Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shooting the Moon

Even if you’re not addicted to the Weather Channel, don’t have the “What’s Up” app on your iPhone, or consult the Old Farmer’s Almanac before you venture out each day, you no doubt heard or saw some news report that last night was to be a big deal—moon wise.
Since I’m guilty of all of the above, I was more than primed for this closest visit from Luna in the past 19 years. And significantly, she’d not be back this way again for another 19 or 20 years. I did the math and figured I best make a date now, while we were both young enough to enjoy the evening.
She did not disappoint.
After consulting maps, Web sites, even my own memory banks, I opted for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park; the former Richfield Coliseum site in particular. Where once stood a massive sports and entertainment complex now resides prime open field habitat with mostly uncluttered views in all directions.
Armed with my arsenal of photo gear, waiting for Luna to arrive, I was entertained by three Short-eared Owls and more American Woodcocks than I could count. Romance was certainly in the air.

Shortly after 8 p.m. Luna arrived, resplendent in red. What an entrance she made on this evening of perigee, living up to the hyperbole that she would appear 16 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than usual. Truth be told, the difference between 221,565 miles and 250,000 miles is tough for me to discern. Plus, I have to admit I was caught in her grip of moon illusion as she climbed over tree tops on the east rim of the Cuyahoga Valley.
As her colors changed from rubber-ball red to cheddar-cheese orange and eventually shine-on silver, I thought about what life must have been for people who once lived their lives by the phases of the moon, not some human-concocted time warp made crazy twice a year with the misnomer “Daylight Savings Time.”
Saved for what, I asked the darkness.
Luna laughed, too. Daylight is daylight, just as moonlight is moonlight. And it’s all sun light and it’s all right, she said.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Look, Up in the Sky!

Saturday was one of those rare, northeast Ohio March days when the typically gray sky takes on a hue of azure, often referred to as cobalt blue by the weather folks (who don’t understand the meaning of redundancy, either), or gorgeous by the rest of us.
I’ve forgotten what the day’s plans were, however, Susan and I dumped that plan, grabbed our binoculars and headed for an open trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Recent flooding has cut off a lot of trails, so we opted for one that is away from the river—Horseshoe Pond—a great spot to see Red-breasted Nuthatches, of which we’ve far too few this winter.
Susan’s feet were barely out of the car when she shouted, “Look!” As a proficient birder and trained husband, I did not ask what or where. I could hardly believe my eyes when a Bald Eagle, which must have been perched in a tree near the parking area, took off, huge, graceful, spectacular.

As recent as 1979 the entire state of Ohio had only four nesting pairs of eagles. Now, that number is closer to 200, usually seen from a distance soaring, sometimes perched in a favorite tree near a nest site.
As we scrambled for our binoculars, cameras and breath, two young women started down the trail. As birders are wont to do, we jumped and yelled and pointed for them to look right over their heads to see the eagle. They looked at us like we were from some alien planet, speaking a language and making gestures of which they had no knowledge.
Oh well. Whatever they were listening to on their iPods must have been, well, interesting is a word that comes to mind.
We did not see the Red-breasted Nuthatches we set out to see, however, when you’re close enough to a Bald Eagle to see its red eye, well, all else pales.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Big Surprise

Downy Woodpecker contemplates a snowy treat

One of the better parts of being retired is listening to traffic reports on snowy mornings, designed for those folks who have to get to work—or else. From the warmth of our living room we turn the pages of the local newspaper and listen to classical music until the inevitable question comes up, usually after the most-gnarly traffic jam, “So, should I make some more coffee?”
Most people outside of northeast Ohio don’t know that “Cuyahoga,” the name of our major river, in Native American speak, really means, “parking lot.”
So you get days, like today, when we haven’t had snow for three or four days and people suspend the rules of sanity, drive like it was August, and generally assume the attitudes of extras from the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Makes for great traffic reports.
Meanwhile, the local bird population (too early for cuckoos) take it all in stride—or flap as it were. Four more inches of the white stuff does not seem to faze them.
I did notice our resident Cooper’s Hawk is wearing his “Ya Gotta B Tough to Live in Cleveland” T-shirt this morning.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Expect the Unexpected

Cedar Waxwing

The admonition, “expect the unexpected,” works well whether you’re fishing, fighting a war or birding. It even provides a fairly good guideline for blind dates.
Birders seem to take it as a matter of course that when you set out to see one thing, you're often rewarded with something else, maybe something you don’t expect. Unless, and it’s a big unless, you’re carrying a camera. Then, there’s a strange, inverse, unwritten, little-understood rule that applies: The bigger the camera you’re carrying, the less likely you are to see whatever it is you set out to see. Something like that.
So it was this afternoon when I set out, loaded with camera gear, to get some pix of newly arrived Red-winged Blackbirds. I really enjoy these noisey little guys, sharp black suits with red and yellow epaulets, constantly advertising for a mate, defending the nest territory against any and every thing. It’s strange how, in the fall, you never see these birds depart. One day they’re out there in the wetlands squawking up a storm, the next they’re gone.

Eastern Bluebird

Similarly, in the spring, one day it’s quiet along your usual walk, the next there’s a racket that can only mean one thing, the boys are back in town—and welcome back fellers, there’s a lot of quiet space out here that needs to be filled.
Saturday there was not a Red-winged Blackbird to be seen, Sunday they were all over the place and I did not have a camera. I planned to get some pix on Monday, but then the sky opened and the Cuyahoga River jumped its banks by a whopping 22.7 feet, second highest flood stage since someone started keeping records.
So today was the day, bright, sunny, crisp, some high cirrus clouds, light winds. A day filled with promise. As I started down the bike/hike trail near my house I realized something was missing. Not a blackbird to be heard. I thought I detected one calling way off. A half mile into my walk and still not a peep, or aarrraaakkkkk, as it were. Things were not going according to my plan.
A mile into the walk I was having serious second and third thoughts about getting those blackbird pictures. I heard some rustling and high-pitched squabbling in the bushes behind me. I turned to see what all the chatter was and faced an estimated 50 Cedar Waxwings, eye level, paying no attention me.
Five minutes later a took my first breath. Whew! What a rush. Then Eastern Bluebirds got off the bird bus and flew into the bushes now vacated by the waxwings. There were not as many bluebirds, however, a little bit of that azure color goes a long way in the drab days of early March.
I turned at my 1.5 mile spot and headed for home, thoroughly satisfied, even without the Red-winged Blackbird photo I came for. Aarrraaakkkkk, right on cue he arrived. One bird. But one was all I needed.

Red-winged Blackbird