February 17 – It was 9° at the house this morning, but the sky was a brilliant blue without a cloud. On the telephone cable along the road a male cardinal was singing away. This wasn’t the short weak song we typically hear on pleasant winter days – it was a full-throated territorial song typical of spring.
Cardinals are year-round residents and maintain their territories (although not too vigorously) throughout the winter. Earlier in the winter three different pairs of cardinals visited our feeders, but since the days of cold and snow have arrived there’s been but one pair here. Did the other birds succumb to the weather or did the dominant pair drive them away?
Further down the road a small flock of robins fed on the shriveled fruits of an ornamental crabapple.
Most years a few robins winter in the lowlands and wetlands near the river. But, these birds weren’t near the river and it appeared that all were males. Perhaps they were birds that have been wintering in the area. Or, perhaps in spite of the snow and cold the most adventurous male robins are heading north already. That would give them a chance to claim the best territories, but also put them at risk of perishing in a late winter storm – some years these early birds would win, some years they’d lose.
February 18 – A male house finch in the apple tree displayed his bright breeding color and was accompanied by a female, the only house finch to be seen near the house this day.
For a few years many of the house finch we saw had conjunctivitis that affected their eyes to the point that they couldn’t see well if at all – it’s doubtful if any of those birds survived. But for the past two years we’ve not seen a house finch with conjunctivitis. Presumably the birds that were very susceptible to the disease were eliminated from the population and birds that had some resistance remained to produce subsequent generations. Survival of the fittest on display.
February 20 – The flock of robins appeared at the house today, picking the fruits from an ornamental holly at the corner of the house.
Some of them perched in a small white pine, seeming to bask in the sunlight. They’re making the rounds of the neighborhood, feeding on any remaining fruit they can find. The temperature was well over 40° F this afternoon melting several inches of snow; but there’s still well over 15 inches of snow on the ground. Will the snow melt before the fruit is gone?
February 21 – Down along the river, in addition to the cold rain typical of early spring, there were even more signs of spring: An immature Coopers hawk sat on a limb, looking rather bedraggled in the rain. I’d prefer a lower temperature and falling snow to rain at 36°, would the bird?
In the river there were some early migrants: a lone horned grebe –
And several pairs of hooded mergansers –
The flower buds on the silver maples are swelling, ready to burst into bloom. They're the first trees to flower in the northeast, and do so long before their leaf buds open.
The signs of spring will be appearing more rapidly now, and even though we may well have more snow and low temperatures, the lengthening days are triggering changes in plants and animals that prepare them for the arrival of another season.