A Winter Walk Yields Surprises

I love birds. I became a bird watcher about the same time as I became a mother. I think I wanted my children to notice all the glories of nature…including birds. Much to my delight, my daughter now eagerly accompanies me on bird walks whenever we have time together to do so.

Earlier this past week, my daughter and husband were having breakfast when something amazing happened. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of grackles swooped through our back yard, settling on our hill and in our yard. There were dozens trying to squeeze into our bird bath (in which we keep a heater to keep the ice from forming). The “gang of grackles” stayed around for about ten minutes, then suddenly just took off. Apparently, winter flocks of grackles “may number in the hundreds of thousands.” (Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of New England DK Publishing, NY. 2002)

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This type of invasion happened once before several years ago in our yard with a “raft of robins” who blew in one snowy day. They huddled like Christmas ornaments on our shrubs and bare tree branches, then disappeared.

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My daughter and I took our favorite local walk on Sunday, on a path alongside an inlet of the Long Island Sound. It is about a mile long, so it satisfies the need to exercise with the desire to see the birds du jour! It’s always a surprise…you never know what you will find.

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Winter happens to be a favorite time for birding. I love how the beauty and delicacy of the birds stand out in stark contrast to the bleakness of winter, the drabness of the environment without leaves or blooms to soften it, and the absolute quiet of a cold, winter day.

Walking along the wetlands that lead to the path, we saw a large group of dark brown ducks, but were unable to identify them since they were too far away. But then….we got lucky! As we walked onto the path along the shore, we soon spotted a pair of mergansers bobbing on the waves, paddling parallel to us. They were hooded mergansers which have incredibly shaped heads that they love to show off.

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We watched them through our binoculars for a few minutes, then continued on our way.

Shortly thereafter, my daughter spotted a sizeable group of black and white ducks bobbing at some distance from the shore. They were quite raucous and made quite an impression. A quick thumbing through our bird guide helped us to identify them as Old Squaws. Their markings are patterned like black and white Native American Indian blankets; they squabble like a bunch of “old squaws.” I’ll bet that’s how they got their name.

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We walked back on the path past the empty osprey nests, which in about a month or so will begin to show signs of life. The egrets and herons, so abundant during the warmer months, were nowhere to be seen and are probably enjoying sunnier shores. As we drove home we were very excited that we had seen a type of bird not often seen in these parts and proud of ourselves for having made the effort on a cold winter day to come out to see them.

We returned home to find a resplendent cardinal at our bird feeder in our backyard. His feathers were brighter than most cardinals and he has visited us a few times lately. He might even become a regular.

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26 thoughts on “A Winter Walk Yields Surprises”

    1. Me, too. It has made me very happy that those nature walks we took every Sunday when my kids were very young led to both of them becoming serious naturalists and environmentalists. Also, it has created a special bond between my daughter and me.

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  1. I wish I were more attentive to the birds around me. It’s not that I ignore them. I just don’t know enough about them, so they flutter and inhabit my world as if in my orbit … when really, I am the one in their orbit, right? Thanks for the lovely images.
    Kevin

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    1. We’re all in somebody’s or something’s orbit, aren’t we? I love how you shifted that perspective to being much more nature-centered. It would be fun piece of writing for kids to do the same, wouldn’t it?

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    2. My thoughts too! I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to birds but your post, Barbara, impressed me with your knowledge and passion for the beauty of birds. ❤

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  2. What a rich bird life you have! I love to watch them too, but really can’t identify too many of the smaller brownish ones. Love the photos since that helps me recognize and name them, if I should ever spot one.

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    1. The smallish brown ones are probably sparrows and I must confess that I can’t identify them either. To become a bird watcher it just takes patience and the will to go out and look for them, and to practice with binoculars. They are a wonderful source of “free” delight and a lovely excuse to get out and take a walk. It’s also a “hobby” you can pursue anywhere you happen to be!

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  3. Beautiful pictures. Although I don’t take bird walks we did put a bird feeder right outside of our dining room window. It is so nice to watch the birds and an occasional squirrel, while we are eating. The cats like bird TV as well.

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  4. Glad you liked the photos. I decided that for this post it was important to convey the beauty and variety of these lovely birds. Enjoy the bird channel, but keep those killers indoors, please!

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  5. Oh Barbara, thank you for such a lovely walk via your vivid descriptions and beautiful photos. I love to watch birds, but like Kevin, I know little about them. Seems birds were on more than one person’s mind this week, as Elsie posted about them and so did I.

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      1. Alice, I tried to comment on your post today but weird things kept happening. Others seem to have succeeded so it might be WordPress. Sorry…I enjoyed what I could read of your post.

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  6. I love your post and fabulous photographs and so enjoyed accompanying you as you bird watched. It’s one of my favorite activities, too! These lines capture so much: “I love how the beauty and delicacy of the birds stand out in stark contrast to the bleakness of winter, the drabness of the environment without leaves or blooms to soften it, and the absolute quiet of a cold, winter day.” Thanks for sharing your avian adventures!

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  7. Yes, I am thinking “avian abundance” would be a great line in a poem. We have seen “rafts of robins” lately too. I hope that it is a sign of an early spring.

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  8. I know that others have mentioned it too, but this sentence took my breath away: “I love how the beauty and delicacy of the birds stand out in stark contrast to the bleakness of winter, the drabness of the environment without leaves or blooms to soften it, and the absolute quiet of a cold, winter day.” And the bird pics are stunning, especially the cardinal. I felt as if I was on that walk with you.

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  9. Thank you for taking the trouble to point out the sentence that you liked. It’s great feedback for an aspiring writer to know what pleases others. I really did enjoy that walk and I guess that feeling was communicated through my words.

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