Yesterday I participated in the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I have surveyed this route several years now. While I did not see even one eagle, I did get to see the river in winter.
Last year the day was warm and there was much less ice. Yesterday I started with single-digit temperatures. By the time I was finished in the early afternoon the temperature was considering hitting 20, but had not yet decided.
Here is my portrait of the Winooski River for January 2022.
The heron stands
on the ice, waiting.
themselves in mud.
Beneath the heron:
That spear of a bill
is ready but at
the ice’s edge,
Used to stillness,
the heron keeps
one day hunger
drives it south,
its wings silent
in the fall air.
And there is the heron
perched on a snag
by the swollen river.
I do not know
how far it has traveled.
How can it move
so little? From where
does it draw its patience?
The heron forgets
the ice, forgets
its hunger. It only
for its next meal
that surely will arrive
any moment now.
Yesterday I volunteered again for the Winter Bald Eagle Survey. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. This is a pretty good distance, so it means driving along the river and stopping at several locations to look for eagles. I have never seen one along the river, only where the river meets the lake, but I have seen eagles above the river at other times, so I was hopeful.
I didn’t see any eagles yesterday, not even at the lake, but I did enjoy being out there. As I have at other times I have done this survey, I took one photo at each of the 14 locations at which I stopped. Below is my Winooski River portrait for January, 2020.
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.
We have snow on the ground, but it is sort of crap. Last weekend a whole lot fell. Of course, my whole family was away during the storm. In fact, we left early to avoid travel delays. Still, it was hard to miss a snow storm. I love snow storms.
After it snowed, it rained, so I didn’t feel totally bad to miss it all. Everything got crusty and hard and yuck. When we got back home our driveway was icy. I mean, I couldn’t see that it was icy. There was an inch of fresh snow on top. But turning in, the car slipped. Snow on top of ice is one slick trick. “I hope it isn’t this icy on the whole driveway” I said aloud. I went slowly but where it slopes down at the end, just before the garage, it was especially slick. I tried to stop. I even chanted “stopstopstopstopstopstopstop” before we slid into the garage door and pulled it right off the wall. I was telling the car to stop. But the garage door listened.
Snow has fallen, a few inches, over the past three days. Things look beautiful–white and shiny and all–despite the crustiness beneath. And now it is cold. Right now, end of the day in the dark, it is a degree below zero. And it will get colder before the sun rises. Tomorrow afternoon, snow is forecast to fall again. It should keep falling until Wednesday.
We might have a snow day on Wednesday. I love snow days. Thing is, I am supposed to drive across the state Wednesday morning. Bad timing, that. I might have to skip that appointment. So it goes during winter in Vermont. You always need a plan B. I can still get the garage door open and shut, so I will put the car inside tomorrow night. With more snow, and temperatures below zero a few days this week, we are in full-on winter. Bring it, Baby.
I took part in the mid-winter Bald Eagle survey today. Yesterday was the target day, but I have been out of commission with a cold for a week. I tried to go into work on Wednesday, but I left early. I felt like garbage. I stayed out the next two days. Today, finally, I felt OK. Yesterday I was on the mend but I am glad I rested.
I saw zero Bald Eagles. There were not a lot of birds out in general. The day started at -6º Fahrenheit. It got as low as -9º. It was 11:00 before I saw the thermometer rise into positive territory. Our high was 13º. I guess the eagles were not interested in the cold. As I have the past two years, I took photos along the way. Here is my Winooski River portrait for this cold day.
“The thing is,” said my son afterwards, “No one even thought it was weird. It was just something that would happen in Vermont.”
He had a point. I dropped him off early for a nordic ski meet, then went to take a walk at the Green Mountain Audubon center. I had over an hour. I drove the couple miles out on the dirt road, passing a bus headed up, and started down the hill at the end. There was a bus there, pulled over at the bottom. Printed on the side was “White River Valley” so they had had a long drive already. That hill was a bit slick, but it didn’t seem too slick. Then again, I wasn’t driving a bus full of minors.
When I returned, the bus was still there. In fact, there now were three busses, from different school districts. I thought of offering to shuttle some skiers up, but I figured that was a non-starter. Parents have to sign a waiver to allow their kids to ride on the bus. Any good bus driver would not let them ride in some stranger’s vehicle, even if they had a current FBI background check. So I kept going.
Up at the ski center I learned that the race, no surprise to me, was delayed–busses stuck. I chatted with my son for a bit. Then someone passed looking for volunteers to shuttle people up. I guess they are being flexible with the transportation, I thought. So I headed back down the road again in my car.
At the bus, the first driver was, predictably, unwilling to let students go. I understood that. I asked if he knew the long way around. One of the busses was gone, so maybe they had already decided to take that route. A bunch of cars started to pile up, folks willing to transport skiers. Then the town truck arrived to sand the road. So the busses were no longer stuck, and we caravanned back to the ski center. I spent a lot of time on that road.
Eventually everyone got where they needed to be, and the race started, only 45 minutes late, and my son cranked it out despite the crappy conditions, and it was an event full of fun and hard work, and I saw a bunch of other parents I know, and it all worked out. There were plenty of people willing to help, and it felt to me like a conflict between neighborliness and liability.
Once upon a time neighborliness would have won the day. Today, safety and security take precedence. I don’t think one is better than the other, or that one way should be the right way. I just noticed it in this case. I would have done just what those bus drivers did. But still, it would have been nice to have a bunch of people solve a problem and make the solution happen. And that is something, I am sure, is not unique to Vermont, even if those busses stuck on an icy hill was a classic Vermont situation.
On Christmas Eve it started to snow. A light snow, but it was not long before it started to gather on the ground. It had not been setting up to be a white Christmas so it was nice to get at least that. And it kept falling. We readied ourselves for the big elf in the red suit and, when we finally went to bed, the snow still came down.
Christmas morning we had snow. Maybe three inches on the ground. And it stuck to the trees as well. The world was clean and white. My son said it was a Christmas miracle, perhaps half joking. I just thought we were lucky.
My wife and I walked out in it for a bit that morning. It was cold but sunny. The sky was blue. We were pretty content, our children riding the high of gifts and surprises. We did not get up until close to 6:00 AM, so we even had some decent sleep. Snow squeaked as we walked.
That night the cold rose up. All the moisture in the air settled and froze. Every twig and stone and blade of dry milkweed was covered in ice. You know those cheesy holiday decorations that are covered in fake frost, exaggerated versions of reality? It looked like that.
The low sun, before it climbed up to hide behind low clouds, splashed the world with brightness. All that ice glittered and sparkled. Winter wonderland and all that. Spectacular. Then it became another frosty morning.
Today, rain. And fog. Sleet last night. It seems we are getting all the winter weather. Christmas is over, which is always a bit of a letdown in our house. But I still feel the spirit. The new year is just around the corner. An arbitrary beginning and ending, for sure, but still, a time to reassess and to set some goals. I will get outside again to take some time to reflect on that.
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.
Last 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.
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.