A Year of Discoveries

Photo supplied.
The Pileated Woodpecker is our largest woodpecker. Its name means “having a cap”.

It looks like this winter is going to be another topsy-turvy one. The freezing rain that has just started as I write this column may be heavy and dangerous. I hope not.

The thaw has created a covering of water on the ice of the millpond. The other day I was walking back from shopping for groceries when I noticed a large flock circling the millpond. At first I thought it was geese that were higher up and therefore looked smaller; but I soon realized it was a flock of ducks. They circled and circled and I think the water on the ice had made them think they had found open water and could land. At last they flew off upstream. Who knows where they came to rest?

Whenever there’s even a little open water you can see some “summer” birds. The other week during a snowstorm I saw, appearing through the snow, a strange form standing in the pond. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me with this tall, thin outline. It was a Great Blue Heron. How forlorn it looked! But I’m sure it wasn’t really.

Every fall and early winter there is a single Canada Goose that lingers and dies. But this year the scene played out slightly differently. For some days three geese were together–and yet not together. There seemed to be two that kept watch over a goose that was separate. Then these two disappeared leaving the lone goose. Every year you can watch a single goose sit on the ice and snow, preening itself but never feeding. Somehow instinct is telling it to keep its feathers in good condition to stay warm, yet instinct is telling it to starve itself. And often there will be a flock of geese nearby but the single goose never tries to associate with them. The mysteries of nature.

There is a partnership between Cornell University and Bird Studies Canada and every winter this partnership invites birdwatchers in the US and Canada to keep a record of birds visiting their feeders. Because of FeederWatch and the record kept by us “citizen scientists” science is getting a better knowledge of the size of bird populations and how climate change is affecting birds.

One of the birds that I have been seeing as I dutifully keep my list of birds visiting my feeders is the Pileated Woodpecker. A single male is regularly visiting my suet feeders. Usually I can hear him coming as he announces his presence with his weird laugh of a call. When he lands the whole feeder shakes with his weight. He is the size of a crow and the size of his feet and toenails is astounding. I watch in amazement and recall that modern birds are probably the closest living relative of the dinosaurs. I can see it in his feet!

In my last column I wished for everyone for 2020 peace and healing. But let me wish you also a year of discoveries! Nature has so much for us to discover. It’s just outside our door or our window. Get out! And enjoy!

GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell

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