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My World In (Mostly) Black And White

Now that the leaves have lost their color and fallen, I must issue a huge sigh of gratitude for the colored birds in November. There are so few.

Bless those cardinals for their red brightens the feeders as well as my Christmas cards. He is as red as any bird could be. Ma of course got short-changed but, compared to what else is available now, she’s still a winner. In late September I saw a young male along with his parents coming frequently to my feeder.

The blues of the jay may not seem as spectacular but, let’s face it, blue is still a color. And this bird doesn’t shortchange the missus which moves her close to the top of female birds having color at this time of year. Others? Pretty much forget it.

It’s the juncos I want to highlight because they should be coming back about now. To me their appearance always signals the beginning of winter. “The Snow Bird.” Except for what it symbolizes for me, the Slate-colored Junco is a very pretty little bird if you’re really into blacks and whites.

The Gray Catbird is indeed gray with a black cap and just a touch of rust beneath its tail but that doesn’t matter because it has probably headed out by now. Just look though at the Black-capped Chickadee: a bit of color, but stark white and black on its head with a gray belly. I like its familiar buzzy sound.

I particularly enjoy watching the White-breasted Nuthatch who seems to spend half his life upside-down. It’s another like the Titmouse who is unafraid to stick his head in the jay’s peanut feeder in search of a special treat. Only black and white on this bird. And that Tufted Titmouse has some rustiness beneath but our eyes will see his beautiful crest on a gray body with a white chest.

Before I wander off to rarer sightings, let’s bring in our woodpeckers. At my home the Downy is most frequently spotted, all black and white except for the male’s red patch on the back of his head. The Hairy is pretty much the same, even down to that red patch, just larger and unmistakable once you’ve seen enough of them both. (I think the Hairy’s more fearsome bill is what helps me most in identification.) They come to the suet but will also check out the regular birdseed.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a bit of an anomaly for both sexes sport red on their heads. The female’s red goes from shoulder up to the back of her neck, stopping close to eye level. The male gets red all the way over to its beak. We should be on the lookout for these visits, too.

Other woodpeckers I might see also have red, lots of it on the solid Red-headed Woodpecker with flashes on the neck and head for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker though neither visits much anymore. That red would be a genuine call for celebration.

To continue with my mostly shades of gray: in spite of its name, the Great Blue Heron is greatly gray with a white head and black cap. I have seen it here in November depending of course on what the weather decides to bestow on us.

Some geese too will stay until the water freezes over. Lots of gray on the Canada Goose but the neck and head are stark black and white. That white chinstrap varies by goose. I spent part of one summer photographing my regular visitors with expectations of learning them individually.

The Snow Goose visits erratically and can be almost all white, worth a second and third look. Even more gorgeous is the Whistling Swan, which I have seen here in November.

If the lake stays unfrozen, I might also see the Ring-necked Duck. Unlike the bird guide pictures, this appears to have a solid black back and head with more white underneath and even a bit of white on its bill.

But all is not lost once the waves disappear. The Bald Eagle looks black with its white head and tail. It can return here whenever it wishes. I saw lots in Alaska but none, except those in captivity, up as close as my visitor last winter.

Now, with Halloween not too far in the past, let’s close with the noisy all-black American (doesn’t that sound better than common?) Crow.

I love them all and will don my highest boots when necessary to reach the feeders. White, black, and gray are all good.

But I’m always hoping for a little color, too.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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