Monday, February 25, 2013

Waxwings of Winter

Cedar Waxwings*-Click to enlarge
An minor ice storm like last week's brought new things to see in nature.  We tend to hunker down till the thaw, taking only a few cautious steps out to get the newspaper.  As thawing starts however, there are always new things to see.  Bob Ball sent this out to GOAS* members.
"We had five Eastern Bluebirds and nine Cedar Waxwings (both unusual for our backyard) at our heated birdbath this morning.  Unfortunately, we had an aggressive American Robin chasing EVERYTHING away (including starlings!)--apparently claiming the birdbath as his own private property. "
Cedar waxwings are not only beautiful but have interesting habits.  We don't often get to see them in our thick cedar glades on Bull Creek as they have acres of cedars to choose from and avoid the area around the house.  They do leave their mark, especially on the snow, when they swoop down on a female cedar tree en mass and gobble up the cedar "berries" (actually little miniature cones) and dust the ground with their debris.

Since they concentrate on cedars, the partially digested seeds in their poop tends to accumulate under the tree.  The other major cedar berry consumer is the robin, flocks of which are seen all winter along the creek bank.  After dinner they fly off to the fields, sit on fences and relieve themselves, and plant the next generation of little cedars you see along any fence line.

Rusty Blackbird- Bob Ball
Meanwhile, back at the birdbath Bob had a rusty blackbird show up.  I likely would have thought it was just another starling among the hundreds that swoop down, ravage the ground and then flush into the sky.  The attention to detail separates us amateurs from the true bird watchers. Click on the picture to see the rusty color.

We headed back to the creek on Friday afternoon, creeping down the steep section of Red Bridge Road to avoid putting our truck on the deck of our downhill neighbors.  The ice was starting to melt but there was just enough clinging to the trees to create a beautiful crystal glow in the late afternoon sun.

Witch hazel, January 26  -Click to enlarge
We stopped near the gravel bar to check out a grove of witch hazel.  The flowers blossomed the last week of January this year and have persisted until now.  They always prematurely announce the arrival of spring, then hang around until they are proven right.  If you look up witch hazel on the web you may find this confusing as most articles are about the fall blooming Eastern witch hazel, ignoring the vernal Ozark species, Hamamelis vernalis.

Some of the blossoms are hanging on a month later, now decorated with the remains of the ice which fights for survival in the late afternoon sun.  The flowers are said to close up on cold days to avoid frost damage.  Will these flowers on the right survive to produce seed?  Probably, they have done this for thousands of years and seem to have early blooming figured out.

How do they get pollinated in the first place at a time when normally self-respecting pollinators wouldn't be making their rounds?  One source has seen fly pollination and we have seen some gnat like creatures out on sunny days.

*  These backyard bird photographs by Bob Ball of Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (GOAS).   You can see his more formal pictures from around the country at GOAS meetings from time to time.

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