Unconscious Singing and a Wrench

My son loves to sing.  He sings all the time–while building a boat out of legos, while sitting down to breakfast, even while falling asleep. He sings songs with words and songs without. He hums. He is just a happy guy. I was thinking yesterday about how I love this about him. He shares his happiness with the world.

Yesterday he and I went for a bike ride–not too far, just a slow peddle down the road to enjoy the amazing day. He was, as he so often is, singing as we went. We talked about this and that, of course, and were having a fine time. Now, this road we live on is not paved, and any unpaved road in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous, becomes a destination for walkers, runners and bikers. We live on this one and we use it for all three of these activities. Lots of other people do as well.

Yesterday, as on any given weekend day, comers from parts unknown came to take advantage of the unpavedness of our road. They walked and ran. When my son and I headed out on our bicycles, two women were walking in the same direction we planned to go. They were well ahead of us. With the speed of our two-wheeled vehicles, however, we caught up with them, despite our slow rate. Although we saw them, these two women did not see us. They ambled along, chatting loudly, gesticulating as they conversed. As we got close behind them, on the other side of the road mind you, my son sang a semi-wordless tune.

Once we got close enough, this scared the pants off them. They turned and jumped. Well, one of them jumped, and this made the other jump. On the one hand I felt bad for them–a nice peaceful walk interrupted by a dangerous and insidious force, a beast who’s only goal is slay the innocent walkers…Wait, it’s only a kid and his dad. On the other hand, I thought this was funny as hell and had to suppress my laughter. They laughed, however–perhaps nervously–but they laughed.

We were close enough that I could see that the woman closest to us was carrying something.  My first thought, given the reaction she had just had, was that it was mace. She walked with someone else and with a weapon to ward off would-be assailants. But it was only a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. This struck me, as it may have struck others in this situation, as somewhat, well, what’s up with the wrench? I didn’t say, this of course. What I said, as we passed them, was, after one of them noted what a fine day it was, that it could be finer if only I had a wrench with which to fix my bike.  The woman carrying it offered it to me, with grand generosity, asking if it was mine. It turns out she found it on the road.

I wasn’t missing a wrench, but I liked both that she offered it to me, despite my sarcasm, and that she picked it up to begin with. Someone dropped it and maybe she could find a place to leave it. She noted that she might just find a use for it, that she must have found it for a reason, and my son and I kept on going. So in the end, all was well, and it couldn’t have been a better day.  I mean, the foliage was shining, my ears were full of song, I was riding my bike with my son, and I was offered a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. What more could one want?

Meadowlark

Blurry but an Eastern Meadowlark Nonetheless

When we moved off the mountain to our home in the valley a few years ago, it gave me a chance to learn some new birds. I knew most of the birds I saw and heard when we lived a couple thousand feet higher, but those birds do not live down here. I learned the bobolink, flitting about the fields, and was happy to know they were fairly abundant. I learned the song sparrow. I got to know the barn swallow. This year I heard a song I had been missing, either because it was not there, or because I simply wasn’t paying attention. I thought it was a meadowlark.

So I looked it up with the power of the internets. Sure enough, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its All About Birds web site, I checked the song I was hearing with a recorded one. Eastern Meadowlark is what we had. I kept looking for them and not seeing them. I would hear the yellowish rascal but not see it craftily hiding in the tall grass. See See SEE-yeer. I saw one today, however.

I sat drinking my foamy coffee drink, eating raspberries and peaches with yogurt and granola, when I heard the call. I mean, I literally heard the call, of the meadowlark. So I scanned the field with binos and eventually saw the little dude poking his head up and singing. It kept popping up and down in the grass but I got a good enough look to get a visual confirmation of the species.

Meadowlarks are ground nesters, so now we have a dilemma. We plan to cut the field more than once this summer but I would hate to destroy a nest. They take around 4 weeks from laying eggs to the young flying solo, so I guess as long as we give over a month between cuttings we might save a nest or two. Or maybe not, depending on the timing of things. First bobolinks and now meadowlarks. These field nesting birds make for some mental figure eights. We want to cut the field to provide, eventually, hay for local cows. We also want to cut it to reduce the amount of wild parsnip we have. That plant pretty much takes over and is a nasty invasive that can cause terrible skin burns, so we want it gone from here if we can help it. But the birds…

I do not want to drive away the meadowlarks (or bobolinks or song sparrows) but I do want to cut the field. We will have to monitor the birds to see that we do as little damage as possible. It is good to know that these birds are definitely here. I would hate to push them out just as I am getting to know them.

What Bird is This?

Thanks to Ohio-Nature.com

Yesterday during my early morning bird survey, I heard a bird I have heard many times in that same area.  I have looked it up in the past but still could not remember what bird it might be. I did not see it yesterday, but I remembered it to be yellowish in part, and I could tell it was a warbler. Of course, that hardly narrows it down.  There are almost as many yellowish warblers as there are reasons I don’t want to scrub the toilet. So I had to search. Again.

I took advantage of the birders tool of choice when trying to identify that mystery species:  Google. I just typed in “warbler songs and sounds” and up came several hundred thousand possible sources of just the right information.  Google led me right off to All About Birds, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is a site I have used before and it is usually right on the money.  It mostly helped, but I had to search around a bit until I was sure I had the right bird.

I had in the back of my mind, a fuzzy memory from years past, that this was a Magnolia Warbler.  The song included on All About Birds was close but not quite what I was hearing.  The song I heard yesterday, and all the other days I have been up there, was consistent.  It did not vary one bird to the next or from year to year.  Two notes, two notes, three notes. One two, one two, one two three.  The songs I kept finding were similar, but not all the same as each other, and not the same as I was hearing.  But then, on a web site I did not mark and do not remember, I heard the song I needed to hear. It was my song.

Sure enough, I was right about Magnolia Warbler.  It was the right habitat, the right range and, now that I had confirmed it, the right song.  Done deal.

Rain Situation

It isn’t raining at the moment.  Well, maybe it is raining a little, but barely.  The sun is setting and we have that rare light when the bright sun shines under the clouds, coloring them steel gray and blasting the green hills with brightness.  It won’t last long.  The distant mountain tops are bright and I can see that rain falls there, and the shadows are creeping.

It has rained for a couple of days straight.  I planted flower seeds with the children on Tuesday afternoon, before dinner.  Then it rained.  And rained.  It is Friday now, about the same hour we planted the seeds.  Three days of wet.  I think they have gotten enough water to germinate.

I have not needed to uncoil the hose to water the garden.  In fact, I have been afraid that the garden has been getting too much water.  Last summer we had a wet spell that ruined some of our crops, including carrots.  They rotted in the ground.  Nothing I planted is so advanced that it will rot but this rain might keep some seeds from starting as I would like.  We’ll have to see what happens.

A hermit thrush tosses out its flutey voice over the wet trees behind the house.   It is an unassuming bird, what you might call an LBJ, a Little Brown Jobber, so similar to so many other bland birds.  Its voice, however, stops me at times.  Milton and Shakespeare and all those other dead English bards wrote about the nightingale, another thrush, whose voice trilled through the woods with sweetness.  I am sure they would have written their odes to the hermit thrush had they lived in Vermont.

We will likely get more rain showers over the next couple of days, but I am hoping the sun will come out to feed the new leaves on our squash plants and to warm the soil so the flowers will grow.  But that won’t happen until tomorrow.  Right now the land quiets.  The air is still, filled with moisture, heavy.  A robin adds to the thrush’s song.  Spring peepers and wood frogs sing out from the pond over the hill.  The light grows grayer.

It is not raining, but the rain has set the scene for a perfect early evening in spring.  Time to slide on some boots and head out there to smell it and feel it.

Robins and Blackbirds

Robins on High

Robins on High

The kids and I went for a ramble this afternoon down the muddy road to the river. We checked out the ice flowing over the fields and the ice on the river. We felt the rain on our faces and smelled the melting snow. Our boots squished in the mud. And we saw lots of birds.

First, we saw and heard about 100 robins. It must have been the same flock I saw yesterday. Apparently the harbingers of spring are ready to get that season rolling. We also heard and saw red-winged blackbirds. I consider those much more of a spring sign than robins. Robins often can be seen all winter, while blackbirds always head south in the fall. When they are back, spring can’t be far off.

We also saw a flock of waxwings and listened to them cheerp high in a leafless maple. And, of course, we saw bluebirds. The bluebirds never left. And there were bluejays and ravens, the usual winter noisemakers. It felt like a day of winter-turning-to-spring. We have more winter in store. It will get into the single digits within the next few days. But once the red-winged blackbirds are back, winter doesn’t have much longer before the green starts busting out.

And then we will have snipes and woodcocks and sparrows and warblers and all the rest. I can hardly wait to welcome them back.