Date: 1/2/21 8:56 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] January 2, 2021: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
7:41 a.m. 30 degrees, wind SWS 1 mph. Sky: taut gray and snow-filled, turns
bright white. Big wet flakes that transition to slush and back, again. Two
inches and heavy. Sticks to bark, branch, and twig. A valley of
intersecting white lines. Permanent streams: black watery threads cinched
in white, snow platforms pinch into the channels creating convoluted
margins like tidewater Maryland. Peninsulas of slush, partially submerged.
Wetlands: snow fill deer trails, white paths etched in beige reeds, a
crisscross of popular avenues. Red squirrels sleep in. Not crossbills . . .
another noisy flyover. Pond: a frozen palimpsest becomes hard to read.
Remnants of deer and otter spoor reduced to bumps and depressions, nearly
effaced by snow. The patience of water: an immaculate, white oval awaits
the next mammal. A coyote? A long-tailed weasel, soft, white sausage with
angry teeth; black-tipped tail like a matador's cape, a big distraction.

Crow with an unusual accent, caws above the marsh. Snowflakes in my eyes.
Tracks of a solitary red squirrel cross the road and disappear into the
pines—the squirrel, himself, silent as stone. Six grays assemble at the
feeders, tracks angling in from the four corners of the globe. Looking up
at crossbills, snow burns my eyes. On the trail toward the lower pasture,
unruly alders and tired goldenrods overrun with chickadees. Check
everything, miss nothing. When all else stays hidden, chickadees my
thankful afterthoughts.

Yesterday, on the road to Pomfret, a route I've driven so many times in the
past four years that I've inscribed a trail over Howe Hill like the wagon
wheels on the Great Plains: a northern shrike, a mouse (or vole) clapped in
hooked beak, passed in front of my car. At first, I thought, *what's that
blue jay carrying? *Then, a forty-mile an hour insight . . . jays are blue
in the sunlight, not gray, and rarely fly around with mice in their mouths.

Shrike, a songbird with attitude. Behaves like a falcon—big-headed, hooked
and notched beak. Notches separate the vertebrae of mice and birds, up the
size of grosbeaks and jays. Last February, in happy-go-lucky pre-Covid
days, along the edge of the Colorado River, I watched a smaller, more
thickly masked loggerhead shrike drop down from sagebrush and grab a
western harvest mouse. The shrike bit the mouse at the base of the skull
and then returned the sagebrush. Mouse, jammed into a fork in the twigs,
taken it apart, piece by bloody piece. Ten feet in front of me. An OMG
moment.

Rare as an Indianhead penny, shrikes were shot because they impaled
songbirds on thorns, sometimes in front of us. Predators lift the veil from
the beauty of the world, make life *far *more interesting by what they do .
. . survive at the expense of others. A natural history lesson played out
by rattlesnakes and wolves and owls and hawks and much-despised blue
jays, which reach into another bird's nest and swallow the hatchlings. But
when predation is seen unbiased, as part of the whole landscape of natural
selection, you glimpse a continuous process of self-editing, the inner
workings of a planet. Not flawless, but perfect.
 
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