14 April 2024

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.

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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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