Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Having received 14" of snow last week, we were a little dismayed at predictions for another 12-18" inches of snow, accompanied by strong winds, for the last 48 hours.  Yesterday we waited all day for the blizzard to begin, but temperatures hovering around 35 kept the worst from happening.  We got the strong winds, but most of the precipitation fell as light rain and acted to melt much of the snow that we already had.

Last night, as we went to bed, the temperatures dropped, the electricity flickered, and the weather decided to give us a small taste of what might have been.

So this morning we woke up to a winter wonderland again - about 5" of wet snow with a little underpinning of ice, plastered to the trees and shrubs, coating the ground beautifully and softly.

As I plodded out to follow our morning routine of checking for the paper, a track in the snow told of a bird's passage - presumably a pheasant from the size.  It looks like he half walked/half flew, leaving wing tip prints, but also dragging his tail and putting his feet down every 3 feet or so....

TJ, our 9 year old cat, isn't too excited about being out in the wet, cold white stuff, but loves hunting the birds through the window.  Here he is, several days ago, "talking" to them through the sliding glass door as big flocks of red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds chowed down on the bird seed I'd spread out for them.  Every once in a while, one would try to fly into the kitchen through the door, and TJ would jump 4 feet up in the air to greet it.  Several of those birds are still alive only because of the miracle of modern windows!

When we get this much snow, we've had to add a new task to our country lifestyle:  cleaning off the shade cloth over the kennels.  Greg literally had to shovel snow off the shade cloth because it was weighed down so heavily, sagging about 3 feet.  One side recovered its spring pretty well; the other side may have to be replaced this spring, despite his attempts at saving it.

It's an interesting start to the year:  an almost totally dry winter until late February, then 2 snowfalls giving us the snowiest February on record.  Feast or famine.  While hope springs eternally (especially in the springtime gardener's mind), concern and foreboding aren't too far behind, at least as far as weather is concerned.  This promises, once again, to be an interesting garden season.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sad, but Tough, "Old" Bird

It's amazing how many mutations I've noticed over the last couple years.  I found the latest one this morning, in a small flock of red-winged blackbirds that was feeding out in the back yard.  I noticed a male that seemed to be carrying a long straw or something, so I got my binoculars out to take a closer look....

It wasn't a straw, it was the poor guy's beak.

To eat, he turns his head sideways and picks up the seeds with the side of his beak/mouth, since otherwise his beak gets in the way.

He was strong enough to get in brief flurries with another bird or two, but I have to wonder how long he'll survive.  I'm amazed he's made it this long...and this far!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

After months of bemoaning the lack of precipitation we've been experiencing, I can finally write with excitement that we've got snow!!!  Lots and lots of snow!!!  About 12" of snow, actually, which is amazing for the Wichita, Kansas, area.  In fact, according to the Wichita Eagle, the last time this area saw a foot of snow was in 1971 - 42 years ago!

Precipitation of any sort tends to pull in more birds to my feeders than usual.  The cardinals are the most vivid, with their red feathers providing such a bright, warm contrast to the black and white winter world.  This big snow event, though, has my bird feeders being overrun by large flocks of red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds.  The former are welcome.  The latter are not, but I have not figured out a way to welcome the blackbirds while keeping out the cowbirds.   Somewhat surprisingly, the red-winged flocks are a mix of males and females;  I would have expected primarily males this early in the year.  All of these birds must have been wintering just south of here, since I rarely see more than 6-10 red-wings at a time on a "normal" day, and I hadn't seen any cowbirds yet this year.

Not surprisingly, my feeder regulars are being overwhelmed by all the short-timers.  Occasionally, though, an unusual "regular" shows up.  This pied cardinal came fairly often last year, but this is only the second time I've seen her this winter.  I'm glad to know she made it through the summer;  I wonder if she ever found a mate and produced any young?

Gardeners tend to be optimistic every spring;  I find this snow is finally refilling my springs of optimism - and just in time for the spring planting season to begin!  It's hard to imagine a more welcome winter weather event.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Water, Stitching the World Together

On one of my regular walkabouts recently, I noticed ice crystals that seemed rather picturesque....

After catching a couple different photos of the crystals, I found myself mulling over the importance of water, stitching our world together. 

Here in south central Kansas, we're well into what appears to be the third year of a serious drought, combined with much higher than "normal" temperature patterns.  Even for a prairie, we're dry.  I sure don't take water for granted like I used to.