Thirty two years ago when we bought our house in Willow River, I had a skylight installed in our bedroom. At that time the view included a couple of tall, old jack pines and the branches of an aspen. I could watch squirrels chasing one another up and down and around and around the trunk, and I could be comfortably entertained by any number of birds flying in and out of the branches to the feeders below.
Not me – but you get the idea.
The two jacks died and had to come down a couple years ago. Suddenly there was a lot more sky to be seen through that skylight and only a few crooked aspen branches. That poor old aspen is dead as well, but I just can’t bring myself to cut it down even though it is close to the house. I thought about it last spring, but then every morning there would be a hairy woodpecker perched at the very top of the broken trunk hammering away, letting the rest of the woodpeckers in the neighborhood know it was looking for a mate. And now, when I open my eyes in the morning I see small round shapes on the branches. The light is low and they are silhouettes, until I get my binoculars and they reveal themselves to be very cold, fluffed up goldfinch.
It has been subzero for several mornings and I feel so badly for these little birds, though I know they are designed to withstand this type of winter weather. Still, there I am snug under the down comforter, looking at them through binoculars (talk about a lazy birder!). The best we can do is keep the birdfeeders filled.
Yesterday, I actually got out of bed to get a better look. The sun was just hitting the top of the aspen throwing a golden cloak over the birds hunched up on the branches. Later, I saw a crow sitting on a branch with its back to me. I got up again, to get a better look with the binoculars. His feathers were so glossy, they nearly reflected the sunlight. But that old crow could feel me looking at him and he turned his head, fixed me through the window with his wizened eye and promptly flew off. I could hear a woodpecker drumming, but it wasn’t on the trunk of this aspen. I also heard the blue jays and black capped chickadees giving their respective spring courtship calls. I guess even the subzero temperatures can’t repress the feeling of hope that the rising, warming sun brings.
Crows are wary and seem to know when they are being watched
This morning I could see a goldfinch on the branches of the old aspen just after dawn, pecking at the bark. I’ve never seen them do this before. I got out of bed again for a closer look and sure enough, several were doing the same thing. These are birds that normally eat thistle seed
Goldfinch in winter plumage at thistle feeders
or sunflower seeds, not insects, which is what you expect to find in and under bark. Maybe it was something else. Maybe since grit is hard to find in the winter, to aid in digestion, they get some help from bits of bark. That’s one morning mystery I’m not going to be able to solve, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Later on, when I was up and dressed, I looked out the upstairs windows with our grandson Matthew and counted close to 50 American Goldfinch on the ground beneath the platoform feeder. They are all the same muted brownish color at this time of the year, but before long, we’ll start to see some touches of yellow on the male’s bodies.
I don’t know what I’ll do when that aspen branch breaks and disappears from view. There is a young maple growing nearby, and the very tops of the tallest branches are just beginning to appear at the edge of the skylight. But mostly it will just be a rectangle of sky, sometimes blue, sometimes black, sometimes white and every once in a while a flash of some bird passing by. It will give our room good natural light, which I like, but I will very much miss my morning entertainment.
By Kate Crowley