Fine Spring Day

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Green is coming out. In the yard, daffodils are blooming, white and yellow. Azaleas have popped. Grass is starting to stand up. Spring? I believe so.

I was up early, out to find birds. Otter Creek was flooded. Ducks were scarce at the usual spot by the boat launch. The boat launch was under water. But ducks were abundant in the flooded fields. Shovelers! Ring-Necked Ducks! Plus Mallards and Canada Geese and Wood Ducks. I saw my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year.

Heading home from the ducks I decided to make an extra stop. I walked through Williams Woods. Ruby Crowned Kinglets sang in the brush. Pine Warblers sang in the tops of white pines. A Carolina Wren teakettled far off. And green, trout lilies included, crept across the forest floor.

Clouds gave way to sun but then came back. It is cool but feels warm after those winter days. Rain showers now. I need to get out and pull some early dandelions and grass that is butting in on the flower beds. I might plant some more flowers. The bulbs I planted in the fall are peeking up through the dirt. Soon the world will be a chaos of plants.

Already I think ahead to mowing the field, in July. The meadowlarks are singing, along with Savannah Sparrows. Woodcocks, however, never came back. That is our spring mystery. Where did the Woodcocks go? Or did that final winter storm do them in? Soon we will crank up the lawnmower, and sleep on the porch, and swing in the hammock.

But now we need to enjoy spring–the dawn chorus, the sweet smell of new growth, the wild leeks in the woods. The world feels and smells new.

Wondrous, that’s what it is. Wondrous.

Spring Edging In

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I was pretty cozy in bed this morning but I got up early anyway. It was cold out (below freezing!) and I had woken early. I wavered. I waffled. But then I remembered that spring migration is underway. In Vermont. We’re talking a very short season. I got out of bed.

I watched the sky turn pink before the sun rose. I watched the sun rise. I listened to lots of birds singing: song sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, phoebes, mourning doves, swamp sparrows, even  a ruby crowned kinglet. It was cold but it was a beautiful morning. How can I regret watching the sun rise on an early spring day?

I wasn’t the only one out there. Often at that hour I see no one else. OK really I almost never see anyone. And I say almost because I saw a bunch of people today. A car passed, a dog walker, a runner, a biker. I got one of each. That meant no chance of seeing ducks on the river. They are skittish. I walk as stealthily as I can as I approach the river, but if someone else has just passed, forget it. No ducks for me. I did see a wood duck pass over at one point, so at least there was that.

Every day now new birds are coming back north. I saw my first kingfisher of the season this afternoon. I also saw a flock of bohemian waxwings in Burlington this afternoon–they will soon make their own journey north, leaving these southern climes behind. I will try to get out there as often as I can these next couple of months. I would hate to miss something passing through.

Woodcocks are calling in the early evening. The sun goes down and wood peepers start wood peeping. Daffodils are starting to pop up. The buds on the trees are budding out. Sugaring season is winding up. Soon it will be green–too green to see through the woods. That makes the birding harder but it sure looks fine. I’ll get out of bed for that too.

Winter Getting the Shove

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I got up early again this morning. This time of year, especially, I like to get out as the sun rises. I walked slowly and quietly to the river. Robins were singing like crazy. Song sparrows were starting up. A few red winged blackbirds were rattling out to the dim light. Venus pierced the morning glow.

It was cold, about 25 degrees. I knew the day would warm up, but it was winter weather to start things off. The river, which had been frozen over, flooded over the last week. We got rain and warm weather and all that ice melted or flowed downstream. The river spilled out over the fields. Water everywhere. But last night ice started to form again. Sheets built up and then got pushed around. They cracked and smacked and popped into the morning as the river pushed them as it flowed.

Close to the river I cold hear mallards quacking their typical duck quacks. I heard other ducks as well. Wood ducks whistled, and something else made a noise halfway between a quack and a whistle. As I snuck closer I could see waterfowl of some kind swimming close to the bridge. I watched through binoculars and got as close as I dared. Ducks are skittish critters. Turns out the closest birds were hooded mergansers. Here is a pic, poorly taken from too far away in low light with my small camera, but it will give you an image of these amazing diving ducks:

IMG_3134There were seven of them. As I watched them something else made some waves. I watched a beaver part the surface as it swam with a branch in its mouth. A cardinal sang out. The ice snapped. And all through it the sky grew lighter.

I kept trying to get closer to the water and eventually all the ducks flew away. I could see them far off on the bend in the river, and I could identify some of them, but there were definitely some in there I just couldn’t ID from the distance. I listened to the water curl under the bridge. I walked a ways further up the road, listening to the dawn chorus. I heard my first phoebe of the year.

We won’t have many more days of ice, and that dawn chorus is going to get louder and louder. I will be getting out there to great the sun as many days as I can.

Wind Ice Ducks

I made the trek to the ferry landing again early this morning to see what birds are still hanging around the open water. I watched the sun rise and got there as the ferry was spinning itself around, trying to break up some of the ice that had formed in the night. It looked like the channel had frozen over, even if it was thinner there. The temperature was 1 degree when I hit the road. The ferry had some ice to break.

Ducks waiting for the day to warm up

Ducks waiting for the day to warm up

At the lake there was not much open water and a few ducks were swimming and diving down for breakfast. Most of them were sitting on the ice, however, heads tucked under wings in the cold. The wind was blowing hard so it felt mighty cold. The cove there is small. It is curious that so many ducks were hanging out on the windy ice instead of seeking shelter somewhere. Maybe they are safer from predators there.

I did see a common goldeneye in two parts. I noticed its head first–alone in a red ring of frozen blood. It was eerie. Later I noticed its body several yards away. It may have been taken by an eagle yesterday and then left there. Eagles do that sometimes. Before I left, the crows had come in to have their own breakfast. I didn’t see any eagles today.

When the ferry left, the ducks, or some of them, hit the water. Lots of them stayed asleep on the ice. I watched the divers sink and rise, sometimes coming up with shellfish or other items in their beaks. I wanted to find the tufted duck that others have seen here but I was out of luck for a second time. I am guessing, if it is still around, it is over on the New York side where there is more water. I did get to see eight different species of ducks–not bad for one spot.

I may try again tomorrow. With the wind chill below zero today, and likely tomorrow, it is a cold affair. But, again, those ducks won’t be around much longer. It is March, after all, which is the month spring starts. A month from now there should be plenty of water to go around.

Bufflehead and scaups prowling the pylons

Bufflehead and scaups prowling the pylons

Early Morning Visit to the Lake

Just getting light as I head out.

Just getting light as I head out.

Got up early this morning to go look for ducks. Because Lake Champlain is frozen over they have few places to go with open water. I went to the Lake Champlain Ferry dock in Charlotte. I was rewarded for my early efforts. There were hundreds of ducks of many kinds there.

Plus I saw two lifers: Barrow’s Goldeneye, which is not very common on Lake Champlain, a male and a female; plus a pair of Pintails. Stunning birds both.

The irony is that I am headed over to New York today so I will be taking the ferry from that very spot. I won’t have much time to look then but maybe I will get lucky. That is the great thing about birding. You really never know what you might see.

Waders and divers on the open water.

Waders and divers on the open water.

Seriously, how can I count all these little dudes?

Seriously, how can I count all these little dudes?

Ducks on the River

Common Goldeneye on the Winooski River

Common Goldeneye on the Winooski River

Lake Champlain is pretty much frozen over at this point. It has been cold, after all, with little snow. That is what happens to bodies of water when the temperature drops–they freeze. Lake Champlain does not always freeze all the way across. It always has some ice but only every few years does it freeze from Vermont to New York. This is one of those years.

Typically there are ducks on the lake in the winter. Last year there were lots of them as the lake did not freeze entirely. There was enough open water that the ducks stuck around. Until recently there were all kinds of ducks on the lake. But now, they have less and less water in which to swim and dive and find good things to eat. Many of them have been hanging around the ferry channel. The ferry runs all year if they can keep a channel open from shore to shore, and so far they have. This means the ducks have a place to swim. But there are a few other spots for them to swim as well.

Some ducks dabble and some ducks dive. Mallards, the most common duck around here, are dabblers. You can see them raising their hindquarters in the air as they dip their heads underwater to find vittles. Divers plunge right down to scoop up what they can find. Today I saw some divers.

I wasn’t on the lake. I was on the Winooski River, which leads into the lake. In the city of Winooski the river drops over some falls. This means the water is open, not frozen over. I took a half hour to see what I could see. I saw common goldeneye and a lone bufflehead. These are just cool-looking birds, and fun to watch as they disappear and then reappear on the surface. I was unsure what I would see this afternoon and so was happy to see them.

I hope this weekend to see something interesting at the ferry landing. Since I often work in Winooski I will plan to check out the falls at the river again as well. I need to try to see these birds that spend the winter here before they fly off once spring comes. Before I know it, warblers and vireos will be singing in the newly green trees and these ducks will be off to their breeding grounds. Right now the forecast calls for rain and snow and sleet, so I have a little time, but every day I wait means a day I might miss something. I need to make sure I don’t make excuses. The ducks won’t wait for me.