Thursday, December 20, 2012

Birds in the Blizzard

Deer Creek

What an incredible storm! It's still snowing and blowing like crazy out there. It looks like we'll end up with 18 to 20 inches with drifting occurring before midnight. I didn't have an opportunity to use my snowshoes at all last winter, so I braved exposure to a classic Wisconsin blizzard for a little exercise, exploring, and nature photography. Very soon, though, I would find myself with a diminished sense of bravery compared to that of Cedar Waxwings.

Deer Creek

The roads were in terrible condition. The only way to get to Pheasant Branch Conservancy would be to walk, but I decided against it. The wind had picked up and it would have been a very uncomfortable walk home. Closer, though, was a trail along Deer Creek only a block away. Plus, near the creek I knew I would likely find the large flock of Cedar Waxwings I've been watching for the past several days; inspecting it for Bohemian Waxwings each morning before work. Also, I was just plain curious how birds were faring on a day like today.

Cedar Waxwing flock

It didn't take long to a few smaller flocks. They flew directly over me, heading for various berry trees outside the Dean Health Plan building. Smaller waxwing flocks merged together and then settled into the branches with the birds perched close together facing into the blustery wind. They were getting pelted by heavy snowflakes and closed their eyes with each gust of wind that came. Some of the birds immediately went to work on preening their feathers, while others had appetites to satisfy.

Now what?

Adjusting feathers.

The food was close but it wouldn't necessarily be easy. Most of the berries were covered with snow and ice. Still, the birds managed to break them away, berry by berry, swallowing them whole. There must have been over 300 waxwings in all. Watching them eat was somewhat comical to me, but I couldn't help feel a little bad for them being outside in the blizzard. I could go inside any time I wanted to.

Frozen food.

Looking for an easier selection.

Down the hatch!

After a few hours, the blizzard was beginning to get the best of me. My knitted gloves and balaclava were wet and covered with clumps of snow. My backpack had a layer of ice on it, which was beginning to add to its weight. Maybe worst of all, my spotting scope was transforming into an unrecognizable tube of ice! I decided to end my outdoor snow adventure, but my thoughts would remain fixated on the waxwings.

Facing into the wind.

Getting pelted.

I'm writing in the comfort of a fireplace warmed apartment, but the waxwings are roosting out there right now. The strong wind gusts are blowing thousands of ice crystals against my windows. I know the birds have found adequate shelter, perhaps in the dense protection of evergreens. Worthy of admiration and respect, it's amazing to see what these little feathered beings can endure. 

Tough optics!

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell


  1. Gobsmackingly good Mike, and what an amazing "wildlife" experience to boot! Gorgeous!