Food: The sounds of spring
While I’m not visually seeing much as far a spring arriving, I am hearing it. Despite our white and frozen landscape, our feathered friends are returning.
Last week I heard the chipper call of a cardinal echoing off in the woods and I nearly swooned. Those melodious notes made me smile though, as I recalled a special gift I received as a young kid. It was a little 45 record titled “Bird Calls of North America.”
I would always play this disc on a small kiddie record player I got as a Christmas present one year. For months, the first thing I did when I came home from school was listen to those bird calls. I can still hear the voice that narrated that record; it was male, deep rooted and masculine. Very slowly it would pronounce a bird by its known name, then its Latin name, followed by the bird call. Even to this day I can recite, verbatim, most of this record.
“This…..is….a…song….sparrow, mel…o..spiza …..mel..o…dia,” the voice would enunciate precisely. Then there would be a soft whooshing sound until the bird call came on. Over and over I would listen to these calls with a happy heart, however other family members did not appreciate my diligence.
“Oh no not the bird sounds again,” my siblings would lament, but I would only grin as I listened to the “whip, whip whip, pheeew” of cardinalis cardinalis or the tremolos and hoots of gavia immer.
I literally wore the grooves off this record but the “music” I learned from it has never left my brain. For a few years I impressed friends and family by knowing the Latin name of a bird when its chirp filled the air. “Cyanocitta cristata,” I would proclaim smugly at the raucous call of a blue jay or “poecile hudsonicus” whenever I heard the “wee, wee, wee” of a chickadee. However, my uppity attitude was not appreciated, especially among my peers so I quit this practice at an early age.
My love for wild birds has continued even to this day though. Feeding them has always been a task I do with love and anticipation so you can imagine my delight when my good friend Don Sattler, presented me with a hand-crafted birdhouse a couple of years ago. It is in the likeness of my own house and is constructed entirely of Popsicle sticks.
I know it took him many weeks of meticulous care to construct this feeder and so I only bring it out during certain times of the year. And this is one of those times.
Over the next weeks many birds will be either returning to the Northwoods or flying through to their nesting grounds. While I’m enthralled when I see the first robin hopping across the front lawn or hear the call of Canadian geese overhead, I’m especially enamored with the birds that just stop by on their way to greener pastures. Last week I saw a Northern jay and one day while driving north of Minocqua I spotted a snowy owl. These types of sightings always stop me in my tracks.
This week I included two recipes to enjoy. One is for humans and one is for the birds. The Birdseed Treats are a great energy booster especially for kids coming home after school or they make a wonderful treat with a cup of coffee. And just watch what happens when you set out a few Wild Bird Cupcakes. You may very well spot a sphyrapicus varius or one of my favorites, the pinicola enucleator.
I know, their names do sound a little funny, but their music will put a smile on your face too.
Wild Bird Cupcakes
2 cups chunky peanut butter
1 cup of lard
4 cups cornmeal
2/3 cups mixed wild bird seed or nuts
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
In a microwave proof bowl melt the lard and peanut butter together, pausing every so often to stir. Once melted add the cornmeal and mix well then add the seeds. Mold into muffin cups.
Place cakes in the refrigerator overnight. Take a knife and carefully release them from the muffin tin and then place in different spots in your yard, or with your regular feeder. (You can vary this by adding dried cranberries, bits of fruit such as apples and any nuts.)
2/3 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
¼ cup flax seeds
Toast the sesame and sunflower seeds in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat until light brown and fragrant. Sesame seeds should crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers. Heat honey and peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat until warm then stir in the seeds. Line a 11×7 inch dish with plastic and press the mixture into the bottom. Allow to cool.