The birds didn’t need the TV meteorologists’ hype – or the legendary ground hog’s prognostication – to tell them a storm was coming.
Sensing the snow and cold and wind that were approaching, the goldfinches crowded onto the tray of sunflower hearts to stoke up.
Juncos and tree sparrows anxiously gathered on the ground under the swinging feeder to pounce on the black oil seed spilled by the titmice and purple finches above them.
Downy woodpeckers and chickadees opted for high-energy suet in the wire-mesh basket.
At dusk, the flakes were swirling in the light that streamed out the house windows, and the bitter wind whistled over the roof.
By morning, we could see that the predictions of “six to nine” inches of white stuff had come true – as had the forecast of winds piling up drifts across roads and fields. Time for another log in the wood stove!
But the good news is that it’s now February! We’re six weeks past the winter solstice, and gaining daylight day-by-day. More time to ski, snowshoe, shovel (!), and watch the birds that flock to our feeders instead of foraging in the once-bare fields.
We even can imagine signs of spring:
A pair of pileated woodpeckers dart across a clearing and into the woods; are they already searching for a nest tree?
Two eagles circle overhead in the cold, clear, blue sky. Perhaps they’ll soon be nesting in a secluded cottonwood along the river bluff.
In the darkness, we hear the soft “hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo” of a great horned owl – apparently crooning a love song from our roof top!
We expect any day to hear the “Cheer, Cheer!” of a cardinal greeting the winter morning.
Hungry deer don’t wait until dark to feed. By mid-afternoon, they’re already are pawing at wind-blown bare spots in the corn field, needing any nourishment they can find.
At night – under the light of what Native Americans called the ”hunger moon” – the deer grow even more bold, exploring our garden and compost pile for any morsels they can glean. They long since stripped anything edible from the kale stalks – but the discarded apple cores and carrot peelings probably make delicious hors d’oeuvres, if not a full meal.
We’re not so hardy – nor so hard up. We wait for the relative warmth of the afternoon sun before venturing out. Even then, we may not linger, given temperatures in the single digits, and biting wind chills. Still, we’re refreshed by the squeak of our snowshoes, the mysteries in the snow-trails of the animals that share our woods – and the delight of the four seasons that help make us Iowans.