A Morning Winter Wandering
I walked out the door at dawn. A winter storm had blown throughout the night and I was anxious to get out and see what it had left. About three inches of pure white snow covered the ground. Coming in on the heels of a rain it had been a heavy snow and hung on the tree branches, blasted against the trunks by the wind.
Blowing wind was keeping the windchill temperature at around 10 degrees and there was still snow in the air. I did not expect a lot of bird activity. My only spotting upon leaving my door was a lone crow high up in the treeline to the south. I was shown the error of my expectation when not more than thirty feet from my door two mourning doves zipped past and a sharp-shinned hawk shot in from a slight angle in pursuit. Seeing me, the hawk banked a hard left and gave up the chase as he whipped between the houses and disappeared. Seeing the hawk in flight, the crow took off from his perch and followed in pursuit of the raptor. The pursuer became the pursued.
Things calmed after that and I enjoyed a quiet walk. Amongst the buildings of where I live, the wind was blocked and not as harsh. Traces of it moved neighborhood wind chimes and for awhile it was the only sound lilted above the sound of the wind and my heels in the snow. Several bird feeders were active with cardinals, juncos, and titmice. I made for the woods along the north and west side of the area and once on the north side of the ridge and away from the houses the wind came into its full effect. It announced its approach with a growing roar that, at times, mimicked a jet engine while swaying the highest tree tops. Even bundled up as I was I could feel it whip at my clothes and slice through any opening. Several times I turned to face it just so I could feel it full on.
I worked without gloves. I do this when I work my camera. I need to feel it in my hands, even if they are red and numb from the cold. I’ll invest in some nice skintight ones eventually. My thumbnails are always the first to hurt and the last to recover. I jammed them up under my first layer and into the pockets of second layer fleece jacket to get them to stop aching. When my hands get that cold it’s easier to drop the camera or a lens and with so much snow on the ground I don’t risk it. While I let them warm, I simply stand and take in the small bit of nature I can get on this chilly winter’s morning.
The woods line the steep ridge and the creek that has cut the ridge’s banks. They were quiet around me. No activity, no bird calls, no movement. Just wind.
I stood there for probably fifteen minutes waiting to see anything. Below, the valley flattened and gives way to a large elementary school playground. I could hear and sometimes see a bladed truck uncovering the parking lot. I wanted to go down to the open area but I don’t trust the snow covered ridge bank. There’s a path there but it’s narrow, treacherous, and I just don’t feel like making my way down the sometimes 75 to 80 degree embankment. I entertained myself by finding a few landscapes. The sun is hidden behind a thick cloud layer so I work with the light I have.
I wander back out of the woods and walk around the neighborhood some more. The bird activity has gone up even more. The flock of robins which is roosted nearby has returned and they were everywhere, darting from tree to tree, winging through whirls of blowing snow from the roof edges and landing near some of the slushed snow along the plowed road. Among them are the cedar waxwings again and I counted around seven in total. Sparrows, chickadees, and two goldfinches joined them where some have gathered around on the ground near the slush. The whole flock is moving fast and to the west obviously looking for a food source. They check out a few crab apple trees but they are empty and the flock passed on.
As I watched them a shape further up in the sky caught my eye. I looked up and a gull, I believe a ring-necked, cut its way through the gray sky and blowing snow. Perhaps a castaway from Monroe Reservoir or perhaps winging away from the nearby shopping area where a spare french fry could be found, it drifted in a few circles. I got my binoculars on it but could only see a white belly and black tips on the sharp narrow wings. It does not appear to know where it’s going. There is no time to get the camera ready and the bird is already too far away. In no time at all the bird is gone, disappearing behind the tree line. I wondered what its story might be but I will never know.
The wind whipped me again and I’m only a handful of yards from a warm house and warmer coffee. I’ve been out a little over an hour and I could stay out longer. However, the promise of coffee and a warm breakfast called so I listened and pointed my feet home.