Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2: Goldfinches in the Snow

Not quite as exciting as gorillas in the mist, but amid today's flurry of fast-falling flakes, bird species #5 of 2010 appeared at my kitchen window feeders: American goldfinch! The bird to the right daintily plucked thistle seeds from the thistle bag and neatly dropped the tiny husks onto the snow behind it for at least ten minutes as I stood there and watched. Others hunkered down in the relative shelter of the black sunflower feeder, eating the larger seeds in a sloppier manner, the seed shells comically dangling off their bills.

I stalked them from inside this morning partly to see if I could actually get a decent photo through the window and partly for some snow day entertainment. I should get out and do something stimulating like snowshoe through the neighborhood, but instead I've been luxuriating in the warmth and shelter of my home. Still in my pajamas, I've baked a batch of popovers, completed a NYT crossword puzzle, and now I've recorded the first birds at my feeder in the new year. That the window feeder has accumulated a thin layer of snow didn't stop three goldfinches from trying to cram in there all at once at one point. And occasionally, to my delight, the birds' sweet, querulous calls would rise above the dull roar of the dishwasher and stove fan.

Goldfinches in summer plumage are bright yellow with black wings and pink bills. The males, who are more brilliantly colored overall, sport jaunty black forehead caps, as well. This time of year the birds are hardly recognizable as the same species. But I find their subtle coloring to be more beautiful in its way: the soft buffy brown of the head and back contrasts gently with the grey nape and breast and patches of bright yellow around the throat. One of today's visitors has a distinctive yellow patch on its shoulder, a sort of epaulette carried over from sunnier days. In this photo, the snow-covered mound of my husband's car and a frosted fence provide the perfect backdrop against which to study the finches' winter plumage:

The bird on the left is duller than the one on the right, with paler yellow highlights, though its wings are blacker. Each bird is slightly different, a thing of wonder in itself that could be studied for hours. Especially now, when I can't help but marvel that such tiny bits of life are carrying on amid the wind and snow of this storm.

Blizzard on its way,
but now, finch at the feeder.
Eat up, tiny bird!

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