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More storms, more snow, more howling winds . . . one might say it’s definitely winter in Maine! For lack of anything better to do I got up on the roof to shovel what I thought was about a foot of snow that was hanging over the eaves and discovered a drift that was more than 5 feet high! The densely packed and (thankfully) light snow was hidden from view in the valley of my office ell. I was actually able to walk down close to the edge of the roof to get the job done because the snow was deep and dense enough to provide safe footing. I also had my trusty ice creepers strapped on (the greatest innovation in winter wear since the snowshoe was invented). There was an inch or two of crusty snow nearest the shingles so I was able to walk up and down the roof with the sure-footedness of a Sherpa – and I’m normally not that sure-footed.
Naturally, as I toiled against the mountain of snow I paused quite often to admire the snow-covered scenery and marvel once again at how, storm after storm this year, none of it was sticking to the trees. Some of the lower evergreens did have some snow on them but that’s just the nature of the densely-needled beasts. The hardwoods were entirely bare and standing tall, not a flake to be seen. I can’t recall a winter where the snow never touched the trees, and that may be why we’ve had relatively few (and short) power outages this winter. When the snow doesn’t stick the trees don’t bend, and when the trees don’t bend the wires are untouched. See, there is a bright side to everything!
During one of my many shoveling breaks I happened to notice some bird activity at the corner of the stone wall. Decades ago someone had planted a trio of Burning Bush plants that now are overgrown and spread over the stone wall. Rumor has it that Burning Bush is an “invasive” plant and is disparaged by many state and federal agencies because it’s feared that the plant will take over the world and ruin everything, and in fact it’s difficult to find a nursery that will sell one. I think these bright red bushes are very attractive and I can pretty much tell you where every one of them is in my area, but “invasive?” I find that hard to believe because all of the Burning Bushes I know of are right where they’ve always been.
Burning Bush plants grows in low meadows, open slopes, open woodland, stream banks and in moist soils, especially thickets, valleys and forest edges. Most folks with an eye for fall color have one or two in their yard.
The fruit of the Burning Bush is poisonous to humans, but is eaten by several species of birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings, hence the fear of “invasion” voiced by most experts on the subject.
The only invasion I noticed while atop the roof was a large flock of robins, which had swooped out of the nearby woods and was busily foraging on the abundance of fruit hanging from the bushes. Another great excuse for me to stop shoveling! Most folks believe that robins fly south for the winter and the fact that they disappear so quickly in the fall makes a good case for that, but the truth is that robins spend the winters just out of view in the dense evergreen swamps all around us. They are quiet, subdued and rather inactive compared to their front-lawn searches for earthworms during the spring and summer, but they are out there. The flock I saw numbered about a dozen birds and every one of them was busily picking away at the red seed pods that covered the Burning Bush. They didn’t say much and they didn’t stay long, every one of them flew back into the thicket with a crop full of berries. The bush-covered corner isn’t visible from my house except from the roof top, so I counted it as just another unique encounter that only comes when one is outdoors – even if it means being on the roof!
One might think that with all the cold, snow and wind that all the wild creatures would be huddled up in the woods somewhere, but throughout all of the recent storms I’ve observed a steady stream of birds and animals making their way to the feeders. Normally, I keep my wood shed closed up so it doesn’t fill up with snow, but lately I’ve kept the doors open just a crack so as to keep a good air flow going.
Just before the most recent storm I went out for another load of wood and found the shed to be full of finches, chickadees and nuthatches. All had taken refuge in the shed and were lined up atop the wood pile and 2x4 framing like pigeons on a ledge. A few of them fluttered out the now-open door, but the majority of them just hopped to the back of the shed and sat there while I collected my wagonload of aged oak.
I stopped to check the flying squirrel tunnel which led directly from the corner of the shed under the snow to the feeders and found it to be clear and packed down by tiny, muddy feet. The trail camera on my deck shows that a few deer mice have been using the tunnel as well, and during the day red and gray squirrels also make use of it.
I don’t mind sharing the facilities with my wild friends in winter. We’re all in the same boat now and it wouldn’t seem right to exclude anyone, not even the hawks that happen by throughout the day. This winter the predatory birds have not been doing well judging by the lack of evidence in the snow. I guess those tunnel makers have them fooled!
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