Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring surprises

Two weeks or so ago, back when it felt like spring and I was inspired by the sunshine and its gentle warmth, I spent a Saturday afternoon wandering down some of the back roads that surround one of my favorite parks. There's a few scenic farms and some great trees that I like to keep track of. There are also some beautiful horse farms and ridiculously large estate homes, but these are tucked away at the end of wooded roads that are marked *Dead End* even though they may go on for miles. Clearly, they don't want visitors. I sort of appreciate that those folks aren't flaunting their wealth the way some do.

I ended up back at the park with the idea that I might find a few phoebes or some bluebirds and I was hoping for my first mourning cloak butterfly of the season. I visit this park pretty often, so know what to expect there, but it’s large and there are many trails and different habitats. Usually a surprise or two somewhere if I walk far enough. I walked through the wet bottomlands near the lake, drawn by the screaming of the peepers and flushed a few woodcock along the way. Not so much a surprise because I go there to see their courtship displays, but I was surprised with how easily they flushed! Each few steps flushed a new bird, who would fly just a bit further ahead, only to be flushed again as I walked along the wet trail. Woodcock are very colorful birds when you see them in the light of day. I also managed to flush a deer without realizing it until I saw it bounding across the cornfield uphill and towards the road.

The peepers that I went looking for went silent with my approach.

I visited a favorite tree and walked along the grass pathways that surround the farm fields here. There were no bluebirds, but I did hear a familiar song that I couldn’t put a name to right away. The song seemed to be drifting from every direction, but I wasn’t able to spot the birds singing. I’ve become very lazy lately and head out with just my camera and without binoculars. My ears are much better than my eyes, anyway. After listening for a while the words to the song I was hearing finally popped into my head, “spring of the year” and I realized there were meadowlarks in the fields surrounding me. I couldn’t see them, of course, but I knew they were out there because I recognized their song.

A hawk caught my eye drifting low and lazy over the fields and the meadowlarks flushed ahead of it. If I’d had my binoculars I might have been able to appreciate their lemon yellow and black markings as they finally made themselves visible above the stubble. Instead I watched the harrier as it flew gracefully over the field, pausing briefly and hovering for a longer look here and there, or whirling on a dipped wing to backtrack. I didn’t see it land, so guess it didn’t catch anything and finally it roamed out of my view. Before very long the meadowlarks were singing again and I went on to look for other surprises.

I think there’s a lot to be learned from visiting a place repeatedly and at different times of year. We might think we’ve seen all a place has to offer, but really, one or two visits give just a snapshot of what may be. The same can be said for our own backyards, because only by knowing what’s usual and normal can we get a sense for how special the unexpected is. Of course, the usual may be special too, but it’s nice to be surprised once in a while.

16 comments:

burning silo said...

You've taken us along on a wonderful walk. The photos are lovely, especially the top one. We're hearing the woodcock here, peenting back in the fields behind the barn and making their winnowing sound as they fly circuits over the fields after dark. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have some snow over the weekend. Hopefully we'll be back into springtime weather soon.

Mary said...

And this time of year is full of surprises, with the weather hanging between winter and spring. I hung on every word of your post, Laura. I'm not sure if I have ever heard a meadowlark but I welcome it. Nice post and I felt as if I was beside you.

Susan Gets Native said...

I got some surprises today, too. Nature keeps you on your toes.
Meadowlarks...that would be a new one for me.

LauraHinNJ said...

Bev: It's been cold here all week too. Disappointing after a taste of spring.

That tree is a favorite: don't know what it is because I haven't seen it with any leaves yet, hopefully then I'll know.

Mary: As a beginner, I think there's a lot of surprises out there for you!

Susan: No meadowlarks? Isn't Ohio just full of farm fields?

Body Soul Spirit said...

I love your pictures today, Laura. What a nice journey you describe for your readers!
Ruth

Liza Lee Miller said...

Fantastic. And, your pictures are like poetry. Wow!

Larry said...

-I agree with your statement about repeat visits to the same location throughout the year.-I have several areas that I like to monitor on a regular basis.

burning silo said...

When commenting last night, I meant to mention the importance of getting to know a place, for just the reasons you've stated. We walk the trails here at our own farm and at several places where we hike through all four seasons and it is amazing what one can see almost every time out. Also, one notices anything anything amiss - trails torn up by ATVs, invasive plant species, insect devastation, dumping of trash, changes in water levels in streams and rivers, etc.. Whenever we see something problematic, we take photos and email them to the conservation management people for each location. The material can then be used to work out solutions -- ATV barriers, removal of invasive plants, trash clean-ups, and so on.

Jayne said...

Yes, it is nice every now and again to be able to see the same place with hightened eyes and ears. Lovely description of your day.

Dr. Know said...

That sounds like a beautiful place, and a lovely walk. Not meaning to put a damper on your story, but it used to be like that here - before the carpetbagger developers took over. Now there is nothing but McMansions, strip malls and cloudy air as far as the eye can see (or the car can drive). In 2000, I lived in Mullica Hill, NJ over the summer - while it still had peach farms and woods and wildlife. I wonder what it looks like now...?

dguzman said...

I love visiting places over and over again: the joy of seeing new things and the comfort of seeing old things, all in one place. Even when I don't get to go on long walks, I walk the fenceline of my yard, looking at the plants that cling to the fence or the posts, and I look at each post for new holes, old knots, and whatever else is there. It's like reading a favorite book over and over; it's always a treat.

Carolyn H said...

Laura,

I'm much rather spend multiple days at the same interesting place than visit a new place just once. To me, the only way to get to know a place is to see it in all its seasons and lighting. How can you know how special something really is until you know what "normal" is? I just love finding new things about familiar places.

Carolyn H.
www.roundtoprumings.blogspot.com

Sandy said...

Laura, first, this is a lovely post. It makes me want to be there, as you walk. I agree with you, about visiting the same place over again. And, I like to visit at different times of the day, to see a whole new set of animals or insects. I found, last summer, that if I went out in the hot afternoon, I could always see many dragonflies in the field. Again, this is a great post!!

Cathy said...

Meadowlarks? Flushed Woodcock? Peepers? You've found a little piece of heaven and shared it with us. The pictures are lovely and remind me of Wyeth's paintings.

Kelly said...

I LOVE the composition you achieved in the top photo. Gorgeous.

Dave said...

We have the following quote by nature writer Richard Nelson, from The Island Within, on the cover of a walking tour pamphlet for Plummer's Hollow:
There is more to be learned from climbing the same mountain a hundred times than from climbing a hundred different mountains.