The many faces of Sapsucker Woods’ pond…

30 03 2008


As Spring nears and the sunlight increases, let us not forget the beauty of the last few months. Currently Sapsucker Woods pond is crisscrossed with the paths of geese fighting and celebrating their triumphs, a morass of rotten ice and brown murk. Soon the honking of the geese will give way to the spring peepers, the trilling sparrows, and those beautiful gems of the North American landscape, the warblers.

But-as everything gets richer and messier, I find it oddly calming to think of the pond in midwinter. Its solid surface a shining blue, the snow in regularly spaced spindrifts that suggest art, and the frenzied sounds of the chickadees…For all its length and stubborn darkness, winter in Sapsucker Woods is a great time for contemplation and reflection, and for all the hubbub that awaits us in the coming Spring, there is small piece of me that will yearn for the simplicity of winter.



Slaty shades of grey

7 02 2008

Birding for gulls around Sapsucker Woods is generally slim pickings; the most common gull to be found (flying over, of course, always flying over) is everyone’s favorite parking lot resident, the Ring-billed Gull. In general, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to identify difficult gulls because it’s such a confusing mess of plumages: first-year, second-cycle, subspecies, hybrids, 2-yr, 3-yr…When I add up all the potential combinations and laminate them onto a bird that is basically white, grey and black, I become relatively confused. Hence my penchant for reporting Ring-billed Gulls on my clandestine visits to Taco Bell, a Great Black-backed Gull here and there, maybe a Herring Gull if I get a good look. But I never thought I’d find myself squinting through the gloaming for a gull.

(BMC on the lookout for gulls)

But that’s exactly where I found myself last Sunday before the Super Bowl. A rarity, the Slaty-backed Gull, had been sighted a mere handful of miles from the Lab. As a siberian breeder. it isn’t seen round these parts very often, and when I was invited along to go search for it among the thousand odd gulls that clamored along the ice edges in Stewart Park, I was hesitant but respectfully interested. (At this point I should mention that I probably am one of the least “twitchy” birdwatchers at the Lab of O, but after a long grey day spent holed up out of the weather, I needed air, and a foray to look for gulls seemed like an appropriate way to spend such a dreary day.)


(the larger, darker mantled bird in the upper right is the Slaty-backed Gull; shot through my scope. Note the pinkish legs)

Arriving at the shore of Cayuga Lake, we spotted fellow basin birders with scopes unfurled and converged on a spot near the Swan Pen to scan for gulls. In the end, the quarry we sought made an appearance, allowing for a great deal of observation and study. Seven gull species were seen that day (Slaty-backed, Iceland (Kumlien’s), Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, Ring-billed, and Herring), and it was the perfect prelude to watching the Giants win later that evening (go Giants!).

Meanwhile, across the state at Niagara Falls another rarity had been sighted, this one even rarer: the fabled Ross’s Gull. According to Nick over at Biological Ramblings, a weekend field trip to Niagara Falls for a group from the Cornell area exposed the ever-present risk of twitching: sometimes the bird just doesn’t show.

Groundhog Day, of a sort…

14 10 2007

groundhogdayDuring our mid-October rendition of summer, with temperatures reaching in the low 80s as recently as the start of last week, I would eat my spartan lunch on the back deck of the Lab. Truly, one of the benefits of working at the Lab must be the availability of a beautiful view for lunch-either from the deck or from the staff lounge on the second floor. Each day, at approximately 11:48, I would seat myself at the end of the deck with my lunch and, with a whiff of inevitability, wait for the show to begin.

The first day it happened we talked in hushed whispers, our forks still, eyes wide and smiling…The second day, our amazement turned to disbelief as a carbon copy of the day before repeated itself. By the fourth and fifth days, it began to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day“, and I began to ponder the significance of this beautiful, repeated occurrence.

What sort of a phenomenon could make a hungry Lab worker-bee stop eating and watch?
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Spring Ambition

18 01 2007

Icy TeaseWhile many folks around these parts have been revelling in our near absence of winter this season, I have noticed (somewhat alarmingly) the paraphernalia of spring creeping back at an accelerated rate. Green leaves have formed on the otherwise dormant honeysuckle, spring frogs have been heard near the unfrozen pond edges, and a pair of carolina wrens were nosing around the peanut feeder recently. In fact, while waiting for the bus the last two mornings I have listened to the plaintive sounds of dueling chickadees, their simple fee-bee echoing back and forth, matching tones, overlapping…all very aggressive given that no one is (or perhaps better to say should be) breeding right now. A tufted titmouse has been singing a relentless peter-peter cadence outside the bird feeder garden at the Lab for nearly three weeks now in a high-stakes game of “dibs!” or “shotgun!” that won’t be resolved for several months. Is it hubris to sing so readily through the heart of winter, knowing that Winter must still come? Anxiety? Excitement? Ignorance?

Because of the temperamental nature of weather, plants and animals tend to take their cues from a less mutable source like daylength; and while we have had about 4 weeks of incremental increases in daylight, there’s still a long ways to go until Spring. Research has shown that migratory species are arriving earlier and departing sooner than they used to, and that this pattern correlates well with increases in temperature. Resident species are breeding earlier, too. But January?

The hammer had to drop sometime, and drop it did this past weekend. Two days of freezing rain and ice accumulation prepped the environment for a 1-2 inch dusting of snow, and my carolina wrens have not been seen again. And while I wouldn’t mind it taking out all of the invasive honeysuckle, somehow I think that won’t happen.


So now the honeysuckle sits, encased in ice, the frogs are back in the mud, and the temperatures are well below freezing. But the chickadees sing on, and I hope they know something I don’t.