Birdsong outside our front door has soared in winter, with the final dropping of leaves.
A bounty of berries, bright red against stark branches, ensures the feasting continues through snow showers. Some days, there’s more bird-chatter than song, perhaps because of the cold.
The bare trees are filled with so many birds we couldn’t identify, so we sought the advice of experts at Wild Birds Unlimited, a long walk from home.
Carpodacus mexicanus, we learned. House finches.
The males boast a red face and chest, with brown-white feathers. Females don’t have that red blush, but they’re big singers too.
Their persistent warbling is loud and uplifting. On darker days, I linger outside a little longer just to hear their sweet chorus.
I’m still new here.
This is our first winter in Southern Oregon, so we’re learning a new vocabulary for weather. Freezing fog and snow showers bring only a light dusting of white stuff to our valley, but gorgeous, snow-wrapped forests at higher elevations.
Yesterday, we traveled about 10 miles through the valley with snow-draped mountains on one side and green, snow-free slopes on the other, although both seemed at similar elevation. It’s so still and beautiful, this landscape reminds us of Switzerland.
Our Bear Creek hikes have made us especially appreciative of living along this Pacific Flyway.
During a four-mile hike, we’re astonished by dozens of robins pecking alongside the creek. Dozens, in January.
Even more astonishing are the tiny goldfinches — Carduelis tristis — flying up with a start at our approach, then falling back to feed amid a mad burst of twittering.
(Our field guide describes this pattern as “appears roller-coaster-like in flight”, which is apt for the motion as well as the song.)
We’re amused by the scolding of the scrub jays, bright blue against a stark landscape. They natter and screech when we walk through their territory.
In our neighborhood, jays scold all day long. In the woods, these jays fly out of the tangle of berry bushes to follow our meandering. They stop when we stop. They natter when we’re silent; they pause when we marvel, aloud, at this wealth of bird life.
Bear Creek, wilderness and the tug of imagination
We investigate snags. We wave to cyclists. We admire small dogs. This Bear Creek Greenway is built for bikes and wheelchairs, and is wide enough for all.
It allows hikers like me — determined but disabled — to explore deeper and travel farther than my restricted mobility allows in the wilderness. (Without health insurance, I’m much more careful in the woods than my imagination desires.)
There are wood ducks and mallards on the fast-moving snowmelt filling Bear Creek. We’re delighted that they’re swimming in couples. The red-beaked males are so decorative in the dark water, their green, blue, white, tan and black markings never fail to astonish. Wood ducks, Aix sponsa, look as exotic as their scientific name.
Crows follow our every footstep; a dog walker tugs at a noticeably heavy chain from the collar of her approaching pit bull.
He doesn’t look happy. We’re not fond of pit bulls, so hurry along, watching for berry-studded raccoon scat on the trail.
We’re thrilled to watch redheaded, black-and-white, pileated woodpeckers — Dryocopus pileatus — batter tree trunks along the way.
On our return, we note the tracks of other woodpeckers in a snag, tracing a dead cottonwood with a battery of holes as intricate as lace.
And overhead, surveying all this, sits a red-tailed hawk, massive against a graying sky.
He’s searching for prey.
Our exploration knows no boundaries here.
My gratitude is boundless.