So, Spring…Wait, What?

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The National Weather Service forecast for our area posts a winter weather advisory until 8:00 am tomorrow. In the past 24 hours we have had freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, rain and high winds. Granted, a couple of those might happen during any spring, but still, a winter weather advisory?

It certainly looks like winter out there. Those few flowers starting to come up are coated in ice. Low clouds hide the mountains. The landscape is gray and white. Spring means green, but not today. The roads are a slick mess. A couple of Meadowlarks have been floating over the cold field. What can they do? Insects are frozen. Any potential nest sites are iced over. They are not singing today.

img_5960Last Tuesday was Free Cone Day. Every year Ben and Jerry’s offers up free cones for anyone who comes to a scoop shop. I was at Norwich University for the day and, since I was passing through Waterbury on the way home, I went to the factory store for a free cone. It was snowy and chilly and gray that day. There was a long line. I walked up to the flavor graveyard. I said to myself “oh I loved that flavor!” a couple of times, then walked back down. The line was even longer by then, snaking down the walkway. I left without getting a free cone. There were a lot of people waiting in line outside for free ice cream on such a cold day. Hardy folks like their ice cream.

It keeps raining. The rain keeps freezing on whatever surface it finds. Even the Song Sparrows are quiet, and they sing in all kinds of weather. Maybe this afternoon the weather will ease up enough that I can head out and see the world a bit. Maybe I will head to the market for some ice cream. But maybe not. I’m not sure, really, how hardy I am.

 

Road Hazard

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Back in the fall we had a big old windstorm. Lots of trees fell. Power was out for a while. It made a general mess of the usual tidiness of human daily life around here. But then things got cleaned up. Power was restored. We got back to the day-to-day.

But some remnants can be found yet. This afternoon my kids spent a couple of hours manhandling the tops of two white pines that snapped off during that storm. They made a fence of sorts at the edge of the field. They managed to get covered in sap. Then they got covered in mud. They took advantage of the messiness of spring.

Up the road there is maple that almost fell. It broke near the ground and leaned out over the road to the other side. A beech caught it. It hangs there still. Every time I go by it seems the trunk is more rotted or torn. That thing is going to fall at some point. We rush whenever we have to pass beneath it. It hangs there, patiently waiting for a strong enough breeze. Or maybe an elephant. We don’t have elephants around here so that isn’t much of an option I suppose.

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Today was a warm one. When the sun rose over Camel’s Hump I headed up the hill. A flock of Snow Geese was pecking away at the muddy field. I thought I heard a Phoebe but that could have been wishful thinking. I went to the lake and watched the ducks. I got coffee at the corner store. Later, we went for a walk. We avoided the danger zone this time.

Easter tomorrow. We will hunt for some eggs, eat some candy, have a good meal. Likely, we will go for a walk at some point. I am guessing that leaning maple will still be leaning. But one of these days it will slide to the ground. Or crash to the ground. Tomorrow is as good a day as any. But I’m not betting it will happen so soon. Even if it is a day of new beginnings.

Pushing the Season

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I wore gloves because the steering wheel was so cold. My daughter, in the passenger’s seat, covered herself in a blanket as we drove out the driveway. A couple of miles from home I glanced at the car thermometer. It had warmed up to -5ºF. Then I glanced in the rear view mirror. Following us was a guy on a motorcycle.

We were driving about 45 miles per hour at that point. It was hard to tell exactly what the guy was wearing but he was wearing white shoes–running shoes, tennis shoes, something like that. At a stop sign he pulled over to adjust his helmet, right behind us, so I could tell it was a he. At least he was wearing big fat mittens. One hardy guy, ready for spring.

A few more miles up the road I had to swing wide to pass a bicyclist. This person wore a  reflective vest similar to the one on the motorcyclist, so at least he was going for high visibility. In warm weather along that stretch I feel a sense of bafflement at why so many people on bicycles do not ride on the bike path, which is right next to the road. Why skirt auto traffic when there is a smooth and safer path right there? But today that bike path was covered in snow and ice. It was not smooth or safer. So I passed widely and offered a Godspeed. That dude was just as hardy.

I am looking forward to spring as well (although I have enjoyed skiing the field lately) but below-zero biking? Imagine standing out in below zero temperatures facing a sustained 45 mile per hour wind. That was the motorcycle dude. And a bicycle isn’t much warmer, despite the self-propulsion factor, when the temperature is so low.

Hats off to those two hardy fellows, but I have news for you. Wanting spring does not make it arrive. Acting like it is warm does not make it so. Still, I have to admire them. Even if I had extra time to bike, or was crazy enough about fuel efficiency to choose a motorcycle, I don’t think I would push the season quite so. For activities such as that, I will wait for spring to actually arrive.

Early at Missisquoi NWR

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I like to grind my coffee right before I brew it, but yesterday I made an exception. I did my grinding the night before and set the timer on the coffee maker for 5:05 am. I set the wake-up alarm for 5:00, so by the time I brushed my teeth and got dressed the coffee was ready. With binoculars, camera, bird guide and a full coffee mug, I was out the door.

I headed north to the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. One of my goals this year is to visit five national refuges. I stopped by one in Maine in April. This is number two. I was on the trail by 6:30. Just stepping from the car the birdsong was abundant. Trying to tease out all the various birds’ songs is one of the joys of birding. It is an audio puzzle.

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I was up there for close to three hours. I did not move fast, trying hard to see what birds I could in the rapidly leafing trees. I heard much more than I saw. Eight Northern Waterthrushes? I only got eyes on one. Song Sparrows? I saw a couple. Blackpol Warblers? One out of three sighted. It was lush–green and wet and warming as the morning progressed. It did not feel like my backyard. I was far enough from home that it was familiar, but not quite familiar.

I found many species of birds and got to see some mammals as well. A groundhog crossed the railroad tracks to the trail just as I did. A beaver swam the creek, slapping its tail at me more than once. Sorry, Beaver, just passing through. Squirrels and chipmunks scampered.

The bird of the day had to be the bittern I heard. I did not see it, but they are hard to see anyway. I heard it ga-GLOOMP-ing in the wetland though. Plus those waterthrushes were pretty sweet to find. I had hoped to find a black tern, as they are not common elsewhere in Vermont. I looked, but I ran out of time. I couldn’t spend all day birding, although that would have been fun.

The refuge is a big place. One of these days I will take a kayak up there, or maybe a stand-up paddleboard, and float my way around to find birds. That would be a great way to explore the place. That, however, will have to wait until another visit, perhaps on a day when I can grind my coffee the day I go.

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Good Morning for a 5K

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Yesterday morning my son and I headed over to the high school for a morning run with a bunch of other people. It was the annual Hearts for Hunger 5K to benefit the Vermont Foodbank. We ran it last year and it was a great event, so we signed up again this year.

It was a chilly morning so we ditched our sweatshirts at the last minute. It was about 52 degrees at start time so it was pretty ideal for a run. My son had asked me ahead of time: “Is it OK if I ditch you?” It was, and he did.

He ran ahead and I lingered in the scrum for a bit. Once I was free to follow my own pace he was far ahead. I could see him pretty much the whole time, and we high-fived as I approached the turn-around point and he was heading back. There was a water station there so I slowed to take a drink. That was my mistake.

I kept getting closer to him the whole way back, but at one point he turned around and saw me. I wanted to catch him. I had a little pride I guess, but he was having none of his old man catching him at that point. He had a little pride as well. We ran uphill and we both were getting pretty hot in the bright sun, but he kicked it in and finished before me.

I was kind of out of gas at that point. Too little sleep (my daughter had a late performance last night in Burlington) will do that. But close to the finish line I could hear someone coming up from behind me. I picked up my pace but he kept coming. So I sprinted across the finish line with him close behind. Then I really was out of gas.

I thanked the guy who tried to catch me for giving me a push. I wanted to finish behind my son to avoid any future ribbing from him. So, we both pushed ourselves and felt good about it and ate a cookie and drank some water. We waited around for the awards and raffle and he took home a box of fudge. It was peanut butter fudge (um, what?) but hey, free fudge.

This was our second 5K this spring. We will do more as they come up. The marathon in Burlington happens Memorial Day weekend. Back in the day that was an annual event for my wife and I. Maybe one of these days we can do it with our kids. That, however, will require I have a little bit more gas at the start.

Dude, so dang gorgeous

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For the past week or so I keep repeating various takes on the phrase “Good god it is beautiful around here.” I mean, it is just stunning where I live this time of year. You have your pink apple blossoms next to red barns, white trilliums carpeting forest floors, rust-colored maple buds. Leaves creep up the hillsides. Grass is suddenly knee high. Green and yellow are everywhere. My eyes keep popping.

Peepers sing as the sun sets. Snipes whistle their ghostly whistles in the darkness before the sun rises. For the how-many-I-can’t-count time I say aloud something like, “I can’t believe how different it was just two months ago.” Two months ago it was cold and frosty and quiet. Now? Lush. Cacophonous.

Fiddleheads have unfurled into ferns. Wild leeks have started to dim. Colt’s Foot’s yellow flowers are faded. Now the dandelions and maple leaves take their turn. Summer has packed it’s bags. It will be here any day now.

Birding or Running?

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Look for flycatchers and warblers? Or run the trail around the pond?

Now that it is May I am conflicted. The best time to go for a run for me is first thing in the morning. If I go early I have the least impact on my family, plus it just gets done. Putting it off means sometimes other things get in the way. If I go early, I go. The best time to go birding, however, is also first thing in the morning.

At first light the birds start singing their dawn chorus and, right now, the leaves are still not fully formed. So I can hear birds and see them. Migrants are passing through as well, so some birds can only be seen now since they don’t stick around to nest here. So what is a guy to do?

On the one hand I have been running a good amount, and I have not been injured. So I want to make sure I keep that streak going. But it is not easy to run in the morning when I hear all those songs. I hear something different and I just want to stop to find out what it is. And I do. But without binoculars (I am not carrying those on a run) it can be hard to see a little warbler way up in a birch tree. So I get stymied figuring out what it is. That means I am not really getting the most from my run and I am not really birding. I need to pick.

Rainy days in May are good for running, not because they make for the best runs but because it is harder to hear and see birds. In fact, I would have gone running this morning, but I had to take half the family to the airport. That means I did not bird or run. Some mornings are like that. But if it is raining when I wake? Grab the running shoes.

Mostly I need to get out to find birds now. This really is a small window. Soon the trees will be fully leafed out and those warblers will be way more elusive. And those birds don’t sing for long–in a month and a half they will start to quiet down. And those migrants? Need to find them while they are here.

So I need to get in some runs, for sure, but it is May, for goodness’ sake. This is the birder’s month in Vermont. It used to be the best month for running but since I have gotten into birding I am torn. It is a fortunate problem to have, is it not?