As I am writing this we are leaving a week of very unusually cold temperatures. The fog has persisted for much of the day and if it lifts the sunlight lasts a couple of short hours before sunset. This has led to a rare sheet of ice on the pond I can see from my windows—which is part of the Bethany wetlands through which Willow Creek meanders. Some of my neighbors have left for warmer weather and we’ll get reports about the temperatures in Palm Springs or Australia soon via email. Sitting in my sunny window this afternoon I can almost feel what it might be like to reach those warmer temperatures and yet one glance at my pond shows the thin skin of ice and the lacy textures of the previously invisible cobwebs are revealed in the frost as the sun shines weakly on them.
The change in temperature brings new stresses and solutions to our wildlife. Occasionally and very rarely over the past 15 years I have lived here I have seen Bald Eagles. This past week the eagles have been regular visitors to the “buffet line” that this icy pond has become. I imagine that their usual diet of rodents and other small animals has been disrupted by this cold snap so they have sought out new food sources. Fortunately Bald Eagles are very flexible in what they eat— which allows them to thrive in different conditions. Apparently this week they prefer duck or goose although and occasional small minnow also seems to be on the menu.
In addition to the Eagle pair we have had several duck types not usually visiting our pond. Every year we do have several Hooded Mergansers who also fish for minnows and apparently do well since they stay for several months before leaving for their breeding grounds. They have had to share the pond with these interloping ducks over the past week—we have had visits from Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails and even a Ring Necked Duck couple. These groups seemed to be resting while traveling around and did not stay—these ducks are vegetarians so possibly our pond is more suited to producing fish and frogs and snakes than duck weed or other plants.
So far our hummingbird feeder has not frozen. For those of us who recall our chemistry courses—water with dissolved sugar (and other solutes) freezes at a lower temperature than regular water. In some years past with prolonged colder temperatures the sugar water has frozen and then we hooked up a warming light to shine on the feeder—oh those birds have worked their way into our hearts. We also have a specially designed birdbath heater – clearly one does not put anything electrical near water! Unless designed for that purpose. I have seen many of our yard birds drinking and enjoying the “hot tub” since most of the puddles and other shallow bits of water are totally frozen.
While I don’t exactly enjoy layering up in coats and hats to go out or like to worry about slick streets, the other joys of winter are plentiful. The different birds we see, the beautiful outlines of the winter branches in the frost and the brilliant berries in the yard, which stand out, are all sources of wonder and joy. Get outside or look outside and be amazed.