Sounds Like Spring

It’s no Red Winged Blackbird, but the call still says spring.

Last weekend was the first day of Spring and it’s sexy time for any number of creatures. In fact, it’s all they’re talking about. With that in mind, Adventure Buddy and I took advantage of a park program promising amorous salamanders in the vernal pools. The description said boots were suggested, but we did not realize that it was to the degree of our naturalist’s hip waders.

The naturalist started by checking her overnight traps. No salamanders, but we saw fairy shrimp, water bugs, and what turned out to be two frogs busy making more frogs.

They are Western Chorus Frogs which are different from Spring Peepers. Their song dominated all other noises. It sounded as if we should see them everywhere.

The second vernal pool was filled with cattails on the edge of a prairie area. I actually saw a large frog there, but my tiny net and poor skills were no match for it.

This area was possibly even more vociferous.

To borrow from e.e. cummings, spring is when the world is “mud-luscious” and “puddle wonderful.” I just need taller boots.

Bird Nerd: Big Game!

Much as I would love to get rid of Facebook most days, I can’t abandon the bird photography group where I’m a lurking member. I lurk because I have little to contribute aside from “loves” and questions. These people have giant cameras and a penchant for being in the woods at the crack of dawn. Their pictures are detailed, up close, and dramatic. I love them. I also love that this group gives me guidance on spots to visit.

Thanks to the group’s posts, I got to witness two major- major to me- birds in December: Sandhill cranes and a Snowy Owl. When I woke up to a post naming a specific pond in a specific metro park as a gathering point for a large group of Sandhill Cranes, I got Adventure Buddy on the road and headed out.

We had a short hike out to the site, but we got to observe the eagles’ nest on the way. The male was hanging out in a dead tree and the female was poised on the nest. A birder with a bigger camera said that they had just added another branch to the nest.

Of course, common songbirds are just as exciting and capable of dramatic poses, and far away swans are lovely too.

When we cleared the woods at the edge of the pond, it took a moment to spot the cranes. The largest portion were blending into the water’s edge and more were wandering through the grasses. We counted over twenty. At one point, a crane sounded the alarm or yelled, “everybody into the pool!” and the group in the grasses formed a conga line back to the pond.

Walking back to the car, we heard a crane call from another part of the park. Two rebels had broken off from the larger group and were conveniently hanging out by the duck blinds, but calling back to the large group.

Sound up!

I’d love to make it to one of the spots where hundreds of Sandhill Cranes land together during migrations.

However I have mixed feelings about the Snowy Owl.

Much of what I know about Snowy Owls comes from a series of posts by Julie Zickefoose an artist and naturalist from my home town area. Julie covered the story of a Snowy Owl that landed in a busy urban area, was injured, starving, and eventually captured for rehabilitation. Her photographs and first hand knowledge make a trip to her site worthwhile.

Snowy Owls show up in Ohio because they are juveniles who have been pushed out of their territory, oddly enough, due to an overabundance of food when they were hatched. They show up here, people swarm to experience the magic, and the owl potentially starves or encounters things like cars and electrical wires that are not a part of their habitat.

(My pictures are as zoomed in as possible with my camera and then extremely cropped during editing. With the naked eye, we basically were looking at a white blob against the rocks while visiting to maintain distance.)

The group posted and the local paper wrote articles about the owl’s location. Selfishly, I could not resist the opportunity to see it: Harry Potter’s Hedwig. While we were there, photographers came and went, staying back. Others had reported seeing the owl hunt in a nearby field. Of all the possible spots, it ended up at a large lake and wooded park so maybe there is hope for it.

Fluffy, feathery hope after cleaning its talons.

Stressful Fun: Little adventures

Sometimes my Adventure Buddies overestimate my abilities and level of adventurousness. I feel like my adventures are often food or festival based with some sightseeing and light exercise thrown in. There are definitely adventure ideas that make me wary.

Like kayaking.

My paranoid kayaking concerns in no particular order of paranoia:

  • Fitting into the kayak
  • Getting wet.
  • Getting wet in murky pond, lake, and/or river water
  • Rolling over into the above mentioned murky water and being trapped …
  • ….because my fat butt and legs are now firmly encased in a weird, unnatural L configuration called a kayak
  • Being at water level with things that live in the above mentioned murky water.
  • Example 1: snakes
  • Example 2: additional snake friends of the snake from example 1
  • Example 3: Giant water spiders. I am certain that these are a possibility.

As demonstrated by my list of concerns, it was with great hesitation and reluctance that I agreed to go to a short kayaking class with my Adventure Buddy who is very fit, already knows how to kayak, and does nutty things like eating vegetables, or going to two work outs in one day.

Later that day as I was working with students in the library, Adventure Buddy made a slow approach with an outstretched hand presumably so I could sniff it to know she was friendly.

I know I’m in trouble when people have news that they think I won’t like, and approach me like I’m a feral cat. Apparently my response looks something like this:

Adventure Buddy in low soothing voice: “So you know how you like nature?”

Me, fur starting to stand up: “Yesssssssssss?

Adventure Buddy in low soothing voice : “So you know how you like birdwatching?”

Me, claws extending slightly: “Yesssssssssss?”

Adventure Buddy in low soothing voice: “So wouldn’t it be really calming to float down a river with all the birds and nature to see?”

Me, low back of the throat whiny growl: “Nooooooooo.”

Adventure Buddy making calming gestures: “So the class was booked, so I signed us up for the 90 minute river kayaking.”

Me, whiny growl spiraling up to potential shriek: “But I agreed to a 45 minute ‘you’ve never been in a kayak before’ class on a POND!”

All of my students have now locked in on this interaction as they would with any good cat video. One pipes up with, “It will be fine. I went kayaking; it was great!” She weighs 10 pounds and probably never wondered whether or not her body would actually fit in to a kayak.

Me, hissing: “What. If. It. Tips. Over?”

Adventure Buddy patting her pockets for treats she can offer me: “These are ocean kayaks so they are wider and less likely to tip.”

Me, low growl: “So my butt will fit?”

Helpful Student: “Your butt will be fine. My dad fit in a kayak!” I have no idea what her dad’s body type is. Absolutely no reference point.

Adventure Buddy backing away slowly, making eye contact with slow blinks : “It will be fine. I’ll see you at the boat ramp.”

Me, yowling at students: “Well, if I’m not in class tomorrow, you know where to start looking for my body.”

So I met her at the boat ramp because it was an opportunity to try something new. Even if I was scared, the truth was it probably was not going to do me bodily harm. I also knew that Adventure Buddy would take care of me because she’s the type of person who is a helper and worries about other people.

And there really were a lot of birds.

I took this afterwards from the bank with my phone which is why they seem so tiny and far. I could not bring myself to try kayaking with my good camera or my phone. It hurt to not take pictures. There were Great Blue Herons that took off over us, cormorants, and egrets galore.

The awkwardness of getting in and out of the kayak was the most difficult part. The first 10 minutes or so of trying to find my balance and learn how to navigate were the tippiest and the scariest. I basically stopped everything and held my breath when the kayak skimmed over underwater detritus in a very shallow part just as Adventure Buddy was warning me about getting snagged on the bottom.

My most irrational moment came when we got away from the boat ramp area and out on to the river. I saw what I KNEW were the bumpy nodules of a log sticking up slightly above the water. However my Brain, which might be more likely to kill me than a kayak, screamed: “That is a crocodile and it is coming for us!” There was an actual adrenaline surge that accompanied that stupid thought. I don’t need to make this shit up. Brain then cycled into some intense visualizations of just how deep the river was. In reality, not very deep. To Brain, it was a Mariana Trench situation. I shut that down pretty quickly and focused on paddling.

I veer right even though, based on the 5 seconds of instructions at the ramp, I should be veering left. Much of my time was spent navigating in the correct directions, and trying to get to the point where I could just float along. I saw the people around me including our park ranger guide, quietly sitting back and gliding effortlessly in a straight trajectory. I experimented with leaning back in the seat like my friends, but did not feel like I could paddle from that angle. So I got 90 minutes of arm work while sitting ramrod straight and overcorrecting my every move. That was the stressful part.

The fun part was the perspective. We went from the boat ramp all the way to our downtown area. I’ve never seen the skyline from the middle of the river or passed under any of the bridges. To be able to observe the river wildlife- we watched a GBH fly over and land nearby in a tree- and banks from that angle was fascinating. Although I did learn that I can’t look directly up and maintain kayak balance at the same time when some ducks flew low overhead.

Even though we had a major highway on one side and passed under busy bridges, it was quiet and pleasant on the water. I hesitantly, begrudgingly agreed that, yes, I would probably do it again.

The park ranger was brave enough to bring her phone and document my first outing.

Tapas on the Trail

I’m currently losing a virtual hiking challenge to two Adventure Buddies and some teenagers. We signed up on the My Virtual Mission app to walk The Camino de Santiago Virtual Challenge which is 480 mile pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Composteia. (We get medals mailed to us when we finish.)Both Adventure Buddies teach Spanish so this pilgrimage is a part of their curriculum. While my buddies are well on their way to virtually running with the bulls in Pamplona, I’m virtually dead on the side of the road somewhere in the Pyrenes. After looking at the street view of my location on the map, I asked them how many pilgrims get hit by cars every year. The narrow roadside did not inspire walking confidence.

To boost our mileage and earn those metro park passport stamps, one Adventure Buddy and I hit a local park for a few miles. It’s much more satisfying to encounter things in real life and to pee outside than it is to do it virtually.

Adventure Buddy is winning on mileage and also won the day because she pulled out a tapas platter (We are heading into Spain after all.) at the end of our hike, and a miniature bottles of wine. That’s the way to end a hike.

Let’s Talk Turkey

“What did you do this weekend?”

“Oh, my friend and I toyed with the fragile emotions of a wild turkey. You?”

Adventure Buddy and I tried a new park this weekend. It basically does a 2 mile loop over meadow lands and a ridge. We were on the wooded ridge when Adventure Buddy gasped, “TURKEYS!”

I was in mid rant about something, so I thought it was someone yelling. That’s how loud it was. We stood and waited. He called again, and again. Tromping through what was probably poison ivy, we went over a little mound and spotted him in the trees just below us.

He was standing on a log, all alone; we assumed he was looking for love. So, of course, we catfished him.

From previous adventures, Adventure Buddy has a turkey call app. She found some hen clucks and sent him a few, “Hey sexy boyfriend” calls.

You can hear her giggling in the background.

He was very responsive and started to walk a little closer while puffing up a bit.

We did not get a full display until she played what we think is a fighting purr. We left this poor turkey not knowing if someone was going to fuck him or fight him. Sorry, Tom.

We could still hear him calling as we made it down the ridge.

Turkey hunters, please don’t yell at me if we got the calls and the body language wrong. I don’t hunt and really only eat these guys once a year!

Pandemic naps and turkeys

I took my first nap since all of this bullshit happened! I have tried to nap; but as soon as I lay down, I can’t get my head to shut up. The same thing happens when I go to bed at night so I’ve also been afraid to nap because it might make it even harder to get to sleep.

However today’s combination of a good hike and weird eating schedule had me out cold. I woke up under two cats. That’s a good nap.

Getting out of the house and into the woods definitely helped my state of mind. Of course, everybody seems to have the same idea right now so the metro parks are full. However that didn’t stop the turkey population from getting out and looking for love.

I never noticed before how iridescent their feathers are. These guys are gorgeous from the neck down. That was the question of the day. Why all these elaborate feathers and then a bald head? I understand the bald head with vultures. They’re dipping their heads into carrion all day, but turkeys?

I guess the look works. These two toms were gobbling from across the lake, attracting our attention and that of the hen investigating bird feeder droppings. She didn’t giggle quite as much as I did every time they gobbled.

A Moment in Narnia

Walking in the woods when it’s snowing always makes me think of the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The woods are especially quiet and it brings to mind the initial emergence into Narnia as snow falls onto pines surrounding a very out of place lamppost.

The winter hikes are not always quiet, hundreds of people participate. However on this one, we got moments of magical quiet.

Quiet perfect for getting distracted by shiny decorated bird nests. (Ignoring the fact that the bird is decorating with sucky people’s trash. It ruins the magic.)

“Winter” Hikes

We’re well into the winter hike series. However we still seem to be waiting for winter to make an appearance.

It has rained, moisted, and mudded.

This day there was ice, but only on the plants.

At least this year, I didn’t stress cry after sliding in my car to this hike. We actually got to try the soup: white bean soup topped with onions and cornbread. It was a very Gpa lunch.

If Ralph says, “Earth laughs in flowers.” It must send mixed messages in drizzle and low 40s. I haven’t even worn my hiking snuggie.