Wednesday, December 31, 2008

holiday sightings

When I was home in Rhode Island over the Christmas break, I didn't have time to break out the binoculars, what with all the feasting and the hugging. But I did peer out windows every so often. Several mornings I woke at my mother-in-law's home in Johnston in time to watch a handsome pair of red-tails catching thermals over the woods behind the house. From my own mother's home in Woonsocket, I peered out the back window at our neighbor's massive and gorgeous house, noting several new stone gargoyles atop the chimneys. PSYCH! They turned out to be several of the turkey vultures my mom has been seeing in fair number since shortly before Thanksgiving. I do not have memories of these birds in my neighborhood from when I was a child, and they are so distinct and somewhat ominous that I'm sure I would have noticed. What brings them here this year, and how long will they stay? I also saw a great murder of crows fly over around dusk, but that's nothing new. They hang out in the bare trees at nearby Cold Spring Park until it's time to mass-move to their nighttime haunt.

As the year draws to a close, I realize I will really miss 2008. What a wonderful year it was. I'm compiling a list of all the new birds I saw this year; I hope to post it soon. But 2009 brings its own blessings and adventures, and I welcome them all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

yeah yeah, fair-weather friends

It's been cold, and I've been kind of wimpy about it this year. Also I have irrational fears about slipping on the ice. But I wanted to share this photo with you, since I finally uploaded stuff from my camera. It's a pretty sweet hooded merganser I saw on the western island in Prospect Lake a few weeks ago.

I did go on the first Sunday bird walk of December. My friend Gabby tagged along. For a non-birder, she was a great companion - sharp eyes and deep curiosity. It was a rollicking good walk in the briskosity of a new December morn. Any excuse to secretly wear longjohns!

Yesterday at work some gorgeous and large raptor flew through the backyard twice, around four o'clock. Not a red-tail, maybe a Cooper's hawk though. I had just long enough a glimpse to get an impression of finely ordered bold spotting.

This morning I was lazing in a sunbeam, relishing that brief moment in which one can actually enjoy lying awake in bed. I heard the approaching cacophony of a flock of Canada geese, and rushed to the window and tore up the sash just in time to see them fly right over my building. A pretty nice way to start the day!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Oh, and one more thing: It was warm enough to see insects yesterday! Over behind the Wellhouse, I followed a speedy honeybee until it flew too high. And by the Binnen Water I laughed in delight when a little yellow butterfly fluttered sleepily through the fence toward me, crossed my path just a foot in front of me, and flew over the Nethermead. I never expected to see those cheery fellows in December!

Monday, December 1, 2008


And the current temptation is a little something called Animal Crossing: City Folk, which has devoured many of my waking hours since its release in mid-November. But I forced my pasty, bleary-eyed self to go out-of-doors this morning, for the air was warm and the sky was a bright blue balloon with fluffy cotton balls glued to it. Even now I am exerting great force of willpower to commit today's ramble to writing before resuming my (non-birdly) nerdly ways.

It was certainly the warmest December first I can remember. By the time I reached Prospect Park, I was nearly too warm for my autumn jacket. I hovered near the Lake for a bit, checking in with the regulars, only to be treated to a swirling flyover by a pair of great blue herons. Circling higher still were three red-tailed hawks. I wasn't the only person watching them, either. Who watches the 'watchers? I wonder. I've spied on birders across the water with my binoculars, but I've never been sure they were watching me too. I hope my first instinct will be to wave genially, when that day comes.

I strolled over to the Breeze Hill feeders - first time this season I've seen them filled. A flashy red-breasted nuthatch zoomed in and stole away with its quarry several times, leaving brief intervals in which a tufted titmouse, a black-capped chickadee, and a downy woodpecker took turns grabbing a bite to eat. The party was over when a clever squirrel climbed across the PVC pipe and down the caged feeder headfirst, where it clung and nibbled and generally hogged all the food.

I sped through the Lullwater, flushing a mixed flock of juncos, house sparrows, white-throated sparrows, and robins. Joining this group ever so briefly on the ground was a downy woodpecker. I can't remember ever having seen a woodpecker stand on the ground. It was a weird moment.

At the Binnen Water, I encountered another great blue heron, this time submerged to the tops of its legs. It moved silently, intently stalking prey that was invisible to me with an admirable grace. I made my way to the Pools to check in on the bufflehead situation. No dice. But aside from the usual mallards and recent odd ruddy duck, I saw the telltale horizontal white face-stripe of yet another great blue heron, partially obscured by reeds.

Last year around this time (December 5, by my notes), a hawk spent a few long afternoons in the backyard of the private home in which I work. I was a real noob then, but I took good notes and made some sketches. I was fairly certain it was a Cooper's hawk. Unruffled by a taunting squirrel, it seemed just to want a place to rest during the flurries. With the current weather forecast, I don't think I'll be seeing anything like that this week. But I still check the massive catalpa, phone lines, and fence a few times a week, just in case I get an interesting visitor.