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A Year of Birds: December 2022

December has come in cold, but not bitter as it often does here in northeast Michigan. The days are often cloudy and gray, unless the sun decides to peek through. Some mornings, the banks of clouds on the horizon look like a small mountain range in the distance, and it is beautiful.

While driving back home from town, I took a back road, and saw a red-tailed hawk sitting in a tree. These are beautiful birds, and I enjoyed watching him take off, and then soar into the sky and circle.

red tailed hawk flying

The Canadian geese are still feeding near the shore of the bay in the mornings. They are beautiful, and I have seen groups of 7 birds floating at times.

During the weekend, I heard a familiar chatter in the trees: the sound of finches. Last year, there were no finches at the feeder, and so I waited to see who would show up. Finally, they got over their initial shyness and showed up: goldfinches. I caught a photo of a chickadee perched near one that is looking suspiciously at me, as if to reassure the finch that all is well.

Then, another visitor showed up that I have never seen before: an evening grosbeak. These are striking birds, with their white bars against black, and yellow eyebrows and breasts and shoulders. I hope that with the food source, they will hang around a bit.

evening grosbeak on the ground

Finally, the female cardinal is showing up more. She mainly watched the other birds eating from a distance, then slowly hopped near the feeder to get seeds that dropped on the ground. She did look a bit surprised when I took her picture, but then went right back to eating sunflower seeds.

Finally, I saw a visitor to the feeder that I didn’t expect at all: a robin. They usually migrate before now, and I am wondering if the unusually warm weather this fall kept them here. Or, he may be fattening up a bit on the seeds before flying south.  

As December progresses, the temperature is up and down, with some warmer days and others extremely cold. On one warmer day, I went out hiking and saw not seven, but “five swans a swimming”, reminding me of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” when I saw them.

The edges of the bay are getting cold and covered with ice as the nights drop to below freezing, but the open waters have not iced over yet, and the geese are still here. I can certainly understand why they have warm down to protect them, since the waters are absolutely frigid now. During the day, they come quite close to the beach, and when they dive, their white underbellies look like miniature iceburgs in the water.

Driving home one day from town, I saw a ruffed grouse by the side of the road. I followed him into the woods a bit (he was there with his mate), and he did not like my getting close: he ruffed up his neck feathers and spread out his tail feathers, and then took off. These are birds with beautiful markings, and I enjoy seeing them.

ruffed grouse in the brush

I have been checking ebird daily, to see if there have been any snowy owl sightings yet in this area. So far, no one has indicated the return of these beautiful birds, but I am also aware that to protect them, some may not put up a sighting. When I look, I see hawks and eagles, but no snowy yet.

This year, it is mainly chickadees that are coming to the feeder. Each day, they still line up in the trees, and as the days are getting shorter and colder, I try to make sure breakfast is in the feeder early. They are quite tame, and will sit and look at me as I stand near them.

The geese are beautiful in the early dawn. I know that soon the bay will freeze over, and they will go, but I enjoy watching them float by when the sun is just coming up.

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