. And do you see the deer hair on the snow to the upper right of his beak?

It’s that time of year when the Juncos also pay a visit and keep the red theme going with their pink beaks.

Not all birds are created equal or don’t tell the Gray Squirrel he’s not a bird because like the deer and porcupine, he’s sure that the seed and nuts are meant for his pleasure. Certainly.

This was my week, a week spent happily dilly-dallying in my place and giving thanks for past and present and future lessons. A week spent wondering and wandering alone. And it was topped off with this icy sculpture in the woods that reminded me of a bird’s head–it seemed apropos, but I did have to wonder how it formed. Ahhhh, not all is meant to be understood in this school of choice.

How well do you know your place?

Feeding the Need

I’ve been known to spend a good chunk of time watching the buffet station from inside the back door, which acts as a “blind” most of the time. I say “most” because some visitors either hear me despite my best stealth attempts, or somehow sense my presence and in a whoosh, everyone leaves the scene.

For the past two days, I’ve assumed my post much like this Blue Jay upon a Quaking Aspen. Blue Jays have a reputation of being the backyard bullies, but maybe there’s more to them that we don’t understand.

Perhaps they don’t mean to be grumpy and scare everyone away. Do they really want to embrace their neighbors, but don’t realize that their own size or loud squawks only serve to make others flee. Probably that’s just my possible consideration because innately they know that by being large and obnoxious they can partake of the feast without competition.

Eventually, though, the jays fly off and the Black-Capped Chickadees return, doing their chickadee-kind-of-thing as they fly in, grab a seed, dash out, sit on a limb, break the morsel into digestible bits, and repeat. Constantly. They’re so cheerful about it, these feathered sprites, but it must be an exhausting way to get a quick spurt of energy between dawn and twilight.

What pleases me is that with the chickadees come the Tufted Titmice, who like the jays before them, like to pause and consider the possibilities before settling on the best feeder to visit.

Any one that offers sunflower seed seems to be the buffet of choice.

Not so for Downy Woodpecker who also pauses upon the aspen.

Fresh suet is her meal par excellence.

The nuthatches, both red and white, this one being the latter, also enjoy the sunflower seeds, but they’ve been known to hang out at the suet feeder upon occasion.

One who thinks he’s a bird manages to make a liar out of the “squirrel proof” baffle and then takes a flying leap to the “squirrel proof” feeder.

For the moment, he is indeed baffled.

But that doesn’t stop him and he moves on to the next feast with his name on it.

Acting as he should, the feeders openings close as the outer “cage” slides down preventing the squirrel from dining. Surely it’s a success?

Kinda, sorta. He succeeds in opening the top, but fortunately, he can’t reach the seed and I learn a lesson: Don’t fill the feeder to the top and the squirrel won’t be able to show off how much of a glutton he truly is.

But, squirrels need to eat as well, so I do make a habit of spreading seed on the ground, which others like the Northern Cardinals appreciate. And I appreciate the color they add to mix.

Other ground feeders include the turkeys.

The neighbors’ dogs also like to snack when they think no one is looking, this being Finn.

His sister by another mother . . . and father (but don’t tell either one), briefly considers the suet, but then moves toward home when she hears her name called–not immediately, mind you, for she likes to test the limits.

One of the best ground feeders, however, comes by himself and takes off when others arrive. The Common Redpoll is hardly “common.”

And I have to wonder what passes through its bird brain, perhaps something like this, “Oh drat, I just stepped in turkey scat.”

Another favorite also likes feeding on the ground, in particular the females of the species.

I think that’s because the male Evening Grosbeaks hog the platform of the feeder above. They give her a talking to as she tries to land.

Other males are welcome . . .

time and again. And still the original two males remain in place.

In the end, in a defiant manner, she gains platform status on the other side.

And I gain more and more understandings for the more I watch the more I see, like the hierarchy that defines the behavior of the chickadees, turkeys, and grosbeaks; titmice are quick, but not as quick as chickadees; Downy Woodpeckers, like their Hairy cousins, always announce their arrival; Northern Cardinals do the same, but in a quieter fashion and tend to visit more often in the early morning and late afternoon light; while the Red-breasted Nuthatch performs a quick “Dinner-To-Go” stop, its White-breasted cousin likes to hang, upside down, of course, for minutes on end, and rather like the Blue Jay, clears the queue; Squirrel-birds love the challenge and in time will always find a way around the human’s attempt to baffle them; the neighbors’ dogs are harmless, but neighborhood cats can mean disaster; “common” should not be part of a common name; and ways of approaching and even timing of approach are all species specific; and color and drama are icing on the cake. This doesn’t even include the nighttime visitors, but when I turn on the light or check tracks in the snow come morning, I discover that deer, porcupines, raccoons, opossums, and foxes also stop by.

Feeding the need means more than that of my feathered and furred friends, for by feeding them, they also feed me.