Friday, January 15, 2016

Winter's anticipatory phenology

Earlier this week a male Cardinal arrived at the bird feeder in front of the house. He was sorting through the sunflower seed fragments that had been scattered by the chickadees and squirrels. Last night a pair of Cardinals, male and female, arrived at dusk. SInce we hadn't seen any Cardinals for quite awhile, the arrival of the pair was a pleasant surprise. I hope it means we can soon look forward to hearing the male's mating call as a sign of Spring.

female Cardinal feeding at seeds on the snow
female Cardinal feeding at seeds on the snow
Photo by J. Harrington

As I've been writing this and dreading this weekend's forecast wind chills, I'm once again made grateful that the house is warm and dry and reasonably well-stocked. The family is basically healthy and can observe the local critters from inside. I'm still amazed that birds feet have adapted so that they don't freeze and break off in this kind of weather. I wonder how long the evolutionary process took as dinosaurs became birds, so to speak. One of my concerns about the rate at which we humans are changing the world about us is that we rarely, if ever, allow enough time for a real adaptation to current conditions. (Take a look at today's stock market and the Keeling curve as examples. Or, from another perspective, every Winter I'm pretty sure that Spring will arrive at about the same time. And almost every year finds me with fishing gear that still needs to be cleaned and organized and Winter chores that still aren't done. I need to look up how phenology relates to rates of change. You'll be among the first to know if I make progress on that. Meanwhile, stay warm and dry this weekend.

The Cardinal

By Henry Carlile 

Not to conform to any other color
is the secret of being colorful.

He shocks us when he flies
like a red verb over the snow.

He sifts through the blue evenings
to his roost.

He is turning purple.
Soon he'll be black.

In the bar's dark I think of him.
There are no cardinals here.

Only a woman in a red dress.


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