“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
(The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne)
“What’s that?”, Gini asked. “Where?”, I replied. “Over there, along the banks of the stream.” My eyes followed the direction of her outstretched finger. It was March and we were in western Pennsylvania. Our small station wagon was straining to contain all our worldly possessions and we had been married less than a week. The journey north began in our native Florida, land of sunshine, sand and salt and we were bound for Syracuse, New York, to attend university and begin a life together. Now, we were taking a lunch break in the springtime woods with trees unknown to us sprouting leaves and flower buds. It was cold. Venturing forth to investigate my bride’s query of curiosity, I marveled at the clarity of the swiftly moving water and the rippled design of the sandy stream bed. The sky appeared as though dirty white pillow cases had been rumpled up and discarded about carelessly. The object of my search looked like soap suds such as one would see from a washing machine drain line or perhaps sea foam from a pounding surf along the wrack line at the beach. As I put my fingers into the white concoction and closed my hand around the iciness I realized I had just made a snowball. Hurrying back before it could all melt into nothingness, I breathlessly exclaimed “It’s snow!!”. My Lady was duly impressed and implored that we linger here, in the woods, in the Spring of our lives, admiring Our First Snow.
We soon discovered that moderation in many things in Life may be the key to happiness. I found this to be especially true regarding snow. This epiphany came to me during my sixth consecutive day of chipping ice from the car door and shoveling that lovely, wet, heavy white stuff from the driveway just for the privilege of driving slippery-slidy on a road full of cars performing the same circus-like act. Those glorious days were to be followed by equally glorious years in which we were blessed to have lived in many different locations. The lush forests and lakes of upstate New York with blazing autumns and deep snows provided everlasting fond memories. Living in the near-desert environment of west Texas was totally surprising. The astounding diversity of wildlife, amazingly adaptive flora, the genuine honesty and welcoming nature of the residents – still one of our favorite experiences. Several years in Europe taught us that people are much the same the world over. Kind, warm, accepting. A recurring theme we were happy to discover everywhere we traveled. Germany reminded us how beautiful a fresh snow in a deep forest can be and how much fun it is to shovel the stuff from one’s driveway every day for months on end (there’s that moderation thing again).
Each experience taught us a bit about specific locations, the world in general and, most importantly, about ourselves. One thing we eventually realized – we missed Home. Although, thanks to Gini’s resilience and cheerful optimism, we truly felt at “home” wherever we lived. We settled back into the Florida lifestyle without too much effort. The warmth of the sun on our faces almost all year, damp beach sand between our toes, plucking an orange from the tree and squeezing its contents down our throats, the tug of a speckled trout on the line, the taste of that trout cooked over a wood fire, the sound of hundreds of Spring “peeper” frogs in the marsh at night and the ability to go birding and spot dozens of species just about any day of the year.
All of this is not meant to “rub it in” for any of you not equally blessed. Rather, it’s just a reminder that we all live in a truly wonderful spot full of potential. If you are currently experiencing more than your fair share of cold or wet or unpleasantness of any sort, take heart! Spring is not too far away and soon your woods, streams, mountains, birding and attitudes shall be renewed.
In the meantime, please enjoy a small bit of winter birding from our local patch. As the population changes with the seasons, Lake Parker Park can be quite productive due to its lake frontage, small marshy areas, wooded tracts and open grassy expanses. A recent trip produced 58 species, my personal high for this location. Highlights included wintering warblers, terns, gulls, a hunting night heron, surprising a raptor and a fisherman demonstrating his technique.
Don’t let Old Man Winter get you down He has blinked and will soon be asleep.
We enjoy large numbers of Palm Warblers during our winter season. A few arrive still in breeding plumage and we see both eastern (a bit brighter yellow overall) and western (browner versions) species. They’re fun to watch with their constant tail pumping and habit of foraging on the ground sucking bugs from every blade of grass.
Royal Terns are typically found near salt water but for some reason Lake Parker is home to a few who seem to like it here. Almost as large as the Caspian, North America’s largest tern, Royals are identified by their large orange-colored bills and clean white foreheads. The forehead will turn black during the breeding season (March-July). The second image shows an adult and immature tern, the youngster showing dark wing bars, a faint bit of striping on the head and a small bit of yellow still on the feet (younger birds have yellow legs/feet).
The big Caspian Tern has a redder bill than the Royal and the forehead usually shows some black all year. Some first year birds may have a white forehead. Also, Caspians will show some dark under primaries while a Royal will be mostly white.
Ring-billed Gulls are fairly common at the lake and are about the same size as a Caspian Tern. The immature gull shown here has a pinkish bill and legs, a lot of brown in the plumage, dark wing bars and a dark band on the tail (seen when flying). The adult is almost all light gray with dark wingtips and yellow bill.
The Osprey in central Florida is so commonplace it’s easy to pay no attention to them. I tend to watch them for long periods because, well, they’re just so good-looking.
I was fortunate to find a Black-crowned Night Heron foraging in a small marshy area covered in a lush growth of duckweed. He stabbed into the green stuff several times but I never saw any prey. A friendly fellow walking his very noisy small yappy dog stopped to ask what I was photographing. I pointed to the pretty gray and black bird quietly flapping deeper into the woods and wished him a pleasant day. No, really, I did.
It’s amazing how such a starkly patterned bird like the Black-and-White Warbler can become almost invisible against a tree trunk. The first image is the female with a paler head pattern and white throat. The male is more intensely streaked.
Winter brings an influx of Pied-billed Grebes to our area and it’s a rule that one must be included in any collection of photographs due to their “adorable” factor.
One of our year-round residents is also one of the most attractive. Common Yellowthroats are quick to investigate anything intruding into their territory, are usually very vocal and as this male demonstrates, aren’t too bad to look at, either.
Typically foraging in the higher reaches of the tree canopy and constantly on the move, a Pine Warbler is beautiful when you actually get a glimpse of one.
Speaking of beautiful, even with his mouth full, this Yellow-throated Warbler really brightens up the park.
The most effective fisherman at the lake by far is the Great Blue Heron. Here, he shows the correct method for swallowing a whole fish. (Do not try this at home.)
There I was, scanning a small pond for birds and coming up empty. As I turned and started down the path, I discovered I was being watched as well. A young Red-shouldered Hawk was less than 20 feet from me and let me take exactly one photograph before relocating to a less busy location.
Probably the most numerous species to be found during any walk in the woods here is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. During winter it’s not unusual to find 20-30 of these little vacuum cleaners amongst the tree branches. This one took a break from his insect collecting to do a bit of preening.
It was another wonderful day of birding in our local patch. Less than ten minutes from the house. On a winter’s day full of sunshine and warmth and birds. I should be careful and remember my own admonition about moderation. But, honestly, how can I get TOO much of this?? Hopefully, Old Man Winter is blinking wherever you may be. (As for those of you south of the equator, please read all of this again in June.)
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)