ALWAYS IN SEASON: Sharing storm with common redpolls, others
It was pretty much a dream vacation for me: two days alone at home in a snowstorm. My partner, Suezette, had gone to Bismarck on university business, and the forecast was dire enough that I called off meetings with colleagues from Forum Communica...
It was pretty much a dream vacation for me: two days alone at home in a snowstorm.
My partner, Suezette, had gone to Bismarck on university business, and the forecast was dire enough that I called off meetings with colleagues from Forum Communications.
Knowing that the Herald is always in good hands, I announced I would take vacation to avoid the storm.
True, there was a chorus of derision as I left the building. "Weather weenie" was the general consensus.
No matter to me.
It's true, besides. I've spent enough time in snowbanks, and being home is much more pleasant.
And real three-day snowstorms are unusual in the Red River Valley, despite its reputation.
Of course, this storm didn't live up to the forecast. The real snow lasted only about 36 hours, and the wind never did kick up enough to produce blizzard conditions at my place near Gilby, N.D.
It was, nevertheless, an excellent storm from my point of view, producing at least a foot of snow and a dazzling winter landscape.
Nor was I entirely alone. The cats shared the house, and their welfare was one of my excuses to stay home during the storm.
Outside, there were birds.
I had the company of redpolls during the daylight hours. These tiny birds seemed comfortable enough in the snow, but they fed heavily throughout the storm. Because fresh snowfall covered the little mounds of sunflower seeds that I spread on the driveway, I replenished them every couple of hours.
Redpolls were not the only birds to take my offering. Black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, blue jays and two kinds of woodpeckers showed up as well.
Some of the redpolls proved very bold, coming within a few feet of me to feed. Despite my efforts, however, none would approach close enough to take seed from my hand.
Nor have I ever been successful in attracting any species that way. Once, a chickadee landed on my head, but it didn't feed from my hand. Besides, chickadees are well known for their trusting nature. They live among us, occupying city parks and backyards as well as mature forests, so they are intimately familiar with humans.
Not so the redpolls, which are birds of the North. They nest across the Arctic past the tree line. They also occur in treeless and windswept areas of Scotland, Scandinavia and Russia.
None of these areas are thickly peopled, of course.
So it's a good bet that most redpolls encounter people only during the winter, when they come south - though not every year. This has been an exceptional year for redpolls.
At one point during the storm, it occurred to me to try to get a count. This proved to be a challenge, since the birds are continuously active, flitting from the sunflower seed spilled on the ground to low bushes and evergreens nearby.
Earlier in the winter, I thought there were as many as 100 redpolls at my place, but my count on Thursday does not sustain this. I never tallied more than 60 birds. This is an imperfect count, to be sure. Really it's little better than an estimate. It hardly seems likely, however, that there could nearly that many birds again.
So, my revised count is 60 to 100 birds.
Of course, I can't be sure whether these are all of the redpolls that were around earlier. At church one Sunday, I promised a neighbor who's interested in birds that I would send some redpolls to his place. Maybe they went there, because he provided the food and shelter these birds need for survival in the snow.
Or maybe the birds went north.
This was a north-moving snowstorm. Areas to the north of Grand Forks had less snow than areas to the south. Perhaps some redpolls lit out for the nesting ground.
In any case, it's nearly time for redpolls to head north. They are hardy birds and seldom linger here after the snow disappears - which can't be more than a month or six weeks away, despite last week's snowfall.
Jacobs is publisher and editor of the Herald.