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.
The turning foliage this year is brilliant. Every day it seems to get brighter. This is one of the benefits of living here. Nature creates art. We are surrounded by beauty.
Took a walk at Shelburne Farms the other day. Ka-pow! The lake was roiled. The wind was up. The leaves flashed their colors. The gray clouds skipped across the sky.
Lake Champlain Surf
Yesterday rain fell. The sky was dark. By late afternoon the sky was really dark. But then the sun broke through and the hills lit up. Eye candy.
Suddenly this will all be gone. The wind will rush in and strip the trees. The fields will turn from green to brown. Snow will fall. The world will be beautiful in a new way. But this, this is stunning. It calls for expletives and interjections and exclamations and acclamations. And sometimes all of them in one sentence.
Can you see that Savannah Sparrow that landed in that tree?
This morning I volunteered to help look for Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows. As part of a long-term study to learn about the health of ground-nesting bird populations, the idea today was to look for birds that had been banded in the past. A group of us met at Shelburne Farms, whose fields are a large part of the study, split into two groups, and headed out to beat the bushes grass.
The idea was to flush birds from the ground and to try to see if they had bands on their legs. There are a few types of bands so we got a quick tutorial before we started stomping across the meadows. To help flush birds before we were right on top of them we swished the grass with thin bamboo poles. Once the birds were airborne we could watch them through binoculars to see if anything bright stuck to their legs. Our group headed to Charlotte, to fields adjacent to Shelburne Farms, and right away we encountered Bobolinks. We saw half a dozen, plus a few Savannah Sparrows, but none of them had bands. We tried a few meadows divided by rows of trees and shrubs. Lots of birds but no bands. We then drove to another, nearby, field. Their were lots of Bobolinks here, maybe 15-20 of them. There were males and females, flying all over, the males singing like mad. The females have started laying eggs (they lay one a day for about four to six days) and apparently this drives the males a little loony. They burbled and gurgled and chirped away. We all had some great looks at these beautiful birds but again, saw no bands.
So we learned that there are some Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows in all these fields (the other group managed to find one bird with a band) but it didn’t add much to the data. We did find one Bobolink nest. That was pretty cool. The eggs in it are not being incubated yet, as there were only two of them (they lay one egg per day for four to six days before settling in to get them to hatch); seeing that made the morning worth it. Plus, on the way to one field we all saw a Blue-Winged Warbler, an uncommon bird and one that I had never seen until last week. I even got a photo of that one. No Bobolink photos–I was too preoccupied with my binoculars–but I may get a chance to volunteer again when these folks come back to survey in June. I will try to remember to get photos of the actual birds then.
Last 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
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
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.