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BY6: Of Happiness January 31, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Late Sunday morning, the thermometer proclaimed a temperature on the high side for January, but the wind was up and the air felt damp. Despite my shivering and lazy reluctance, I thought I should go out. I wanted to add another bird to my list, and that wasn’t likely to happen if I stayed inside.

Tim was already out, cutting back some plants, and Martha was talking gardening with him. We three made a plan for a walk on the rail trail. I layered up, starting with long undies. Tim and I grabbed binoculars.

I wanted to see a bluebird.

Suckers have been eluding me all month. I swear many have dashed in front of my car, too quickly for me to solidly ID (or hit).

We were a good half hour out when I thought that maybe I spotted one, way way out there on that fence post on the other side of that field.

The bird would flash its red breast, but when it turned, I couldn’t really tell if its back was blue or black. Of course, it was acting like a bluebird.

Tim declared it positively a bluebird. His binoculars are better than mine. Likely his eyes are too.

We hiked the farm road in a bit to see if we could get a closer look. We’d walk, stop, look. I was getting windchilled, my hands numb.

But eventually, we got close enough, and there were three hanging out together, just like us. One of them posed on a tree branch, giving us a fantastic look. At last.

Then, hiking back, Martha pointed to a tree and asked, “Is that a dove?” It was a flicker—my first of the year.


This brings my count, here at month’s end, to 23: red-breasted nuthatch (21), eastern bluebird (22), northern flicker (23). And so it slowly goes.

BY5: Gluttony January 20, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Driving past the bluebird spot yesterday, I managed to find a pull-off and grab my binoculars. Although I’m pretty sure there was a bluebird or two in that thrushfest, the only ones sitting still enough for me to positively identify were American robins (bird #20).

I wasn’t seeing robins in January because of the weird winter weather we’re having. I was seeing robins in January because they are here all year. So when people get all excited about the robins “coming back” in the spring, I kinda roll my eyes a bit.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website backs me up: “Although robins are considered harbingers of spring, many American robins spend the whole winter in their breeding range. But because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time in your yard, you’re much less likely to see them. The number of robins present in the northern parts of the range varies each year with the local conditions.”

So maybe there are fewer robins about, but there are a lot of robins about, always. When it’s warm enough for worms, you’ll see the robins on the ground again.

The ones I was watching were in trees and bushes.

While reading about robins, though, the fact that caught my attention was this: “Robins eat a lot of fruit in fall and winter. When they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.” I knew this happened to cedar waxwings eating overripe fermented berries, but I hadn’t made the robin connection. To our friend Cedar Waxwing, I ask: Aren’t you glad to know other species join you in this overindulgence?

BY4: Torpor January 17, 2012

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Since I last reported my count 12 days ago, I have added only four birds to my list. Four. Barred owl (mentioned previously), red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, and—at long last—house finch.

I saw the pair of house finches several times four days ago, but not at all since. Where have they all gone?

Two great blue heron sightings, two days apart, in the dead of winter. Yum.

So now my number is nineteen.

I don’t know the current group number. Danny suggested we tally at the end of each month. But I’m guessing we’ll be lucky to get to thirty.

The problem lies somewhat in my own state of torpor. We’ve had a slew of single-digit days temperaturewise. And right now it’s raining. Raining! It’s hard to want to go outside.

I see birds from the car but pass too quickly to allow myself the ID: bluebirds where they always are, black ducks. (The bluebirds would never allow the sighting if I stopped, but I’ve only got my schedule to blame for not jumping out to check on the ducks.)

I am withdrawing into winter. I am not going all sorts of places.

Intirruption January 11, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

I stop at the general store in Parts on my way to work. Being it’s morning, the farmers are having coffee in the corner, and to get to that snooty Vermont organic whole-bean dark roast that Tim loves so much (OK—I like it too), I have to worm my way between a couple of them, because it’s located on some shelves right behind where they’re sitting. I’m trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, trying not to be an interruption, but of course one of the bags I want is on the top shelf in the back, and five-foot-seven turns out to be at least an inch too short, so one of them graciously helps me out, barely able to reach it himself.

Then, as I turn to go, I hear someone say “snowy owl,” and talk turns to sightings, so I have to go back and say the first thing I’ve ever mustered courage to say beyond good morning, which is something like, “Did you see a snowy?”

And it’s the guy who reached for my coffee talking, and it turns out he hasn’t, not yet, not this year; he hasn’t seen one for eighteen years, but he tells me about a close town where a couple of sightings have happened, and we talk about the apparent snowy owl irruption in Vermont, what a year it’s been, and I tell him I’ve never seen one—well, not any outside captivity anyway—and he seems surprised by this, which in turn surprises me, but I assure him that my binoculars are in my car.

Faux Spring January 8, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

One day it is suddenly so cold I refuse to leave the house, even to walk to the post office to pick up my mail. The next a warm breeze blows back in, and it feels like late March again, and when I do walk to the post office a cardinal starts to sing, and I think, Do not get your hopes up, dude. Do not get overexcited.

Last weekend our hike was so muddy that we left our boots to freeze dry in the uninsulated mud room. I eventually moved both pair inside to warm for their next trip, a walk on the rail trail yesterday, where I stopped at standing icy puddles and washed the caked mud off mine. The ground is soft. Is it January thaw if, as a friend pointed out, there is very little to thaw?

The soft ground gave like spring. The warm air smelt of it—air warm enough to smell!—the wet of mud, of field manure, of the stream. And then I heard my barred owl, just two days after Tim’s sighting, so now I need only be envious that he saw one.

BY3: Wrath/Sloth January 6, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Today I missed my first important bird.

I needed to go to the post, so I decided to return Laura’s cutting board and water bottle, which I’d been meaning to do for nearly four days. My arms were loaded with these items, plus bills and an invoice to post. I walked outside, and, as I was about to cross the street, a bird swooped overhead.

A hawk. Probably an accipiter.

It landed at the top of Lynda’s tree. Too far up for me to ID it. I’m thinking Cooper’s or sharp-shinned.

Do I go back in the house, drop everything, grab my binoculars? Or do I head up the hill to Laura’s, now that I’ve got all this stuff in my hands?

After much hesitation, I headed up.

I asked if she had binoculars (the tree is in full view from her place), and she did, but by the time I went out, the bird was gone.

I need to have binoculars on my person at all times. An accipiter, for crying out loud!

I’m pissed that I was too lazy to run back into my house when I had the chance.

BY2: Envy January 6, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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Yesterday Tim saw a barred owl.

I realize that this means that Team Big Year can now list this species. But I haven’t even heard one yet.

I’m seriously jealous.

BY1: The Usual Suspects January 5, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Fat Red Ant just left a “Happy Bird Day” message on my Facebook wall. Apparently, it’s National Bird Day. I didn’t know this. But it seems as good a day as ever to give my first Big Year report.

Of course, there’s little to report. I’ve barely left the house since the turn of the year. I’m on a deadline, and I’ve sequestered myself pretty well. This has limited my birding to occasionally looking out the window at the feeder and seeing birds from the car the few times I’ve been out in it. Went for a walk one day, but it didn’t add much to my count.

And it’s winter, and we’re down to the usual suspects: black-capped chickadee, American goldfinch, European starling, downy woodpecker, house sparrow, northern cardinal, mourning dove, American crow, rock pigeon, Canada goose, blue jay, dark-eyed junco, white-breasted nuthatch, mallard, tufted titmouse. Fifteen.

I’ve seen nary a house finch. They were everywhere at the end of December. Maybe they’re still sleepin’ off New Year’s.

While swinging on December 31, a pileated woodpecker called loudly, quite near me.

I haven’t heard him since.

Monthly Checklist Follow-Up January 3, 2012

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

A year ago I wrote a post about not making resolutions (I don’t). Despite this resolve not to make resolutions, in that post I noted that I would (monthly) be decorating my refrigerator door with a list of a dozen mostly outdoor activities that make me happy. With luck, the list would remind me to actually do some of these activities. It is easy to get lazy about one’s own happiness.

Many of these activities are seasonal, so there would never be a month in which all activities were checked off. In fact, I never checked off more than six (in March, June, August, and September). Unfortunately, there were a couple of months during which I accomplished only three (April, December).

I thought there were at least two activities I would have checked off every month. In fact, on December 31, when I visited the swing set next door, I was convinced that I had been on that swing every single month. Alas, according to those little boxes, I skipped March altogether. And birding? I didn’t check the box in January. That’s a bit ridiculous. I feed birds. I see birds. Birders are always birding—it’s like breathing. I think the first month I must have decided that if I didn’t go out into the world armed with binoculars, I wasn’t birding. So birding only got eleven months too.

Here is the list and the crazy-list-lady results:

  • Cross-country ski—January, February, March
  • Snowshoe—January, February, March
  • Ice skate—January, February, March, June, July, October, November, December (obviously an indoor rink!)
  • Fly fish—May, June, August, September (a pathetic showing)
  • Hike—January, March, September, October, November (I can do better than this, certainly.)
  • Bike—April, May, June, July, August, September, October
  • Bird—February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
  • Canoe—August (I have a canoe. I took it out once. This is beyond shameful.)
  • Swing (on the swing set next door)—January, February, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
  • Hang out at the swimming hole—March, May, July, August
  • Read in the hammock (Apparently this did not happen a single time. I remember getting the hammock out of the closet one weekend, going out the front door to set it up on the hooks on the front porch, and spotting an annoying neighbor out and about who would definitely ruin my attempt at relaxed solitude. It just wasn’t worth it. I went back inside to read. A sad state of affairs.)
  • Take a vacation—June (Indiana!), September (California!)

On January 1, I got on the swing set. And, as you know, I’m birding too.

I wonder when it will snow?