Tuesday, March 26, 2013

accidental birding

Today was the first day that I went to my Tuesday class and it was still light out on my ride home, so I enjoyed my view of the river as we drove down Storrow Drive.  I was not even consciously looking for birds, but got a good glimpse of a male red-breasted merganser. What an unexpected and fleeting thrill, and in beautiful plumage, too. Nice hairdo, buddy.

Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be beautiful, so I am looking forward to taking Flash down to the river to look for signs of spring. Buds and shoots, here we come!

secret green space

Yesterday morning I got to take a walk by myself and check out a new neighborhood. I had brought my binoculars just in case, which turned out to be a great idea (and a habit I should adopt again). I walked up a big hill and meandered some streets until I found a secret golf course that I never noticed in my three years of living in Watertown. Not open to the public, of course, but a woman walking her dog told me they're pretty lax about the early mornings and the evenings. She also pointed out a grove of pine trees where I should look for a beautiful hawk's nest if I ever get in there. I haven't done any purposeful golf-course birding, but I was just excited by all those tall trees and open space. The air was loud with birdsong and truck rumblings, so it wasn't peaceful at that moment, but I expect it usually is. I'm not a trespasser, but I am tempted to take a look around from the inside. Maybe someday I'll get the chance.

Monday, March 18, 2013

sick day birding

My streak of perfect health has come to an abrupt end with this nasty head-cold. I felt so terrible today that I stayed home - never even went down for the mail (and I love getting the mail). This morning, Flash brought my binoculars in from the hallway and asked to use them. He's three and a half now, so a few conflicting things ran through my head:

1. My precious binoculars - if anything happens I can't afford to replace them!
2. Well, we're in the house - what can really happen? If he wears the neck strap and I tell him not to touch the glass parts, maybe I can teach him how to use them for real and wangle myself a birding buddy.

So #2 won out, and we practiced finding something to look at, raising the bins, and then finding the item through the lenses. He was particularly interested in making things look far away by using the binoculars backwards. I adjusted the spacing for the smaller distance between his eyes, but I have no way of knowing how clear the image was for him. It was just ten minutes of our morning but it would prove useful later in the day.

This afternoon I stood at the counter, looking out the kitchen window as I waited for my toast. Our driveway has several tall trees about 15 feet from our third-floor windows, so I always look to see who's around. Today it was a male downy woodpecker, and Flash got really excited about seeing it. We peeked at the bird together, and then ran for the binoculars to follow up on this morning's impromptu lesson. We watched the bird for about eight minutes and chatted about what it was doing.

Me: What do you think he's doing?
Flash: Looking for acorns.
Me: Why does he want acorns?
Flash: To eat.
Me: I don't think that kind of bird eats acorns. You know why he's called a woodpecker?
Flash: Why?
Me: Because he pecks the wood with his beak to find bugs and scare them out.
Flash: So he can eat them?
Me: Yeah, with his quick little tongue.

And so on. 

We also talked about the bird's markings, and the red patch that indicated that this one was a male. The best part, though, was that I could totally tell that he got to see the woodpecker through the binoculars. His face lit up as I imagine it all (how binoculars work, why people would ever look at birds) made sense to him in that instant. A happy first for both of us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

for the love of mushrooms

Hi, my name is Leah, and I'm a mycophile. I love mushrooms. Eating them is such a rich experience - sweet, earthy, umami. My new interest in eating mushrooms is accompanied by a new interest in foraging them as well. My whole life I've been taught not to eat anything I find, especially not mushrooms and red berries. But you know what? Now that I have all this librarian-training and these rad research skills, I feel confident that I can make informed decisions about found and foraged foods.

For Christmas I received a book called, The Complete Mushroom Hunter, by Gary Lincoff. Its size doesn't really fit the field-guide norm, but its beautiful color photographs and detailed mushroom profiles make it an invaluable resource. Written in a compulsively readable style, the book interweaves identification information, dangerous look-alikes, and seasonal mushroom-hunting guides with cultural attitudes towards mushrooms and anecdotes from around the world.

Having already combed my neighborhood for berries and fruits, foraging mushrooms seemed like the next logical step. I got interested in mushrooms last autumn after spending a semester working on a project that involved Jean Craighead George's excellent middle grade novel, My Side of the Mountain. The teenage protagonist, Sam Gribley, sets out to rough it on his family's forgotten land for a year, and giant puffballs are a staple of his diet. One afternoon I was walking the bike path near my house with Flash and noticed what looked like three white volleyballs off to the side of the path. I followed a hunch and checked them out, poked one with a stick, knocked it over to see how it connected to the ground, and stood back in awe of this crazy fungus. I was so excited that this might be the mushroom I had read so much about in Sam Gribley's adventure, so I looked it up as soon as I got home. Here's a picture of the one that caught my eye from the path you see in the background.

Now that the ground is relatively thawed and I'm equipped with this book, I'm looking forward to setting out in search of secret delicacies. When I became a birder, I started collecting books on that subject. Now that I'm a librarian, I realize I have my own personal reference collection, and The Complete Mushroom Hunter expands that collection in a direction I never expected. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

riverside changes

Last Saturday we took a walk down by the Charles River. Inspired by photos of snowdrops emerging in Brooklyn, I searched for signs of spring. No new green shoots yet - Brooklyn, in my experience, is usually two or three weeks ahead of Boston with snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils. Changes are happening at the banks o' the Charles, just not green ones. The public walking paths have suffered recently due to the felling of large trees by strong stormwinds. So pedestrians have carved new paths around the deadfalls and through the woods, and the warming ground and recent rain makes these unofficial muddy paths excellent bootsuckers. Entire root systems of these fallen trees are exposed, leaving craters in the earth. Dozens of robins tossed about in the leaf litter, and a few braved the chilly puddles for a refreshing bath.

Here's my list for the half-hour walk:

red-breasted merganser
black-capped chickadee
Canada goose
brown creeper
downy woodpecker
American robin
mute swan

I can't wait to see green things growing again!