Column: Winter time at the creek

Published 11:06 am Thursday, January 22, 2009

By Staff
With all the snow our place on the creek has become a fantasy land. The domed piles of snow atop the patio table, chairs and grill make them look like giant white mushrooms.
The creek is full and the swift, asphalt gray water cuts a winding road through an otherwise white, featureless world. I actually hate to go out to fill the bird feeders because my tracks defile the undulating, pristine blanket of snow. No worries, though, for the nightly winds and snow squalls fill them in and smooth out the blanket like no one had ever been there. But tend the feeders I must for the continual onslaught of juncos, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, goldfinches, doves and downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers drain them at an alarming rate. The discarded Christmas tree lying near the feeders makes a great hideout from sharp-shinned hawks but only when the Cooper's hawk isn't perched on its stump as he's wont to do. Flocks of cedar waxwings come and go but never check out the feeders.
The pair of mallards that showed up a couple of weeks ago has now been joined by a half dozen others. How entertaining it is to watch the bathing ritual. One will start ducking his head under water. That progresses to splashing water with his wings and tipping side to side. One by one the others join in. Soon they're all splashing and bobbing around like kids in the community pool. The grand finale is diving completely underwater. It all ends as quickly as it began. Just a few days ago the congestion on the creek heightened when an equal number of Canada geese moved in. This is not without its difficulties. How do you tend the bird feeders without scaring off the ducks and geese? We seem to have worked out an agreement. I must wait until they happen to be some distance up or down stream. Then I can go out as long as I move slowly and, most of all, don't look in their direction. The kingfisher is not so tolerant. He bugs out but soon returns.
And poor old Big Blue, our resident great blue heron that somehow missed the Migrating South For Dummies class. On these near zero days he hunkers up into a shapeless wad for hours looking about as miserable as miserable gets. The other day he was hunkered down in Goose Bay, a small shallow back water that is now mostly frozen over. A muskrat hauled up onto the ice and waddled by so close I thought he might tip Big Blue over. Blue never even lifted his head. Then a big glob of snow fell out of a tree and splashed into the creek close by. I thought he'd jump out of his skin but he didn't even flinch. Hours later he hadn't so much as wiggled an inch. A deer walked out onto the ice a short ways from him. I figured the deer would break through the ice and the commotion would bring him to life. But the deer thought better of her folly and returned to shore passing not three feet from Blue and he didn't even twitch. For the next hour the deer and her five companions milled all around Blue, sometimes nearly stepping on him and he remained totally oblivious. Now that's miserable.
The porch of the log cabin next to our house is where I put the ears of corn for anyone interested. The squirrel living across the creek picks an ear up in his mouth and goes to a creek side tree. He then shifts the ear so it sticks straight forward like a big, Cuban cigar almost as big as he is. He laboriously climbs the tree to its very upper branches which intertwine with branches from a tree on his side of the creek. After a few moments rest he teeters along the wispy branches, completes the crossing and is home with take-out dinner. Surely one of these days he's going to fall in the creek. That is, if he can beat the rabbit that spends much of her time on the porch to the corn. Carpe diem.