Tag Archive 'birdwatching'

Sep 26 2015

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Walt Franklin’s New Book

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BLAM front coverI have just released Walt Franklin’s new book, Beautiful Like a Mayfly, under the Wood Thrush Books imprint. As most of you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of his, having published his work repeatedly in years past. In 2014, I reprinted his collection of fly-fishing essays, River’s Edge, thus assuring that it would stay in print. This newer work complements that older one.

Beautiful Like a Mayfly is both a travel narrative and a collection of nature essays. Even though it spans four decades, Franklin is reluctant to call it a memoir. Rightly so. It’s more a celebration of life lived simply: roaming through Greece and Germany, fly-fishing out west and here in the Northeast, and engaging the world as both a naturalist and a conservationist while always keeping a watchful eye for songbirds. And Franklin gives it all to us with generous helpings of humor, erudition and insight, per usual.

I couldn’t be happier about publishing this. While I’ve been busy cultivating an online bookselling business this past summer, I’ve pushed this project ahead, one step at a time. Now here it is, the finished product – a fine addition to the Wood Thrush Books list, and a welcome break from a long parade of self-publications.

You can get a copy from Amazon.com or by going to the WTB website, WoodThrushBooks.com. If you are new to Franklin’s work and want to sample it first, check out his blog, RivertopRambles. He posts there regularly.

 

 

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Mar 18 2010

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The Red-wing Returns

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When does spring begin?  Everyone has a different idea about that.  For some spring arrives when the crocuses pop up.  The more skeptical wait for lilacs.  Many look for robins feeding in their front yards.  For me it’s the return of the red-winged blackbirds.  Once they’re back, everything starts changing and changing fast.

I heard the red-wing’s unmistakable call the other day, while I was indoors reading.  I got up and went to the kitchen window and, sure enough, there it was on the ground right below the bird feeders.  The red and yellow markings on that bird are distinct.  The red-winged blackbirds are back.  The calendar on the wall tells me they shouldn’t be, but they are.

Judy and I spotted a tufted titmouse at the feeder nearly a week ago.  According to my bird book titmice don’t migrate, so seeing one doesn’t really count as sign of spring.  But we couldn’t help but take it as a good omen.  The red-winged blackbirds appeared shortly thereafter.

The grackles and cowbirds have also returned.  My wife doesn’t want me badmouthing those troublemakers like I did last year, so I won’t say anything more about them.  It’s clear, though, that the red-winged blackbirds are only the beginning of a great migration north.  The robins can’t be far behind.

We have twelve hours of daylight now.  The Vernal Equinox takes place the day after tomorrow.  While that doesn’t necessarily mark the end of winter this far north, there are several indications that spring has come early this year.  The first green shoots of day lilies have pushed up in my front yard.  The grass is greening.  Mud wasps have already appeared on my porch.  And while there’s still plenty of snow in the woods, the snow piles around town are almost gone.

Where are my binoculars?  I keep hearing an unfamiliar bird song and want to go out and identify it.  Yeah, I’ve got the fever already.  No, I’m not foolish enough to put away my snow shovels just yet, or peel the caulk from my windows.  But there’s no sense denying what I see, hear or feel . . .

Suddenly a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  Soon my hiking boots will be caked with mud.  Bring on the cold rain.  I’m ready to wander aimlessly through a misty awakening forest as polypody and evergreen woodferns slowly spring back to life.  Something deep within me is stirring.  You can wait for a 70-degree day if you want, but I’m calling it right now.  It’s spring!

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Jan 18 2010

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A Murder of Crows

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I went out at dusk yesterday to throw the ball for my dog, Matika, in the back yard.  While I was out there, a bunch of crows flew overhead, then a bunch more.  Then a great, dark stream of them flew past – hundreds of them, then hundreds more.  Their passing took five minutes.  I stood there awestruck by the avian display.  I’ve seen crows countless times, but never so many.

Where are they going?  Why are there so many of them?  What keeps so many birds alive in the middle of winter?  I like to think of myself as something of a naturalist, but even in my own back yard I am often stumped by the wild.

Black birds against a mottled gray sky.  A murder of crows in the dead of winter.  In Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, crows play a particularly menacing roll, attacking school children. If all those crows landed in my yard, I’d step inside, certainly.  Yesterday over a thousand crows flew overhead in the fading twilight.  Occasionally one would let out a halfhearted caw, but for the most part they were silent.  As silent as the grave.

A flock of crows is called a murder because some farmers say they’ll gang up and kill a dying cow.  I find this hard to believe, but I’ve often seen them feeding on roadkill so I know they’re big carrion eaters.  Hence their association with death, especially in European culture.  I’ve also seen a crow being mobbed by a songbird after attacking its nest.  Yeah, they’re opportunistic as well – proof positive that Nature can be very cruel.

When I was sojourned in Alaska, I learned to appreciate the ways of ravens, those close cousins to crows.  Crows, ravens, jays and other corvids are intelligent creatures.  They know how to survive, that’s for sure.  In the Alaskan bush, I watched ravens carefully and took their lessons to heart.  Consequently, I developed a certain affinity with them.  But crows are still just crows to me.  Nature’s clean up crew at best.

My bird book tells me that crows gather by the thousands when they roost in trees at night.  That explains what I saw.  No doubt they have a roosting site nearby.  But in the depths of winter, I can’t help but sense something ominous about the presence of so many crows.  Black undertakers in a white landscape, they make me long for spring, anyhow.  I miss my green world.

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Jun 01 2009

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The Rhythms of the Sea

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Because it was Judy’s vacation, we went to the Maine coast.  I’m more a creature of deep woods, but it’s not always about me.  Judy has a challenging job.  When she needs to get away from it all, the coast is the best place for her to go.  So we rented a cottage and escaped to it for a few days.

The cottage faces an estuary – one of ten estuaries along a fifty-mile stretch of coast known collectively as the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.  We couldn’t afford a place overlooking the beach.  That’s okay.  After a couple days of gazing out the window, watching the estuary fill with saltwater then drain again, this cottage seemed like the best place for us.  It is easy to fixate upon the oceanic horizon, ignoring the rising and falling tides just below the line of sight.  But the rhythms of the sea are dramatic and inescapable just a little farther inland, where six hours is all that separates a flooded salt marsh from a muddy one.

A chilling rain fell steadily for three days.  That kept the sun worshipers off the coast, leaving more room for us.  Wherever we went, whether it was the beach, a rocky stretch of coastline, or in town, we were pretty much alone.  Just the two of us.  Steady rain has its advantages.

Judy was happy enough walking the beach or resting in the cottage.  Other than that all she required was a big bowl of fresh steamers chased with cold beer.  I had binoculars in hand most of the time.  I don’t think of myself as a birdwatcher but birdwatching is hard to resist on the coast.  Along with the ever-present gulls, I glassed ducks, eiders, cormorants, and herons just off shore.  A fast-running plover entertained us as we walked the beach.  A gaggle of Canada geese kept to the salt marsh for the most part.  A snowy egret fished alone in the estuary the entire time we were there.  Good company.

Days passed.  The water kept rising and falling in the estuary.  The ocean withdrew from the beach, leaving countless shells behind only to reclaim them a few hours later.  Waves crashed to shore at high tide, washing away the tracks we left in the sand.  When the tide receded, I felt a part of me drawn towards liquid oblivion – as if I too was being swept away.  The sea is like that.  It wants to reclaim all that belongs to her, all things organic.  Even a landlubber like me can feel it: caught in the rhythm, in a primordial magnetism.

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May 25 2009

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Judy and the Hummingbirds

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Judy loves hummingbirds but it has been years since she last saw one.  Two summers ago, she purchased a hummingbird feeder and hung it from the lilac bush a few feet from our kitchen window.  That allowed me a close-up glimpse of one once but Judy wasn’t so lucky.  So for the third year in a row she hung the feeder, hoping for the best.  I knew better than to encourage or discourage her.

Judy loves hummingbirds.  She loves them so much that she has one tattooed right above her ankle.  She says that every time she has seen one she has been on some kind of vacation – with me in the Adirondacks, with a friend on the Maine coast, or elsewhere.  More than once she has seen them at rest and has meditated on the fact that even a creature as frenetic as a hummingbird must stop every once in a while.  Seeing them when her own life was frenetic, she too has stopped.  There is a time for wingbeat intensity and a time to rest.

Many years ago, when I was alone in the Alaskan bush, I awoke almost daily to the low-pitched buzzing sound of a hummingbird hovering just outside my tent.  Even then Judy had an affinity for hummingbirds, so I couldn’t help but think that her animal spirit was watching over me.  Nowadays I can’t see a hummingbird or the mere image of one without thinking of her.  Judy’s existence and the essence of that tiny bird are somehow bound together.  Don’t ask me to explain how I know this or why it is so.  Some things go beyond words.

A couple days ago Judy put up her hummingbird feeder, hoping for the best.  She put up a fuchsia plant next to it, thinking that that might help attract the little busybodies.  She was right.  Yesterday, just before dusk, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a female.  Judy saw it a few minutes later, delighting in the encounter.  This morning, we both saw a male hummingbird at the feeder, repeatedly.  It looks like Judy has finally succeeded in attracting them to our home.  That makes this a red-letter day.

There are times when the wild is in our faces, and other times when it seems elusive.  Always it keeps us off-balance, somewhat amazed, unsure what to expect next.  That is the wonder and beauty of it.  Few creatures illustrate this as well as a hummingbird does, flitting around with such erratic intensity.  Maybe that is why Judy, wife of a woods wanderer, loves them so much.

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