I love a good walk. It gets the heart pumping and fills the lungs with fresh air. It eases the tensions of to-do lists and day-to-day circumstances. Sometimes I pray aloud on my walks too. Here in Northern CT, we are blessed to live near the Granby Land Trust area as well as a rail trail. So I have places to walk. I walk for exercise first, but I love the fresh air and I love watching nature, especially birds, plants, rocks, animals and flowers and trees.
Today I walked farther than usual, hiking to Carpenter Falls, a beautiful hidden falls near the top of Broad Hill. Because of the rain last night the creek there was running a little more than usual too. One has to hike down into the small gorge to see it. The collage and the gallery with this post are from that spot today.
This spring the birds have seemed more abundant than usual. Probably I have just been walking at better times. I keep a journal of my bird walks, jotting down the species seen on each walk when I get home. In May I have seen about 36 species of birds on my walks, and I seldom stop just to bird watch for very long. I mostly just glass what moves.
I also had the unusual privilege of observing a small mink hunting up the shore line of our local creek just as I looked down from the Broad Hill Road Bridge. He darted in and out of holes in the rocks both above and below the water searching for prey. Once he swam across a section to a small group of rocks he wanted to check out.
I took a walk both yesterday and today on the rail trail south from Copper Hill Road. Today, company was sparse, and what there was were mostly bicycle riders. One of the joys of the walking pace is seeing more of what is happening in nature. Yesterday I noticed a flock of birds in the blow-down area of the swamp and stopped to watch. One looks a little odd staring off into the swamp without binoculars and sure enough, someone going by asked me what I saw out there. I responded that there was a flock of beautiful warblers. At the time, I couldn’t remember the identity, but I got a close enough view of one or two so I could look them up when I returned home. Today I looked them up — yellow-rumped warblers. The male is among the most colorful of our Northeastern birds. I went back today with my binoculars and found the flock or a similar one a little farther south along the trail in a more wooded area. The bonus this time was catching a glimpse of a blue-gray gnat-catcher at work in the same area. There were plenty of gnats so he was living up to his name.
The reptiles are out now too. Last week JoAnne and I saw a garter snake on our walk up Broad Hill Road extension. Today I snapped this picture of a turtle sunning himself with a bullfrog poking his nose out a little behind him. I needed my camera with some zoom. But at least my phone camera is nearly always with me.
This has been a long winter here in the Northeast. My friends back in Syracuse are having one of those kind where you don’t see the grass from November ’til April, I hear. I remember at least one of those. Here we are just now seeing it again for the first time since about the end of January. We had more than 20 inches of snow on the ground which hardened and stayed forever.
But spring is coming, albeit too slowly for most of us. Two days ago on my walk on the rail trail north from Copper Hill Rd. I saw a couple red-winged blackbirds and a pair of mallard ducks. Today I saw a pair of song sparrows and as I drove away past the local dog kennel, two beautiful male bluebirds flew in front of me. Spring is definitely on its way!
This afternoon as we drove back from visiting our daughter and family in Connecticut, I noticed numerous robins foraging on the ground wherever they could find an open spot in the snow cover form the recent storm. As I drove in my driveway here in Kirkville, one flew away from the portion of lawn that had been exposed by the plow blade. Last week I had seen grackles and a couple blue herons. This afternoon my wife also remarked on how the buds on our red maple were expanding and turning their characteristic spring hue.
But winter is hanging tough
But seeing the robins was a small comfort after hearing the weather reports predicting more cold and another potential weekend storm. As if the piles of snow were not enough to indicate exactly how bad the contradiction is this year between the lingering winter and the emerging signs of spring, I was sitting on my porch watching the birds for a few moments while putting on my shoes late this afternoon and suddenly realized that those birds on the thistle feeder were not goldfinches or purple finches. They looked different and they had little red topknots–those were redpolls! They are Canadian birds that only occasionally irrupt into the states when the winter is bad in Canada. I could not believe I had just seen a flock of redpolls and a robin in my lawn on the same supposedly spring day! Now there’s a once in a lifetime birding event for this area, I would say.
Tuesday morning as I was eating breakfast on the porch, I had the privilege watching two white crowned sparrows in my lawn. They were beautiful plump taiga (boreal forest) white crowned sparrows. One was hanging out on the brush pile where I stack the kindling brush for next fall. The other was nearby busily eating dandelion seeds from newly closed flowers. It is a treat to see them come through on their migration north.
Yesterday, or the day before, my friend George Raterman called me with the news that he had a red-winged blackbird in his bird feeders. This morning my feeder was overrun by a mixed flock of starlings and red-wing blackbirds. It’s a definite early sign of spring for us nature lovers and bird watchers. Even in a mild winter like this one, we are glad to see it, even if the bird seed does disappear quickly.
It seems like the weeks since Easter have been unusually busy for me. How about you? I’m wondering how much of this is related to the late date of Easter? Easter was about as late as it can possibly get this year. For one thing, Mothers Day and college graduation season fell only two weeks after Easter, a potentially stressful conjunction of big events. At Community Wesleyan, global partners (missions) emphasis which usually fits comfortably between Easter and Mother’s Day, now was shoehorned into an already busy May as well.
My parents and grandparents, passing down the wisdom of generations of farm families, had a saying that if Easter was late, spring would also be late. That certainly has been truly here in Syracuse this year. As a gardner, this has also added to the busyness of late April and early May. Tilling that was done in mid-April in past years could not be done until the first May. Lettuce, radishes, spinach, and peas have often been planted in April but this year are being planted in May. At least we didn’t start mowing the lawn until the first week in May.
As I reflect on it, a late Easter was nice for having crocuses and tulips out to adorn the season. I also enjoyed the longer winter sermon series it allowed. But I’m not sure I like the time crunch that has followed. I still think the ideal time for Easter celebration is the second Sunday in April. But since it’s not up to you and me anyway, I guess we’ll just have to take it as it comes and remember that God’s grace is sufficient for everyday! Sometimes I need to be reminded of my favorite verse, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Co 9:8 NIV).
What says spring like counting the returning birds? Last weekend, I went for my neighborhood walk (about 1 mile each way) and counted robins. I was rejoicing to report a total of ten. The most I had seen before was one here or there. But today, things had definitely changed for the better. I counted 38 on the same walk! Yes! Gardening must be just around the corner!