Yesterday I participated in the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I have surveyed this route several years now. While I did not see even one eagle, I did get to see the river in winter.
Last year the day was warm and there was much less ice. Yesterday I started with single-digit temperatures. By the time I was finished in the early afternoon the temperature was considering hitting 20, but had not yet decided.
Here is my portrait of the Winooski River for January 2022.
I have been busy enough with work lately that I have not wanted to go birding early during the week, even though it is the season for it. So on Saturday I don’t want to give up the chance. Friday night the weather looked good for some morning exploring, so I planned to go. Saturday morning, however, brought light rain. Rain? Seriously? But I went anyway. It was bound to stop soon.
It kept raining. I turned on the windshield wipers. I went to a local nature reserve–it is fairly new and I had not seen much of it. I parked along the road where I thought a trail started. It sort of did start, in the woods, then fizzled when it opened onto a field. I went the way I thought seemed most likely, but it wasn’t much of a trail. I got to the wetland but then was stymied.
By then it was hardly raining, but it hadbeen raining. That meant the tall grass though which I meandered was a bit wet. Dripping, really. Soggy. Soaked. In my haste to leave the house I had put on pants, to avoid ticks, but they were cotton pants. That was dumb. By the time I walked back the way I had come and got to my car, those pants were most definitely not dry.
But there had to be a better access point to this wetland. I drove up the road and found it, hidden in the trees, no parking except along the road. Yes I was soaked but it was Saturday and I did not want to give up and what’s a little cold and wet? So up the hill into the woods I headed, then down the hill in the woods I went, until it opened again in tall grass. There was a clear path but it went both left and right. I went left.
And that way was just as wet as my first attempt. I got even more wet, even though the rain had passed by now. That grass can hold some water. I had a better view of the wetland, saw some ducks, heard a gallinule calling, listened to an Alder Flycatcher and a couple of Veeries singing. I turned around again and thought I would try going right. This was was less wet but the rain started to fall again.
I did find some birds, although not as many as I might have on a clearer day. Back in the car I polished off my warm coffee, waiting for me in the cup holder. I drove home with the wipers on, those cotton pants wicking all that grass water the whole time. I arrived home wet and chilled, satisfied that I had tried and at least had a good walk in a beautiful place. After a hot shower I got some sourdough bread started. I had a day ahead of me yet.
How about this moon? Setting, nearly full, into pink clouds? That’s a good thing. Things aren’t easy these days, for anyone, whether you are facing death or facing boredom. Which degree of not-so-good are you experiencing? Things are hard here, but we are alive.
It snowed yesterday. It seems everyone who has a way to post is posting about it. We got an inch and a half of the cold white stuff. And it was beautiful. Complain if you want–yeah, snow in May. Boo hoo. It was mostly melted by the end of the day anyway. Green and yellow with bright white highlights–if you can’t appreciate that rare beauty, well, is there hope for you?
I saw a fisher a couple mornings ago. It was up in what we call the tick zone, the snowmobile trail cut in the woods that is just a bonanza of birds in May, but that is loaded with ticks. It was a cold morning–the first of several, so there were few birds singing, except for that Black-and-White Warbler that whispered away non-stop. I was standing, quietly, hoping the birds would wake up already. The rustling in the shrubs turned into a huff of startledness that ducked away. The mystery creature slunk through the underbrush and then crossed the trail a little ways away. A giant weasel–way bigger than a mink or an ermine or a river otter. A fisher! I had never seen one.
Walking back through the tick zone, high on seeing the fisher, a white-tailed deer bounded across the trail, hopping way higher than seemed necessary. That is, apparently, just what they do.
My son made pizza for lunch today. I helped with with the dough, but mostly he handled it himself. And it was really good. Maybe it was really good in part because I was not doing the making, but mostly he just did a bang-up job.
Daffodils are blooming. Dandelions speckle the lawn. Leaves sprout from buds. And I just had a pile of M&M’s. Good things. Good things are everywhere.
Shorebirds are passing through. Most people have no idea. Maybe they see “sandpipers” if they visit the beach, but in Vermont? No beach, no sandpipers, right? Well, mostly. But when those little wading birds head south, they stop along the way.
I went to Delta Park, in Colchester, to find some shorebirds the other morning. They were there. I saw seven different species. Lake Champlain is low enough that I could walk around the point. At times the wetland bleeds into the lake, so it makes for a wet walk. But I got around the corner and found them.
Some were on a sandbar, not far from shore–close enough to see well with the right optics. There were Semipalmated Plovers, the cutest birds you’ve ever seen–plump little buggers with a mask and orange bill. There was a Dunlin, with a long curved bill, probing deep in the mud for breakfast. And there were long-legged Yellowlegs, living up to their names with long bright yellow legs.
I also saw several Great Egrets, large elegant white wading birds, resting on a log just off the beach. And an osprey soaring overhead. And in the willows, a Yellow Warbler in its drab fall plumage. And on top of all that wildlife, the place itself is just stunning. Green reeds and grasses spilling out toward the lake, and the Adirondacks strutting their stuff over in New York. When I go there I can’t help but fumble a little, I am just so in awe.
So I saw my shorebirds. I stopped for a cup of coffee to sip on my way home. I watched the morning grow into full-on day. I vowed to go again the next morning, even though it would mean another drive to get out there. But when I woke in the dark that night, it was raining.
We have not had anything but showers in months, so I didn’t think much of it. But as the light strengthened, the rain did too. And it kept coming down. I was disappointed. But we got rain. We needed rain. I stayed home most of day–baked bread, made granola, read a book, payed some bills. Shorebirds will be passing through for a little while. I will get out to Delta Park again. And I will see those shorebirds that all the bikers and joggers on the nearby bike path don’t even know are there.
I have to go when I can go. So I went up to the town forest a couple mornings ago, when I had some time to do it. If I had total flexibility I might have gone the day before, when the sky was clear. But I have to work, and I have a family and, you know, life stuff. So I went when I had time.
May is the month to find migrating birds. And, currently, it is May. So up I went to see what is passing through, or what has arrived for the summer. There was some fog down low, but as I drove up the hill, the fog got thicker. Up at the small parking area it was a bit socked in. I could see, mind you, just not very far. Tree tops were obscured, so I had to listen more than look.
When I go birding I usually listen more than look anyway, so it was natural. I have to remind myself sometimes to look up, in fact. There is just so much sound that birds make–songs and calls and drumming and chips and peeps. On this day I heard plenty of birds–Winter Wrens and American Redstarts and Veeries and Mourning Warblers. The bird of the day was the Bay Breasted Warbler–one that passes through–peeking out from a spruce tree right next to the trail at head height. Cool looking little dude.
I wandered around in the fog for a while before I had to get off to work. It was a successful and satisfying morning. The fog behind the fresh greenery was a quiet portrait of spring. I was in awe. It was awesome. I sank into the landscape and, by observing closely, discovered some of the landscape’s details. Not a bad way to start the day.
That is what I tell myself at 5:00 in the morning when I wake up and it is still mostly dark and I am sleepy and warm in bed and could use a little more rest before getting up for the day to get cracking on the usual routine. It’s May. Just get out there.
I mean, it is beautiful on a May day when the sun rises and the fog settles over the river and the green of the new buds is almost yellow it is so bright. But May is also when the birds come back. Warblers and orioles and flycatchers and sparrows. And so many more. I get out and try to find them. Every morning I try to find a bird species I have not yet found this year. Lately the birds have just been nuts.
What I mean by nuts is there have beenso many birds singing in the morning. When I go out I stand in the driveway and listen. I hear ten species from the porch. By the time I get to the end of the driveway I have heard 15. By the turn in the road I’ve found 20. The past couple of times I have walked out early I have seen or heard 50 species. It is nuts.
Six years ago, when I started birding more seriously, my goal was to learn the songs of as many local birds as possible. I wanted to be able to hear a song or call and know what I was hearing. I know a lot of them. I look forward to hearing the first Savannah Sparrows or Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear my first Yellow Warbler of the year. Or my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.
There are several birds that regularly show up here whose songs I don’t have nailed. That American Redstart? I should know it by now, but I have to re-remember it each year. Same with the Blackburnian Warbler. But it is a new challenge each spring. “Wait,” I whisper to myself. “What is that? I should know that.” And then smile when I get it.
These days I never have enough time. I have to rush back to the house for a shower and a clean shirt and some breakfast before we all head off to work and school. It would be easier if I had more time for that crap as well. But it is May. I need to get out there. In a couple of months, those birds won’t be singing, and the leaves will be hiding them. So I get up, I grab my binoculars and I try to remember to shut the door behind me as I start listening.
This morning I headed out to the lake to try to find some ducks before they all fly back north. A week ago Lake Champlain was frozen over–ice from Vermont to New York. Then it warmed up, and then it rained. There is still plenty of ice. Yesterday I tried to find ducks at the ferry landing. I couldn’t see any open water at all. Wind had blown ice into the cove, filling it right up. Today I tried again and found my ducks.
At Shelburne Farms there was some water. Bald Eagles rested by it, standing on the ice. A crow picked at something out there. Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead and Scaups swam and dove. Farther up the road, water stretched along the shore. Binoculars brought all those ducks closer. I guess there are fish and mussels to feed them down in that cold water. It won’t be long before they fly away to nest.
Closer to home, the river has dropped. The temperature sank into the 20s last night. All that sitting water in the fields turned to ice. A dusting of snow covers it still. On the shore, big frozen slabs. Once the water level fell they could no longer float, like boulders left behind by a glacier. They will likely sit there until spring turns them back to liquid.
Mud still seeps up on the trails. Soon we will have to stop walking on them. They are solid, for the most part, right now. They make for smooth and easy walking. Once the ice all melts, and the ground as well, the trails will be mush. In May, warblers like to sing on one particular stretch of trail. To find them I sometimes have to get wet. Or wait.
Winter is here today. This morning, my son was ruing the loss of spring. I tried to remind him that it is still winter, that those warm days were a bonus. Celebrate warm spring-like days when it is winter, don’t bemoan winter when spring’s time has not yet come. But the sun is higher. The days are longer. Phoebes will soon be singing. They will sing for the ducks as they fly overhead.
I took part in the mid-winter Bald Eagle survey today. Yesterday was the target day, but I have been out of commission with a cold for a week. I tried to go into work on Wednesday, but I left early. I felt like garbage. I stayed out the next two days. Today, finally, I felt OK. Yesterday I was on the mend but I am glad I rested.
I saw zero Bald Eagles. There were not a lot of birds out in general. The day started at -6º Fahrenheit. It got as low as -9º. It was 11:00 before I saw the thermometer rise into positive territory. Our high was 13º. I guess the eagles were not interested in the cold. As I have the past two years, I took photos along the way. Here is my Winooski River portrait for this cold day.
It wasn’t winter, but it did feel cold. The sun was low, but still high enough for an afternoon walk. The light was sharp and the shadows were deep. The woods had the feel of calm, ready for winter to hang out for a while. Leaves rustled under my feet. Wind blew in bare ash branches. Tall grasses shone golden.
I was looking for Rusty Blackbirds. Maybe some would be around, picking through leaves in the wet understory. None were around. I did find quite a few Chickadees. Some crows flew overhead. The bird of the afternoon was the Brown Creeper I finally spotted, creeping, of course, up a maple trunk.
Around the back side of the loop I heard Golden Crowned Kinglets. They trilled their soft calls all around me, hidden. I waited. I watched. I looked for movement. I didn’t see any. And then I did. I got just a quick glimpse of one, its black mask metaphoric of its stealthiness. Not far from there, White Throated Sparrows, or so I thought, called. They stayed hidden in the brown shrubs.
I warmed up after a while, comfortable by the end of my slow couple of miles. I saw few birds, but a chipmunk squeaking away from me, and a red squirrel carrying a beech nut into a hole hollowed out by a Pileated Woodpecker. Looking for birds means paying attention. The river slid by, cold and powerful. The pond tried to thaw out, its morning skim of ice almost gone, but likely to come back tonight. The trail, closed in like a tunnel in summer, was open and new.
I looped around to the car, watching for those sparrows, but they stayed hidden. I headed into town to pick up my daughter and her friends, the heat a little higher than when I started, my mind a little clearer. Fall, that is what I found. I will find my Rusty Blackbirds another day.
Peak foliage has passed. Around here it was about three weeks ago. Earlier farther north. We have had some wind, plenty of it in fact. And lately it has been raining. A lot. Wind and rain tear down the leaves, especially after they have reached their peak color. And so it has been. But there is still plenty of color to be had in the trees.
This morning I went down to the lake. I was hoping to find ducks. And maybe a late shorebird. Shorebirds have mostly migrated through, but there are always a few stragglers. But I didn’t see any today. I did see ducks from up north, however. Some of them will stick around for a while, as long as the ice stays away. I saw Buffleheads and Goldeneye and even a Black Scoter. Even if I hadn’t seen any, however, it would have been worth it.
The Adirondacks across the water were lit up with scattered sun. Clouds skittered across the firmament, but broken. So the sun popped though onto the mountains. The brilliant leaves remaining, and the fresh snow up high, were glowing. I started in Shelburne, with some birding success (Black Scoter!). I kept going south after that to the Charlotte town beach. I struck out there–the wind was fierce. There were a few Mallards in the cove and some gulls circling in the air currents, but otherwise it was a dud. But those mountains…
Even on the Vermont side there were a few gems. One oak was ka-powing right next to my car. And there were maples lining the road in a couple of spots–yellow and red and orange. I mean, it isn’t what busloads of visitors come to see. It wasn’t whole hillsides of brilliance. But still, there is some color sticking around. By Thanskgiving it will all be gone, but I’ll take it for now.