In the dreamy, quiet darkness of the midnight hour, with a chill dampness in the air giving more hints of freezing rain than the snow of the previous day, a pair of chickadees snuggled close on a small branch deep inside the sheltering boughs of a towering white spruce tree.
Whether from rain or snow or predatory birds, the shelter was appreciated. The small black and white birds tucked heads into warm downy feathers and slept.
Drifting through the silent night on whisper-quiet wings, a snowy owl was nearly invisible in the gray mist. Intent on an elusive, ground-dwelling field mouse, the owl swept past the spruce tree without pause.
December weather in Alaska can switch from -5°F and snow to 36°F and rain from one day to the next. -20°F is not an unusual daytime temperature this time of year.
And yet, Alaska is home to the tiny Chickadees and other delicate-looking feathered denizens year-round. Brrr!
The chickadees, of course, weren’t alone in the massive spruce. The protection of its thick evergreen branches also attracted nuthatches, field sparrows, juncos and occasionally larger finches.
Earlier in the day, a chatty flock of Pine grosbeaks, the largest of the finch species wintering in this part of Alaska, had settled in at the base of the tree in search of the last remnants of tiny, fallen spruce cones, disrupting the calm with their bossy arial antics and raucous chirping.
Unfortunately for the feisty grosbeaks, it seems a local covey of spruce hens had pretty much scavenged the area beneath the tree clean throughout the fall.
Finding little left to feed on, the grosbeaks soon moved on – heading to the rustic bird feeder on the deck of a nearby home.
High above the ground activity, a family of red squirrels watched and chortled to themselves over the hoard of hidden spruce cones they had carefully secured for themselves. It would be a long winter.