The Doldrums of Winter

Illustration ©Deborah Carew

Last month as I was sitting writing my column we were under a freezing rain warning. And a freezing rain warning has just been lifted as I write today. Luckily we escaped unscathed from both of these. We know it’s a very Canadian preoccupation commenting on, and worrying about the weather. And it would seem we have more and worse weather to comment on and worry about.

The days are beginning to be noticeably longer, mercifully. We now have 40 minutes more sunlight each day than we did at the shortest day of the year. And I always forget why the days lengthen in the evening before lengthening in the morning. I remember figuring it out a year or so ago but now I’ve forgotten.  I can’t think of much good about the short winter days. But one thing marvellous I can think of is the wonderful silvery light you get just before the sun rises above the horizon or just after it sets. Here in Millbrook the sun rises from behind Medd’s Mountain and therefore it’s a bit later than up on the flat land. One day I was admiring that silvery light as I came back from my morning walk when all of a sudden I realized the trees around me were golden. The sun was up enough to illuminate the trees but not up enough for it to be seen above Medd’s Mountain. So for a brief period the silver and the gold were co-existing. Priceless!

It must be the lengthening days that is telling some creatures to get ready to breed. On January 13th I heard a cardinal singing for the first time this year. He was singing his heart out! And I remembered that I am struck by this every year early in the new year. And I also remembered that it’s often on a very cold but clear day–so it’s not the warming temperatures that this male cardinal is responding to. But it varies from year to year: last year it was on February the 20th. So there appears to be some additional variable also at play.

Last month I wrote about the Pileated Woodpecker that visits my suet feeders. And that really elicited a lot of interest from readers. Now, not wanting to brag but there are two Pileateds! However, this is a mixed blessing. Aside from being somewhat Hitchcockian, their huge bills make short work of massive amounts of suet; and they are literally destroying my suet log–drilling straight through the piece of birch I used to make it! Yikes! I may have to make a new one.

I don’t really begrudge the Pileateds the suet they’re consuming. But for some reason I do when it comes to starlings. Every year around this time a flock of starlings descends on my feeders. I know this flock is around because I see them in downtown Millbrook but for some reason they don’t visit my feeders until January. This non-native bird, introduced from Europe, has a comical side. They fight and jostle for position in a very Keystone Cops way. And the whistles and other sounds they emit can be attractive.  But a flock of them is a hungry thing: today I counted a full dozen of them. Those twelve beaks seem to make even shorter work of the suet than the Pileateds do!

We’re in the doldrums of winter, it’s true. And those doldrums this year are turning out to be rather icy, slushy ones unfortunately. So be extra careful on the trails; and remember that Baxter Creek Trail between the Medd’s Mountain junction and the Fairgrounds is still closed because of flooding.  But the days are getting longer. The birds are beginning to sing again. Get out! And enjoy!

GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell

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