Winter birds are still here; spring ones are arriving. Somewhere between thirty and a hundred Bohemian waxwings can be found on the university campus most days, along the laneways between the research glasshouses and the cattle barn and stables, gorging themselves on winter-sweet crab apples. There are cedar waxwings mixed in, and always a few starlings and robins taking advantage of the bounty too. Disturbed, they fly up into the line of Norway spruce that wind-shelter the glasshouses, looking, in their dun and rufous and yellow shades, like a memory of autumn in bird form, but the fruit is too tempting: they’re back down in a minute.
On the ponds east and west of the city, at the old provincial jail and redhead and goldeneye, bufflehead, ring-necked duck and hooded merganser are resting and feeding, and if you’re there early enough in the morning, there’s usually a loon that came in for the night. Here it’s all about contrast, at least in the males: dark shades of green and blue-purple and auburn against white, sharp and bright. See how strong I am, and what good genes I have, is the message: beauty to human eyes is a coincidence. But beauty there is.
Victoria Woods this week is still all duns and greys: tree trunks and dark water, winter-bleached leaf litter and rock. Only the bright green of moss patches brightens the forest floor. But at the pond, I flushed two pairs of wood ducks, a glimpse of colour. They’ll stay, nesting in hollows in the trees that overhang the water. At the edge of the wood, phoebes are calling, always the first of the flycatchers to return. Their high fee-beee, fee-beee is a sharp, welcome sound in the cold air.
Snowmelt and rain mean the rivers are high and the ground is saturated, ephemeral ponds covering paths. There are few ducks at the river confluence: why use energy fighting the currents when there are plenty of still ponds to be found? The water bubbles and splashes over the rocks and weirs by the mill ruins: a good dipper stream, my mind says, even though I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic. A flash of blue streaks across the stream: a kingfisher.
There’s still frost in the mornings: -5C today at 7 am. But there is real warmth in the sun now, and so the ice melts quickly. The first of the species iris is in flower in the front garden, narrow deep purple petals with yellow at the heart. We’re promised temperatures in the high double-digits next week, and if so, spring will pop. Buds will swell, coltsfoot will bloom, and more birds will move north. But cold, fast moving water also means blackfly, the bane of my springs. Perhaps I’ll have a few more days without them.