Earth Day Birding

IMG_0217I got up early this morning after sleeping out on the porch with my daughter. She had one side of the U-shaped couch. I had the other. She didn’t wake up until I left. In fact, she didn’t wake up until long after I had gotten home. I headed to Shelburne Pond before the sun came up. It was cool–39 degrees–and mostly clear. I had about a half hour before the sun rose.

There were the usuals singing away–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Swamp Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Cardinals, among others. A few Canada Geese paddled about not far from shore. A Wood Duck was silhouetted against the water. I hiked up the trail after watching the water for a while. The sun rose as I walked the woods.

I saw four Downy Woodpeckers chasing each other around and chirping at each other. I had never seen that before. I heard something singing down in the wetland–something whose song I could not remember–but I never got a look at it. I saw some Ring-Necked Ducks and a Common Goldeneye diving for breakfast. Then I saw an owl. OK it wasn’t an owl. I saw an owl in the same spot once before so I imagined it was an owl. It turned out to be a hawk.

I always think Red Tailed Hawk when I see any hawk, because they are so common, but it clearly wasn’t that–too small and the wrong markings. I have gotten to the point where I try to notice key details right away. Does it have bands on its underside? Does it have bands on its tail? What color is its back? That kind of thing. Right away I narrowed it down to three possible candidates. Once it flew and I got a better look at its tail, I narrowed it down to two. I walked up the trail further and then I heard it call. Boom: Red Shouldered Hawk.

Red Shouldered Hawks are not common around here. I have seen them several times in Florida, and once last year at another nearby location, but never at this spot. Looking for birds is full of surprises like that. I so was not expecting to see a Red Shouldered Hawk. Nice way to start the day.

In the afternoon I headed to Lagoon Road. This is a birding hotspot these days as migrating birds find the wet areas there a great place to stop over. It is next to a water treatment plant, which seems to be a favored spot for birds in lots of places. Right off I saw Northern Shovelers, one of which is pictured above. Check out the schnozz on that dude! I had seen them from a distance on Lake Champlain about a month ago for the first time, and these were right there. So cool!

I also saw a whole bunch of sandpipers. They only pass through here in spring and fall. They breed up north. A couple were here earlier than usual so, again, it was exciting. I added three new birds today for my list for the year. Not bad for a rainy Earth Day. If it isn’t raining too hard in the morning I will rise early and try to be surprised again. And I’m guessing I will be back before my daughter wakes up. I won’t be getting her to listen to a dawn chorus with me any time soon, I can tell you that.

Get in Touch, Old School

IMG_0214My wife busted out a sewing pattern yesterday. This image was in the corner. I have been trying to figure out who designed this and when. Without some research that is not something I am going to do. So I wonder a few things about this:

1. What is the deal with the rotary phone? If you were born in the 80’s or later you likely have never used a rotary dial telephone. I do remember using one when I was a kid but my own children have never even seen one. My son was asking me the other day how the dial knew when to stop. He just didn’t understand how a rotary dial telephone works. I explained it to him and he got it. That’s some good parenting right there.

2. That computer is not going to be happening in a typical household. OK, some people may have one still but you cannot buy one that looks anything like that these days, and if you have one hanging around it probably can’t do much with the internet as it is these days. I guess you could use dial-up, and I know many people in rural areas have little choice, even today, but that computer? Outdated baby.

3. That e-mail symbol/logo/design is so 90’s. Dude. Bill and Ted might even have a hard time understanding what the heck it is supposed to mean. It relies on the premise that one seeing it understands standard postal mail. I work with students who sometimes do not know the meaning of the term “postal address” and often don’t know what theirs is. I hate to break it to the US Postal Service, but mail is for packages these days. Many people I know never get personal mail. That is a shame in my opinion; getting mail is the best. In any case, showing a few letters with a superimposed “e” is going to make a few people scratch their heads, a few other chuckle and a some just say “Huh?”

I don’t know who uses sewing patterns these days. This one was brand new, not some vintage jobber. Maybe people of a certain age tend to use patterns like this and so this little arrangement at the top works for them. Maybe this is just something that no one has cared to look at for a while, let alone update. It made me smile, that is for sure. My guess is this was added to patterns in maybe 1990, maybe earlier, and just never changed. I might try to find out but I can’t find my rotary phone right now, and Netscape Navigator is no longer loaded onto my computer. Maybe I will try to send some electronic mail. But I’m not sure I can remember my AOL username and password. If I think to get around to it, I’ll just Google it. That, however, doesn’t seem to be an option here.

Early Morning Looking for Rusty Blackbirds

Purple Finch Singing Up a Storm

Purple Finch Singing Up a Storm

I will tell you right off I was not successful in finding Rusty Blackbirds. The day was right, the habitat was perfect, but they were just not around. They don’t stay here. They just pass through on their way north this time of year. I was hoping I might catch a few along their way. Not today.

I rose pretty early and was up at the South Hero Marsh Trail by 6:00. It was a cloudy day so it was just light and the birds were already singing. The trail is an old rail bed so it is pretty much a straight line, running alongside a marsh with reedy areas and open water. I could hear geese out on the  water and a loon called a few times. Grackles and Red-Winged Blackbirds and Robins were trying to outdo each other. The place is thick with silver maples and large wet areas, puddles of a sort, dot the forest floor. I was hoping one of the rust-colored blackbirds might be flipping leaves looking for some breakfast next to one of those puddles. Breakfast, apparently, was served elsewhere today.

Perfect Place to Find Rusty Blackbirds

Perfect Place to Find Rusty Blackbirds

I did find a lot of birds. Woodpeckers ruled the place–Flickers and Downies and Hairies. I got a good look at a Golden Crowned Kinglet, my first sighting of the year, and then another of a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. I saw Wood Ducks and Green-Winged Teal and watched a Purple Finch sing up the morning. Ospreys soared overheard, crying out, and Snipes whistled over the wetland. It was a great morning to be out, even if it was chilly enough for the down jacket.

I stopped for coffee on the way home. The cashier asked if I was going fishing. Fishing season opened last weekend in Vermont. I told her I was not. I had already been out for two hours but I just said “No, not today. Good day for it though.” And I headed home, looking forward to a hot omelet.

Kiildeer trying to sneak by

Kiildeer trying to sneak by

High Water and Warming Up


Gulls watch the roaring Winooski River up close

I took some time to walk briefly after work today. I walked along the river in Winooski. I thought I might see if I could find some spring migrating birds. The river was high. It roared. I could hardly hear any birds singing until I had walked far enough away. Lots of snow is melting. There was lots of snow this winter. It will be melting for a while.

I saw a few birds–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Hairy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse. The usual types. I ducked off the trail at one point to listen and look. I saw some movement by a large puddle under the silver maples. I pointed my binoculars and saw a Rusty Blackbird. Boom! That is a fine bird to see. They are more and more uncommon and I had given up on seeing one this spring. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see one today. But there it was.

I like that about birding. I go out and just hope to see something. Sometimes one bird makes it all worthwhile. That happened today. It like to see whatever I see but most of the time there is some surprise. First White Throated Sparrow of the year, or a Catbird still around in December, or a Rusty Blackbird when I had not expected to see one. The unpredictability is a gift. Not being in control makes me feel more connected to the world. Being a spectator can take away the stress of modern life. It gives me a good sense of perspective.

Tomorrow morning I will rise early and go somewhere to look and listen again. I may see nothing new. But I am sure I will see something interesting. Hopefully I will be surprised. It should be a fairly warm morning. That alone will make me feel good.

Spring Edging In


I was pretty cozy in bed this morning but I got up early anyway. It was cold out (below freezing!) and I had woken early. I wavered. I waffled. But then I remembered that spring migration is underway. In Vermont. We’re talking a very short season. I got out of bed.

I watched the sky turn pink before the sun rose. I watched the sun rise. I listened to lots of birds singing: song sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, phoebes, mourning doves, swamp sparrows, even  a ruby crowned kinglet. It was cold but it was a beautiful morning. How can I regret watching the sun rise on an early spring day?

I wasn’t the only one out there. Often at that hour I see no one else. OK really I almost never see anyone. And I say almost because I saw a bunch of people today. A car passed, a dog walker, a runner, a biker. I got one of each. That meant no chance of seeing ducks on the river. They are skittish. I walk as stealthily as I can as I approach the river, but if someone else has just passed, forget it. No ducks for me. I did see a wood duck pass over at one point, so at least there was that.

Every day now new birds are coming back north. I saw my first kingfisher of the season this afternoon. I also saw a flock of bohemian waxwings in Burlington this afternoon–they will soon make their own journey north, leaving these southern climes behind. I will try to get out there as often as I can these next couple of months. I would hate to miss something passing through.

Woodcocks are calling in the early evening. The sun goes down and wood peepers start wood peeping. Daffodils are starting to pop up. The buds on the trees are budding out. Sugaring season is winding up. Soon it will be green–too green to see through the woods. That makes the birding harder but it sure looks fine. I’ll get out of bed for that too.

A Chilly Day then a Stellar Day for Vermont Maple Weekend

IMG_0177Last weekend was Vermont Maple Weekend. Sugarhouses across the state were open for visitors. We started the day Saturday at Shelburne Farms, with their annual pancake breakfast, a fundraiser for the local 4H. It was not especially crowded. We have attended several years in a row and it is often so crowded that seats at the long tables are scarce and the line for pancakes is long. Not so last Saturday. It was too cold.

The temperature when we arrived was maybe 21, 22 degrees, but the wind was whipping. The wind chill was easily in the single digits. Lots of people there were ready for spring, but pushing the season with a lighter jacket does not make it any warmer. My parents were visiting and they were not the only ones to turn back before exploring the sugarhouse. No steam was coming from the sugarhouse roof, so it looked like that refuge would not be all that warm. It turns out they were boiling but they had just started; a head of steam had not built up yet.

Steam just making its way out of the sugarhouse

Steam just making its way out of the sugarhouse

Inside the sugarhouse

Inside the sugarhouse

We watched some boiling and sampled some syrup (it had a hard time flowing from the small paper sample cups given the temperature). We walked up into the sugarbush and had some sugar on snow. We checked out the live bird demonstration. We had fun but we did not last as long as other years. We got chilled.

Sap lines running downhill but mostly frozen

Sap lines running downhill but mostly frozen


One-eyed Screech Owl

The next day we went skiing. The sun came out and we had a perfect spring skiing day. It had snowed the night before so up high enough the snow was powdery. Once the sun warmed things up a bit, the lower snow was corn snow–loose, large grains. We were warm in the sun and skiing down fast. It was a treat. So we started off cold but ended the weekend feeling like spring was ready to really hit us.

We made a stop at Shelburne Sugarworks as well, but they were so busy it would have taken a good chunk of time to fill our glass gallon jug. So we put that off. We will need to get over there soon to get that filled up. We will want that sweet liquid over this next year. Those awesome buttermilk pancakes just are not as good without it.

Perfect day for skiing

Perfect day for skiing