By Boak Wiesner
A late morning idyll at the junction of the boardwalks on the 1st of December. As the clouds rolled in, the air itself seemed to quiet down. The normal susurrus of traffic on 7 was not very apparent. And that let the calls of many of our local winter birds be heard all around me. All it takes is for one to stop and linger for a while and concentrate on what the aural environment has to offer. How do I get people walking through to pause long enough to hear? The ground is dry enough to sit and the thick carpet of oak leaves provides some good insulation for a good sit.
Downy Woodpeckers were hammering away in their quick frequency which is because of their small size. Bigger woodpeckers have slower frequencies and often this is enough to identify which one is banging on a dead tree. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, with all their various calls, remind me of Flickers a bit, wandering through with their drastic undulating flight.
Black-capped Chickadees and White-Breasted Nuthatches, which look a lot alike but have completely different calls, were sampling what the Red Oaks had to offer overhead. A pair of Bluejays flashed through. They have a wide repertoire of calls. One fooled me once outside my house by mimicking a Red-Shouldered Hawk. Sounds exactly the same. Goldfinches, too, with their quick three-part call, swept through.
A murder of many crows cawing in the distance probably meant they were mobbing an owl but I couldn’t get close enough to see. Right at hand was a group of Cardinals of mixed genders – I wonder what the collective noun for them would be? A convocation? Amongst them was an unfamiliar call but a glance through the binocs showed me a rusty cap. Voila! An American Tree Sparrow, which visits around here only in the winter. Their travelling companions, Juncoes, were all over the marsh, as well as a White-Throated Sparrow, still hanging around. It’s one of my three favorite Boundary Waters birds.
Speaking of houses, squirrels both Red and Gray could be heard in the still air, both of which were scolding some intruder. Lots of acorns still on the ground means good eatin’ for these arboreal rodents. I found this nest up in an Aspen at the edge of the swamp. Along the boardwalk were some remaining Highbush Cranberries. I wondered why they weren’t all eaten up? No turkey to accompany them?
Boak Wiesner is a Naturalist Volunteer