Canadians dominate in the world arena when it comes to weather discussion and this past February gave us plenty to talk about. It was the first time since 1978 that Southern Ontario temperatures remained below freezing for an entire month. I was in high school in 1978 and shudder to think that I was probably too cool to care about the stats or dress appropriately for them – but come to think of it, back then we weren’t nearly as weather informed or obsessed.
However, this February 2015 was hard to ignore. It was also the coldest February in the history of local weather recording. The red alert Extreme Cold Warning flag became a regular fixture on weather networks. A continuous build up of frost fringed the windows most mornings. I was grateful for the times I could work from home, my exposure limited to opening the front door to get the mail. If I had to leave the house, it was only under layers of down, thermals, and Blistex.
Usually I’m ok with winter as long as the days are bright and I can keep active. But even when the sun was shining, the neighbourhood harboured a frosty, creepy kind of silence throughout the frigid stretch. I could count on just one hand the number of students, dog walkers, joggers or even cars that ventured out on any given day. Same goes for squirrels – we’d had ample snowfall and the yard didn’t reveal much proof of their tell-tale scampers.
Armed with a hot cup of coffee and the thickest socks in the world, most days it seemed best to resign myself to the climate, bury my head in the laptop and just keep going. Which I was doing when one day smack in the middle of this deep freeze, I started to tune in to a series of repetitive musical sounds that I’d been hearing all afternoon.
Bank tellers learn how to rule out counterfeit bills by becoming acutely aware of what feels real. Birders sharpen their skills the same way, tweaking to what doesn’t sound seasonal or local. This sure didn’t sound like the average winter bird; sparrows, chickadees and starlings were all in hiding anyway. Melodic, frenzied and varied, I was hearing warblers that just shouldn’t be passing through these parts for months, even in the best conditions.
After ruling out the background music streaming off the internet, I scanned every one of the picture windows. I swear birds “freeze” whenever I get out of my chair and grab my binoculars. I didn’t see or hear a thing.
The next morning, in a neighbourhood enrobed with eerie ventilated mists and devoid of regular activity, the lively bird chat continued. And so it continued for the week, tormenting this birder at various hours of the day.
Extreme cold be damned, I’d open and close windows trying to find out where this group congregated and what made them stronger and braver than the rest of us locals. Then one day I retrieved the mail at just the right time. Hearing the cacophony, I pinpointed its location, tore back in the house, and grabbed my binoculars just in time to spot one lone bird take flight over to the neighbour’s hedge – a Northern Mockingbird.
When most other life forms had bailed, this misplaced bird took up the gauntlet, challenging daily arctic blasts. For the remainder of February, from sunrise to sunset it tore happily around frozen yards doing what it does best – duping and teasing with imitations of one bird or flocks of birds. It blended perfectly with the tangles of winter bland foliage, but that trademark fanning and flicking tail always gave it up. I’m pretty sure there was motive involved; this show off was likely trying to get early dibs on attracting a mate.
Just when we entered March and the temperature crept up by a few degrees, the mockingbird disappeared. Maybe the performance paid off, maybe it successfully flushed out an equally proactive partner and together they bounced off to find their own cozy set up.
Whatever the reason for its unlikely visit, the thrasher had been our deep freeze hero – one bird with the voice of 15, bucking the forecast and injecting energy, optimism and entertainment into the deepest vein of our winter – and something to talk about besides the weather.
Photo Credit – Milan Garbiar under a CC. 2.0 Generic License