Fluffed up to stay warm

Heat wave!

That was the first thought when the thermometer crept back above zero. But, in retrospect, why the surprise? January? Iowa? Did we expect T-shirt weather?

We tossed another log into the wood stove, savored the sunshine streaming through the south windows, and occasionally made a quick trip outside to feed the birds. The heated birdbath steamed around the flock of goldfinches that assembled for a drink.

Steam bath

The fresh water could be what’s lured at least three bluebirds to winter around our house. The enterprising birds also have developed a taste for sunflower hearts – thus avoiding the challenge of surviving on juniper berries, or the migration south to find insects.

Wintering bluebirds

Through the porch window, we watched the crows, red-tails, and eagle as they pecked and probed for a frozen morsel from the deer carcass we’d left for them on the hilltop. Other deer that had survived the hunting season sought refuge from the wind in the sheltered valley – probably with full stomachs from a twilight trip to the neighbor’s picked cornfield.

Finally, we felt a bit guilty at being house-bound human wimps when the wild critters had to endure the great outdoors. We donned coats, mittens, snow pants, stocking hats, and down vests for an afternoon hike in “real-feel” temps of about 10 below.

Leftover kale for lunch

Not so bad, we rationalized, as we wrapped our scarves tighter to our cheeks and listened to the squeak of the fresh snow under our boots. But we felt even wimpier as we observed more signs of how wildlife copes.  The deer had checked out the garden, nibbling the last vestiges of kale from the dried stalks. The tracks of white-footed mice led from woodpile to hollow tree to clumps of prairie grass, marking the tiny mammal’s search for lunch. (Was this the same big-eared mouse that nightly feasts on the sunflower hearts in our bird feeder?)

Mouse in the sunflower seeds

A cottontail rabbit had explored the compost pile and the garden, but was foiled – so far – by the protective fence around the raspberries. Its tracks reminded us that we must be extra vigilant when the fresh greens start to appear next May.

Refreshed after a brisk walk, we retreated indoors once again to watch the bird feeders. But we aren’t the only watcher! A sharp-shinned hawk regularly patrols the feeders and the nearby woodland edge, sending other birds into a panic with its appearance. The sharpie sits on the feeder pole, or in a nearby tree, awaiting a chance to ambush a careless goldfinch or chickadee or downy woodpecker.

When the raptor is around, most other birds freeze in place, trying to blend into a tree trunk or porch railing or dried clump of goldenrod. If the hawk dives at a bird, its companions burst into flight. One of the flock may be sacrificed – but the sharpie can’t catch them all!

Sharp-shin on the hunt

Whenever the drama unfolds, we watch with mixed emotions. Do we admire the agility and deadly efficiency of the predator – or feel sorry for the unlucky prey?

We’re thankful that the only drama in our own lives at the moment is to avoid burning our tongues on the hot chocolate!

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