Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The neighbors in Winter

Have you every thought about how dreary our Minnesota Winters would be if it weren't for local birds? Our backyard looks out on a mix of fields and forests, or at least woodlots, and wetlands. Snow cover offers many more and better opportunities to get a look at animal tracks than the dust and sand of  our other seasons. But, as much as I enjoy looking at tracks and figuring out, when I can, what made them, they offer precious little in the way of action or color.

grasses(?), herbs(?), forbs(?) and tracks
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota's Winter-resident avifauna provide plenty of each, especially if bird feeders are kept full. During the Winter, our feeders regularly attract chickadees, goldfinches, nuthatches -- both white- and red-breasted, purple finches, plus an occasional cardinal and transient junco or several.

red-breasted nuthatch on suet
Photo by J. Harrington

Then there's the larger birds like eagles, hawks, turkeys, and crows that offer a surprisingly large number of incidental sightings, as do the ubiquitous bluejays. With a reasonable collection of field guides, I can as readily identify most of the usual feathered suspects in Winter as I can in Summer. Not so the grasses, sedges and/or forbs that rise through the snow. The Winter identification guides I've been able to find so far focus on the Northeast. Since I came from that part of the country I'm reasonably sure that we in the Midwest have as many plants visible most Winters as they do back East. Fortunately, one guide does include the Midwest so that can complement the other guides I'm planning on adding to the library. I'm still working on getting to recognize many of the botanical neighbors in the Winter when they're not bundled in flowers, fruits and leaves.  The human neighbors around here are often harder to recognize. We haven't even met some of them yet, although they've lived here for years. We recognize vehicles and give the raised finger wave on the road. All of us tend to keep pretty much to ourselves, but then no one's put out a feeder for us. Can country folk do block parties where there are no blocks?

Fortune [The neighbors will soon spread their confounding potluck before you.]

By Dobby Gibson 

The neighbors will soon spread their confounding potluck before you.
Dressed in period garb, they wear sandals with socks.
They subscribe to Life magazine to experience
the present as if it were already the past.
Their flowering trees were engineered to never drop fruit.
Overhead, constellations of stickers glow from bedroom
ceilings as souvenirs from a time when life was lived outdoors.
All conversations end in silence. The trick is to make it purposeful.
It’s not going to get any easier, for these are the CliffsNotes.


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