Winter Heat Wave
Regular readers of Tundra Medicine Dreams must realize by now what a dominating effect weather has in our lives here in southwest Alaska during the wintertime. The temperature can range from 40 below, which is difficult, to 40 above, which is miserable. We can have deep, heavy snow, or gale-force winds, or nothing but sheer ice. But for all the challenges of the cold end of the range, most people prefer that to the warm end. When the temperature is 40 above, it is generally accompanied by lots of warm south wind and rain. The skies are leaden and the land is wet, drippy, sloppy, and muddy. Thick ice continues to underlie the standing water, making it dangerous to walk without ice cleats.
For the past week we have had a veritable heat wave going on. On Tuesday the 30th, I heard unofficially that we set a new local record for high temperatures in January—it was +47F! (around here, that’s when we get out the t-shirts and flip-flops). By contrast, January 23rd is the anniversary of Alaska’s coldest temperature on record: -80F in 1971 at Prospect Creek Camp (courtesy of my freebie calendar from Alaska Magazine).
The warm weather has brought lots of muddy melting, but for once this warm spell has been accompanied by blue skies and reasonably dry weather. It has had its nice moments, for all that it seems so wrong. Spring just does not happen in February in Alaska, but that is what it feels like at the moment.
On Wednesday afternoon, Henry and I sat on his front porch swing drinking tea and watching the birds. He keeps several bird feeders filled, and the willows around his house are alive with redpoles, grosbeaks, and chickadees. They flit back and forth from trees to feeder, paying little attention to the humans sitting three feet away.
We had been enjoying several minutes of quiet when suddenly a brown blur streaked through the airspace with stunning speed and ferocity. A cloud of birds boiled up from the trees with frantic wingbeats and cries of distress. In the stillness that followed their departure, a small to medium brown bird (later identified as a merlin) sat on a stump in the grass in front of the house with a squawking grosbeak clamped firmly in one claw. With cold-eyed efficiency, the merlin pecked the grosbeak to death and ate everything but the feathers.
It was gruesome, and yet fascinating to watch. After his meal, the predator flew off and has not been seen again. The songbirds have not recovered from the shock of this attack; the trees have had very few birds for the last few days. It seems strangely quiet without them.
Photos by The Tundra PA.
Labels: Tundra Life