Tuesday, February 9, 2010

AN ALL-DAY FEAST

I used to live in a house across the road from a small grocery. The store and its parking lot were in plain sight from my family-room window—and since I spent a fair amount of time looking out, I kept pretty good track of the comings and goings at the little market. Friday, being payday for many area residents, was generally the busiest day; from late-afternoon after day-shift workers got off until closing time, a steady stream of patrons parked, disappeared inside, only to reappear some time later carrying sacks of foodstuffs. Many, perhaps with big families to feed, pushed their bags of purchases out in laden carts.
That was the usual drill. But just let a few snowflakes appear—or the TV and radio broadcast dire warnings of an impending snowstorm—and the local citizenry descended upon that grocery like ants on a sugar cube! Hordes of desperate customers, apparently faced with the prospects of looming starvation should they fail to stuff their larders with food sufficient to keep them fat and sassy for a month!
It was quite a circus. Parking spaces were at a premium. Some parked their cars across the street; others left a designated driver at the wheel to circle the block, or park illegally somewhere nearby and keep the engine idling, ready for a fast getaway should a police car appear. Inside the market, shelves were being stripped of their goods faster than stock boys could resupply…and at some point, things simply ran out. Not just edible things, mind you—but nearly everything from chewing gum to hairspray to mosquito repellant, even though mosquito weather was easily several months away. You have to wonder about human nature sometimes—especially when faced with a crisis so small it barely rated as an inconvenience.
Birds and animals are far more orderly and well behaved. Even on a day such as this, which has been one of snow, snow, and more snow—starting in the middle of the night and continuing more-or less nonstop; it's snowing, still, a fine sifting with a few larger flakes in the mix. Not that it has amounted to a lot; perhaps another 8 inches on top of our earlier snow, which had packed some. The most I can measure anywhere in the yard is 12-14 inches.
Still, a bird or squirrel has to eat. Food means calories with means body heat which translates to survival. Critters eat to live—as we all do, of course, except they're usually working on a far narrower margin. In their case, obtaining and consuming plenty of food isn't just a case of going to sleep with a full stomach…it's living through the night and waking up tomorrow morning. Thank God most us us will never know that fine a line!
I've kept my feeders stocked and plenty of grain scattered. And the food bar has been busy from daylight onward. I'd like to think everyone had plenty.
Cardinals have led the charge, as they always do. I don't know how many redbirds live around here, but they're generally the most numerous—and certainly the most visible—species at the feeders. More than once I counted a couple of dozen, males and females, within 20 feet of the front door and deck.
In addition to the cardinals, I had quite a few white-throated and tree sparrows show up; downy, hairy, and red-belied woodpeckers; titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, a few juncos and a handful of starlings; doves; mallards up from the river; and goldfinches, house finches, and purple finches, though for some reason, their numbers are way down from a month ago.
The great blue heron has spent the day standing on various ice shelves or snow-covered rocks, fishing either in the mainstream or the small channel dividing the two islands. Yesterday the kingfisher was diving like gangbusters, working busily for hours; I never saw or heard the bird today, though.
Squirrels have been in short supply. Most, I suspect, are curled up in a warm, communal pile deep in the snug confines of their sycamore hollow nest. Only a couple bothered to make their way from the big tree to the box elder where the feeders hang.
So that the report from the riverbank. Everyone is fed and in fine fettle, including the heron because I watched him nail several not-so-small baitfish while I was having my own lunch by the front window. I'm a pretty good fisherman…but that ol' heron is even better.

14 comments:

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Ooh, Griz- I love that photo of the heron. I don't believe I've ever seen a heron in the snow. They head out of town before it gets that cold here. We had a pretty decent snowfall yesterday and I was happy to have the day off today just to stay home, out of the traffic. Snow days make me want to bake so it's pot roast with carrots and potatoes and blueberry cake tonight.
(the price of blueberries in February in Minnesota is enought to make one cry)

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Scribe: You have an amazing following!!! So colorful and cute ... and I'm not talking about bloggers ... although they probably are colorful and cute in their own way.

You have a lot of expectations to fulfil - and my guess is you are loving it. Lucky bird and lucky birds.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

I love your vivid shared recall of living across from that grocery store. Priceless - to be able to watch human behavior without it being known. I suspect your report and opinion is 100% accurate. As is your report and opinion of the wild life that happily live, survive in part because of you on your shsared river bank. Your photos are stunning - your expressions, delightful, honest and exciting. Thanks Grizz for the "view". We are getting a clssic Nor'easter here tomorrow - so ya, we were just like some of those folks you watched from your window at the grocery store! :-)

Love you
Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

I have several herons hanging along the river throughout the winter. I can usually see three or four standing at favorite spots up and down stream. Sometimes a couple get to chasing and clattering at one another—likely guarding their fishing spots, making a real racket for twenty or thirty minutes. During these heavy snows, they'll fish an hour or two in one spot, maybe move to another spot, or fly up in a tree and sit there a while—possibly warming themselves, though I can't think being 40 feet up in the air, where the wind is blowing, could possibly be warmer than if they sat on a lower branch.

I've tried to be careful about attempting to take many heron shots during these hard times, as I didn't want to feel guilt about spooking the bird from his fishing. This shot I just opened the sliding door to the front deck wide enough to stick my zoom lens out, and fired away. The bird never knew; there is a fine snow falling which, at the 175 foot distance between me to the bird, sort of diffused everything.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Why, I'm absolutely sure all my readers are colorful and cute…also, thoughtful, intelligent, well-read, erudite, and choosy in their tastes of blog sites.

By contrast, my birds and squirrels are, at best, a motley lot—given to squabbles, raucous, the sort of rowdy, rebel-rousing characters who always choose to live along rivers, fun-loving ruffians one and all; neither countryfied or citified, but something a bit more wild and uncontained, with a devil-may-care streak to boot.

You're right…I do have a lot of expectations to fulfill! Egads!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I never cease to be amused—along with several other adjectives I could employ—by people. Their behavior is…well, "interesting" doesn't even come close. It was funny to watch folks stampede that little grocery at the mere hint of snow, though.

When weather hits, my thing is to cook. And usually something meaty and filling, spicy and filled with taste, such as chili or beef stew. And bread…have to bake bread! But I always have the staples on hand, so no trips among the ravaging crowds to fight for my pot roast or parsnips. I'd rather sit by the hearth, sip a glass of ox-blood burgundy, and watch them scratch and claw from a'far…

Enjoy your nor'easter!

Delwyn said...

Good morning

I loved to see that blue heron in the snow accustomed as I am to seeing my herons on the sand banks and river edges in 30C.

I wonder when I see these pictures bloggers post of the birds coming to feeding stations, just what would the birds do if you left town?
Are they dependent on your supplies?

We are advised not to feed the bird life here although people do regularly.

Happy days

Bernie said...

It is the same way here, mention snow is on the way and everyone heads out to fill gas tanks, wallets and the most poplar spot, the grocery store. It is amuzing but I do it as well even though I keep a well stocked pantry. I think it is the nature of the beast.
I love how you keep the birds, squirrels etc. well fed on the river.....I am not in the country but I also make it a point to keep the feeders filled and the ground covered for whoever needs/wants food. I hear the birds more often than I see them, don't know why but I love to hear them chirping away....it's then I realize life is good.
Great photo's Grizz, I so enjoy them......Stay warm my friend and be careful shovelling with your back....:-) Hugs

Tramp said...

What is that red-headed bird in the 2nd photo? Too small to be a woodpecker? In the forest with the dog this morning we could hear one tapping away but completey elusive as we tried to locate it., a complete tease.Keep warm!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Delwyn…

I have a lot of great blue herons here along this stretch of river—although really, the entire river is well populated with these big feathered fishermen. Mine seem to winter over well, regardless of snow, ice, and cold weather. That's because they can always manage to catch sufficient fish.

You occasionally hear some talk about how feeding the birds makes them dependent on handouts, creates unnatural population densities which lead to disease, etc. I've been concerned enough to do quite of a bit of reading and research—and so far as I'm able to determine, such advice is more opinion than fact, with little to no evidence to back it up. Indeed, there are any number of studies which seem to prove just the opposite.

Do I have more cardinals or gray squirrels around because I feed them? Maybe. Does it hurt or endanger them in any way? Not that I can see. I look at it, finally, in pretty basic terms…feed what's hungry—birds, squirrels, people.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

In spite of all our recent snowstorms, I haven't been to the grocery for over a week, and wouldn't have gone then except for a couple of prescriptions needing refills, so ended up buying some things as I was there. I could easily go a month without needing much of anything—and several months if it came down to simply having food to eat. And even that probably wouldn't pose much of a hardship so far as variety.

When I was growing up, Mom canned a lot, and it was nothing for her to put up 200 quarts of tomatoes, the same number of green beans, nearly as many quarts of peaches and pears, plus dozens of jars of pickles, beets, relishes, and other veggies. We had two chest-type deep freezers, filled with beef, pork, chicken, and bag after bag of filleted fish—walleye, crappie, bluegill, catfish; plus things such as dandelion greens (my favorite of all greens), blackberries, cakes, and shelled out nutmeats such as walnuts, hickory nuts, and butternuts. We bought 25 lb. bags of flour and sugar. Had strings of dried green beans (leather britches) in the attic, along with dried apples and other fruits; bushels of apples in the basement and storage shed out back. I'm not exaggerating when I say the three of us (I was an only child) could have easily lived a year without darkening a grocery except to buy milk, eggs, coffee. I have the sort of same mentality, I guess…don't get caught short. So when the storms come, I channel my hunter/gatherer urges into hearty cooking. And I don't have to join the mob in the grocery stores!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

That red-headed bird IS a woodpecker…the poorly named red-bellied woodpecker. (Actually, the more obvious name—red-headed woodpecker—is already taken by another bird, which also has a red head and apparently got first dibs on the name. And, the red-bellied does have a bit of orangy red on their bellies—though not easy to see.) BTW, the red-bellied, being 9 to nearly 11 inches in length, is not all that small—just looks small in the photo, I guess.

Yesterday, when the snow was coming down at a pretty steady clip, I heard a woodpecker drumming—which can be an audial territory marker, an intimation of procreative desires…or just a woodpecker's way of showing off via rhythm.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Have you ever thought of producing a book called "My River" - it would sell like hot cakes Scribe (or like the foodstuffs in that grocery store on a snowy day). Your standard of photography and your poetic writing would stand the test of time - and I would buy the first copy. Love the blue heron - and thank you for another cardinal.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I certainly appreciate the literary/photographic encouragement—though whether I could peddle more than a dozen copies of such a book might be questionable. But should I ever manage such a a book, you'll have a copy.

And you're welcome re. cardinals. As you can see from the one shot, I have plenty to spare.