Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stormy Weather...

Postponing my errands yesterday turns out to be a bad idea. It's far worse out there today. Ten (6C) degrees colder than yesterday's 26 (-3C), snowflakes getting bigger and bigger by the hour. And no suet to share with the feathered friends. A day to make warm oatmeal for the chickens, and work up the ambition to go out and feed them soon. (I should have known it would be bad; THREE Steller's Jays in the yard yesterday.)

The cold weather is bringing out the birds; it's clear that winter weather brings birds and people close together, at least around here. All perches on the thistle feeder are occupied by Pine Siskins, most upside down, with more waiting in line on the chain of the adjacent birdbath. One of my favorites; click to see how many I caught in the air! Juncos are everywhere, and several Magpies, but only a few Red-winged Blackbirds have ventured out today.

A sassy new guy has also moved in of late; can you see him in the top photo? Sign of the times, as we never used to see these. Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) are going from occasional to regular; I think this one has set up shop somewhere in the yard. (Here's a closer view.) They are invasive, moving west along the tree-lined riparian areas of the Great Plains, setting up a stronghold in Denver's urban forest (Tree City USA), and now, growing more common in the foothills even outside riparian areas. Curiously, the distribution map at Nature Serve implies they belong in Colorado, but are exotic in Wyoming and other western states. Click on "Distribution" and scroll down to see a map with that distinctive finger reaching into Colorado along the South Platte River system. Apparently they haven't progressed as far in the Arkansas Valley. NatureServe suggests they're even vulnerable (to extinction, or rather extirpation) in Alabama, North Carolina, and New York states.

It's a good sign, I suppose, that our yard is arboreal enough to support these little monsters. I'm a softie, of course, so have thus far used no repellents or deadly force against them. We see no more than one at a time, and each has moved on in its own time, perhaps finding better pickings elsewhere. But today he's hungry, as is everyone else out there, and the sunflower seeds are too tempting, so he strikes a "cute squirrel" pose to convince me he's just part of the local ecosystem. And maybe he is.

NatureServe, by the way, is a handy reference to plant and animal distributions and taxonomy. For plants, I often use the USDA Database as well. This morning, while googling an obscure fungus, I discovered another repository of biodiversity information, the ZipCodeZoo. Pretty neat idea, but currently soliciting donations to prevent its own extinction. Drop by and see what you can learn about your own neighborhood; this site is rich in data, references, and links. (But use with caution: I've yet to see a Basking Shark or Pawpaw here in Colorado.)

In a closet somewhere in this house is a half-completed needlepoint sampler bearing the message Storms and Winter Weather Bring Plants and People Close Together. I think I'll propose this as a theme, at least in the northern hemisphere, for the upcoming edition of Berry-Go-Round. (Okay, so in my younger days I had illusions of being creative and skilled in domestic crafts, so what? We're all trying to figure out who we are here...grin)

Before leaving this a.m., the DH (bless his heart!) laid a fire for me in the woodstove, using his "new" upside-down technique. Works like a charm—10 minutes after lighting it, I had this lovely fire going, taking the chill off the house.


Watcher said...

I'm always fascinated by rodents (and birds for that matter) that manage to migrate across the Great Plains. Though he's an invader, and has got to be a pest to a bird-lover like yourself, you have to admire the sheer awesome-ness of his species' epic migration. And great pointer to Natureserve! I love the species/state matrices with the drill-down to the range maps. This site will save me tons of time. Thanks!


Dave Coulter said...

Aren't those feeders fun? Mine has been well visited due to the early cold weather!