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.
It has been nice enough that I have slept out on the porch several nights in a row. But it rained a couple of nights ago. A lot. In the dark hours, thunderstorms arrived. Flashing. Booming. Pounding rain. One lightning strike was so close it yanked me from sleep and I shook like a fish pulled from a pond. Can’t help but laugh at yourself for that.
All that rain filled the rivers. Right here, the river overflowed. Water filled the fields. The road stayed above it but you could take a paddle out on the new lake. Some of our neighbors did. My wife took a walk and found a family of raccoons in a tree surrounded by water. Later they were gone. I guess they decided to swim for it. My son saw an otter.
This is why we shouldn’t build in flood zones. The river needs some place to go when the rains come. It still rushed past the bridge. It stays in the channel. It just needs to also take some room in the fields, at least temporarily. The cows moved up the hill. The Kingfishers were fine–their nest in the river bank was high enough. And the ducks don’t care. Nature adapts. It is just us humans that have trouble with change.
It rained more today. The water in the fields is receding, however. More thunderstorms are forecast so it could be a bit before the fields dry out. Lake Champlain has been at flood stage for days. This rain will keep it there for a while yet. I plan to sleep out on the porch again tonight. I need to trust that the thunder claps won’t scare my pajama pants right off.
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.
Yesterday morning I got up early. It wasn’t quite 5:00. I took care of the usual morning routine–shave, shower, coffee and all that. I walked out in the dark to the car. I had not parked in the garage. I had to brush off the dusting of snow. It is still early April, so snow? I guess.
That dusting of snow was around when I headed east, down I-89 and across Route 2. By the time I got to Plainfield, however, that dusting had turned into a regular old accumulation. The temperature was just under freezing, so that wet road? I wasn’t fully trusting it did not have some ice on it.
I slowed down quite a bit once the road had packed snow on it. That is why I left so early, so I could go slowly if I needed to, and still be on time. Sliding off the road would have made me late. Then the road cleared up and I made it to Lyndonville by 8:00. There was a lot more than a dusting there. Two hours of driving on some good and some less-than-smooth roads, with a little ice and a little more snow. Not a commute I want to make every day. But beautiful yesterday for sure.
I had a good day in Lyndonville, in the Northeast Kingdom as they call that part of the state, longer than I had planned but solid. The road was dry coming home. And I did not have a deadline. In Richmond, the sun dropped below the clouds. It was the first I had seen it in a couple of days.
That sun looked like spring. It won’t be long now before the snow melts. I discovered some muddy roads and saw steam pouring out of sugarhouses on my drive. I won’t see those by May. And that is just next month.
Of the four birdhouses sitting on posts at the edge of the field, only two were in good shape. One had a busted roof with a hornet nest under it. One had fallen off and had gotten buried in the snow. Another was loose but at least it still stood. It took care of some of that today.
These birdhouses have been around a while. The only thing I have had to do in the past was to clean them out each spring. They do get used. Two of them had old bluebird nests in them this time. They are made up largely of white pine needles. The other day, as in the past, I dumped the old nests in the field.
Unfortunately, one of them had a dead bluebird in it. It was odd. It was perfectly preserved. Maybe it had not been there long. Maybe it had gotten frozen. I found a spot for it under the white pines. That seemed fitting.
I removed the busted house from its post. That one is sitting on the porch. I am not sure I can easily repair it. I might just replace it. The fallen one I remounted and reattached. I tightened the loose one. The one on the end, closest to the fir tree and the forsythia, seems to get used the least. It had no nest last year and typically does not. It needed no help.
So three out of four next boxes are ready to go. Tree Swallows will be back soon. They often nest in one of them. Bluebirds sometimes get two hatches out of a box. One summer House Wrens used the far one. It will be good to get that fourth one back on track. I am not sure they have ever all been used at one time, but I like to give our avian companions options.
This is the start of cleaning things up outside after winter. I can see we need to rake leaves and clear out debris. Fallen branches need to be hauled away. Our driveway has some ruts that could use some smoothing. But at least the bluebirds and swallows can get started on their annual duty of raising chicks. Already Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows are staking out territories with their songs. Once the ground thaws it will be time for us humans to get cracking as well.
I worked a long day Thursday–started early and ended late. In the middle, when I had some time, I checked the weather. I was planning to head across northern Vermont in the morning, so I wanted to be sure roads would be clear. The forecast was not promising. Snow was on the way, the heavy wet kind, and lots of it.
In the morning it was raining, but some snow flakes were mixed in. The forecast was worse than the night before. I was going to a school, so I checked the closings list. My school was open, but several others, some schools I would pass right by on my way, were closed. I had to make the call. I decided not to make the trek.
I did drive my daughter in to school. On the way, snow started to accumulate–not a lot, but enough to slow me down. After I dropped her off I headed back to work from home. And it snowed more. It snowed all day. It started really piling up by day’s end. Wet and heavy indeed.
My decision not to drive across northern Vermont was sound. The town where I was headed got two feet of snow by this morning. The section of interstate highway I would have traveled was closed for three hours. There were accidents all along Route 2. Even if I had made it, my two-hour drive would have been longer, and I would have had to return at some point. Here at home, over a thousand homes are still without power, although not ours.
Today is quiet. The snow is tapering off, but all is white. Birds are at the feeder in numbers we haven’t seen all winter. Blackbirds sing despite the snow. The town plow has cleared the road. I just polished off the coffee. Later, I will make a trip out to the dump, run a few other errands, and enjoy what is likely our last burst of winter.
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.