Sunday, January 8, 2012

Getting Ready for Grenada

In just a few days, Fred and I are off for an overdue thirtieth wedding anniversary trip to the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. We'll spend a week sailing and a week at a cottage on the north end of the island. We've been reading up and taking extra long walks to get ready for hiking in the mountains there. The island got hit very hard by hurricanes a few years ago, so we are hoping the trails are open now. I'm looking into Project Stuff Your Rucksack to find out about some small items we could bring with us that might be needed by a school. Of course I'll be bringing some books. I'm really hoping to see a mona monkey and a Grenada dove--and lots of other birds. Santa brought me Birds of the West Indies for Christmas! And we plan to do lots of snorkeling! Here's a favorite shot of us resting after a hike at Carter Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We probably won't need the polar fleece for Grenada! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas Bird Count on Toad Hill

I wasn’t going to do it. Ronnie had asked me to go on a Christmas count with her and I’d declined. I’d neglected my work so badly over the holidays. It’s frightening how much time I spend on Christmas. It’s a sort of love/hate vortex that I just can’t stop myself from being sucked into. The New Year is fresh energy. Days lengthening. Creative juices flowing.

It was only to be a short walk for some exercise. Fred had twisted his back, so it was just little dog, George, and me. January second. Windy flurries and patches of sun. A thin snow cover. I headed out back along the trail that skirts the brow of the hill behind the house.

There was a twitter and flurry of two tiny birds doing acrobatics on the ends of some maple twigs. Not chickadees. I was suddenly alert. But I’d never see them with these fuzzy 58 year old eyes. Ah, but they came closer! Curious. Friendly. The eye stripes and bright yellow Mohawks were unmistakable. Golden Crowned Kinglets!

Okay. This must be a message. No husband to get impatient. My work can wait an hour or so longer. The Murphy’s law of binoculars is that if you don’t bring them along, you will wish you had. I raced back to the house for my brand new ones that Nikon so kindly sent to replace my old pair with the faulty eye rings.

The kinglets had moved on. But maybe I could scare up some grouse. I had read that their numbers are declining, but I think we still have a healthy population on Toad Hill. It would be good to report some. We walked behind the old Scotch pine plantation that the loggers ripped out last fall and fed to the chipper. They were planted for Christmas trees in the fifties, let go, and now are slowly dying off. These bare patches look like war zones right now, but the native trees will come back and create a healthier forest.

George scouted the edge of some brush piles, and pouff! A grouse zoomed out and veered into the woods like a low flying fighter plane. “Get ‘em George!” I called, but she is clearly not a bird dog. Tail waging, she snuffled her muzzle into a tuft of snowy grass. Mice are more her style. I stomped among the brush piles. Pouff! Pouff! Pouff! Out rocketed three more grouse.

We crossed the road onto the old Kane farm. With the Scotch pines gone, it’s easier to imagine a dairy farm and pastures here. Last fall a pair of blue birds hung around for some time. It will be interesting to see how the birds like all this clear cutting. The rough foundation of a tiny school house can be found on the Lyons Road. I can picture ten or so kids from these several hilltop farms gathering here for lessons. Before those families, this was wilderness. Such a short history of Caucasian influx.

I tramp up through the old orchard which Fred is reviving with six new trees and judicious pruning of the gnarled and lonely survivor—a tasty Snow apple. A red tailed hawk lifts out of the spruces. These also were planted, but they are healthier, so we are leaving them. The hawk is so huge that I am transfixed, waiting for the turn and flash of the bight rusty tail. I feel a surge of joy. Winter is far from dead and dull!

I have hardly lowered my glasses when there is a wild and rowdy barking overhead. A flock of Canada geese, perhaps ninety strong, are heading south. Now? Well, there’s been barely any snow, and winter is still very young.

At the edge of Jerry Smith’s field, I step out into the open beside a round bale to take in the view and gaze at the blustery sky. Patches of blue, but the Whitesville valley is socked in with steel gray. I duck back across the hedgerow. Maybe I can spot some turkeys behind Book’s cabin. I am cruising down the trail that borders our south boundary when I look off to my left. What the heck bird is that? It’s huge and long. Bluish gray. For an instant I think great blue heron, but it’s too late for one. The bird cruises closer over the hayfield, wheels, and suddenly the underside is exposed, starkly black and white. Gorgeous. A rough leg? It’s too early for them to have come down from the north isn’t it? I watch until it is out of sight.

No turkeys. Oh well. It’s been pretty satisfying. Back at the house I check with Sibley and decide that the gorgeous bird was a male harrier. The feeder is as busy and competitive as Black Friday at the mall. Everyone is stocking up for a drop in temperature and a bit of weather. I make sure the cats are in. I'm trying to only tlet them out at night these days. George happily sheds her polar fleece coat and heads for the couch. My cheeks are pink and tingling. Now it’s time to hit my desk.