Friday, February 4, 2022

A Cold and Snowy January

It's winter, all right! This January has been a month of very cold temperatures, and all those signs of life in my previous post have been buried under a secure blanket of snow for weeks now. The landscape is all white and brown and gray, with some dark-green conifers for good measure. Here's our meadow on January 19, for example, but this picture could have just as easily been taken on most days this month:

There's still plenty of life and activity to see above the snow, though!

This flock of House Finches looked quite decorative, arranged as they were at the top of a fir tree in our yard on January 19 (waiting for me to leave so they could come down to the feeders, I think):

Purple Finches are much less common visitors to our yard at any time of the year, but especially in the winter, so I've been happy to see a few stop by this month. I love the colors on this rosy-all-over male who perched in the apple tree outside our windows on January 23:

I've been thrilled to see American Goldfinches making good use of the dried seed heads of the Purple Coneflowers that grow in a flower bed near the house. I snuck open a window on a sunny January 22 to get an unobstructed view of these little birds at work -- I especially like the spiky shadow one of the seed heads is casting on the bird in this picture:

Although the sun was shining, the air was bitterly cold, so I kept the window cracked open only long enough for a few quick pictures; here's one more:

Did I mention that this has been a cold month? When I woke up on January 22, the outside temperature was -13 degrees Fahrenheit (!), and a Blue Jay outside our windows had frost ringing its face -- it's kind of a glamorous look, but spending the night outside in those temperatures doesn't sound fun to me!

This bold American Tree Sparrow came to the feeders on January 19 while I was nearby, so I got to have an especially close look at one of these very handsome birds:

I'd never noticed before how dark this sparrow's feet are, like it's wearing black gloves. And that's a dashing little bow tie on its chest. Here's one more picture of this fancy bird, at an angle where the rusty line behind its eye reminds me of a lightning bolt (I feel like I've just described a superhero's costume):

This past summer, I first noticed what I'm pretty sure is a large Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) bush tucked back along an edge of our property; I suppose I'll need to keep an eye on this plant -- and watch out for others -- since it's non-native and can be invasive. In any case, I was surprised to see a Dark-eyed Junco munching on this plant's berries on January 19, since I'm much more used to seeing juncos eating seeds:

Among the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos that's been hanging around our yard this winter, we have one individual with a smattering of white feathers:

I've been thinking of this individual as a female, because her coloring overall is browner and lighter than the starker male juncos, but I don't know for sure. Either way, she's very distinctive, and it's fun to have an easily recognizable individual bird visiting our yard:

I assume she's partially leucistic, which has to do with some patchy absence of pigments. The white feathers on her face look a bit like she's simply dusted with snow:

She even has a little white-edged feather on her wing, and the mostly-white back of her head is especially striking:

Even from a distance, it's easy to recognize this bird:

I hope that bright white patch doesn't make her a target for predators! Good luck out there, little bird, and we'll keep the feeders well stocked.

I don't get to see all the winter activity in our yard myself, but the snow keeps a record of unseen activity (until the next snowfall at least). Here's a neat trail of White-footed Mouse tracks crossing our yard on January 19, for example:

Finally, in our woods on January 5, I noticed this White Ash tree that's missing a great deal of its bark:

After some searching online, my best guess is that this is a sign that Emerald Ash Borers are indeed on our property; apparently woodpeckers will do this type of work on a heavily infested tree to get at the beetle's larvae under the bark. I knew that Emerald Ash Borers have appeared in our county in recent years, and I figured our many ash trees would be victims sooner or later. I suppose we've reached that time. Here's a closer look at this extensive woodpecker work -- I hope the woodpeckers got a good meal at least, and maybe this tree will make a good home for other creatures after it dies:

I wonder whether a particular one of our species of woodpeckers is mostly responsible for all that stripped bark, or whether all the woodpecker species contributed. It's hard to imagine our little Downy Woodpeckers (like the fellow below) chiseling away here, but who knows!

Male Downy Woodpecker working on a tree next to the meadow on January 19

The cold temperatures and snowy weather sure seem like they're here to stay for a while yet. Happy winter!