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.
Yesterday my son and I walked down to the river. It was a perfect winter day–23 degrees, sunny, with a thin layer of new snow on the ground. A couple of Hairy Woodpeckers flushed as we got close to the bridge. A Tufted Titmouse whistled across the field. The air was still.
We walked through the trees to the water. In spring, the river bank is often flooded, water to my knees or higher, but yesterday the grass was brown and flattened, the puddles frozen. We could see the frozen river and all the way across the field on the other side. The landscape changes every season, every day really. Where in summer the scene would be green–the grass, the leaves on the trees, even the water–yesterday it was brown and white and blue. Beautiful either way.
The water was frozen from shore to shore. This is not a big river. You could easily toss a rock or a stick or dirt clod to the other side. But it moves along and meanders and isn’t typically solid, even in winter. We might have been able to walk across but we were cautious. We walked along the ice on the shore, watched the water flow under the bridge where the surface was not frozen, crunched our way through the sleeping vegetation.
To get back home we eschewed the road for as far as we could. I followed the shore north while my son bushwhacked through the willows. I watched the tops of them wave and bend as he pushed his way toward me. He emerged with a big grin. The breeze started to pick up as the shadows grew. We walked on the ice that filled the ditch along the road. Camel’s Hump glowed in the sun that has stayed away too often lately. The next morning the temperature would dip just below zero, but in the moment we were content with a fine winter day.
Earlier this week the temperature was close to 80 degrees. Yesterday morning we had a couple inches of snow on the ground. It had been warm enough that things started to flood. Then the floodwater started to freeze over. Early in the day yesterday we had a chilled lake across the road, popping and cracking as the water settled in the cold.
By the afternoon some of the snow had melted. The high temperature was 33 degrees, briefly, so the sun did all the work on that project. The water rose, enough that it flowed over the road by the bridge. The town road crew did a lot of work last summer to keep that in check but it still gets high enough at times to cause some serious erosion.
Wading to check out the water under the bridge
This morning it was 18 degree, what the meteorologists would call “unseasonable.” I have been wanting to get started on our garden but it still looks like this:
Not exactly workable soil
Last year I had started planting in March. So it goes in this hardiness zone. Lots of folks complain about the snow and cold. I get it. But it was stunningly beautiful the past couple of mornings. I find it hard to complain about that. Spring is underway. Winter just wants some last licks. By next week the boots won’t leave the closet and we will start asking when we should remove the snow tires. And then everyone will complain about the mud.
My daughter was sick this morning so I ended up spending the day at home with her. The day started cloudy and the rain started slowly, but it kept falling all day. It was some raw weather. We walked out in the afternoon to meet the school bus (at least all of us did not stay home) and to get some air; by then it was really coming down. I noted several times today how wet it was outside. It was some serious rain.
After dinner we took a walk to see the river. Sometimes the road floods when the river gets high enough. That was not the case today but I will not be surprised if water flows over the road tomorrow. It was flowing high and fast.
There were a couple of mallards swimming around the bend. I guess they don’t mind the wet. A neighbor stopped and we chatted about the flooding. Sounds like some places are really underwater. He mentioned a police scanner report of a truck up to its mirrors getting pulled out by a tractor. Ouch. The rain is washing against the house right now as the light fades. It is chilly and soggy and windy. Not a good night to be sleeping out. Like I said–raw weather.
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:
There 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.
I went for a morning walk today. We had some fairly warm days this week (it got to 40 degrees yesterday) but the river is still pretty much frozen over. When I got to the bridge over the river, I peered down to see how much open water was there. There was a small opening, maybe three feet long and less than a foot wide. The water burbled under that opening, proving that river is still alive under all that ice. And then this little dude popped up.
I had only been there a moment when I saw a brown something-or-other approaching the opening. I thought it was a branch at first, floating under the ice. But it was a mink. It slipped right up onto the ice and stood there, looking around. I had plenty of time to watch it. I eventually had the stellar idea to put the camera into video mode, but as soon as I hit record the mink disappeared again into the water.
No other water is visible from the bridge. I figured it would have to come back that spot. I waited and waited, video mode at the ready. But no dice. Maybe there is a hole under the bridge. I got no video, but I got to watch a mink up close. Good enough.
We’ve got Camel’s Hump and the waxing moon and a little snow and blue sky, not to mention 41 degrees. That is your fine spring scene for you. The road was a bit muddy–really muddy on the edges. I got sucked in a bit when I was forced over by a passing truck. No matter–I cleaned off my boots in the grainy snow.
I walked out to get some air and to see what I could see. The afternoon was stunning, I tell you. I unzipped my jacket. I took off my gloves. I watched a red tailed hawk soar out over the fields and catch dinner. I was feeling pretty good. At the river I stopped and examined it for a bit. I saw lots of ice with water pooled on top, animal tracks criss-crossing the wet snow on the surface, and just a small area of open water. Soon there will be beavers and mallards and kingfishers here.
Not much open water right now
Almost back to the house and I heard something I haven’t heard since fall–the echoing call of a killdeer. I thought I might have been mistaken. Perhaps it was just a robin behind some trees, the sound twisted by the landscape? So I listened. I heard it again. Then I spotted it way out there–white and brown moving against the white and brown. I tromped over the snow and ice and dried grass until I got close enough to see it well. Then I heard another and spotted that one, too. Then another. Now that is a sign that spring is just about here.
Killdeer here early
Tomorrow it is forecast to snow. A lot. We might get a foot or more by the time it stops. The annual battle between winter and spring seems to have begun. We will enjoy the snow–sledding, skiing, digging. I imagine the snow will not stick around long. Then we will enjoy spring. Winter and spring both offer a lot to amaze me. I can’t go wrong this time of year.