Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brown Creeper

            The months after Christmas until mid-to late March are the most difficult of the year to bear in my opinion.  Spring and summer have always warmed my heart as well as my back as I bend over tomato plants in the garden or flowers in the flower bed. Over time, I have learned to love fall with all its color and autumnal symphonies even though I know what comes next.  But winter—I struggle with.  It takes effort to celebrate these long, colorless days.

            That is until a couple of weeks ago.  While gazing at our dusty, forlorn yard, wondering how it will survive continued drouth, a small brown creature, looking a great deal like a moving piece of bark began to circumnavigate our elm tree.  It started at the bottom and moved corkscrew-like up the tree to the suet basket where it made a stop to noodle at the fatty, seed-laden glob.  Then it continued its upward spiral.

            At first, I thought our newcomer was a wren, but it didn’t fly like a wren, and it would be here a bit—make that a lot—early to be a wren.  It was small and colored much like a wren, but I have never seen a wren maneuver around a tree the way this little guy did, picking delicately with its little down-curved bill into crevices in the bark.

            I called in reinforcements, my husband that is, and we made a dash for the bird book and the binoculars.  I don’t do so well with binocs, so I got the job of scanning pages in the bird book while my other half noted its long prop-like tail, mottled wing feathers, and unique bobbing flight, much like a woodpecker’s.

            After eliminating all possible wrens, we finally found our fellow on the same page with the nuthatches.  That fit as it shared the tree with several nuthatches throughout the morning.  He would circle around, poking into nooks and crannies in the bark, snacking on a bit of suet, and then bobbing beyond our sight.  Certhia americana, otherwise known as a brown creeper, was our visitor.

            According to my bird book, this newcomer is a “common but inconspicuous small woodland bird.” According to a site I found on the internet, one writer stated, ‘"His head," he says, "which is as the sentient handle to a very delicate instrument, is moved with such science, such dentistry, that one feels and appreciates each turn of it."’ The article itself fascinated me as the author published his work in 1948 in a Smithsonian Museum publication.  Apparently, the brown creeper’s charm lay in the fact it isn’t often seen, and its movements are so artful one can’t help falling under its spell.

            For the past two weeks, we have made certain (not that any regular visitors have done without) that we have suet in the suet basket, even making an emergency stop in Hays when I realized I bought a seed block instead of suet for the suet station.  Our little visitor has rewarded us with frequent returns to the old elm.

            While the trees still stand leafless, the yard dry and dusty, and only a trickle of water runs in the creekbed, my days have brightened.  I look forward to seeing the brown creeper sharing the tree with hordes of nuthatches, juncoes, flickers, woodpeckers, and a growing flock of chickadees.  Little things and little birds do make a difference.

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