Tuesday, January 7, 2014

ANIMAL HARDSHIPS

The river was covered with icy fog and I swear the water would freeze over instantly if it weren't for the ever moving current.  East Tennessee has been in a winter freeze for the past four days with temperatures -6 degrees nights and early mornings to a maximum of +6 degrees during the day.  I know it's nothing to compare with the weather up north and west but it's very dangerous down here in the south due to the inability of folks to cope with sub zero weather.  That all being said, I noticed something today I should have caught days ago but didn't think much about it.
 I kept seeing animals out at times during the day when they should have been in shelter out of the extreme weather.  Deer and turkeys were ranging at the edge of woodlots in early afternoon.  This is an oddity during very cold times, especially during the day.  A few critters out on a day like this I can understand but so many everywhere is strange.  They weren't out and about for the past two days.

 The deer were out in numbers and the lone animal was not seen and they were in the fields at noon instead of cautiously entering the open spaces at sun down.


The biggest oddity I noticed was in the birds.  Yesterday I watched a tufted titmouse pecking on a dead ground mole.  Tit mice are not meat eaters at all - not in the slightest.  They were moving along the river through the brush and trees in mass foraging for whatever they could find.  Then the robins would follow after the tit mice passed by.  And, the robins scratched the leaves and clung to the sides of the trees much like a flicker or nuthatch would do.
A sharp shinned hawk lingers a long time atop his perch.  The temperature is near 5 degrees and he seems to be frozen in place.  These hawks rarely sit demurely on a perch, quietly accessing their surroundings.  They are birds of action and constantly range over meadows and woods.


Then the realization hit me.  These birds are stressed and starving.  The tit mouse yesterday was pulling out the stops and eating anything he could find, even carrion which is not ever on his menu.  The robins were searching for food in places they do not normally frequent.  They were prying tree bark with their beaks and scratching the leaves away from the winter's infertile ground in hopes of finding some morsel to sustain them.  The hawk is stationary for long periods of time only moving when his attack is almost guaranteed successful.  He can't afford to waste the precious energy of a full out attack on prey and miss.  The burned fuel must be replaced and added to in order for him to survive.  And, the deer must scrape their hoofs against the almost baron earth in hope of uncovering some obscure blade of edible grass or possibly some nuts and acorns.  This is all meager fare when the temperatures are hovering near zero degrees and their bodies heating systems are burning up precious fuel to maintain warmth.  That fuel, energy, needs replaced or a bitter outcome will be the result.

 My goodness, how cardinals stand out  among the trees and scrub!  A group of about 15 birds moved along the edge of the river acting much like all the other birds I've noticed over the past two days.  They were searching intently for food, not missing any stick, limb or log along their way up the river's edge.
The birds that can be viewed here in East Tennessee this time of the year are comprised of a great number of migratory birds.  They stop temporarily to replace all that energy that has been expended on their routes north from southern climes.  This little stretch of frigid weather has thrown a curve to their routine and they can't find the needed nuts and mast to sustain them for the remainder of their long journey.  If the extreme temperature would persist, I think a lot of these tiny birds would succumb to hunger and die.  Fortunately, the temps are going to rise tomorrow into the 30's or warmer and continue to warm throughout next week.  This will be a reprieve for all the critters who are not used or capable of dealing with the Arctic weather.  This revelation has prompted me to stop at the Tractor Supply on the way home and buy a bag of sunflower seed for the bird feeders in my yard.  I'm ashamed i haven't done so previously  this winter.
  I mentioned Indian Cave in last nights post.  I took a picture of the gate that leads to the path for the cave.  It's not fancy like Dollywood's architecture but is a home made structure that is both rustic and sufficient to the purpose.  The cave lays a couple hundred yards beyond.  We'll be taking pictures inside when spring arrives, if it ever does arrive.  I'm over winter.  See ya.
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