Tag Archive 'wild birds'

Jul 30 2021

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When Least Expected

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A few days ago Judy and I lingered in the Northeast Kingdom after visiting family at Lake Wallace, clear up in the northeast corner of Vermont. We drove past the small town of Island Pond to the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. Then we walked the trail to Moose Bog Pond. We had encountered some interesting birds there during a visit last year and hoped to do so again.

The trail is a short, easy, nearly flat path winding through a spruce/fir forest that’s home to the ever-elusive spruce grouse. I caught a glimpse of that bird last year but it disappeared before Judy could get a photo. No matter. There were plenty of friendly red-breasted nuthatches and grey jays to entertain us at Moose Bog Pond back then.

But that was last year. This year the grey jays were nowhere to be seen, and the nuthatches were skittish. A great blue heron was feeding at the pond, but it was too far away for Judy to get a good shot. So she photographed northern pitcher plants as we hung out for a while on the boardwalk jutting into the bog surrounding the pond. It was a beautiful summer day in the woods so we were happy just being there. All the same, I could tell that Judy was a tad disappointed.

On the way out, Judy took pictures of some interesting mushrooms while I crept ahead. That’s when I caught a little movement out of the side of my eye. I looked over and, sure enough, there was a spruce grouse half-hidden in the dense understory. I froze in place then signaled to Judy. She was looking down at the time and didn’t see me at first, but I didn’t dare say a word. Remarkably, the grouse didn’t move away. Then Judy saw me gesturing wildly and slowly moved in to photograph the bird. Even more remarkably, the grouse turned around giving Judy an even better view. She took a bunch of pictures.

Isn’t that the way it goes when dealing with wildlife? How many times have I gone looking for a creature only to come up empty-handed? How many times have they popped up, taking me completely by surprise? It’s all very serendipitous.

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Aug 09 2009

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Unexpected Encounters

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Earlier this week my granddaughter, Kaylee, and I found a couple crayfish in a sinkhole next to a stream.  While sitting on our porch, my wife and I spotted a yellow flicker in nearby trees – a bird I haven’t seen in years. I saw some kind of blue orchid in full bloom while hiking Jay Peak the other day.  A barred owl suddenly appeared a few yards off trail while I was hiking Aldis Hill a few weeks ago.  I saw a red fox and her two kits there once.  I want to say that such sightings are uncommon but that’s not the case.  They occur on a regular basis.  It’s just that they always catch me off guard.  Why is that?

Often I venture into the woods with binoculars or a field guide in hand, looking for the rare and beautiful.  I am usually disappointed.  Nearly every attempt I’ve made to track down large animals – bear, moose, or deer – has come to nothing.  Yet I bump into wildlife frequently enough.  I’ve never been able to see a mink on cue, but I see them every once in a while as I’m fishing.  Same goes for eagles, otters and pine martens.  I can spot a chipmunk or squirrel a few minutes after stepping into the woods, but running into a coyote is always a fluke.  It’s almost as if I see more of the wild when I’m not looking for it.

Why are these encounters so unexpected?  I’m not sure but I suspect it has something to do with the assumptions that we make.  We go about our business, immersed in a world of our own making, going in and out of buildings, negotiating a complex network of streets and roads, entertaining ourselves electronically, and it appears that existence is all about us.  Everything else is peripheral.  Everything else is, well, inconsequential – there only to meet our needs.  The whole universe revolves around us.  Isn’t it obvious?  In this context, it’s hard to imagine plants and animals having a life of their own.

We go to zoos to see animals, and gardens to see plants.  But we venture into the wild to be surprised.  Sometimes we are surprised by what we don’t find there.  Almost always something pops up that we haven’t anticipated.  Remarkably, we often miss the unexpected because our thoughts are elsewhere.  This is the curse of having so much gray matter between the ears.  Our lives are more abstract than we realize.

As a philosopher – a ponderer of things to the point of absurdity – I am more guilty than most of missing what’s right in front of me.  Consequently, when I’m in the woods I am more surprised.  The wild never ceases to amaze me.  Waterfalls, rainbows, red efts on the trail, and bizarre-looking mushrooms arising overnight – all this should be expected.  Yet I’m surprised.  Oddly enough, encounters such as these are what I live for. Go figure.

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