There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away. Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice. The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow. I’ve left the honey bees alone. The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.
It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden. As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away. I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdusmigratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough. Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.
Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce. They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard. The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.
The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats. There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.
With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.
I had a visit from a very shy bird, a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), last weekend. It is the largest woodpecker around since the Ivory-billed (Campephilus principalis) is presumed extinct. It is a crow-sized woodpecker, with a 17″ long body and a wingspan around 29″, according to National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America by Edward S. Brinkley. I knew they were in the neighborhood since I could hear them knocking. Last year a mother took two chicks around to our garden a few times, but mostly they stay in the wooded areas away from people. Only the Downey Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) seem to prefer easy pickings like the feeders rather than banging their brains out on trees for sustenance. We have a lot of Downeys, more than we can count. Some of them even roosted in our birdhouses. The Red-bellied (Melanerpes carolinus) and the Northern Flickers (Colaptesauratus) are also common woodpeckers in the area. Only once in a while would the Pileated join their cousins in our garden. Last weekend was one of them.
With a very loud hammering sound high up on the tree, too loud to be mistaken for a small woodpecker, I looked up and tried to locate the origin. There he was, with a bright red Mohawk hairdo, hammering away at a tree trunk. I dropped everything, grabbed a camera, and followed him from branch to branch. He glanced at me from the above from time to time. I’m glad he is around and trusted me enough not to fly away as soon as he saw me. Here is a magnificent bird and some cousins. Hopefully they won’t follow the Ivory-billed down the extinction path.