Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring is coming - really!

We are still wearing turtle-necks, layers, and gloves here in MIchigan, and the sun has not seemed to break through those heavy clouds very often recently. A few flowers are blooming but most are still tucked away waiting for more warmth and sun before bursting open to finally say with a definite point of emphasis that 'spring is here to stay!'.

There have been spring bird sightings in the area; today someone in SE Michigan saw the first Baltimore oriole in her yard as just one example (time to get out the grape jelly, one of their favorite foods!). So I keep my eyes and ears open, looking and listening for my own birds that tell me spring is really coming.

Two days ago now when we had our overnight snow, I glanced out of the windows first thing in the morning to peek at my bird-feeders, expecting to see the usual crowd, and there was a CROWD (good thing I had filled the feeders the night before). However, as my eyes swept through the birds at the various feeders, in the adjacent trees where they hang out to wait their turn at the feeders (or where some take a seed to eat), and on the ground under the feeders, I saw two birds that immediately registered in my brain as "NEW".

Along with the cardinals, tree sparrows, juncos, goldfinches, downy woodpeckers and other 'usuals', there were two new birds on the ground under the feeders, kicking at the snow sending dirt, old sunflower plus thistle seed shells, and leaves flying behind them as they uncovered feeding possibilities. I confess that my heart skipped a couple of beats with excitement because I knew immediately what they were by their strikingly bold coloring (black, rufous, and white) and unusual behavior, being Eastern towhees (formerly called rufous-sided towhees, a name I still prefer). Eastern towhees are not rare birds in the eastern US, at least not for areas like mine that are overgrown, shrubby, tangled, etc, etc, i.e., their preferred habitat, but they are more often heard rustling around in the shrubbery versus seen, especially once the leaves emerge.

Not only are these birds beautiful (complete with a red eye) with interesting behavior, they also have an easy to identify song ('drink your tea') and call ('chewink!'). I have heard them on our farm (yes, still lots of areas of secondary growth, which I enjoy for the scrubby habitat it provides birds like the towhee) for the past two summers now. I especially enjoy their companionship when I am weeding.  I do not need to go looking for them since they are singing close enough for me to hear without looking up.

I did manage to get a few photos of the two towhees under our feeders on the snowy day. I don't know if they would have come to the feeders without the snow, but I know that without the snow, they surely would not have shown up or looked so handsome. Look for yourself at my photos and then feel free to go the the following link at ( to see some much better photos and hear their song and call. I know once you hear their song/call on the web, you'll want to also hear it outside. Find a nature area with lots of secondary growth (or a fallow farm is perfect!), and I'll bet you won't be disappointed if you're in the eastern part of the country.

(Photo: A male eastern towhee, kicking under the snow for food opportunities - see all the bird seed shells behind him?)

(Photo: Male eastern towhee and male northern cardinal looking for food underneath the feeders after a late spring snow - 4/18/2011)

(Photo: Two male eastern towhees scratching for breakfast on a snowy spring morning outside Ann Arbor, MI on 4/18/2011, their first appearance on our farm this year)
Please be sure to look at better photos on the link above. I took these through a window and just shot quickly to make sure I got something before they spooked and flew away.

So yes, spring is coming - really! - which is hard to believe (2011 has been a long winter in Michigan), but these towhees are here to tell us it is almost time to pack away those turtlenecks and gloves until needed again in September. Just kidding (!!), but they'll come back out in early October as the towhee is sensibly flying south for a steady food supply and we start planting our garlic for 2012.

Another day of falling into bed after lots of sorting and hauling stuff (stuff, stuff, and more stuff!) up the stairs, down the stairs, carrying it out to the car, from the car to its drop-off point, and on and on. It is hard to sort and make decisions, but I don't want to move anything that we no longer want/need and could be used by someone else. Time to enjoy the memories, share the stuff, and move it along.  We still have plenty!

Enjoy the photo at the top of my blog of our garlic in snow now, because as soon as we have a sunny day (and I see a beautiful photo-op), I'll get rid of that gloomy picture!

(Photo: Garlic fields at The Dyer Family Farm on April 18, 2011 - all 15,000 are up waving their green leaves, but winter just won't quit this year!)
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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