From Wayside Wanderings II
How they brighten the winter days, these small fragments of life. What human decorations can rival those of nature; dark trees trimmed with seeds and cones and snow and graced by living birds of red and gold.
The day had been lowering and dark with, now and then, a drift of mist or swirl of snow in the air. A leaden sky above, pearly snow below and a general gray haze blurring the outlines between, made the day as neutral and uninspiring as swamp water. But as most dark days have their bright spots, so did this one, in the form of birds.
The box elders were decked with ornamental evening grosbeaks, antique gold and black males and the softer, muted tones of the females and immature birds. The heavy greenish beaks methodically stripped the meaty seeds, letting ravaged wings drift to the sterile snow. An occasional loud voiced group would whirr off to a neighborhood feeder to freeload on expensive sunflower seed and, as freeloaders do, squack loudly for more.
Quieter and more subtly attired, rosy plumaged pine grosbeaks brightened the shadowy spruce and pines as the gleaned seeds from the remaining cones. Their sweet whispering voices kept a constant murmured conversation through the forest as the flocks moved steadily along, foot by foot, tree by tree. Where, in autumn, honeysuckle bushes had hung heavy with red fruit, the branches now drooped with the weight of plump, rosy birds feeding on the blackened, shriveled berries.
In apple trees where wizened, frozen fruit still clung, white-winged crossbills gathered in the rusty clusters, swirled to the ground on white-barred, dusky wings and rose to the trees again to dine on the winery remnants; then into the spruces where their strangely twisted, scissor-like beaks easily pry seeds from cones. These pinkish crossbills are less frequently seen than the red crossbills that are often seen in the pines and on roads where they appear to be picking at the gravel and salt of which they are especially fond. Red crossbills may be distinguished by the absence of white wing bars and by the dull orange to brick coloring.
How they brighten the winter days, these small fragments of life. What human decorations can rival those of nature; dark trees trimmed with seeds and cones and snow and graced by living birds of red and gold. Enjoy them today; tomorrow then may be gone.