Thonk!: A Carding Chronicle

One of the best-known folks in Carding, Vermont is Edie Wolfe. Handcrafters and artists from all corners know her as the president of the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. Teenagers Will and Faye Bennett know her as “Grandma.”

Edie kindly agreed to take over my Carding Chronicle duties while I’m working on my new book. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her foray into big bird watching this morning.

Glad you stopped by.

I love birds. They are my favorite dinosaurs and every season has its feathered charmers.

In early spring, I start cocking my ear toward the trees lining the Corvus River, listening for the telltale “scree” and chatter that announces the annual arrival of the redwing blackbirds. They crowd the bare branches of late March, exchanging news and gossip from their trip back home to Vermont.

And then, about a week later, they all seem to disappear. We do occasionally hear them but they’re mostly busy pairing up and nesting among the river willows and cattails that line the Corvus.

In summer, it’s the flashy yellow of male goldfinches and the songs of robins and wrens plus the serene gliding of Canada geese, mergansers, and mallards across Half Moon Lake. We’re still eagerly awaiting the first appearance of nesting loons.

That will be a thrill.

Sometimes I wonder if I enjoy the birds of winter most of all. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, most of my work has moved indoors so I get to spend more time at my windows contemplating my feeders. There’s a three-part turnstile full of sunflower seeds that’s drained regularly by the neighborhood chickadees, tufted titmice, and the now-olive-green goldfinches. 

I scatter corn and more sunflower seeds on the ground for the cardinals, blue jays, and juncos.

And then there are the suet feeders, two of them, right outside my kitchen windows. They have lots of visitors but the most regular are woodpeckers, downy and hairy in particular.

I often hear their “thump, thump, thump” against the suet before I get down to the kitchen for my first cup of tea. But this morning there was a different sound, one I don’t hear very often.

“Thonk. Thonk. Thonk.”

Loud and unmistakeable.

I lifted my bedroom curtain just a smidge so I wouldn’t startle it into flight. It was raining—yet again—the guarantee of a bone-chiller day, the kind that makes you drink cocoa while hugging the wood stove.

“Thonk. Thonk. Thonk.”

I swept up my robe with one hand, not bothering with the light, and quietly toed down the stairs to the kitchen. The pileated woodpeckers may be the big bird of the woodpecker world but it is notoriously shy, hying off at the least sound. I should know. I’ve tried and failed to take its picture many times.

I have a dying ash tree on the edge of my yard and it’s a favorite of woodpeckers and nuthatches in summer. Andy Cooper keeps telling me to take it down before it falls on my house but the bigger branches are taking care of themselves so I’m not that worried. 

I figured this was the pileated’s target.

I fumbled around for my camera in the dim light of sunrise then got down on my knees to scoot across the floor to the back window. I was right. There was a magnificent pileated pounding away near the base of the ash, wood chips and icy raindrops flying in all directions. 

I raised the camera and zoomed in, struggling to get a clear picture through the window and the rain.

Thonk, thonk, thonk. Click, click, click.

The sounds of a satisfactory winter morning in January.

I watched and took pictures until the cold made moving imperative and it was time for cocoa.

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Burnt Fool.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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