First flakes foretell the blizzard

Maybe it’s a day or two early – but our blizzard proves that winter is here.

TV weather forecasters had predicted it for days – and they were right.

Flakes started falling just after dark, foretelling the “8 to 12 inches” that computer models said we’d get.

A good guess – although who’s measuring, when there seems to be as much snow swirling through the air as there is piled and drifted on the ground.

The meteorologists were on target with the warnings of brutal wind gusts topping 50 mph, too.

We coped easily, just adding another log or two to the fire, listening in awe to the wind howling outside the window, and watching the white-outs dancing across the hills. The electrical power stayed on – most of the time. And we didn’t have anywhere to go, so it was not an inconvenience to heed the pervasive “travel not recommended advice.”

Snowy - but warm!

But what about wild birds and animals, which don’t have the luxury of being able to hunker down in a warm house?

The perplexed goldfinches showed up just after daylight, standing atop the snowy mound that buried the sunflower hearts on the platform feeder.

Goldfinch gathering

When I shoveled my way to the feeder and refilled their breakfast table, a dozen or more of the hungry birds crowded around.

Some plucky juncos and tree sparrows hopped on the snow below, devouring the crumbs that the goldfinches spilled. Others ventured out into the prairie to find bits of Indiangrass or goldenrod seeds that fell onto the drifts.

Foraging tree sparrow in the prairie

But all the little birds quickly vanished when a northern shrike appeared near the bird feeder. The “butcher bird” probably would have liked a chickadee for lunch to fuel himself against the cold.

A flock of noisy crows hung over the treetops, where the gale winds and biting snow buffeted them mercilessly. Wherever were the birds were trying to go? Or were they just being “crows?”

As twilight approached, I clamped on the skis for a short venture into the storm.

Wind-swept prairie

I mostly slogged along, sinking calf-deep into the drifts, and struggling against the wind. Lingering flakes driven by sudden gusts stung my cheeks. The groan of the wind in the trees drowned out the swish of my skis.

Drifts clogged the woods road where the wind had whipped down the river valley, then dropped its snow-load as it climbed over the bluff.

The windward side of the tree trunks remained plastered with snow.

Wet snow that had clung to higher branches occasionally shook loose to cause a mini-blizzard below.

Trees shake loose a mini-blizzard

In a sheltered valley, a lone deer pawed the ground, searching for any morsel of grass or a tender twig. Where would the little whitetail spend the blustery night, I wondered. With temperatures falling – perhaps nearly to zero – the deer surely would have to burn some fat reserves to survive the cold.

But I succumbed to the typical human impulse, and headed back to the warm house.

Yes, I like winter. But I’m also glad that I can make the choice of how I enjoy it!

Red oak leaf
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