spring at cromwell

Male Yellow Warbler singing at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

 

American Red Fox stalking prey at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

I had a very close encounter with this fox. We were walking toward each other and I’m not sure it even noticed me at first. It was paying close attention to the overgrown field to its immediate right. At a certain point, it turned and started to enter the tall grass. It stood there for a moment with the front of its body obscured before pouncing high up in the air and then disappearing into the grass. I kept walking until I got to the point where it had left the grassy path. I couldn’t see the fox anymore at that point, so I waited and eventually I saw its head pop up amidst the tall grass. We eyed each other for a few seconds before it suddenly stood up and walked out directly in front of me, only about six feet away, and casually turned to the right to continue walking in the direction it had originally been headed. It did not look particularly concerned about my presence, exhibiting only a barely visible wariness. I watched it for a while and then I kept walking in the opposite direction.

new arrivals and a mysterious departure

At some point last night under the cloak of darkness the neighborhood’s catbirds arrived to spend the summer muttering to themselves in the dense foliage. I came downstairs this morning to the welcome sound of their strange twittering cacophony. I looked out the window of the sunporch and saw at least three or four of them skulking in the yard, chasing each other through the ground cover. On the front walk, another of their tribe held in its narrow bill a fruit of the nearby Japanese laurel, aka Gold Dust Plant, or to be more formal about it: Aucuba japonica. Decidedly unimpressed with its breakfast bounty, the bird quickly discarded the bright red drupe (looks can be deceiving!) and flew off.

Oddly enough, our other local representative of the Mimid family, the stalwart mockingbird, has been conspicuously absent from the immediate environs of the house since last fall. A usual year-round resident, this bird (if it has indeed been the same individual) was always nearby in its obvious way, singing and scolding, even visiting the feeder out of desperation during particularly hard winters, and providing an amusing foil to the more retiring catbirds throughout the summer months. Sadly, no mockingbird has yet shown up to take this one’s place. I had often wondered if ‘our bird’ had been a grizzled old bachelor, for on many a spring night I would hear him singing late into the evening hours, yet I witnessed neither courting nor nesting activity. Perhaps his mellifluous songs never attracted a mate and he met with some unknown fate having never propagated his species. I am still hoping, though, that someday soon one of his brethren will appear and take up residence nearby.

a haiku for spring

Buzzing tree of bees
carries sound of other world—
somewhere else to go.

the smallness of saving

there are, of course, those early spring moments, late in the day, after a cold front has passed through and left the air clean and clear, and the yellow light bursts through the young lower leaves of the cottonwood tree as they sway in the cool breeze, and it looks like a crowd of people waving with kindness, pure of truth and dazzled with light, while above, the horizontal rooftops bisect the sky, and the crabapple tree looks its best, wearing the white finery of full bloom, and the birds hurry from all around to perch in its boughs as the yellow light falls across them, making them look so proud. and the feeling this brings may last just a few seconds, a minute or two at most, but it is saving, a saving feeling rippling through a body.

spring sprang sprung

With the year’s first sighting of cigar-smoking man (scroll to the bottom of that page for full enlightenment), we solemnly herald the official arrival of the so-called warm season (so-called by me, that is). Cigar-smoking man (or cigar-smoking guy, as he is also sometimes known) appears to be growing a beard. He was not in the company of his lady friend. I wonder if they are still an item, as they say (the other, more generic they, that is).

Warm season brings a slow shedding of clothing. An increase in flesh exposed to the sun’s rays. Perhaps even corporate nudity. Certainly tourists.  And what I fear most of all: mosquito death squads. It’s all too much.

What will I write about this warm season without sounding highly repetitive.

Wait, don’t read those other posts…it will all soon become painfully familiar.

february coming spring*

*nod to Samhain

The daffodils are rising as the robins trickle back into the city. Last week I heard a male cardinal testing out his pipes, gearing up for courtship rites. And today, as I rolled my bike out the basement door, a Song Sparrow belted out his bright song from an undisclosed location secreted within the old cottonwood tree.

These signs of spring feel unwarranted. We have not endured enough of winter’s harshness to deserve such rich pleasures so soon. It makes me want to move farther north, where the extreme cold and steady snow sweeten the coming warmth of spring’s new life.

As the temperature wavers, still my mind wanders, far from here, never where it’s paid to be. This dreamer role, this aqueous nature, it is equal parts curse and blessing. It becomes harder every day to reel myself back in to accomplish the tasks at hand. Perhaps one day I will unravel all the way, cut loose to float wherever the wind will take me. But for now routines strangle me, each of them a single lead weight in my pocket, rooting me to this unfamiliar patch of land I struggle to call home.

spring

yup, sunday night

Ah, Sunday night…when I linger even longer over ads for jobs that I will never ever bother to apply for.  Sunday night, when a certain gray woolen world-weariness descends, tamping out the embers that have sparked to life over three days away from the twelfth circle of Hell. 

But to focus on the positive, it was a good weekend…full of birding and time with friends (and even some family).  Friday night I enjoyed an excellent dinner here with said friends and family.  I spent a lot of time outside, enjoying the amazing weather.  Also, gardening materials were gathered today.  Soon the raised bed will be constructed and seeds will be planted.  On Friday at Lake Roland, I heard my FOY (that’s first-of-year for you non-birders) Pine Warbler and Eastern Phoebe.  On Saturday at North Point State Park, I saw my FOY Osprey, while barbecuing with friends a few steps away from the Bay.  Earlier that day, a friend and I attended naturalist extraordinaire Jim Peters’ bird walk at Fort McHenry.  The highlights for me were a very cooperative Brown Creeper that literally seemed to be following us around (best looks I’ve ever gotten at this bird), and a small flock of Fox Sparrows (soon to be headed north!).  At the Fort I also saw my FOY Tree Swallows, a welcome sight indeed.  So it was definitely an awesome weekend for spotting and hearing a few of the early migrants, as well as for fraternizing with some of my non-feathered friends.

Now I will return to Winesburg, Ohio for a final visit before I move on in my travels, next time to Texasville.

spring has come a-knockin’

Some recent signs:

First butterfly sighting of the year…an Eastern Comma soaking up the sun in the pine barrens area at Lake Roland.

I observed in awe the sheer determination of this sycamore fruit that had poked its roots down through two inches of snow to find the ground below.  Damn the snow!  I will sink myself into terra firma, for I must grow upwards!

I picked apart another sycamore fruit that was lying nearby (there were many of them).  Inside, it looked like this:

Meanwhile, a Song Sparrow sung mightily from the marsh area of the park.  He was too far away for a photo, especially with my point-and-click, but the sheer jubilance of his song filled my heart with joy.

This morning, a  juvenile Cooper’s Hawk eyed the feeder from its perch on the power line out back.  Looking for breakfast, but the little birds were too smart.  Someone must’ve tipped them off.  The Cooper’s was a new yard bird, and hung around long enough for us to have a good long look.

Also, inaugural House Finches appeared at the feeder.  A pair of’em.  Not sure why we hadn’t yet seen this ubiquitous feeder bird.  At the old house, they were probably the most abundant bird at the feeders, but until today we hadn’t seen a single one here at the new place.

Out front, a Song Sparrow rooted around under the rose bush.

On my bike ride to work:  about 200 Canada Geese honking and flying in V formation, headed due north.  I saw a similar sized flock yesterday morning.  It gives me goosebumps…such a powerful and primal event to witness!

Cardinals sang in almost every block of my ride.  And the grackles have grown much more vociferous with their strange electronic sounds.  They’ve also been making daily visits to the feeder.  I like to watch them drink from the bird bath because they have to point their beaks straight up in order to swallow. It actually looks quite elegant, especially when the morning sun catches their iridescent feathers just right.

signs of spring?

One day this past week I heard a male cardinal singing from the top of a tree in the alley. That same day, Em El reported seeing a male cardinal feeding seeds from the feeder to a female. Later on, she also saw the female fluttering her wings, as the male retrieved more seed from the feeder. This is a courtship ritual where the female mimics the behavior of a helpless nestling, and the male then feeds her. Northern Cardinals typically begin to breed in March, so these birds have begun courting right on time. Soon they will be looking for a nest site, if they haven’t found one already.

I went out Friday and spent the whole day driving around up in northern parts of the county.  I spent some time at Prettyboy, where there were tracks in the snow to follow, but the snow depth still prevented easy walking.  I had to keep watching where I was stepping, so couldn’t accomplish much in the way of intensive birding.  This was fine, though, as it wasn’t particularly birdy out there.  I walked down to the edge of the reservoir, which was partially frozen over.  The open water was much too far away for me to tell if any waterfowl were present.  I saw and heard mostly titmice and chickadees, although I did find one Brown Creeper working a snag along the trail, which made the trek worthwhile.  As I headed back I found a solitary Blue Jay loitering around not far off the trail.  Another singing male cardinal rounded out the walk.  No one else was present on the trails, and the snowy silence did my soul good.  I only wish I’d remembered the camera!

After Prettyboy, I drove around on some back roads, hoping to find a flock of Horned Larks, and possibly a Lapland Longspur or two mixed in with them, but I had no luck.  I did see some sparrows along the roadsides, but nothing very exciting. The best bird was a single sprightly Savannah Sparrow, hopping around on top of a snow bank.  On the same road, I found an impressive flock of at least 300-400 blackbirds feeding on some exposed patches in an otherwise snow-covered field.  I didn’t have a scope and couldn’t pick out many individual birds, but it looked to be mostly Common Grackles, with a few Red-winged Blackbirds mixed in.  I could see there were a few smaller birds, too, but they were too far away for me to identify.  The flock also kept rising up and shifting back and forth, which while presenting an arresting visual image, further hampered my attempts to pick through the flock for any interesting individuals.  When I reached the end of this road, I spotted a chipmunk poking its head out of a tunnel it had dug through the center of a three-foot high snowbank.  It quickly reversed direction once it saw me approaching.

I ended the day at Irvine Nature Center, which was significantly birdier than Prettyboy, in part because of the feeders the staff maintains throughout the woods.  Many White-breasted Nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice crowded the feeders.  A titmouse even treated me to a cheery song, which made the otherwise very wintry landscape feel less cold for a few moments.  Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were present in healthy numbers, as well, but not the Red-headed Woodpecker I had hoped to find. I did not find many sparrows, either, only a few juncos and a single Song Sparrow.  After another hour of tromping through snow up past my shins, my boots were soaked through and my feet had grown quite cold, so I called it a day.

I returned home to find water finally surging freely through the rear downspout, and most of the ice melted off of the rain barrel.  This warm spell arrived just in the nick of time, as those icicles were looking more menacing with each passing day.

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