Yesterday I participated in the Winter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. While I did not see any eagles, I got to see the river in its winter splendor. It was cold. The day started at 3 below zero and got all the way up to 6 degrees. Here is the Winooski River as I saw it yesterday.
First it rained–a winter rain, cold. Then it got warm, and kept raining. By yesterday afternoon the temperature rose to 61 degrees. And that rain. The snow disappeared. By the time I got home from work the snow was gone. The fields were flooded. My headlights reflected on the flooded fields.
In the night, sleet ticked against the windows. The wind grew and the sleet pecked the windows. By morning, snow was falling, the wind tossing it around. Snow eddied in front of the garage and on the porch. Drifts stacked in front of the row of pines. With temperatures in the teens, the wind chill was below zero. We went for a walk anyway.
My wife and I bundled up–down jackets, snow pants, mittens. We trudged through the snow, literally. The drifted snow, mixed with sleet, was heavy on the road. The plow had not yet come by. Ever walk in wet sand on a beach? It felt like that, except without the bare feet and warmth. Nevertheless, we persisted.
After a while thick flakes started to fall. We watched them drop into the river. Fields all around were flooded. The river ran high. Really high. Yesterday it had come up over the road. Yellow ice crunched under the snow. Circles of snow-covered ice clung to the base of trees, a few inches up. Farther up the road, our boots found slush.
The walk back was colder. We walked into the wind. Back at home I drank coffee, ate the blueberry muffins I had made earlier. I read. I stayed inside. The two of us walked the driveway later to get the mail. Snow still blew sideways. The temperature dropped to single digits.
I had planned to do the Winter Bald Eagle Survey again today, but driving was just not a good idea. I will rise early and do that tomorrow. Hopefully I can access points along the Winooski River, where my portion of the survey takes place. It was be a cold morning. I’ll need to bring coffee. And at least one of those muffins.
This morning I was eager to check the outside temperature. Yesterday was cold. And windy. The high for the day at our house was 0 degrees. With the wind it felt much colder. Once it got dark the temperature dropped further. So I wanted to know just how cold it had gotten. Right before sunrise, typically the coldest part of the day, our thermometer read -20. Haven’t seen that in a while.
Walking to the mailbox yesterday was a frigid experience. I was mostly warm enough but the small parts of my face that were exposed got nibbled by the icy wind. I wore glasses, which I don’t usually wear in such cold temperatures, but it was just a walk to the mailbox, a tenth of a mile. The wind made my eyes tear. The tears froze. The tears fogged my glasses. The fog on my glasses froze. It was a bit of a visual shutdown. My wife, who had made that long trek with me, chuckled at me, shouting “systems failing!” Funny woman, she.
The squirrels this morning, at one point four of them chasing each other to get the prime seat on the hanging bird feeder, were covered in frost. They looked like little snowballs. That frost started to melt once the sun rose, but they kept eating. Sunrise brought birds back as well–Tree Sparrows and Juncos and Blue Jays and Chickadees and more all gathered around the feeders. Breakfast party.
I had planned to ski around our field yesterday. It snowed lightly all day, adding to the snow we already had. But after that walk to the mailbox I said forget it. It was bitter. The temperature should rise more today. Now, not quite 9:00 in the morning, we are still waiting to hit 0, but it is Sunday. I’ve got some hours yet.
In the meantime I will pay some monthly bills, read a book, join the breakfast party from the other side of the window. I made muffins yesterday and we should probably finish those off today. I need to do my part. Once the sun does some work I will think about enjoying this fine sunny day out in the cold. With contact lenses. Keep those systems from failing, if you know what I’m saying.
We used to go every year. We got married in mid-October so we would travel past Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, on our way to go hiking in New York, every year. We looked forward to seeing the Snow Geese. There is a wildlife viewing station just off Route 17 and there would be hundreds of them. It was a spectacle.
There would be a blanket of white geese, thousands of them–honking, rising and falling in groups, waves of them landing or taking off. They would cluster right up to the fence at times, pecking away at the residue in the cut corn fields. It was hard to contain it in one’s imagination, let alone absorb the reality of it.
We don’t go hiking in New York every year now, but yesterday morning I went down to Dead Creek to see the geese, the rest of my family still in bed. I was alone there at first, arriving before the sun rose. A flock of Snow Geese was gathered close enough to see them, but they kept their distance from the viewing area. Then they started to rise and fly overhead. They did not take off all at once, but in large groups. They V-ed their way right over me, settling on the other side of the road in a cleared field. Eventually they all had migrated from the south side to the north side.
They flew as the sun broke the horizon, so they were lit from below. Their black wing tips contrasted with the white of their bodies. They honked, higher and a little squeakier than Canada Geese, their calling filling the morning. I looked for other geese, a White-Fronted Goose or a Ross’s Goose mixed in perhaps, but they all were Snow Geese.
By the time I was ready to head out, other people were arriving. I chatted a bit with them. They had missed the Peregrine Falcon perched right overhead, and the chatter of the Red-Winged Blackbirds. I drove up the road a ways to see if could find anything else, but it was a quiet morning. When I passed by again there was a big crowd, there to see the geese. For a while in the golden light of morning I had them all to myself. While there are not nearly as many as there were years ago, it was still a spectacle for a perfect October morning.
Your standard work day. Did some good work, offered my knowledge and labor, learned some things. Heading south toward home. Near Burlington, some traffic. Not bad, considering, but not quick. The traffic loosened as I moved south into more rural territory. Then the car in front of me braked, more quickly than for just a turn off the main road.
It was turkeys. A whole gaggle of them crossing the road. Well, not a gaggle. That’s geese. You could call it a flock. They are birds. Call it a rafter. Seriously. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Once upon a time it was a raft, I guess. Then it got colloquialized.
Anyway, this rafter crossed the road. There were eight or nine of them. Or ten. I maybe didn’t see all of them. The majority of them ambled from west to east and blended into the trees. Three of them hung out on the other side, pecking at the grass. Cars started moving again.
Turkeys have made a comeback in recent decades. They once were booted entirely out of Vermont, but they came back. Now they are everywhere in the state. Still, it isn’t every day that one must pause in one’s vehicle to let them waddle across the byway. Lucky me today.
Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.
I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.
Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.
Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.
School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.
My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.
One of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the song of the Meadowlark. That sweet whistling tune makes me smile every time I hear it. This year they nested in our field. Starting a few years ago they were around, nesting in surrounding fields and sharing their songs. Now they nest right here in our meadow. By mid-July, chicks have fledged. We had a half dozen young birds zipping around, buzzing out their calls rather than their songs, done with nests for now.
Other birds were out of their nests as well–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Snipes. Birds fledged and Wild Parsnip not yet gone to seed? That means time to cut the field.
I had powered up our tow-behind brush hog in June. I wanted to make sure it started, that the blades spun, that it worked. So when mid-July arrived and the weather cooperated I hooked up the mowing system and got started. Unfortunately, after one pass of one edge of the field, smoke started pouring out of the brush hog. Dang! Busted belt. No more mowing.
There is a repair shop right up the road, so I just kept on going. It was Friday, of course, but they assured me getting parts is pretty quick these days. So I’m thinking they order a belt on Monday, put it on and maybe Wednesday I’m in business, best case scenario. But since I didn’t hear from them I called after a week. They had an estimate for me. Seriously? I’m hoping the thing is ready to go and they haven’t even ordered the belt?
So, giving them the go-ahead, I patiently waited some more. After another week I called again. It was still not done–complications, other parts needed, rust involved. After another couple of calls and another week, it was finally good to go. I picked it up Saturday morning, just before the place closed. It ran like a charm. So I headed out to field, three weeks after I started, Wild Parsnip now starting to go to seed, and started cutting.
I wasn’t sure just how much I could get done that day, but after about eight hours, I had most of it cut. It was a long afternoon/evening. I had planned to stop by 9:00 pm and stopped about ten minutes before that hour. I probably spread a few Wild Parsnip seeds but not too many, I hope. I left a couple of patches uncut but, since we planned to head out for a week the next day, it would have to do.
The birds were definitely cleared out by the time I started cutting. I missed my window between ground-nesters fledging and seeds falling by a bit but hopefully not by too much. If I can get out there and cut once more this fall, the Parsnip should be checked for this season. That stuff is aggressive and I need to keep at it. What I want is for grasses and native wildflowers to grow. I want better habitat for the birds and more food for the pollinators. It has been a long project and may take a good deal more time yet.
In the meantime I can look out over the cut meadow with relief. I don’t see those tall stalks with yellow flowers turning brown with seeds. I don’t hear much birdsong now, but come spring I look forward to the Meadowlarks, flying low across the greening field, whistling their tunes once again.