Sitting on Go
March 4, 1996
When I was a twelve year old beginning birder, I found late February and early March the worst time of year. All winter I had studied bird books, learning about bird habits and memorizing their characteristics for identification. I had started a year list with the few winter birds I found in our neighborhood. Bird feeders were not yet in vogue so that list only included species like house sparrow, crow, chickadee, downy and hairy woodpecker. It did include, as I recall, one less common species: pine siskin. There had been an incursion that winter.
I could not wait for the migration to commence so that I could add to my list. I had a goal of reaching a hundred species for the year and I was a bundle of nerves in anticipation. I wandered the fields and wooded areas behind my home and trekked to nearby parks. Not a single new bird. It wasnšt until weeks later that robins and song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds and grackles arrived and a snipe who-who-whoed over our neighborhood.
Last week my thoughts returned to those frantic days as I walked the trails of Golden Hills State Park east of Olcott on Lake Ontario. Except for the sound of the wind the woods and fields were silent. Only a few crows and gulls flew overhead. It was a bright sunny day, a perfect morning for a walk, but I felt unusually isolated.
Now, however, that didnšt bother me. There was much to be seen. Succession is occuring on this recently farmed land. Most stages are apparent: overgrown fields, brush lots, groups of young trees fighting for dominance, but few fully mature trees. Along the trail park employees have placed signs to describe these ecological stages. I found these posters informative and well prepared. I learned from one, for example, that foresters call early succession woodlots pole stands.
With few birds and animals to observe, I could turn my attention to other things. I tested the brown flowerheads of Queen Annešs lace to see if all the seeds were gone. Only a few remained. The rest were off seeking soil for germination. On a goldenrod stem were two of those spherical tumors that are the plantšs response to the larva of goldenrod gall flies. One had a hole in its side where a bird, most likely a chickadee, had drilled through to feed on the insect. The other was undisturbed. I opened it with my penknife and there was the little black insect. Why didnšt the chickadee drill out that one too?
Now after a few warm days most of the snow was gone. The trail passed without warning from frozen dirt to squishy muck and the standing water was covered with only a thin slick of ice. From a few yards down the trail it looked black, but as I approached it seemed to disappear and I could see the grass and mud underwater. Only where trapped air made amoeba-like white areas was the surface evident. When I stepped on it, however, the ice announced itself. Crackling sounds raced off across the surface like streaks of heat lightening.
I pushed my way off the trail into a pine grove to look for saw-whet owls. No luck, but I did find on a leafless tamarack a thick growth of twigs called a witchšs broom. It is the treešs reaction to some kind of viral, fungus or mite infection.
Just as in those days of my youth I didnšt add to my year list of bird species but now, more relaxed, I found much else on which to focus my thoughts.