SCHIESS: Frost covered trees hide winter wildlife
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Thick fog and near zero temperatures created trees naturally flocked by large hoar frost flakes making my back yard appear peaceful and serene as I peered out the back door. Opening the door proved that scenario false – hidden in the frost were birds fighting over the black sunflower and niger seed feeders while the sound of mini jackhammers came from three flocked trees.
Grabbing my camera I headed out to the almost pure white trees and the fighting quit as the House finches and House sparrows decided I was dangerous and flew to the tops of some large poplars. The mini jackhammering continued as I watched a Downy and a Hairy woodpecker trying to harvest the meat out of some sunflower seeds.
In another tree a Red-breasted nuthatch had found a convenient bark wedge and was using its small beak to break open a sunflower seed to get to its goodness. Once the seed was exposed, the nuthatch tried to hide it behind another loose piece of bark. As the nuthatch flew back to the feeder a thief, a Black-capped chickadee, stole the hidden piece swallowing it and sounding off a victory chirp.
As I watched these birds acting like our politicians in Washington DC, the finches and sparrows with a few Dark-eyed juncos mixed in decided to brave the danger, me the media, to get some food. I moved off a little to allow even the most cautious to return to the feeders. Even some dreamer Eurasian-collared doves showed up and were cleaning up the crumbs that fell to the ground when all of the birds flew off.
An attack was launched. Not like a North Korean threat, but a real attack was on as a Sharp-shinned hawk sliced through the frost covered trees. The young hawk made the mistake like many young human waterfowl hunters have done – it aimed at the flock not an individual target. It missed getting lunch.
As most of the birds flew off, the hawk kept eyeing chickadees in a rose bush and after trying to catch a careless one, it flew off looking for easier prey. The other birds soon returned to do their best to get lunch.
The sun had started causing the hoar frosh to fall from the trees, so I decided to drive to a nearby warm spring to see if the magical conditions had created frozen masterpieces there. Trumpeter swans, mallards and Canada geese were enjoying the warm water as they fed on aquatic plants.
Prize sightings were two Greater Yellow-legs, a Killdeer and a Wilson snipe; shorebirds that should have already headed south with other snowbirds. All were huddled near the shores frost crystals as if they were frozen.
As I pulled into my drive I noticed no birds visible in the naked trees or at the feeders. I heard the beat of wings and looked up as a Sharp-shinned hawk flew off with what appeared to be a lifeless House finch in its talons. Real life conditions had returned.