24 June 2024

Archive for December, 2009

Blue moon

Thursday, December 31st, 2009
Winter ice patterns, Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine, 31 December 2009.

Ice patterns in a Beech Hill stream.

This morning passed inauspiciously. Calm and cool, the sun fading in and out from behind a cover of hazy clouds. I heard a couple wood birds going about their business from the big oaks: a downy woodpecker and a white-breasted nuthatch. By midday clouds had overspread the whole of things, and the temperature had risen to about freezing. Before the sky began spitting snow, I decided to hike Beech Hill.

Several people and at least one dog had walked the upper wooded trail since our recent dusting of snow. The walk up was invigorating, the hill again seeming somehow smaller because of how far through the trees I could see. Ice had made an arabesque on the little brook where the boardwalks are. About half way I paused to admire the panorama of the bay spread wide to the east, invisible in summer. Oddly, I neither saw nor heard a single bird.

White-breasted nuthatch, Glen Cove, Rockport, Maine, 31 December 2009.

White-breasted nuthatch.

By the time I reached the upper fields, I’d begun scanning the brush for last spring’s warbler nests. In one place I knew common yellowthroats had successfully fledged a brood, I stopped in some growth I thought might’ve hid their nest. That’s when I heard something move in the undergrowth behind me, on the other side of the path. A faint rush—and what sounded almost like soft, fast breathing. The breathing sound quickly became a faint, rodent-like peeping. I turned but saw no animal in the thicket there, so I stepped slowly to the right to get a better view. And about twenty or thirty feet away, hurrying away across the snow-dusted ground between sticks and branches, I saw a dark, smallish, ground bird. Smaller than a grouse, larger than a woodcock—and anyway, it had a long neck, which it held high. It sort of waddled like a duck. About the only bird in my field guide that comes close to what it looked and sounded like is a sora, but I can’t of course be sure. Crazy.

Then I saw a pair of off-trail hikers and heard people talking on the path behind me and the barking of a dog, so I made my getaway down the lower trail, following a single track of what appeared to be a woman with a dog. Finally, again nearing the base of the hill, I heard in the distance the calls of chickadees.

By mid-afternoon, light snow had begun to fall and the roads got slick. I saw the usual ring-billed and herring gulls on a trip to town. The temperature rose into the mid-thirties (F) by nightfall, melting much of the new-fallen snow. And just now, at nearly midnight—the new year, the new decade—clouds are obscuring the blue moon.

Bald eagle

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009


At first light, the sky was clear and the air was calm and the temperature was about 10 degrees (F). First light came a little earlier than yesterday. And then the sun, following its low arc, melted the ice on the south sides of things. The hill out back looks wintry.

American crow in a red oak tree.

Compared to last night’s whipping winds, today’s are weak and feeble. In mid-afternoon, I heard the caws of crows and stepped out onto the back deck but saw none. Behind me, though, I heard the sudden sound of ice cracking from above—as if perhaps a crow had taken off from the roof behind me. I turned in time to see an adult bald eagle flapping away to the north. I’d never been so close to an eagle before, perhaps 40 feet. I’m still unsure as to whether it ‘d been sitting on the roof or perched on a limb of the big oak overhanging it. But what a lovely bird.

Crows soon arrived, though—three or four of them. Always crows.

The temperature reached into the 20s today but not much beyond. Nightfall came a minute or two later than yesterday. Soon after, the moon rose. And just now, at nearly 11 p.m., the high bright moon (it’ll be full tomorrow) sported a wide circular halo. Sign of the storm to come?

Cold wind

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Looking west again.

Well, we got about a half-inch overnight. The temperature dipped into the 20s (F), and there came a morning breeze, and ice had roughened the deck and ground and walkways when first I checked. The forecast promises a deepening cold and rising winds.

I got thinking about wind when a good friend mentioned today that wind is one kind of weather she’s not particularly fond of. Contrariwise, I love it. The wind is scary and invigorating. Nature’s power. Also, wind means atmosphere, and atmosphere means life. Lacking life, the wind could blow and blow and nothing would move but invisible atoms—no swaying grass or bowing trees or swirls of leaves or drifts and dunes. Still, now that the temperature’s dipped to 9 degrees (F) and the wind is gusting from the north, I’d be lying if I pretended the adjective “bone-chilling” has not occurred to me. It’s the kind of cold that makes you realize how quickly you can die from it.

Across the road today, a half-dozen crows again hung out on the patch of lawn they’d visited yesterday, only today it’s white with crusty snow. Just after sunset, driving up Route 1, I saw a pair of mourning doves flying swiftly to the west, as chasing the sun.

Tonight is clear, and the moon is nearly full. [An aside: to check the phase of the moon for any date, click here.] The snow, the moonlight, the cold, the wind—all suggest to me just now the barrenness of winter. Add to that the rumblings we’re getting of a gigantic snowstorm due on New Year’s Day, and it makes me want to get a little skating in.

Single digits.

Single digits.

Note: my outside thermometer reads about five degrees low.

Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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