Friday, October 21, 2016

Winter: for the birds #phenology

If weather forecasters were at all civilized, they would have waited until the pain of election season was over before bringing up the possible pain of another "Winter Vortex." Minnesota seems to be targeted this year for below average temperatures and above average snow fall. The real question will be how much below or above average are we going to get?

downy woodpecker
downy woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

This unseasonable pain and aggravation does have a brighter side (that's brighter, not bright). It's started me thinking about Winter bird sounds that replace Spring and Summer calls. Based on who (whom?) I expect to see at the feeder between now and late March, are the wilder "pet sounds" of the season to come:

pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

Away from the feeder, we'll hear the occasional crow caw and raven krawk. Evenings we sometimes hear coyotes howl. Turns out that, in addition to howling winds and whispering, sifting snow, our North Country's silent season isn't all that quiet after all. What would you add that we've left off our list?

A Question About Birds

by Billy Collins

I am going to sit on a rock near some water
or on a slope of grass
under a high ceiling of white clouds,
and I am going to stop talking
so I can wander around in that spot
the way John James Audubon might have wandered
through a forest of speckled sunlight,
stopping now and then to lean
against an elm, mop his brow,
and listen to the songs of birds.
Did he wonder, as I often do, 
how they regard the songs of other species?
Would it be like listening to the Chinese
merchants at an outdoor market?
Or do all the birds perfectly understand one another?
Or is that nervous chittering
I often hear from the upper branches
the sound of some tireless little translator?

~ from horoscopes for the dead (Random House, 2011)

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