This has been an interesting week weather-wise with late March-like days sneaking into early February. Yesterday on my walk it was sunny and 40 plus degrees. This time of untrustworthy too-early spring has the birds confused.
February is the time that I always listen for cardinals. Although they predictably sing well into late fall, they so go fairly quiet for the first half of winter. Then, they begin singing clearly again by the second week of February. I assume their three-note melody is triggered by longer sunlight, because it doesn’t usually matter if it is bone chilling cold, or unusually mild. Seemingly all by themselves they serve notice that winter is tiring and they sing in confidence to the hope of nearing spring. From now until the coming of next winter you can depend on cardinals greeting each new day.
So, it seemed almost chatty yesterday when I heard woodpeckers, and finches and even a phoebe singing away. I stopped and turned my ear towards the woods. I only had to wait for less than a minute before a cardinal sounded off from the tiptop of a white ash tree fifty yards or so off the road. That’s what I wanted to hear. The other birds that were chirping loudly in this unexpected southwest breeze will all go silent again when the wind switches back around to the northwest, which it will inevitably do. But I know that cardinal will bravely sing right through winter when it comes back to finish out the rest of its allotted term. The cardinal reminds me to be careful about where one should place one’s hope in order to not be disappointed. Dance only to the true song.
I noticed also that the raptors are on the wing these days. A pair of rough-legged hawks took flight well ahead of my approach. You can see that winter, with its weak thermals, is a harder season for the large birds to take flight. This pair came out of the top branches of a large cottonwood tree, swooping almost dangerously low to the ground before they were able to re-gain some altitude. It seemed to be a struggle as every time they tried to set their wings to glide they had to quickly revert to flapping hard to maintain loft. Nevertheless, during late morning across the fields, it is the hawks on the hunt that dominate the sky. This morning I saw the rough-legged pair, several still-solo red-tailed hawks, a marsh hawk, a pair of northern harriers and even an immature bald eagle. Although their flight demands notice for its power I expect that all of them look forward to the lighter air of warming days when they will be able to set their wings and soar seemingly endlessly. Given the threatening skies filled with these hunters, and poor snow cover for hiding, it is not a good season to be a rabbit or a vole. Something to be grateful about.