My daughters and I watched this pileated woodpecker in our back yard as we were eating lunch the other day. She captivated us for several minutes.
No sooner had she flown away than a rabbit appeared, gathering up mouthfuls of grass and leaf litter and hopping behind some trees to pad her nest. Now we know where to look for baby rabbits.
On the whole, this raised awareness of the creatures living all around us is the biggest plus of nature study. Who needs television if you have a window? Who needs computer games if you have eyes? The interest is simply there; all that’s needed is a very little effort to cultivate awareness.
It’s not always easy to be aware, though. Sometimes it brings sorrow. This year I notice several different areas around where bulldozers have cleared space for some kind of development, and every one of them will have an impact on birds or other creatures that lived in those spaces. Where will they go? And how much more space do humans need to take over, mow down, dig up?
Even something like Habitat for Humanity (which recently produced a house on an empty lot nearby) gives me pause these days. It sounds so positive. And it is positive to give someone an opportunity to help build their own home. But why take up new space to do it? Why not redesign an existing building standing empty? Every city has more than enough houses already, more than enough retail buildings and factory spaces. Why not use and re-use these spaces, rather than relentlessly sprawling outward like some seeping toxic spill?
Oh well… enough of the lament. Suffice it to say that I wish we gave more thought such matters before mowing down the bushes and trees to construct new buildings. Awareness — the ability simply to pay attention to what’s around you, wherever you are — is where an environmental ethic begins. Not legislation or speech-making. Opened eyes.
Speaking of which, I have seen many interesting sights of late that I haven’t recorded here, and what follows will be a long column of wonders.
Starting with an oven bird! I’ve heard these leaf-like thrushes many times calling from the forest floor, but never have I been fortunate enough to actually see one till this past weekend, on an early morning walk.
He was having a territorial squabble with another one nearby. The woods were full of them! Here, he’s standing on the ruin of an old nesting box.
At a nearby pond, we’ve seen the first of the green herons…
We’ve seen geese nesting…
…and geese newly hatched.
As I stood watching, I noticed movement from one grass tussock to the next. Meadow mice were darting like lightning from hole to hole, right out in the marsh. They’re the color of dust, but otherwise they remind me a lot of hamsters.
Water snakes abounded. None of them looked big enough to eat a mouse, but the frogs and wogs must be on the run.
I think this tiny butterfly is a silvery blue. Its wings are only about a centimeter wide. The meadow was studded with them; I also saw one bright orange butterfly too elusive to photograph.
The chipmunks are coming out of hiding — well, they’re awake. Some are still hiding.
Find that chipmunk
Others look like woodland mariners sailing deadwood ships.
Happily, my daughter and I saw our first rose-breasted grosbeaks the other morning!
There were other birds chorusing all around, including song sparrows…
…and yellow warblers.
It’s not every day that you get tracked by police while bird watching, but it happened the morning we saw these warblers. My daughter turned around, gasped, and said, “A police car!” We saw an officer circling our parked car and hurried back, fearing we’d broken some parking rule. “Oh, I was going to have her track you,” he greeted us, emerging from behind the car with a large police dog. Turns out he just saw our car and decided to take the opportunity to do some training!
There are several nests we’ve been keeping an eye on. We were thrilled to discover a red-tailed hawk nest in a spot we pass often, but it’s not terribly photographable. Still, as the nestlings grow and begin flappercizing, maybe we’ll get some better views (and pictures).
The other day, we were looking at a red-winged blackbird atop this snag when we noticed a tree swallow in a nest cavity beneath him.
Last but not least, the chickadees must have a few nestlings in this nest box outside our front window, because the parent birds have been active, flying to and fro and apparently feeding young.
It’s a great time of year for being outside. Here in the northeast the sense of release from the grip of winter seems so strong and so welcome.
Even our domestic animals like to get out and smell the flowers!