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Ramblings 4/4/09

Spring's here, but as usual I am just getting in gear for (Nordic) skiing. Luckily "corn snow" is fine if you aren't expecting to ski on a cloud, in powder. Chickens (and not a spring one!) like me can relax on the downhills as the snow is slow. The sun is hot, the afternoons long, and if you are wearing your "rock" skis, walking over a few dirt patches is just part of the game. However, swollen streams can stop you in your tracks so it's best to ski some place like the Santanoni Preserve where there are good bridges.

A few winter bird reports: In late February, a friend told me where she had seen snowy owls twice in a week. Just east of Fort Edward you suddenly drive into wide open farmland, reminiscent of the tundra for the northern birds. The ever-present cold wind must feel like home, and the huge cylinders of hay provide great lookouts for diurnal owls to check for rodents. In the late afternoon this year, I found the road and houses she had described, but no owls. I drove a big circle slowly, stopping near open fields where snow banks permitted, but no luck. As I was about to give up, a big, round-headed white bird flew past me in the other direction, golden in the afternoon sun. It was beautiful and memorable, a "lifer" sighting good enough to satisfy me forever. However, I did turn back and watch it for ten minutes sitting on a roof peak as it searched for rodents, turning its head quickly back and forth, and, I swear, all the way around!

I'd seen short-eared owls in that area many years ago, sitting on the hay bales. Their flight is butterfly-like, very light and erratic, and I got to see a half dozen of them take off at once. At that time I had been disturbed by the fact that their winter hunting grounds were being eaten up by houses and roads.

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