Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter chickadees #phenology

If snow is traveling horizontally, is it still considered "falling?" Off and on all morning I've watched southwesterly winds carry the snow northeasterly. The temperature has dropped well below freezing from the "morning's" high of 40 at 3 or 4 AM. Stretches of many local roads are an icy mess. Sunshine would help, but there's hardly any to speak of in the forecast. Christmas was a better day, but then it included lots of presents, cookies, and family warmth, plus the rain that later turned to ice. Weather such as we've had for the past day or so would seem capable of killing every creature for miles around. The resilience of Wintering flocks of birds amazes me.

Last night's winds took down (the dead) half of the trunk of one of the trees south of the house. If the wind dies down and the temperatures climb a little, I'll take a photo. The number of moss, bacteria, fungi etc. that utilize decaying wood is a constant source of surprise. It's also surprising to see the remainder of the tree still standing, but for how long? How long would you last if you were cleaved (clove?) in half? Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters should find some spots to excavate and there probably are, or will be, carpenter ants for protein.

a chipper-looking chickadee
a chipper-looking chickadee
Photo by J. Harrington

I watched a handful of chickadees appear to chase each other around the trees and through the understory in front of the house this morning. Since nesting season is still months away, I have no idea what that behavior is all about. Does anyone have a suggestion? One of my Christmas presents is a book about discovering the world hidden in a square meter of forest. For me, that also involves learning what it is I've discovered, a neverending story.

UPDATE [12/27/16]: The Christmas present book, The Forest Unseen, offers a potential explanation of the chickadee chasing behavior. "...each chickadee flock in the forest defends a winter territory from which neighbors are vigorously excluded." The winter territory is where food caches are stored.

I wonder if next year, as a special present, I could get Santa to bring Spring for New Year's. This icy, windy stuff just doesn't do it for me. Other than that, we had a wonderful Christmas and hope yours was likewise.

December Notes


By Nancy McCleery


The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.


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