Friday, April 25, 2008

Ithaca Wrap-Up

Chrissy and I made the trip up to Ithaca to visit some friends, track down a few letterboxes, and seek out some birds. Admittedly we spent more time letterboxing and exploring the very cool town of Ithaca, but I have a few good sightings.

Notably, on the drive north, I saw a good number of turkey vultures swirling up in the air, a red-tailed hawk perched on a limb beside the road, three wild turkeys by the side of the highway, and two deer perilously close to the highway. Also, not to be gross, but we saw a lot of roadkill too.

The sky threatened rain when we arrived at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so we explored the exhibits, watched some educational films, played a sound identification game, and watched birds through the many windows facing the pond and the feeder garden. It did rain for a short time, and when it stopped we headed out into Sapsucker Woods to find some letterboxes and spot some birds. The bugs after the rain were relentlessly interesting in buzzing in my face, making it difficult to concentrate and stay still. But the forest was pretty quiet of birdsong anyway, to be honest. The highlights of my time at the Lab include a ring-necked duck, several tree swallows, and a great blue heron perched high in a tree over the pond.

Our letterboxing adventures took us also to the Cornell campus, specifically Beebe Lake. We watched two brave college students jump into the lake from a bridge that must have been 25-30 feet above the water. They seemed to be having a good time. On this lake I saw a beautiful common merganser swimming away from the splashes the jumpers made. Also on an island in the lake sat a bird I couldn't see too well because its head rested on its back, but from its size, colors and pattern, I'd say it was a hooded merganser.

The next day, our letterboxing clues took us to Buttermilk Falls State Park, which boasts a series of beautiful waterfalls and a 450-foot climb to see them all. The great part about this was that once we found the letterbox, we were so high up that I had a great view of the turkey vultures making their rounds. I'd never had the chance to see them so close up before. I also was startled by a little garter snake, and thrilled when a red-tailed hawk flew close by.

Next we headed to Stewart Park, which borders Cayuga Lake, one of the five big lakes that constitute the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. After tromping the wooded paths for almost an hour, I left Chrissy to search crazedly for the last box while I found a quiet place to stand and watch birds. I did see a bright little American goldfinch, which excited me because I had only ever seen goldfinches at feeders so far. I found a little stream bordered by trees on both sides and decided to stay and see who showed up. I saw several downy woodpeckers hopping about on the same tree limb and a northern flicker making its way majestically through the woods. Soon Chrissy rejoined me and we crossed to the other side of the stream and walked along it. I could see some ducks across the way, and with my binocs I saw they were wood ducks! When they noticed that they were being noticed, they hopped out of the water and stood in the leaf litter for a few minutes, enabling me to get a great view. And I got to show them to Chrissy so he can understand just how beautiful and weird-looking birds can be.

We returned to Stewart Park the next day for one last try at the impossible letterbox, and that's when I saw a pair of gorgeous common mergansers taking a swim-stroll on the lake. Really beautiful. We also saw lots of turtles basking and a pretty big brown snake that quickly escaped into the water. I never thought I was afraid of snakes, but I have to admit I was a little jumpy after that.

Soon it was time to make the long drive back to New York City for Chrissy's rehearsal Friday night. Although I was really sleepy and absolutely love sleeping in the car, especially in the afternoon sunlight, I kept my eyes open for interesting roadside sights. I saw Canada geese lounging in someone's backyard pond, a crow hounding a red-tailed hawk in mid-air, a deer eating clover by the roadside, and a belted kingfisher on a telephone wire above a bridge over a creek.

Road trips with my husband are already my number one favorite thing, but now that we letterbox all along the route and I watch for birds, I think I'm going to be pushing for more road trips!


AKA Bird Nerd said...
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AKA Bird Nerd said...

Sounds like a fun trip. I had to look up letterboxing in Wikipedia. I've never heard of it. During my years in Yemen and Pakistan there were hashes. It was a walk-run where you followed clues from one location to another. The whole family got involved. It may be a British thing because it was always organized by the expatriate Brits. Letterboxing sounds like it could be a fun activity that could compliment birding - if you take your sweet time.