07 January 2008

Snow brings snow buntings

We’ve had a few days of major catchup happening, where I finally caught up a few of the assignments that weren’t finished. This meant doing a lot of reading and writing, and by days’ end, with our Internet connection still acting stupid at night, there wasn’t time or patience for sitting trying to read blogs or post to my own.

The garden continues to slumber under vast quantities of snow, although we’re due for a couple of mild days so it’s hard to say what we’ll have by Tuesday! The only new blooms I have to report are on another amaryllis. I was expecting this to be a bright red variety, but it’s brilliant pink with tinges of red and some white (Cindy at Rosehaven, you must love this particular one. The only problem is…it’s not “Mambo” as it was labeled. Oh well, I love some surprises.

What’s been keeping me amused most days is watching the snow buntings. Commonly called snowbirds, and made famous both by the tiresome Anne Murray and by Canadians who flee to warmer climates in winter, these endearing birds are endless fun to watch.

Snow buntings make their home in the high lonely reaches of the Arctic, but during winter they come a ways south; the wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows a map of their winter distribution as well as many fascinating facts.

In their winter plumage, they have more brown and black on them then in their breeding plumage, which has a lot more white, but these give wonderful flashes of white on their wings as they fly. They’ll land in the poplar and birch trees, discussing amongst themselves what to do next, then start coming down to the ground, a few at a time. We see them throughout the winter months, although this year, perhaps because there’s so much snow and we put out feed all the time, we have a huge flock, somewhere between 100-200. Or so. Getting a photograph of all of them is impossible, at least for me.

Trying to count snow buntings is rather like herding cats. They fly in perfect formations, wheeling around the field and into the back yard, and dropping down like snowflakes from trees or barn or clothesline to snatch up a few grains of feed.

At some unseen (by my eyes) signal, they all take flight again...

They don’t go far before they’ve landed on the barn or house roof, or the clothesline, and sit twittering and watching before they cascade back for another snack. This display goes on from dawn to dusk, quite literally. We'll see them most days until usually late March, when they head back towards their frigid breeding grounds in the Arctic. They're one of the most wonderful things about winter, and I think they're rather like sunflowers--you can't watch them for more than a minute and not smile and feel light-hearted. At least, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it!

Not surprisingly, the catchildren are fascinated by all this activity and they make great speeches about the programming on bird television. But they also get very tired watching all this busy-ness, and decide that perhaps resting is a better idea. How many of us can get into our father’s lap? With the two biggest, Spunky and Mungus, holding court, others have to content themselves with the couch, other chairs, or beds...or come and coax the cat-mummy to come have a nap with them.


  1. OMG you have Snow Bunting for a yard bird! I just love these little birds. They are just beautiful. We get some during most winters. I think it is just amazing that these little birds fly so far south to winter.

    The amaryllis is just gorgeous. I wonder why that so often a person thinks they are purchasing a certain color of bulb and it turns out to be another color. Of course nature has its own way.

    Your catchildren look quite content where they are. I will bet they are toasty too. I can hear the purrrrs.

  2. Thank you for showing me the snow buntings. Of course, Texas has its share of snowbirds (in the tiresome sense), but I'd never seen the real thing. They look like a cheerful bunch.

  3. Thanks for the charming pictures of the cats and birds.

  4. No snowbirds here - just snow. I imagine our cats wish to be snowbirds and flee this white stuff that traps them in the house. But I won't let them go. They've replaced the hot rocks we used to wrap and place under the bedcovers to keep our feet warm. Unfortunately a couple of them still believe our heads need to be covered in fur.

  5. That picture of the buntings taking flight is gorgeous - how lucky are you to have winged sunflower grin makers in winter?! (I also love the first picture of the snow feast - looks like one of them has eyes only for you)

  6. The photos of the snow buntings are wonderful, Jodie. I enjoy the birds that visit our feeder too. How do you keep local squirrels from eating all the seeds first?

  7. I don't think I've ever seen a real snow bunting before! Their behavior reminds me of the sparrows around the feeders here right now.

    I got a kick out of the picture of your LSS sitting there with a blanket, two cats and the remote. That could have been taken at OUR house! LOL.

    Sorry to hear you're having internet problems. I know what that's like and how frustrating it can be when you spend a great deal of time online. I hope you're feeling better now, too.

  8. Maybe you got my amaryllis. The on I bought was supposed to be pink/white stripes. It bloomed a brilliant reddish/orange. Like you - I don't mind surprises!

  9. Lovely birds! they must be fun to watch!

  10. Jodi,

    Wow, how lucky to get photos of the Snow Buntings. I wrote about Snow Buntings back in November but since my dogs are always with me, the Buntings are up in the air as fast as lightning and all a camera can catch at such a distance are specks on the skyline! How fortunate to have had them so close!

    What a lovely amaryllis and those cat children are spoiled, as they should be.

    Sand to Glass

  11. Oh you know me so well, Jodi! I DO love the bloom on the amaryllis! It reminds me of a sweet shoppe (which is the new theme of my eat-in kitchen, by the way).

    I'm so glad you shared photos of the snowbirds because I've never seen them before--never lived far enough north on the globe before I suppose. Such lovely birds! You are so fortunate.

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

  12. And one more set of replies to my friends before I head up to bed--to read about gardening, of course!
    Lisa, it's a real treat to have snow buntings in the garden through the winter. Probably the label on my amaryllis fell off and got put on the wrong one, but it still makes for a splendid flower, even if it wan't quite the colour I expected. Tonight as I finish up working and answering blogs, the cat children are silly...they should be sleeping, but the mild weather has them stirred up.

    Pam, I'll keep my kind of snowbirds and you can have the tiresome kind--though I'd send some of these to you to cheer you on a grey day if you'd like.

    Ahava, welcome, good to see you again. Always happy to provide fun photos.

    Wiseacre, welcome! We're having a melt with our snow, but there's still plenty. And yes, is there anything more useful for warming the feet than a purring cat? Unless, of course, they come bearing gifts of the not-quite-dead type. I don't appreciate being woken in the night by kitty tag with voles!
    Kris, I took these photos through the deck door window, and was surprised at how clear they did come...but I plan to go out and hide behind the ex-christmas tree (before I mulch it) and take more photos of them from closer. They're just so cute.
    Dirty Knees, we don't have a lot of squirrels. Either the senior cats keep them at bay (despite being rather senior for trying to chase squirrels) or the larger birds keep them away. Plus where we're so rural, there's plenty of native habitat for them. We have seen one squirrel and one chipmunk in recent months, and I did take photos of the squirrel, but our oldest cat sprinted across the yard after him and he took off (and the cat needed a nap immediately afterwards.) Plus some of our feeders are in such locations that the squirrels couldn't reach them, and could only get to the seed on the ground. I have fruit out for birds too, and those are undisturbed by four legged critters either.

    Kylee, what IS it with LSS's and the television remote? It cracks me right up, especially when he gets one in each hand. But if he has more than one cat in his lap, he usually puts all remotes down so he can pat the furbabies. They adore him just as yours adore Romie--and vice versa.

    I'm doing much better, thanks--making some changes to lifestyle, and the osteopath is also helping. No more diverticulitus for a few years, if I can help it!

    hearts812, welcome! I've never met an amaryllis yet I didn't love, even the really orange ones. In fact, as these blooms dwindle, I must bring the resting ones upstairs and get them going so I'll have more flowers son.

    Verobirdie, yes, the snow buntings have to be seen to be believed., the way they fly and swoop and land and take off en masse. They're very happy-making.

    Diane, we ARE lucky to have the snow buntings so close...they're right in the back yard, maybe ten feet from the deck door when they land to scoop up feed. And who, our catchildren, spoiled??? Not hardly....hah!

    Cindy, I thought you'd enjoy that amaryllis! Now, I suppose if you went to find one to have in your kitchen...it would bloom orange, or lemon lime, just to be contrary! I bet your kitchen is a happy place to be.

  13. Jodi: Catching up also! Love the arbor post! I have always wanted one with the natural look, your 'house of cards' so to speak but your blue one is beautiful in all seasons and such a nice reminder of love! Top ten shrubs post was a great one. Coppertina is on the list! I did just get the 'Red Majesty' Corylus for the Winter Border and also some of the red twigs. The birds are lovely! Your catchildren look so content!

  14. I don't think my parents have snow buntings yet this year, though they've had them before, but the huge cedar tree off their deck has been full of pine grosbeaks! Their red plumage, along with the blue jays and bright yellow of the evening grosbeaks makes for a stunning winter view. You're lucky to have such a large flock visit you. And your amaryllis is gorgeous! Glad you're feeling better. :)

  15. I have seen them a couple of times. Once, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and once at my husband's parent's home up on the Canadian border. Never in southern Maine.

  16. The snow buntings are really beautiful birds - I've never seen one in person.

    A Sharp-shinned Hawk swooped through the woods just a few minutes ago as I went out to fill the bird feeders. Sometimes I wonder who I'm feeding.

  17. Amaryllis pretty, very pretty!!!

    Love those snow buntings they sound and look like a lot of fun for both humans and cat-children. ;-) Of course, watching such interesting live bird tv is very tiring. Perhaps you should invest in more laps? ;-)

    Those snow buntings are very pretty birds, wish we had them here too.


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