Sacred Heart Park 6-29-12 at 10:30 a.m. EST
I awoke this morning to the sound of thunder and the pitter-patter of rain outside my window. The rain washed air smells cool and fresh drifting in the open windows of my Andover apartment where I have lived for almost two years now. In spite of the rain, the birds are out in force at my backyard feeders. Rain drenched chickadees, titmice, house finches and house sparrows fill the feeders in a feeding frenzy. On the suet feeders I see first one and then two more bedraggled downy woodpeckers clinging, and picking at bitefuls of the gooey stuff. I make myself a cup of green tea and wait for the storm to pass. It’s been over a week since I’ve counted birds at the park and I am eager to go before today’s heat and humidity roll in. As soon as the rain stops I grab my binoculars, my notebook and pen, and my small digital camera. I decide to leave my larger SLR camera behind, not wanting to take it out in the dampness in case another brief shower rolls by. Plus, I know that once these clouds burn off the humidity will make hauling that thing around a bit uncomfortable. So, with insect repellent slathered on and a thermos of cold water in my car I drive the short distance to the park.
As soon as I pull up I see birds scattered all over the green soccer field. Usually when I am here at this time of day I am lucky to see a robin or two. It is now 10:30 a.m., but the rain has just ended and the birds are taking advantage of the still wet grass. My car thermometer reads 67F. I roll down my car windows and count birds from the car before getting out and scaring them away. Within the first 10 minutes I am here I see robins, grackles, blue jays, house sparrows, and a northern flicker. A couple of chimney swifts fly over the roof of my car, and then I see first a tree swallow, then two barn swallows swooping low over the wet grass, and then they are gone. It was such a brief encounter that, if I had not been here at this particular moment I would never have known they were here!
I step out of my car with binoculars in hand and stand near the fence surrounding the parking lot. As I do, a woman comes up to ask me if I am going to be photographing birds. She wants to know if she will disturb me if she walks her dog in the field while I am bird watching. I am astonished and pleased by her consideration since so many times I have met rude and irresponsible dog owners. She even offers to go walk her dog somewhere else if it will bother me. But I tell her no, I am headed for the wooded area. Beside, her dog is just a little terrier. She lets her dog out while I am getting the rest of my stuff together and then she heads south across the field while I head north. Her little dog is bouncing all over the place, and sure enough it chases off a few robins, but they are not here long and the robins quickly return to the grass while I make my way along the eastern edge of the soccer field.
The grass is wet beneath my sandaled feet. When the wind blows heavy water droplets fall from the overhanging trees and speckle my binocular lenses. I wipe them dry and keep on walking slowly around the perimeter. Overhead the vibrant orange of a lichen covered branch catches my eye. It provides such color beneath this green canopy!
Then, the motion of a northern flicker as it flies into a tree high overhead distracts me and leads me on. I can see the clouds are starting to break up causing a mist to rise from the grass near the woodland edge.
As I am walking and examining trees, field and sky, I suddenly notice a wee bunny rabbit nibbling on grass just ahead of me. I slow my pace and pull out my camera hoping for a decent shot. I creep ever closer and closer, amazed that it shows no fear. Finally it feels I am too close, just as I am thinking the same thing and considering walking far around it. It bolts for the thicket along the edge, little cottontail bouncing as it goes! Why do these little nature moments bring me so much happiness? I do not know, but I keep seeking them out, over and over again.
So, it is no surprise when I stop to look at a Monarch butterfly feeding on the flower of a milkweed that is growing along the un-mowed edge of the field. It clings ever so delicately to the blushing pink flower blossoms, then floats away softly into this summer day.
I continue walking along deep in thought headed for the woodland path that will lead me down to the river when suddenly I hear a loud rumbling ahead of me. I poke my head around the ragged edge of the brush just in time to see the source of the noise—a large mower with a man riding it and he is headed right towards me! Now I am like the bunny scurrying for the trees! I run for safety unsure if the person driving it will see me around the brushy edge of the field where I am walking. I dart into a clearing just as the machine roars past in a blur. The man driving it sees me and smiles and continues on his way. I am thinking, “Who mows the grass in a thunderstorm?” and, “Now he has scared all the birds along the river away!” I know the small song birds will quickly return, but if there were any herons or ducks down there, they are long gone! Still, I continue on my path to the river, going slowly as I like, trying to take everything in.
I have been sick at home for the past four days with a summer cold, so it feels good to be out and about looking for birds again. The lushness of this green landscape never ceases to amaze me after having lived in the Sonoran desert for three and a half years and three years in Utah before that. Though I am from New England it has been quite awhile since I have lived here. Seeing all this green seems even more impressive now that I have lived out west for so long. I happen to love the western landscape and it has taken me a long time to appreciate this New England greenery once again.
The path down to the river through the woods is very short, but I stop to admire the play of light and shadow on the leaves. I can still see droplets of rain on some of them, even though the sun is fully out now and trying its best to dry the earth up. The trees here are so thick that they make a cool green tunnel to walk through. In the undergrowth English Ivy grows in abundance, an escapee from someone’s yard I presume.
As I emerge from the tunnel the green lawn of the riverbank opens up before me. I turn left and walk the perimeter toward the farthest reach of the mowed area. Here, more robins hop across the grass, while song sparrows sing from the river and pond edges.
I tuck into the grassy path that leads to one small backwater pond with a view of the bend in the river. In early spring this was an easy thing but now it is overgrown with weeds and wildflowers as well as a few raspberry brambles just to keep me on my toes. I am careful to avoid the poison ivy I see. Though it has never bothered me much, it seems as I get older I am more susceptible to its itchy rash. I don’t want to push my luck!
I stand quietly in place hoping to see something new. This spot is always reliable for catbirds and first one, then two, and then three all pop up on a branch as if checking me out instead! While they are looking at me the song sparrows continue to sing, and then I hear the “wicka, wicka, wicka” call of a Northern flicker. Occasionally a bull frog croaks. Life is just about perfect right now standing here in the woods!
I stand there looking and seeking for more birds species, but none emerge, so I head back out to the grassy area and up to the knoll. Here I have a view out over the bigger pond where I often see herons. In early spring I would see Canada geese, mallards, or even wood ducks here. Now everything is so overgrown that my views are restricted to glimpses between green-leaved frames!
Vines grow in tangles over many of the trees, and I find one tree totally choked by a strangling vine, its life blood cut off, it’s bark gone. Yet the vine lives on, and will, I suppose, until the tree trunk rots and falls. Some of these vines are bittersweet that produce beautiful red and orange berries that feed the robins in winter. I counted over 75 feeding here one day earlier this year.
I am starting to feel the heat whenever I step into the sunlight, but in the shade it still feels cool as a light breeze wafts lightly over my skin. I am not ready to leave just yet. This is all so peaceful and if it wasn’t for the sound of traffic I can hear from nearby Main Street just across the river I could almost get myself to believe I am somewhere deep in the countryside. I hear little sharp chips coming from the woods and look up to find a family of cardinals skulking among the branches. The reddish brown fledglings flutter and chirp, begging their weary parents to feed them. I soon spot the male moving through the branches, bright red against the emerald leaves, trying to console them and encourage them to feed on their own. They continue to beg and whine, wanting their parents to do it for them! But this cannot go on forever. Soon the harsh reality of life will kick in when their parents kick them out for good!
But he is not the only weary parent I will see on this day. As I head back down along the river I hear the plaintive squawks of a grackle. I look out to see it perched on a snag in the middle of the river, pink gape open wide, wings fluttering low, while an anxious parent flies in with something in its beak. The glossy black adult lands facing the youngster and deposits the food into the fledgling’s gullet. Then, to my utter surprise, when the grackles fly off, an eastern kingbird takes their place! This snag is a favorite perch of many birds. I have also seen herons and ducks take advantage of its relative safety from the middle of the river. The beautiful gray and white kingbird looks around for a moment, then takes flight, its white edged tail visible as it flies high into a tall tree across the river. There I notice a mourning dove sunning itself on a bare branch of the same tree.
I am starting to feel the heat and humidity but I am so lost in my reverie as I walk along this riverbank. I am thinking about all the riverbanks I walked along when I was young back in Colchester, CT. There were tall green trees, and cool clear water and swimming with my family all summer long. Why it that as one grows older these memories seem to come back even stronger. I do not look to be nostalgic, but it just comes to me anyways.
I finally reach the terminus of my self-set boundary for this eBird Site Survey. I look through the trees out over the track field where I can see the Balmoral Condominiums silhouetted against the hazy sky. It’s time to turn back and finish my bird count in the upper soccer field.
As I emerge from the woodland path to the field I hear and then see yet another kingbird. Then the shadow of a large bird passes over the grass and I look up to find a turkey vulture rocking on the thermals in a sea of blue sky.
Other than hearing a phoebe call, I do not see or hear any additional species as I walk the rest of the way around the field. The playground is empty today but as I climb into my car another person gets out of his vehicle, metal detector in hand. We all have our obsessions I suppose. I have been here for just under two hours now. The temperature has risen to 78F and with it so has the humidity. I am hot, hungry and thirsty. It’s time for me to go home.
Note: I guess you can tell I was in a writing mood today. I have many more photos and will post some on a separate page. It felt good to get outside and wander and observe and in the end I counted 20 species of birds here today. The Barn and Tree swallows I saw when I first arrived brought my total count of birds for this location up to 56 species!