2020 has been a very odd year in so many ways.
And I will be more than happy to see it gone. We all know that our weather is less and less predictable. And it’s making my writing this column rather difficult. I like to be able to write about things you are likely to see in the coming month, if you get out. Well, with our changing weather that ain’t so easy.
Since I have no crystal ball, I can’t tell when the millpond will freeze over. Until freeze-up you can see a remarkable number of things on the millpond. Of course, the geese and mallards stay around until then; but it may surprise you that other less common birds stay until the ice stops them from hunting. The majestic Great Blue Heron is still here. And the fabulously but descriptively named Greater Yellowlegs, another of our shorebirds, is still in evidence. This handsome bird has stunning yellow legs and a very long beak. When startled and it flies away it utters a lovely piping three-note call.
Other birds however are entering our region, not getting ready to leave. I’ve written about irruptions before. Many finches, such as redpolls and Purple Finches, will appear in certain winters. Another lovely but unpredictable bird is the Evening Grosbeak. I have seen a few already this year. This attractive bird is one of the larger finches. Both male and female have black wings with white bars. The male’s body is yellowish with very bright yellow eyebrows. If you’re lucky they’ll visit your feeder; but often they sit in the treetops eating the casings of tree buds. I hope you catch sight of them.
Many gardeners ensure that their gardens have that mysterious quality called “winter interest”. But all it means is something to draw the eye and in our bleak climate that most often is something green–evergreen. For us pines, cedars, firs, spruce and hemlock fill this bill. It may surprise you, however, that we have a native holly (Ilex verticillata for those who want to know); but strangely this one is not evergreen. At this time of year, especially in damp areas, you will see this shrub with its enticingly brilliant red berries. In my backyard, not damp at all, the berries are very attractive. They blacken when the temperatures drop; that is if the birds haven’t eaten them yet. Robins have already been feasting on mine, the occasional cardinal as well. In fact I think I’ve seen robins chasing the cardinals away!
Another berry that brightens this dull season is Bittersweet. This is a native vine that climbs into trees. So if you catch a glimpse of orange in a tree, look more closely to see if you have spotted the bittersweet berries. I have a vine on a pergola in my backyard and it is covered in fruit. The cardinals come and eat from time to time. But it is obvious they don’t find them ambrosia.
For those of you who get out on the trails, I hope you have all been on the trails south of Zion Line. The trails take you past a couple of trout ponds, stocked by the MNR. Travel further south past the ponds and you will come to an impressive stone railway bridge over Baxter Creek. The trains, of course, are long gone but this beautiful bridge remains. For those of you who cannot manage that walk, you can still admire the bridge by looking at the pen and ink sketch that forms the head piece of my fellow columnist’s monthly offering: David D’Agostino’s “A Single Track Mind”.
No, we have no idea what the weather in December will be like. And yes, many of you share my feelings about being glad to see the back of 2020. Nevertheless, there are things to see and places to walk, no matter what the conditions. Merry Christmas and health and happiness in the year to come. Get out! And enjoy!
GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell