Birds at the feeder

When the ground is blanketed in snow and frigid temperatures reign, it’s fun to watch birds at the feeder.

The colors of birds’ feathers brighten the view when flowers cannot. Red cardinals often grab the show.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

Cardinal and juncos.

Cardinal and juncos.

I love the florescent blue of bluebirds’ feathers. The color shows best as bluebirds fly to and from the feeder and the ground below.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Woodpeckers abound at the suet cakes, performing an aerial ballet as they swoop from the feeder to nearby shrubs and trees.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Sometimes you get to see something really adorable, like this cardinal pair sharing seed.

Cardinal pair.

Cardinal pair. 

Other visitors include tufted titmouse, bluejays, chicadees, finches (house and gold), a wren and an occasional sparrow.

I plant many shrubs that provide berries for birds – winterberry (Ilex verticillata), holly (Ilex crenata ‘Compacta’, I. crenata ‘Helleri’, I. meserveae ‘Blue Maid’), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), and various junipers. Birds enjoy the berries of a few small trees I’ve added – viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium, Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariessii’), and dogwoods (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’, C. alternifolia). Plus, I leave seed heads on many perennials to give birds additional food through cold winter months.

But, when snow covers the ground and temperatures dip to frigid levels (-11 degrees F. over last night and just 8 degrees F. at noon today), it’s nice to provide a bit of extra food for overwintering birds.

It’s nice for the birds and nice for the gardener planning for warmer days, knowing that neighboring birds will feed on emerging caterpillars and insects come spring.

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Aflutter over snow

More than half way through the winter of 2015-2016 and we have yet to measure a full inch of snow. This weekend’s forecast, however, has everyone’s attention from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. The first snow-producing nor’easter of the season appears headed this way. Everyone is aflutter over snow.

A bit of snow contrasts with winter browns, grays, and winterberry red.

A bit of snow contrasts with winter browns, grays, and winterberry red.

We had a taste of snow a few days ago … enough to whiten the ground, contrast against the browns and grays of dormant plantings, and give winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’) berries a brighter glow.  But, small amount of snow is not enough to give garden beds an insulating blanket from harsh temperature swings that can be so damaging to surface roots and the crowns of plants. For this we need real snow. It’s time.

Looking back at my snowfall records since the winter of 2008/2009, we usually get one decent, blanketing snowfall during January. The exception years were 2010 when our January total was 12″, accrued in little one- to three-inch snowfalls, and 2013 when the heaviest snowfalls occurred just before 2012 ended (12″ on 12/29) and later during the 2012/2013 winter (36″ over 2/8 and 2/9). Otherwise January is a snowy month, totaling 13.5″ in 2009, 54″ in 2011, 17″ in 2012, 31.75″ in 2014, and 26.5″ in 2015.

We’re due.

Winter snow, in general, is good for gardens. Besides blanketing soils from temperature swings, snow brings moisture and nutrients, and replenishes waterways as it melts. Snow cover gives a different view of gardens and landscapes, often highlighting areas where more winter interest (a conifer or small tree) would add structure or cover for overwintering birds.

Snowflakes form fascinating designs and have brief, but interesting, lives. Starting as a single droplet of water that freezes around a speck of dust, they can go through riming, become a grauple, or aggregate … all explained in this video from the National Science Foundation.

I’m aflutter over snow … anxious to experience winter as it is meant to be in my region. I feel my younger self bubbling to the surface as I watch snowflakes fall. There’s magic in the sight of each tiny work of art settling gently to the ground; how snowflakes team up to transform every surface into a sculpture-in-white.

Others are more negatively aflutter over snow … dreading the need to shovel and clear. But since we cannot stop snow, why not embrace it and see snow for the wonder it is.

 

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