… or maybe not.
I was walking along the perimeter path at Council Point Park a few weeks ago. On that day, the City had neither plowed, nor salted, the walking path, even though they’ve been good about doing so the past few years. Thankfully, the big dump truck that collects trash from the bins along the path, had left tire marks that effectively smashed down the 9.2 inches/23 cms of snow we gleaned from Winter Storm Landon. While I traipsed along, mindful of the possible icy patches lurking beneath the snow, I deposited seeds and peanuts for my furry and feathered friends, who immediately started chowing down.
There was only one other diehard walker I encountered that morning. The weather, always a common topic of conversation among walkers, brought grumbling and his declaration that “Winter is for the birds!” I agreed and tucked that thought away to use for a blog title some day.
After we parted, I dwelled on that statement, because if you took those words literally, that would be a misnomer for sure. I mused that, after all, how unlikely would any Michigan bird embrace Winter, unless it had a guaranteed food source, like a backyard bird feeder or suet at its disposal? A heated birdbath would really sweeten the pot. Winter sure isn’t an opportunity for a bird like a woodpecker to grab a grub or two simply by shimmying up the tree and I’m pretty sure, even the hardiest Robin who hangs around the Mitten State during the Winter months, would find it near impossible to rustle up a worm from the snowy grass. Berries are long gone too – nope, it is NOT a time of joy for our feathered friends.
The 2022 Great Backyard Bird Count.
This past weekend, February 18th through 21st, was/is the 25th annual “Great Backyard Bird Count”, a four-day event in which anyone, (not just birders), is encouraged to report the birds seen in a 15-minute period on any one of the four days.
My wings have been clipped for weeks thanks to an ice-covered driveway that has made it treacherous to even back the car out of the garage, so any bird-viewing venture was to be done on foot.
My plan to participate was simple – instead of reporting on the Sparrows that take shelter in my backyard, tucking themselves into bushes, or huddling together on the back windowsills, my intended mission was to report on the birds at Council Point Park, specifically at the Weeping Mulberry Memorial Tree that I’ve coined The Safe Haven Tree.
However, this was still another plan best left in my head, not committed to action. Friday morning (the 18th) I spent shoveling out still another Winter dumping of ice-laden snow – this time it was 6.8 inches/17 cms. Saturday morning, we had single-digit wind chills and blowing and drifting of new snow. Sunday did not look promising either, so I resorted to Plan “B” i.e. my backyard.
Yes, I had set my sights on other songbirds, but I also wanted to participate in this event, so I shuffled to the backyard, camera in hand, tapping my foot while awaiting Sparrows. Now, not to disparage Sparrows, those salt-of-the-Earth brown birdies that seem to weather the elements year-around, (but are actually bullies that take over the nesting habitats of wrens and other small birds), but yes, they were my second choice. It was brutally cold and blustery and alas, I could not will the Sparrows to put in an appearance, so I needed a Plan “C” to get ‘er done.
Thus Plan “C” was implemented – you will read about Plan “C” at the TAIL end of this post.
I came inside, had some coffee to warm up, then went through my photo files to collect bird photos from 2021 to create this post.
Eyes on the Prize.
There is often a flurry of activity of “The Feathered Faithful” at the Safe Haven Tree after I stop to dole out sunflower seeds and peanuts beneath the canopy of branches that hopefully act as a deterrent against the dreaded Hawks that cruise overhead. I like to think that my feathered and furry friends are able to dine without fear of becoming the prey of those raptors.
I usually spread seeds and peanuts, then back out from the cramped space beneath the tree and stand and observe from the path. Almost immediately I see birds flitting to the ground upon my exit.
Since I began leaving food for my Park pals under the tree, this makeshift feeder now welcomes not only Blue Jays and Cardinals, but also Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees and Purple Finches. Downy Woodpeckers and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers also show up to dine.
The Blue Jays are boisterous and screech to their brethren to alert the arrival of treats, then boldly swoop down, often in front of the squirrels to snatch a peanut. They are not intimidated by my presence in the least, as evident from the close-ups.
Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal are not as brave, often waiting politely in the branches until the others have gone and I include myself as one of those others. I don’t take it personally, but getting a picture of the other birds is tricky sometimes and only done several paces away from them. No Mister and Missus Cardinal in this post, but there was some activity with a seed bell I placed beneath the tree, which they promptly knocked over.
This Cardinal eyed the seed bell and a caption could be “go big or go home!”
Were they in cahoots to eat the seed bell?
I laughed at the smaller bird acting as a lookout. Hmm – I wonder what was in it for him/her?
Chickadees often blitz to the ground for a seed, then back up to a branch before I get a chance to get a photo, so I was lucky this day, although I was too far away to get a clear close-up.
I took suet trays several times, including pecan suet that is favored by Woodpeckers. That was fun as I lured a Downy Woodpecker who shall be named Dempsey going forward. Here is Dempsey shimmying up and around the trunk of the tree, occasionally peeking around to check my whereabouts.
As far as I can tell, the only Red-bellied Woodpecker at this Park is a male I’ve dubbed Rex. Rex swoops over, lands on a branch, then promptly drops to the ground to nibble on suet or snag a peanut.
Male Northern Cardinal.
Did you look closely at that beautiful Cardinal pictured up top? If so, you probably could have called me out for tricking you, because this male Cardinal with its vibrant plumage, black “mask” and distinctive crest, one of the most-recognizable birds in North America, is NOT a real bird.
Wait, what? Are you going to scroll to the top and check it out now?
Over the years, at our house Cardinals were a popular Christmas decoration with tree ornaments, plates – even holiday mugs collected through the years.
The header image is one such Christmas ornament, a National Audubon Society Cardinal, designed to be clipped onto a Christmas tree bough, where it nestles life-like in the branches. But sadly, after purchasing this Cardinal ornament, although this porcelain bird is not heavy, it sagged down the branches of our miniature tree and could not be positioned any way without toppling over sideways. Similarly, clipping the Cardinal ornament onto a wreath did not work well either, so it remained in the box, year after year, until I took it outside, clipped it onto the branch of a snowy Nana Hinoki Cypress bush. Voila, a Winter bird for my post!
Were you fooled? Do you need proof it is not a real bird? Here is the big reveal … the tail and Audubon authenticity stamp.