It’s happened! The Polar Vortex lasted too long and the temperatures were in the minus thirties for daytime highs. People hunkered down and only those brave souls who had to leave the house for work, did. The pandemic added to the “hardship” because even though outdoor gatherings were allowed, no one wanted to freeze or die of hypothermia.
Then yesterday, the high was -4 Celsius or 25 F. My friend texted and our outdoor coffee was a go! Even though it was overcast and there was a bit of wind, we were deprived of laughs and conversation for too long. “Our table” at the park was available and when it started to snow big fluffy flakes, we just laughed. Now veterans of the outside meet-up, we had thick towels for the bench seat and just cleared snow away for our thermoses. It was as good as I anticipated. Laughs, stories, and settling world problems. In the bushes behind chickadees, chirped, English song sparrows called and a downy woodpecker went about “pecking”, oblivious to us. An hour and half that went by too quickly but added so much to the day. We are social beings and a little snow didn’t matter. When I got home, my husband asked ‘what the gossip was.’ I honestly drew a blank. That’s not what we do on our visits; the talk is wide ranging.
The other great thing about the break in the weather is that the dog walks are without boots and their “coats” are more to keep their bellies warm. Spring is around the corner and I honestly can’t wait.
That’s not true. But it is cold, old fashioned high pressure, prairie winter cold. The sun is bright and through the window everything looks inviting; blue shadows on the snow, dark conifers against a pale sky, and car exhaust trailing away like escaping phantoms
It looks inviting but the truth of cliche is proven again. Looks are deceiving; step outside and your nose freezes shut, the chill captures your breath as frosted filigree in your eyelashes, and embellishes the fake fur of your hood. Your cheeks tingle and burn. It’s too cold.
Yet outside the window, chickadees flit and feed, a nuthatch sits on the step, and a blue jay balances on the feeder. Once in a while, a bird finds a perch in the sun and tries to catch some of its illusory warmth. A cat skulks by hoping to find shelter.
In the day, the temperature made no difference to my Dad. The chores had to be done, the cattle fed and watered, and the miscellany of other creatures cared for. He’d hitch the team of horses to the rack and load on the feed. Harness jangling, hooves crunching the snow, the horses would pull him out to the waiting herd. The pink nostrils of the cattle leaked steam into the clear air and their bawls welcomed him. There was no missing a day because of weather.
I’m glad to settle in and watch the polar vortex from my window. If I want to hunker down and read a book, snack a bit of comfort food, or even sip a glass of wine, I can. I’m retired. I don’t have to put my nose out of the door so I won’t complain and I’ll enjoy my indoor activity. It’s February and when this cold breaks, spring won’t be far off. There’ll wiener roasts, outdoor visits, and gardening. The cold won’t last.
Our winter robin, Robbie, is frisky and fit. He arrives for worms earlier and earlier. It was 7:30 this morning and when a second robin showed up, my husband was excited enough to cause himself a near cardiac incident.
Robbie has been coming since mid-January when an old-fashioned cold snap hit Alberta. He was weak and surviving on rock hard, frozen crabapples. The worms we provided were a bonanza and he didn’t forget. Soon a routine was established where he came to the mountain ash tree in the front yard and stared at us through the window. He answers Gary’s whistle and since I can’t whistle (never mind), I talk to him. Robbie does know us and trusts that he can swoop down close to get his meal.
Recently, he comes to the apple tree in the backyard and waits. I am comically quick in getting his worms, being sure to hold them in my hand so they warm up from fridge temperature for him. I am the same woman who dithers and takes forever to get ready to go somewhere, yet somehow Robbie inspires me to get those worms out for him.
His breakfast is gobbled down before I get back into the house. Robbie no longer comes looking for food three times a day. He is stronger and the days are getting longer. Soon he’ll find another robin, a female, and we hope he’ll nest here but know that he might not. The other robin looked like a male and there was a bit of a scuffle before he flew off. Robbie has pretty much staked us out.
Until it’s really spring and even after, we’ll look for Rob. Gary will whistle at every male robin, just in case. Keep frisky, Rob.
And loading the genetic dice. I ran across an article about robin migration and it turns out that some robins, usually males, decide not to fly south. It seems to me that Robbie is a little far north but it explains what he’s doing here in the middle of winter. The early male gets the females.
Robbie will be here when spring arrives ahead of the competition that headed south. He’ll have the pick of territories and when the girls get here, he’ll be singing and ready with the best nesting site. If he continues to come for meal worms, he’ll be sleek and handsome. Natural selection chooses the biggest and best looking a lot of the time. Robbie has a jump (pun intended) on the choice of mates and has the best chance of passing his genes to the next generation.
Gary says we could be interfering in evolution by feeding Robbie. However, he didn’t show up until it was very cold, -35 C and he’d made it on his own that far. I prefer to think that it shows a superior intellect and that Robbie will pass his “smart” genes to his offspring.
Robbie is smart. He arrives for his worms once the day has warmed up a bit and he sits where we see him, looking for us through the front window. When he doesn’t, Gary whistles for him and he appears from the middle of the fir tree. Then he might stay for a bit to be polite; more often he flies off and returns for lunch. We don’t know where he spends the rest of his day but it’s good to shy away from feral cats, returning hawks, and other dangers.
About the end of March or beginning of April, we expect Robbie will have moved on. There’ll be plenty of food and with any luck he’ll be a husband and a dad. May his days as a player pay off.
I just fed Robbie. He showed up right on time at a little after 11:00, sitting in the mountain ash tree and looking in at us. “Where is my brunch?”
Our resident robin is tough. It goes without saying since he’s still here in the middle of an Alberta winter. The weather has broken and we are experiencing warmer than normal temperatures but they are still colder than Robbie is comfortable in. There’s no food around for him to hunt.
Robbie has adapted so that he can spend more time in our big fir tree sheltered from the wind. It’s dense enough among the needles that it’s impossible to see him, but he’s there. We think he spends the night somewhere else. Either that or he’s not the “early bird.” Another possibility is that he, too, has seen the little hawk that is back in the neighbourhood. It would enjoy Robbie as a meal so fingers crossed, our robin stays hidden.
He hasn’t appeared first thing in the morning waiting for his breakfast the last few days. Instead, sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 am, if Gary goes out and whistles, he shows himself. Then one of us hurries around and gets his worms ready. Robbie now sometimes gets meal worms and at others, King worms which are like the meal worms but bigger. Robbie likes them both.
Once his day is underway, if he gets hungry again, he might make his desires known. Yesterday despite there being nothing on offer, he flew down to the cutting board and sat staring through the window at my husband. Robbie demanded more worms.
He spends some of the afternoon perched in the mountain ash tree which as you can see provides camouflage. Especially on a duller day such as this, Robbie blends right in with the leaves that are still clinging stubbornly to the branches.
Robbie is getting hardier because of the food supply. He feels good; when you feed him, his tail twitches in anticipation and he answers Gary’s whistles. Robbie is tough and with a little help from his friends….
Tuesday morning and no Robbie. Where was the little guy? There are so many dangers for a wayward robin. Could he have found another robin and stayed with her for company? That was a best case scenario and then the resident pessimist thought for too long and decided it was likely Robbie had flown into a window, by mistake. Gary was able to create some gory images for me. Robbie lying in the snow with his little neck at an impossible angle. blood oozing from his brave beak. It’s surprising how attached we were to the tough winter robin.
Robbie didn’t show Tuesday but yesterday he was back, staring through the window at us as though to say, “Where’s my breakfast?” We were quick to feed him but had to use mostly earthworms. Our Robbie is a bit of a gourmet and prefers meal worms. He ate the earthworms but not with the same relish he gobbles down the more palatable fare. Gary got him fresh meal worms yesterday and today is going to see if we can get him King worms. They’re much like the meal worms but come with more to a container. Fingers crossed Robbie will like them.
I was interrupted partway through this post by Robbie’s arrival. He sat in the mountain ash tree for a bit and then when he moved to the ornamental plum, I knew it was time. The new meal worms are strong and they squirmed in my hand straight from the fridge. How many should Robbie get? He’s been in the cold all night so I dole out 9. Before I can get back into the house he has wolfed them down and left.
Robbie’s new routine, now that he’s stronger, seems to be to drop in for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Then he flies off to do more interesting Robin stuff. I don’t mind. I’m glad he’s no longer missing and hope to see him about noon. He’s a lovable diversion in a prairie winter.
Robbie was here early this morning and hungry. He looks for us through the front room window as though to say, “Well, I’m here; where’re my worms?”
I know I said I wouldn’t write about Robbie again but he is an engaging little guy. Even the sparrows think so and yesterday they all hung out together in balmy -18 temperatures. There was sun, though, and it makes a difference. Robbie warmed up his breast and then he’d turn so his back (and the black feathers help) could benefit from the sun.
Robbie is getting trusting. This morning when I took out his breakfast, he was watching from the plum tree as you can see from the picture. I always talk to him and make “robin sounds”. I’m pretty sure he chirps back just to be polite. Or maybe it’s “Put the worms down, for goodness sake.” I set the board with the worms down and if I’d realized that he was going to swoop down, I could have sat still and watched from a couple of feet away. I moved too quickly so he wouldn’t be frightened and of course, he was. Back to the plum tree.
But for an instant. By the time I was back in the house, Robbie was sitting on the warm board, looking pretty full. One intrepid meal worm was making a break for it and would have if he\she didn’t feel the cold moving up from the sidewalk. After belching (now I am projecting; I don’t even know if birds burp), Robbie hopped over and ate the last worm.
Now he’s enjoying the sun and it’s getting warmer; maybe even as high as -6. Later the dogs and I can walk outside again. It’s like the ‘Get out of Jail” free card in Monopoly…hurray.
And this time, I won’t say I’m not going to write about Robbie again. My will power where he’s concerned is weak. I even gave him 9 worms this morning. That’s explains why the last one was a challenge. Get out and enjoy the sun and warmer temperatures.
It was too early for Robbie so we went for our walk and on the way back went to the local “all toys water, snow and land” business and bought him some fresh meal worms. $5.98 and worth every penny.
Robbie arrived about 11:00 and sat in the planter, eating snow. We hurried to warm up the cutting board and get him 7 worms. Robbie sat and looked at them and then the worms froze…Robbie flew off. We were upset. Had he found other people with better food? He seemed energetic so we consoled ourselves with that.
Then about 12:40, Robbie was back. I heated his board well, held seven meal worms in my hand until they warmed up to squirm, and then I took them out to the robin. O, NO. I thought I was too clumsy or got too close. Robbie flew away into a tree.
Ha! Not to worry, by the time I’d walked around the house to come in the back, Robbie had consumed 4 of the worms. Then in a more leisurely manner, he ate the others. You can see the last worm in front of him in the picture. I think he knows where to come. It’s just a miserable wind again so if he has a warmer place to wait it out, I’m okay with that.
Robbie is tough. In another blog, I wrote about a prairie jack rabbit who visits our front yard late at night or very early in the morning, depending how you look at it. He came around last night. Alas, I wasn’t at the window to see him but he left tracks. He checks the yard and I hope sometimes finds something to eat.
And this is likely the last Robbie blog unless there is something to really talk about like he meets the rabbit. But how, when they come at intervals 12 hours apart? Stay warm.
He made it! Low of -36C , that’s -33F, and the tough little guy appeared around 9:00 this morning. Robbie sat on the edge of the flower pot, feathers puffed out, and looking miserable. But he made it through the night.
As soon as I saw him, I got his food ready. It’s a bit of a production (which I figured out yesterday) and kind of gross. First warm up the cutting board so the worms don’t freeze immediately. Then get the earthworm, that although it’s only a segmented worm, doesn’t enjoy being sliced into segments. Whatever is in their medium, gave the victim actual red blood. Ugh. But I sacrificed him because Robbie, Robbie was hungry.
I took the worm pieces outside on the pre-heated board but alas, Robbie wasn’t ready to eat. He was just too cold. The worm bits froze solid. My husband said he had to warm up more (this in -30 temperatures with a wicked wind) so we left and so did Robbie, up into the big fir tree.
We went for our morning walk on the indoor track and when we got back, Robbie had been down and tried to eat the earthworm bits but the were frozen solid and stuck to the cutting board.
Gary warmed up himself and by the time he had Robbie’s meal worms and thawed earthworm bits ready, the robin had flown back into the fir tree. When Gary whisteled for Robbie, there was no answer, (Already, my husband thinks they have a special relationship.) And maybe they do because by the time Gary had his coat off, the robin was back. He gobbled a meal worm or two, and then turned to the earthworm pieces. Robbie ate most of them, too. Now he’s back in the fir tree, trying to keep warm.
Admiration for you, Robbie. You’re back and a survivor. We’ll see you though this frigid cold.
Today is the first day of October. It is the month often associated with fall but this year, fall arrived in September. We’ve already had snow and hard frosts.
I took this picture of the Battle River Valley when I thought the leaves were at their most colourful. Now there are stands of aspen which have lost their leaves. When you drive through the countryside, the colours are there but they are not as spectacular as they were.
This morning on my dog walk, the geese filled the air. They were flying south east from where they had fed earlier. Their honking and calling reverberated. It is eerie to hear and humbling to think how they cooperate in the flight and how they are getting ready for their migration south.
In our yard, all kinds of birds have come to gorge at the feeder. They are battling the colder temperatures and getting ready for winter. There have been chick-a-dees, sparrows, two kinds of native sparrows, nuthatches, warblers, juncos, and a small downy woodpecker. The blue jays are the bold birds that screech at my husband to bring out the peanuts.
We’re still on daylight saving time and sunrise is getting later and later. The twilight lingers but not for long. The shadows are somehow thinner and more slanted. The wind bears traces of ice.
October days can be bright and crisp. The water in ponds has a cobalt blue not seen in other months. The clouds no longer gather and expand at the horizon but instead move in carrying the promise of precipitation. The land settles in, getting ready for the coming winter.
Welcome, October. I hope for sunny autumn days that carry a hint of the summer gone by.