Focus on Nature: Outside there are signs of winter everywhere you look

11/08/2010 5:53 PM |

If you want to enjoy goldfinches, buy thistle feed and get a specially designed feeder. With a little luck you will get results like this.

We had been enjoying the kaleidoscope of fall’s colors when the cool 38-degree temperature this morning nudged us on to start packing. It didn’t take us long to put things together and get ready to head south for the winter.
Outside there are signs of winter everywhere you look. We’ve been watching friendly frogs around our pond just outside our window all summer, but suddenly the cool weather lured them to their winter’s sleep at the bottom of the pond. Here they will lie submerged in the pond bottom until the warmth of spring once again will spark their cycle of life.
On warm, rainy summer nights bullfrogs of all sizes go overland and may be seen in numbers on country roads. Bullfrogs are big, from 3 1/2 to six inches in body length; adding the length of their legs gives them seven to 10 inches more. Our son once watched a dozen large frogs crossing the road on a warm night and I, myself, have watched masses of half-inch frogs moving to new locations during rainy weather. This gives the impression of frogs actually coming from the sky, or some say it is “raining frogs.”
Barbara and I recently took a walk along the boardwalk at the beach and were amazed to see small birds flitting from bush to tree. They moved so rapidly it was hard to tell exactly what they were, so we pulled out the identification bible and tried to determine just who they were and where these tufts of feather were headed.
Our guide narrowed it down for us to a myrtle warbler. Myrtle warblers can be identified by the yellow rump patch and yellow sides. This is a winter bird we find that stays with us, and we were surprised to see them here so soon. What they were doing was enjoying bayberries. As a matter of fact, proof of that was in a photograph taken by Barbara where you could actually see a berry in the bill of one of the birds.
Back home we were met with more feathered surprises. While eating dinner and keeping an eye on what was going on outside, we suddenly realized our thistle feeder was being used. Since there had not been any goldfinches in the yard for some time, we reached for the glasses to check on the new visitors only to find the goldfinches had returned. What a pleasant surprise.
Their bright colors we are so used to seeing when they are about the feeder and among the dandelion blossoms on the lawn were missing but now we were seeing them with more subdued colors, a mixture of tans and yellow, with the most noticeable sign being the wing bars giving them away.
Today as we looked out the big picture window, a flock of 15 to 20 juncos flew in. These birds can be seen in loose flocks here on the North Fork during the winter. Juncos are ground feeders, all gray above with a white belly and a pinkish-white bill and white tail feathers that flash as they move about. They stayed in and around our home most of the day. It was good to see them back in such numbers. There won’t be that many that stay around all winter.
A short time later we had the best surprise of all when our son called in that he had just seen a flock of snow buntings in Greenport, which seemed early for them to be here. One of the things you can look for to identify them are the large white wing patches. They are one of our favorite birds. Even on a warm day their mostly white plumage puts one in mind of a winter snowstorm.
Usually we think of them as rugged little birds associated with cold and windy winter weather. A typical place and time to see them is after a snowfall when the plows have been out exposing the soil along the roadside. Somehow they can find seeds there to nourish themselves.
As this goes to press we spot something white flying across the pasture, where the three white-face cows are lying down relaxing in the sun. A cattle egret has moved into the area, and then a quick call from someone nearby where another one was spotted. Keep your eyes open as the seasons change. There’s always a surprise for you.