The melting snow has softened the ground into mud, luring out of the earth a host of worms. This is the robins’ favorite season. These ground-dwelling thrushes mainly survive on earthworms, as they aren’t designed to digest seeds. They come back North at the same time as the earthworm migration. (It sounds crazy, but worms do migrate. However, they migrate vertically: in the winter they dig deep under the ground & huddle up until spring.) The robins sense the worms reappearing, & it brings them in flocks. Some robins do stay the winter, feeding on whatever fruit or berries they can find. In the spring then, it’s obvious which robins stayed & which flew south, for the migrating robins are always significantly plumper than their wintering cousins.
This morning, the weather was sunny & moderately warm. (For February anyway.) In a few hours, it changed to a blizzard it’s hard to see in. The weather here is pretty much instant. For some reason today, the wild turkeys were out, just hanging around on the streets in the middle of everything. Many of the animals don’t mind the cold, & actually seem to be more active in bad weather, gathering food. Probably this is to keep themselves warm. But with their thick winter coats, the cold doesn’t bother them very much.
After the snow came a huge cold snap. The high today was 1° F, the low -15. The birds & squirrels have beenbusy all day at the feeder, eating & eatibg to keep themselves warm.
The geese, ducks, & some other birds have finally begun to go south. There are always a few that stay, because the Mississippi never completely freezes here, but usually a bunch of birds will pack up & move in the fall. They’ve finally begun to migrate, but they were later than usual this year – they must have finally decided it was cold enough to leave.
I was camping in the smoky mountains a few nights ago. It’s full of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, & even black bears! It was hot – somewhere over 100°. I didn’t see any bears, but there were plenty of white-tailed deer. They were quite used to people, & in the morning there were always a few of them hanging around the campsite. I got to see a few of them at really close ranges – maybe 8 feet away. It stunned me how they can survive in the wild when they are SO noisy. They tramp through the woods making a huge racket, but they must be able to move quietly when they want to or how would they survive?
Mostly there are only mallard ducks & canada geese around here. Those are the only birds I ever see on the Mississippi. But lately from time to time I’ve seen a couple of wood ducks around. Actually, I usually see them hanging around in little ponds next to the highways. They like to huddle in little groups of 3 or 4 on the edge of a dock & sleep, but if anything startles them they jump into the water & paddle away. Their feathers are a huge arrangement of different colors; of course the males are quite a lot more stunning than the females, but the females are a sort of shimmering blue-gray with white wing bars. Check out the link to hear their call. It’s not at all what you’d expect from a small duck: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Duck/sounds.
Eastern cottontail rabbits are becoming much more common here. There are always a few around, but in the summer & winter they are usually much easier to find. They come & nibble on the plants & leaves on the ground, but they are more timid than squirrels, & they are quicker to run if they are startled. However, they will choose to forage for plants much closer to people than squirrels will, & if you do not move in their direction, you can pass by very close to them.
A pair of european starlings is nesting across the street from me in a neighbor’s cable & telephone box. It’s a metal box, about the size of a shoebox, with wires sticking out in every direction. There’s a small hole in the bottom of the box, & the starlings fly in & out all the time, squishing past the wires.
Yesterday I got a look into the sparrow’s nest. It’s very interesting. The birdhouse is filled to the brim with twigs & such, & there’s a tunnel going into it that slants upward. After a few inches of this it drops down into the nest hole, where the eggs are.