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A Year of Birds: February 2023

The warm spell at the January didn’t last. It is, after all, winter in northeast Michigan. The temperatures dropped to a chilly -5 degrees F in the early morning, and I am feeding the birds twice a day now (and the deer, too! They come by regularly for snacks).

The ground has turned from a muddy, dark brown to the pure crystalline whites of winter, and the yard has been transformed into a winter wonderland.

The chickadees seem to be quite grateful for the seeds, and each day more are filling the pines near the feeder. Some are new, and look at me quizzically when I stay to take their portrait.  Others perch in the pine trees, waiting for me to scatter some on the ground.

On a hike with some friends, there was a bald eagle sitting in a tree on the point on one side of the bay. This is his favorite perch; I often see him flying across the bay and back, searching for fish in the icy waters of the bay, or other prey. The waters in the bay are half frozen over now, so he had to search further out.

Later, he slowly flew right overhead, as if investigating who these humans were on his private bay. How cold the waters are. He is so beautiful, and I loved watching him slowly soar in a circle before he took off.

I occasionally see the geese swimming, in spite of how cold the waters of the bay are. I am so glad that they have extra layers of insulation.

But typical of northeast Michigan, in a few days, the weather warms up again. It is an absolutely balmy 40 degrees F outside, and I go hiking several days a row on the beach. During the hikes, I didn’t see any birds except a seagull who swooped close by as he flew overhead. The next day, I saw the gull again, sitting on a submerged rock in the bay, looking content as he rested between fishing trips.

I was also amazed early one morning to see some goldeneyes on the bay. These ducks are the harbingers of spring, since they usually come before the first robin (which is the state bird of Michigan, I don’t understand why, since they migrate away in the winter. I would prefer and winter-hardy bird like the cardinal, or chickadee….). Anyway, it is the third week in February, and the goldeneyes are here! They were pretty far out, so I couldn’t get a good picture – they look like dark silhouettes, but I did watch them floating across the bay now that the ice has melted.

With the temperature warming and the bay thawing out, I also saw swans on the bay. I know they are considered non-native, and pests, but I still think they are beautiful. Since the tundra swans do not come to this bay, they are safe from these European transplants to our area.

I also saw a juvenile bald eagle flying across the bay during the nice weather, when it was sunny. I do with the weather would stay this way.

But this is northeast Michigan, and February, and again the temperatures have dropped to zero. The bay is starting to ice over again, and one morning I saw a group of geese sitting on the ice, resting.

The chickadees are flocking to the feeder for seed in the morning. I stay nearby as long as I can to give them a chance to eat breakfast, before the deer come and eat the seed up. There are practically herds of deer that walk through several times a day, hunting for food and scarfing up any seed that the chickadees and titmice leave.

I have mixed feeling about deer. Yes, they are pretty, but they are everywhere. I caught a picture of two who just had a late breakfast at the feeder before deciding to saunter along to the next house to look for a free handout. You may notice how plump they look, since they are regulars at the bird feeder.

There is one group of deer that comes with what looks like a baby (it must have been born in the fall), and I always hope it gets enough to eat. I realize that it is impossible in this area near the woods to feed the birds, and not also feed the deer, unless I get a seeder that is too high for them to reach. But they need food, too, so I let them be.

The bay has iced over, and the cold temperatures continue, with minor warming up and then snow. As February comes to a close, it looks like winter, but the days are getting longer, and I know that spring is near. I haven’t seen the goldeneyes the past week (hopefully, they are hunkered down near open water that they can feed in), but I know they will return once the bay thaws. I did see some crows out on the bay, gathered together. These hardy birds can handle any kind of weather, just like most Michiganders who choose to live here in the winter.

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