Sunday, April 29, 2012

A lovely place to get lost

Ever since I can remember, I have needed to sneak away and have time to myself. I was going to say to have time to think, but really, it is time to unthink. I can't even really call it time for myself; it's more like time to escape myself. Somehow when I am immersed in nature, my mind is buzzing and alive, yet crystalline and still. It is the ultimate way to be alone but not lonely: there are the rocks and tree roots, the branches creaking in the wind, a flock of White-throated Sparrows hopping through the undergrowth, a Tufted Titmouse who alights on a branch and fixes you with an inquisitive look.

Tufted Titmouse,  Pond View Preserve, Easton
I felt the call this afternoon, and I needed to go somewhere gentle, somewhere soul soothing. I remembered a map that I had printed of a place that sounded like something out of a fairy tale, with trails that lace around a chain of ponds -- Boulder Island Pond, Deer Trace Pond, Cattail Pond, Sunken Pool, Shadow Pond, Heron Pond, Fawn Pond -- until you reach Moss Hollow. The names evoked such beautiful scenes that reading the map was almost as good as reading a story. And it really was beautiful when I got there.

I took the map but soon got lost. I can get lost driving to do the grocery shopping, so that's nothing new. But this time, I think some part of me took over and got me lost on purpose. When I started out, I was ticking off the ponds -- I saw the boulder, I imagined the deer drinking at the water's edge, watched the cattails waving in the wind. And then without realizing, I had put the map in my pocket and was following the calls of birds instead. I was wending and weaving through corridors of trees, circling my way around ponds glittering in the sunlight. Time became irrelevant.

It was a revelation to discover that this place I had never thought to go birding in before -- Pond View Preserve, in Easton -- is a wonderland of birds. A Merlin shot overhead at an awe-inspiring speed, like a stealth bomber. Two Red-shouldered Hawks wheeled up high, screaming. Barn Swallows swooped above the treetops, chittering away. The warblers were back: Palm Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Yellow-rumps. There was the occasional flash of a Goldfinch. American Crows were lurking. A gang of Red-bellied Woodpeckers had colonized the whole place. There were flocks of Chipping Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows. The Robins were laughing; and the Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches were calling. A flash of a bright scarlet male Northern Cardinal flying across my path was followed by the muted tones of a female. There was the grumpy gee-gee sound of the Ruby-crowed Kinglet. And finally, my last bird before I managed to unlose myself and find the parking lot, the bird that made me smile the most: my first Catbird of the season, giving its gravelly mewing call from a tangled thicket. Welcome back, friend!

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pond View Preserve
The buds of Spring, Pond View Preserve
Day-moon over Pond View Preserve

Pond View Preserve is part of the 127.8-acre Paine Open Space, and you can get to it from Maple Street, Easton. If you can't make it there for a visit, reading the map and drifting away to Moss Hollow in your mind is pretty good for the soul, too.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dark dreams of birds in the half-light

I haven't been out with my binoculars very much lately, so the birds are coming to me in my dreams.They are trying to bring me a message, if only I could understand their language. My mind and my emotions have had an upheaval of late, and the way ahead seems murky. I could do with their guidance.  Last night, I was walking in the gloaming, the world around me only dimly visible. Two slender white birds with glossy black legs flew into a tree. Snowy Egrets, I said to the man walking beside me. No, they're Night-herons, he replied. I could still see them, incandescent white in the darkness, yet as soon as he doubted, I began to question what I was seeing. Their whiteness no longer looked so white, their forms became less distinguishable. We walked on, and in the twisted branches above me, suddenly a bird would appear -- but each time, when I looked closer, I would realize it was only the craggy bark playing tricks with my eyes in the half-light. An owl, that branch looks just like an owl, I said -- no, wait, a hawk. A Red-tailed Hawk, the man said, and at that, the bark became flesh and feather. And then the bird grew larger, its feathers darker. It began to call, but in a way no Red-tail has ever called before -- a loud, insistent alarm, a scream that seemed to carry with it all the angers of hell.

Red-tailed Hawk (Reports of Explorations and Surveys of the U. S. Pacific railroad, Volume X, 1859. Public domain.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How to make Osprey-themed party decorations with your cat

Next Saturday is the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point's fundraising party to welcome back the Osprey who have returned this spring, as they have for many years, to nest at the marsh. The webcam shows they laid their second egg this week.

So I'm making tissue-paper pom-poms for the party. I am not crafty. I can knit a scarf, in a pretty remedial fashion, and that's all. But there is nothing that can't be learned on YouTube from actual crafty people. I went on there and learned how to make big tissue-paper pom-poms, and I'm planning on doing them in a chocolate-and-white theme to match the color of the Osprey. I settled down to the job this afternoon with Mink, my Burmese cat. I suggest that everyone who is thinking of making Osprey-themed party decorations do so with their cat. It doesn't have to be a Burmese cat, but it helps.

Step 1. Make sure your cat is lying in the sun, because why will she interfere with you when she could just lie in the sun?
Step 2. Lay out 10 sheets of tissue paper.
Step 3. Get the cat off the stack of tissue paper. Have fun with that.
Step 4. Make 1-inch concertina-style folds in the paper.
Your cat will be utterly uninterested in this, as it is the boring "work" part of the task.
Step 5. Tie florist wire around the middle of the concertinaed tissue paper.
Step 6. Be sure to get the florist wire away from the cat before she tries to eat it. A trip to Party City for chocolate-brown cocktail napkins on a Sunday morning is quite fun. A trip to that emergency vet clinic in New Haven where no matter what has happened to your pet, the bill always seems to be around $1800 is not.
Step 7. Cut the ends of the paper in whatever shape you like. I went for a sharp point so that the end result is a bit like a chrysanthemum. This will be too, too tedious for the cat, as what trouble can she get into with a few scraps of tissue paper? Pfft.
Spiky end that I cut into my pom pom.
Step 8. Very carefully tease apart each layer of tissue paper. Tissue paper rips, people. I speak from hard-won
personal experience.
Your cat will really, really want to help with this bit.
Step 9. Sit back and admire the results of your labor. Have a cup of tea, or some kibble.
Connecticut folks, tickets are still available for the Return of the Osprey party, on Saturday, April 21 at 5:30 p.m. Just call Louise Crocco at 203-878-7440 or email her at Not only will there be feasting and the drinking of fine wines, and the holding of silent auctions, there will Osprey-themed pom poms. I may even have gone on YouTube by then to work out a fancy way to fold napkins!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A dream of goldfinches

American Goldfinch, author unknown 1904
(Wikimedia Commons)
Some days the beauty of the natural world comes on almost like an ache. It is there right in front of me, but too intense, too big to put into words, to capture in a photograph or even to comprehend. The spring weather carries with it the energy of winter still. The air is crisp and cold like a crunchy apple. I want to grab hold of it, freeze the atmosphere like this forever. The branches are bare except for a few buds; the harbor's water glows in the early-morning light. A Red-bellied Woodpecker trills. Titmice call, but I can't see them popping around way up high. Goldfinches whiz and zing and whir. It triggers a memory that tries to run away from me, but I catch it and hold its tail for just a second before it slips from my grasp: a dream I had last night, a dream of goldfinches. There were thousands of them, brilliant yellow and black, flying through a forest. There was someone else in the dream, someone I was talking to about these birds, but I can't remember now. All that remains is the image of the birds flying fast, urgently, silently, between the trunks of great tall trees.