Yesterday I participated in Vermont’s annual Bald Eagle survey, as I have for several years now. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I drive along the river, stopping at several spots to watch carefully, and watch less carefully as I drive from point to point. I did see one eagle, in Williston, and otherwise had a day of it watching a beautiful river that gets forgotten or taken for granted or often just not thought about.
The day was warm, relatively, just above freezing. In some past years I have done the survey with temperatures below zero. There was no ice at all yesterday, although there was fresh snow in the hills. The water was high and powered over the dams and ledges, less tame than last year. Here is my most recent portrait of the river.
There have been a few crocuses popping up but I’m not sure they count. The first flowers of spring are really Colt’s Foot. They pop out of the leaf litter on the roadside, yellow stars among last year’s crumpled leaves.
In the woods now, wild leeks emerge. There is a place nearby where I can see down and down into the trees as they slope downward to the west. This time of year it is clear of undergrowth. The floor of the forest grows green with wild leeks as they pierce the matted vegetation. Like crocuses they come from waking bulbs.
I will find my way into the woods behind our house, bend down and dig. I will pull some wild leeks from the soil and turn them into soup. I will bake bread and serve them with the soup. We will taste spring in our house.
Today, as the sun rose, the river smelled like more than melted snow. It smelled like earth and rain and new grass. I stood where the river flows under the road. Colt’s Foot bloomed at my feet. A Meadowlark sang, then zipped across the road until it disappeared into the willows.
Are we more attuned to spring this year? Do we notice more now that we have all slowed down? We are afraid, some of us, of what might come. Some of us are afraid of what has come. Spring, however, also comes. The yellow flowers bloom. The green leaves push up from bulbs.
I imagine the Phoebe, broadcasting from the roof of the falling barn, sings about such things. Perhaps, however, I give the Phoebe too much credit. I find beauty in the life that has been hidden, while the Phoebe simply finds insects and carries leaf stems to build its nest. It sings of that.
It is not wrong for me to be afraid. It is not wrong to admire life seeping back all around me. The Snipe, circling ghost-like over the meadow at dusk, reminds me that I can be both, reminds me that the turning of the world is worth my attention, whether I am afraid or not.
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.
Used to be my wife would get up early, as early as 5:00 sometimes, to walk the dogs. I slept in. But then I figured, since this was something really important to her, I should think about coming with her. I did think about it. Now, most days, I get up too. She’s still in charge, mind you, but I do help out, sort of, and it gives us some time together.
No matter what the weather is like I pretty much always think it is a beautiful day. Rain, snow, cold, clouds, fog, wind, whatever–it is all beautiful. I can’t help myself from thinking that. It seems that most people find a way to complain about the weather but I love how it always changes. Plus, fog looks and feels different on a cold winter day and on a hot summer day. So one thing about these morning walks–it is never the same as any other day.
Today was another fine morning. We were up just before sunrise and got to watch the sun peak over the ridge of the Green Mountains. Green hasn’t really started to emerge yet but the shifting browns of the trees and grasses and the reflection of the pink sky against the river is pretty hard to beat. We watched a beaver swim through that reflection and listened to the first Eastern Meadowlark and Eastern Phoebes of the season.
Having two sniffing, pulling, yanking, eager dogs along doesn’t make for the best observation of the natural world. It can be hard to be slow and quiet enough for that. But it does allow for some degree of appreciation for this beautiful place.
We are sticking close to home these days, with the COVID-19 guidelines in place, so getting out there to feel the morning air and having a chance to talk and watching the world light up with a new day? Well, that makes a difference to keeping some perspective and to staying positive. Best to keep that up.
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.
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.