Winter Over

If I were a bird, I’d surely be the migrating kind.  Even with central heating and nice sweaters, I freeze from December to March.  As a mammal, I ought to be able to up my body temperature running around the living room a few times, but winter is as much a state of mind as a condition to be endured.

Captain Lawrence “Otis” Oates, a member of the Scott expedition to Antarctica, knowing that all was lost, told his comrades, “I am just going outside and am likely to be some time.”  Leaving the tent, he disappeared into the swirling snow. He never returned. His good manners and sang froid are an inspiration, his heroism breathtaking.  I am ashamed to confess that had I been a member of the expedition, I’d have wired home for a rescue when the first iceberg appeared on the horizon.

Certain birds like gulls and waterfowl have a nifty way of keeping their legs warm when standing on ice or swimming in frigid water. They have a kind of “heat exchanger” where warm blood from the body of the bird flows down an artery toward the feet.  As it travels, its warmth “leaks” over from the artery into the veins carrying the cold blood up from the feet towards the body.  The exchange is effectuated through blood vessels and muscles that divert the blood into the exchanger.  Nature’s simple, elegant solutions to climate are a miracle.  In a season that celebrates miracles, it’s nice to think about.

There is a charmingly homespun way to express the habit of birds staying on their breeding grounds all year, even during the coldest months.  They are said to “over winter”. There are a number of birds who remain in our area throughout the year and these can be seen fairly easily at Hill-Stead. Cardinals, bluejays, song sparrows, mourning doves, woodpeckers of all kinds, chickadees, tufted titmouse are plentiful.  The “common” finches-house and goldfinch, are around, too. The goldfinches trade in their bright feathers for drab ones, the better for camouflage in the leafless winter landscape. You have to work a little harder for other birds that may be here in winter, like hermit thrush,purple finch, cedar waxwings,rusty blackbirds, owls, and in open water, bald eagles.  But they are here and all can be found on the estate, with the exception of the eagle, which is sometimes down on the Farmington River when the water isn’t frozen.

We get so excited when spring comes!  People exclaim, “I saw a robin today!”, or, “The bluebirds are back!”  Truth be told, these birds over winter, too.  But there is a trick to it.  “Our” robins migrate just a bit south of here, say, to Washington, D.C.,  where the winter is a shade milder than in Southern New England. The robins found in Maine during the breeding season come down here to Connecticut for their winter vacation.  Weather dictates how far the birds need to go to enjoy more temperate conditions. But the movement is a matter of a few hundred miles, not at all the same as migration of a warbler for example, who will fly thousands of miles south from New England to spend the winter in the warmth of the Caribbean.

Now that’s my kind of bird.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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5 Responses to “Winter Over”

  1. Dean Leh Says:

    “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. (William Blake, 1799, The Letters)

    “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” (John Muir)

    Your nature blog is quite inspirational and fascinating. I look forward to following you!

    Dean Leh

    • hillsteadnatureblog Says:

      I can’t thank you enough for your kind words and for the perfect quotes. I especially like the Blake one from his letters. Warm Regards,Diane

  2. Dean Leh Says:

    Awesome, Diane! Keep up the great work!
    Dean Leh

  3. Wm Thiboutot Says:

    Hey, first I want to say awesome blog. I don’t always agree with your blogposts but it’s always a interesting read.
    Keep up the great blogging.

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