The months after Christmas until mid-to late March are the most difficult of the year 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 their beds. Over time, I have learned to love fall with all its color and pre-cold weather symphonies even though I know what comes next. But winter—I struggle with. It takes effort to celebrate long, colorless days.
Then one day an unexpected visitor brightened our lives. While gazing at our dusty, forlorn yard, wondering how it would 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 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 had arrived a bit—make that a lot—early to be a tiny cavern dweller. It was small and colored much like summer wrens, but I have never seen those birds maneuver around a tree the way this little guy did, picking delicately with its down-curved bill into the bark.
I called in a reinforcement, my husband, and we made a dash for the bird book and 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 the creature’s 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 nuthatches occupied. That fit as it shared the tree with several of that upside down crawling species throughout the morning. He would circle around, poking into nooks and crannies, 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.” On an internet site, one writer stated, ‘"His head, 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 two weeks, we made certain the suet basket was always full, even making an emergency stop in Hays when I accidentally bought a seed block instead of suet for the cage-like feeding station. Our visitor rewarded us with frequent returns to the old elm.
While the trees still stood leafless, the yard dry and dusty, and only a trickle of water ran down the creek, my days brightened. I looked 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 charmed away that winter’s blues.