All witches are attuned to nature in some way shape or form.
I personally love the changing seasons especially Yule. I find nothing more delightful than watching the birds in winter
No fact of natural history is more interesting, or more significant of the poetry of evolution, than the distribution of birds over the entire surface of the world.
They have overcome countless obstacles, and adapted themselves to all conditions. The last faltering glance which the Arctic explorer sends toward his coveted goal, ere he admits defeat, shows flocks of snow buntings active with warm life; the storm-tossed mariner in the midst of the sea, is followed, encircled, by the steady, tireless flight of the albatross; the fever-stricken wanderer in tropical jungles listens to the sweet notes of birds amid the stagnant pools; while the thirsty traveller in the desert is ever watched by the distant buzzards. Finally when the intrepid climber, at the risk of life and limb, has painfully made his way to the summit of the most lofty peak, far, far above him, in the blue expanse of thin air, he can distinguish the form of a majestic eagle or condor.
At the approach of winter the flowers and insects about us die, but most of the birds take wing and fly to a more temperate climate, while their place is filled with others which have spent the summer farther to the north. Thus without stirring from our doorway we may become 4 acquainted with many species whose summer homes are hundreds of miles away.
No time is more propitious or advisable for the amateur bird lover to begin his studies than the first of the year. Bird life is now reduced to its simplest terms in numbers and species, and the absence of concealing foliage, together with the usual tameness of winter birds, makes identification an easy matter.
In January and the succeeding month we have with us birds which are called permanent residents.
They do not leave us throughout the entire year; and, in addition, the winter visitors which have come to us from the far north.
In the uplands we may flush ruffed grouse from their snug retreats in the snow; while in the weedy fields, many a fairy trail shows where bob-white has passed, and often he will announce his own name from the top of a rail fence. The grouse at this season have a curious outgrowth of horny scales along each side of the toes, which, acting as a tiny snowshoe, enables them to walk on soft snow with little danger of sinking through.
Few of our winter birds can boast of bright colours; their garbs are chiefly grays and browns, but all have some mark or habit or note by which they can be at once named. For example, if you see a mouse hitching spirally up a tree-trunk, a closer look will show that it is a brown creeper, seeking tiny insects and their eggs in the crevices 5 of the trunk. He looks like a small piece of the roughened bark which has suddenly become animated. His long tail props him up and his tiny feet never fail to find a foothold. Our winter birds go in flocks, and where we see a brown creeper we are almost sure to find other birds.
Nuthatches are those blue-backed, white or rufous breasted little climbers who spend their lives defying the law of gravity.
They need no supporting tail, and have only the usual number of eight toes, but they traverse the bark, up or down, head often pointing toward the ground, as if their feet were small vacuum cups. Their note is an odd nasal nyêh! nyêh!
In winter some one species of bird usually predominates, most often, perhaps, it is the black-capped chickadee. They seem to fill every grove, and, if you take your stand in the woods, flock after flock will pass in succession. What good luck must have come to the chickadee race during the preceding summer? Was some one of their enemies stricken with a plague, or did they show more than usual care in the selecting of their nesting holes? Whatever it was, during such a year, it seems certain that scores more of chickadee babies manage to live to grow up than is usually the case. These little fluffs are, in their way, as remarkable acrobats as are the nuthatches, and it is a marvel how the very thin legs, with their tiny sliver of bone and thread of tendon, 6 can hold the body of the bird in almost any position, while the vainly hidden clusters of insect eggs are pried into. Without ceasing a moment in their busy search for food, the fluffy feathered members of the flock call to each other, “Chick-a-chick-a-dee-dee!” but now and then the heart of some little fellow bubbles over, and he rests an instant, sending out a sweet, tender, high call, a “Phœ-be!” love note, which warms our ears in the frosty air and makes us feel a real affection for the brave little mites.
Our song sparrow is, like the poor, always with us, at least near the coast, but we think none the less of him for that, and besides, that fact is true in only one sense.
A ripple in a stream may be seen day after day, and yet the water forming it is never the same, it is continually flowing onward. This is usually the case with song sparrows and with most other birds which are present summer and winter. The individual sparrows which flit from bush to bush, or slip in and out of the brush piles in January, have doubtless come from some point north of us, while the song sparrows of our summer walks are now miles to the southward. Few birds remain the entire year in the locality in which they breed, although the southward movement may be a very limited one. When birds migrate so short a distance, they are liable to be affected in colour and size by the temperature and dampness of their respective areas; and so 7 we find that in North America there are as many as twenty-two races of song sparrows, to each of which has been given a scientific name. When you wish to speak of our north eastern song sparrow in the latest scientific way, you must say Melospiza cinerea melodia, which tells us that it is a melodious song finch, ashy or brown in colour.
Our winter sparrows are easy to identify.
The song sparrow may, of course, be known by the streaks of black and brown upon his breast and sides, and by the blotch which these form in the centre of the breast. The tree sparrow, which comes to us from Hudson Bay and Labrador, lacks the stripes, but has the centre spot. This is one of our commonest field birds in winter, notwithstanding his name.
The most omnipresent and abundant of all our winter visitors from the north are the juncos, or snowbirds.
Slate coloured above and white below, perfectly describes these birds, although their distinguishing mark, visible a long way off, is the white V in their tails, formed by several white outer feathers on each side. The sharp chirps of juncos are heard before the ice begins to form, and they stay with us all winter.
We have called the junco a snowbird, but this name should really be confined to a black and white bunting which comes south only with a mid-winter’s rush of snowflakes. Their warm little bodies nestle close to the white crystals, and they 8 seek cheerfully for the seeds which nature has provided for them. Then a thaw comes, and they disappear as silently and mysteriously as if they had melted with the flakes; but doubtless they are far to the northward, hanging on the outskirts of the Arctic storms, and giving way only when every particle of food is frozen tight, the ground covered deep with snow, and the panicled seed clusters locked in crystal frames of ice.
The feathers of these Arctic wanderers are perfect non-conductors of heat and of cold, and never a chill reaches their little frames until hunger presses. Then they must find food and quickly, or they die. When these snowflakes first come to us they are tinged with gray and brown, but gradually through the winter their colours become more clear-cut and brilliant, until, when spring comes, they are garbed in contrasting black and white. With all this change, however, they leave never a feather with us, but only the minute brown tips of the feather vanes, which, by wearing away, leave exposed the clean new colours beneath.
Thus we find that there are problems innumerable to verify and to solve, even when the tide of the year’s life is at its lowest ebb.
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