While democracy was on the brink of collapse last week, the natural world continued to demystify the cynics and go about the business of winter survival. Birds searched for seeds, deer jumped my fence and rummaged through my compost, ermine pounced through the snow from their burrows to catch a vole, rabbits nibbled twiggy tips, an owl hooted, and something attacked a great blue heron along the hatchery fat bike trail in Winthrop, leaving a bloodied, feathered massacre on display.
Prior to the insurrection, on Jan. 3 the 33rd annual Twisp Christmas bird count took place. Numbers from the count are still yet to be tallied, but organizer Julie Hovis said that despite the fact that the count wasn’t advertised because of COVID precautions, they had the largest participation ever, breaking last year’s record of 56 participants. The high turnout was likely contributed to more backyard feeder counts than usual.
The Twisp Christmas bird count is part of the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, which is the largest running wildlife census in the world, 121 years and counting. Not quite as long-standing as our constitution, but let’s hope they both withstand the challenges modern society is throwing at them.
Daily, I gaze outside at our European Mountain Ash tree that graces the skyline behind our home. This tree is a slender, taller relative to the native Mountain Ash, found on hillsides slightly higher in elevations that is more shrub-like in form. The European Mountain Ash tree has been a popular landscape tree for decades as its brilliant fall color and its bright orange berries attract birds. It has been rumored that the berries ferment on the tree and make the birds “drunk.” At least that was the story I was raised hearing.
This year’s early frost and snow seem to have halted the leaf drop from this tree, where stems still cling onto foliage, albeit dried and brown. The berries too are still hanging on, which is normal. However, the berries typically hang on until a flock of cedar waxwings come through and strip it clean. They typically come through in late fall or early winter in a cacophonous ruckus and within 48 hours all the berries are gone. But this year, they didn’t clean out the tree. What is peculiar too is that I saw them, frolicking among our currant bushes. Perhaps the early frost halted the fermentation, and the berries weren’t giving them the kick they’ve grown a hankering for? Birders, chime in please!
Our bird feeder has been empty as of late due to pure negligence on our part, but we did put a suet feeder out a few days ago in hopes of supporting our feathered friends and to do something with leftover bacon fat from our New Year’s breakfast. It’s also a good way to reuse toilet paper, paper towels and wrapping paper rolls after the holiday.
While pure suet is a hard white animal fat, fat for bird suet feeders can be any hard oil or fat. Here’s how to make the world’s simplest suet feeder: Take an emptied paper roll, smear solid fat (bacon fat, coconut oil, shortening or peanut butter) around the roll, roll the roll in birdseed, and place roll on a branch.