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Into The Outdoors: The weather and other things

In this first column of the new year, we are going to look at a number of things. The weather we have been having has been somewhat incredible. Of course, it has been exceptionally warm. In fact, there was a thunderstorm in December. I am an old man, but I don’t personally remember that happening ever before. Now, as I am writing this, it is cold outside, and there is snow in the forecast. Go figure.

Much of the benefit of this warm weather falls on the squirrel hunter. Squirrels, of course, do not hibernate but, like a lot of critters, including me, are less active when the weather is cold. Warm spells, right after a cold spell, can really get them moving. If you are in the woods at the right time, it can be a genuine bonanza in the late small game season. In fact, I plan to venture forth soon. Some fresh squirrels in the slow cooker and served with gravy over noodles would hit the spot.

For those of the ice fishing persuasion, however, this has not been a good winter. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find safe ice under these conditions. I have done it over the years, but my ice fishing days are over. I can’t say that I ever had a good time ice fishing. Some things are fun to look back on and laugh, but they weren’t fun at the time. I do, however, hope that ice anglers get a chance to pursue their passion. More power to them.

One of the more pleasant winter activities is maintaining a bird feeder. While many of our area bird species migrate southward for the winter, there are also many permanent, year round residents. Food for them is often relatively scarce, especially in the kind of weather we’ve been having this year. With a backyard feeder, you can help out the birds, and have the pleasure of seeing them as well. Let’s take a little look at some common winter visitors to a backyard feeder.

The black-capped chickadee is one of our most popular birds. These little guys are actually seen more often in the winter than in the summer, when they are busy raising their young. They are frequently seen hanging upside down from small twigs and branches. The call of the chickadee is unmistakeable, as he plainly says his name. Both the chickadee and the white-breasted nuthatch, a similar though larger bird, are extremely fond of suet in the winter. Commercial wild bird seed will draw them in, too, although I’ve heard that the suet provides them with more heat and energy.

The blue jay is one of our best known and, for many, least loved winter layovers. While they are confirmed nest robbers, and do tend to run other birds off once in awhile, they are really very beautiful and fun to watch. Rather than judging them, I choose to just enjoy them. They are, in fact, among my favorite birds. One of my most valued art prints is a Donald Blakney rendition of blue jays in autumn. The whole scene depicted in the print strongly resembles one of my all time favorite squirrel hunting spots which, sadly, no longer exists.

The cardinal is one bird that everybody loves. Its bright plumage and perky demeanor are sure to cheer you up. In winter, they stand out as a burst of color against both snow and barren landscape. Cardinals are well known for their curiosity. A friend of mine once had a cardinal become fascinated with the mirror on his car. The bird would sit for long periods of time on the stem of the mirror and watch its own reflection. It even tried to feed it a time or two. Interestingly, there is a belief that, if a cardinal shows up, it is a sign from a deceased loved one. Nice thought.

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