Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Treats for You

Just in time for New Year’s, here’s a round-up of fun and funny things that found their way to my inbox this month.

On the photo site Flickr, bird lover Chris Bohinski posted a “one in a million” shot of a junco on December 7. Juncos are beloved by many people in the mid-Atlantic because their arrival seems to signal the happy part of winter, and they look a bit like tiny, cute penguins. The bird he photographed is cute, for sure, but what makes this a really great photo is the snowflake that is stuck to the bird’s back. “This snowflake is not just a white dot, but a clear and distinct snowflake shape (six sides). I truly believe this photo is a miracle,” he writes.

I think the real miracle is that he was able to see straight enough to recognize the flake after reviewing some 750 shots that he took that morning. Anyhow, it’s a glorious shot that makes you want to put on boots and go hiking in a winter wonderland.

Last week, the solid waste division of Montgomery County, Maryland also gave made me smile, when they sent out their notices regarding holiday trash collection and schedule changes. Along with some important info regarding Christmas tree recycling and info about what kinds of wrapping paper and boxes should and should not be put into our blue recycling bins, there was the following quote:

In a drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them,
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

—from "Happy Insensibility" by John Keats

I think someone’s English major is being put to good use in that office. What next? Shakespeare on the translucence of glass? Longfellow to encourage us to recycle our valentines? Emily Dickinson to make us carefully wrap up our yard waste in twine? Just wondering and guessing will keep me opening those messages from the county.

Another smile came from the Kinsman Company owners, Graham and Michele. I don’t know these people personally, although they sure do write some lovely emails to advertise products from their upscale garden catalog. On December 18 they sent three photos of hummingbirds visiting their feeders this winter near Cape Meares, Oregon. Incredibly, one photo even has an Anna’s Hummingbird hovering over a feeder in the snow. (See photo above, courtesy of Kinsman's email.)

The email goes on to say:

“This has been a cold and stormy week here in the Pacific Northwest. And yet we have Anna's hummingbirds to delight us all day long. They've always been occasional winter visitors, but in recent years their winter numbers have grown as more gardeners plant winter flowering shrubs - as well as keeping feeders full for hungry hummingbirds. Some years ago in January, we saw Anna's feeding off Mahonia flowers at the Berry Botanic Garden, near the heart of Portland, Oregon. They get protein and nutrition from gnats, spiders and other winter insects, too. Since then, we've come to count on them as special guests over Christmas and the New Year. They arrive locally in late October and depart in March - just as the Rufous hummingbird migration comes through.”

I am absolutely fascinated by this whole thing. Although many articles have highlighted the changing winter habits of hummers and the fact that many (even here in the Mid-Atlantic states) have reported seeing hummers in the winter, I have never seen a picture of one in the snow. (Cornell's ornithology website does note that the winter range for these birds includes southern Alaska. )
Finally, I offer a note to point us toward January. The women who write for Garden Rant, an interesting and lively blog, have joined a campaign to green the White House. Interestingly, George Bush’s White House team reportedly did a great deal to green the interior of the president’s living quarters, by using all LED Christmas lights, for example. But with the Obama team set to move in, many organic gardeners are calling for the outside to become more environmentally sound, too. Most exciting of all, President-elect Obama has reportedly said he supports the idea. Fantastic!

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