Rick Marsi Diary

Following are a collection of sightings and thoughts.

Sightings for December

December Sightings

Dec. 1. Warm. Fog in valley. Ravens croak. Fly over. Blue sky. Flat tails. Strong, steady wingbeats. WB Nuthatch chatter. Female on suet. Two males above. Female feezes on suet. Males ank at each other non-stop for 15 minutes. She’s on suet. He has black  nape.

Sky at sunset. Pinks, blues. Sreaks of purple. But subtler. Like Russian paintings. Pale blue sky. Pale pink on clouds.

I am walking quietly through a hemlock woods when I startle a hairy woodpecker female and it startles me. It is working dead stumps close to the ground. When it discovers me at close range, it squeaks loudly, flies stiffly to a nearby trunk, waits a moment, then resumes its business. For the next 30 minutes I keep bumping into this bird, as it methodically investigates veery possible food source in the forest around us. At one point I watch it fly across an opening in the woods created by a wet slough in which trees haven’t grown. Even in the short space of 50 feet or so, the bird shows its tell-tale dipping flight, in which it beats, then soars, losing altitude, dipping gracefully, before beating again to swing upward.

Dec. 2. Sunny and warm. Pileated woodpecker in tall maples below mother’s house. When these birds make a move – even a small one, to hitch farther up a tree or drop in flight from one trunk to another – they catch your eye. On this bird I can easily see the bright red topknot at 40 yards. They have been working dead aspen trunks – only 5 inches in diameter, tearing their soft wood to shreds. Many aspens have been dying here, their time done, the time of long-lived hardwoods overtaking them. Now the pileated is coming more often. When this bird leaves the maple in which it has been working, it drops like a stone for at least ten feet, then – without flapping – levels off and shoots deep into a wooded ravine.

Dec. 2, 15 - Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Seneca Falls, NY. On the main marsh adjacent to wildlife drive: 1000+ Redheads, 1,000+ Ring-necked Ducks, 500 Lesser Scaup, 50 Canvasbacks, 50 Mallards, 50 Shovelers, 25 Coot, 20 Green-winged Teal, 15 Gadwall, 2 Black Ducks, 1 Bufflehead. Also 2 juvenile Bald Eagles and 1 juvenile  Harrier.

For one five-minute period, a swarm of new arrivals appeared from the north, crossed over the NY Thruway, swirled around the marsh like a million flies and finally landed.

At Knox-Marcellus Wetland one mile north of main marsh: 500+ Tundra Swans, 1,000+ Mallards, 25 Canada Geese.

Dec. 2, 16 - It appears we have attracted a flock of 15 or so Wild Turkeys as regular visitors to the feeder. They were here today, scratching around. Low sunlight highlighted their iridescent pinks and coppers.

Dec. 3 - 32 degrees at dawn. Frost. Pale blue sky. No clouds all day. Strong south wind. 50 degrees at 3 p.m. Brilliant and blinding sun – so low in the southern sky. I walk in a hemlock grove – shady moist and cool at ground level. 50 feet above the tops of the hemlocks – the only place where needles survive – blow in the wind. The sun illuminates their yellow green leaves. Wetland grasses – already bleached by the season – seem even more bleached by the bright, low sunlight.

Dec. 3 - Honking overhead as dusk approaches. The wind calms, allowing the honks of the geese to echo off hillsides. 25 Canada geese, in two separate vs about 25 yards apart, drop toward Stanley Lake. They come over me almost at the top of the hemlocks, wings cupped, necks extended. They drop onto the lake, about .25 mile south. They honk for another minute or so, then settle down for the night.

Dec. 3 - We sit out on the porch and watch the blue fade toward black. No glorious sunset, just a glow of pink on the southern horizon that slowly fades. We listen for the peepers of December but don’t hear them.

Dec. 3, 07 – Snowy and blustery day. I am clearing snow at 8:30 a.m. when I hear a croaking sound over woods to the north f the house. I look up and a raven flies over the yard, very low, being blown about and showing its wedge-shaped tail.

Dec. 3, 12 - First day of birding in Northern California, based in Santa Rosa, 60 miles north of SFO. Sunny and 60 degrees. We bird Bodega Bay, Bodega Head and coastal locations nearby. At Bodega head, crashing surf from huge rolling swells collides with cliffs and isolated boulders near shore. Flock of 15 Surfbirds appears, flying low through a canyon between two surf-pounded outcrops. The birds land on one and comb its black and roughened surface. Several bathe in a small pool on top of the rock. Brown Pelicans and Pelagic Cormorants roost of Bodega Head. Just offshore, we spot 10 or so Ancient Murrelets. Also, a number of Surf Scoters and Red-throated Loons. At Bodega Bay, I photograph hundreds of Marbled Godwits, huddled together, sleeping. A few Willets stand among them. Also along the shore, we encounter a Red-necked Phalarope foraging in shallow water. At the mouth of the Russia River, we watch hundreds of gulls floating downstream, a few hundred yards from the river's mouth, where it meets the Pacific. The water churns brown from heavy rains. When the birds approach the river mouth, they take wing, fly back upriver several hundred yards, land on the water and float back down again. Many Yellow-rumped Warblers in myrtle bushes surrounding Bodega Bay. River Otter and Gray Seal surfacing and diving in bay.

 Dec. 4, 07 – Today and yesterday, during very cold, windy and snowy weather, many flocks of geese have been flying south – some at treetop levels and others very high. I also have seen migrating raptors – three swirling around at the edge of a passing flock of geese; another swooping low over Harriet’s house. That one looked like a harrier, with very long tail and long, narrow, bent wings.      

Dec. 4, 12 - Male Barrow's Goldeneye swimming and diving with 50 Common Goldeneye on Petaluma River. We also pick out a female Barrow's by her bright orange bill. We watch dozens of dowitchers, Dunlins and Black-necked Stilts foraging in salt marsh by Moose Boats factory. Many times a swarm of birds picks up and flashes across the marsh, only to turn around and land where they began their flight. On a road adjoining a nearby freshwater marsh, we watch dozens of feeding Avocets. From an elevated bridge on that road, we observe several Red-tailed Hawks,  a Kestrel, a Loggerhead Shrike, a Golden Eagle and 29 White-winged Kites. Almost all these are perched in low shrubs. Final stop is a wastewater impoundment where we find one male and two female Redheads - rare here in winter. I also have very good looks at Water Pipits and Savannah Sparrows. The sparrows show bright yellow on the face.

 Dec. 5 – 64 degrees in the afternoon. Gorgeous sunset, with deep pink staining clouds not only on the horizon, but throughout the sky. Sun setting very far to the south now. Orange glow tells us where. 

Dec. 5, 12 - We bird salt marsh and freshwater wetlands near Point Ryes Bird Observatory headquarters. Many ducks and shorebirds but no Pacific  Golden Plovers, our quarry. I photograph Black-necked Stilts, Cinnamon Teal and Saye's Phoebe. In the afternoon, we walk two miles around lake in Santa Rosa park. We get a life bird: Red-naped Sapsucker, which shouldn't be here but is.

 Dec. 6 – 6 bearded gobblers arrive together, accompanied by two other large, beardless turkeys. They join about 20 hens feeding. Immediate strutting and fanning. The hens depart and the gobblers follow.

Dec. 6, 06 – Two tree sparrows appear in yard, on the grass.

Dec. 6, 07 – Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge... With Gary Hall. Windy and chilly – around 40 degrees. Wetland half frozen. Hundreds and hundreds of Canada geese. One huge flock of snow geese flew over but didn’t land. Two tight flocks of ruddy ducks sleeping. One had 30 birds and the other well over 100. More than 100 mallards crowded onto a finger of open water close to tour route road. One male ring-necked duck. A dozen or more common mergansers. Two female shovelers. Ten bald eagles in two groups on the ice – feeding on carrion. Several dozen black ducks along the northern shore of Cayuga Lake.

Dec. 6, 12 - We bird Point Reyes wetland in morning. No Golden Plovers. Highlights there include several flocks of Shovelers passing just overhead, as well as a flock of 8 Long-billed Curlews. At a park in Santa Rosa, I collect a cone from Gray Pine. In late morning we drive to Bodega Bay in hopes of seeing Red Phalaropes, which have been reported there. We immediately find them, feeding on-shore at the edge of the bay.

Dec. 6, 13 - Took a drive on roads north of Whitney Point. Located a flock of 30+ Cedar Waxwings, a small flock of 6-8 robins, plus a Northern Shrike. Shrike was perched 15 feet high in a tree at the edge of a pasture.

Dec. 6, 17 - Brown Creeper appears at suet feeder attached to ash tree by driveway. First sighting there in 10 days.  

 Dec. 7 – Sitting in a white pine, quiet. Suddenly a whiring right next to my ear. I bolt and flinch. A brown creeper flies from behind my ear to the white pine trunk four feet in front of me. I see its thin brown bill, admire the mottled brown and buff plumage of its back. It continues hitching its way up the tree. I look at the broken stub in front of me and remember the golden-crowned kinglet perching on it. Many times chickadees have come very close to me also, while sitting here.                           Two jake turkeys (young males) fight in the yard. They grab each other by the face and try pushing each other around – the opposite of a tug-of-war but the same idea. A third jake follows them, its beak practically touching their locked beaks. Periodically he jumps and flaps in their faces, trying to break them up, but they persist. This last 5-10 minutes. When they break apart they show no injury and resume walking about and feeding as if nothing had happened.

Dec. 7, 12 - We bird pastures and cropland in Central Valley on our way to Yuba City. Numerous red-tails, Kestrels, Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows and Brewer's Blackbirds. One Ferruginous Hawk. In p.m. we bird from platform at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. Dozens of Pintails pose in late afternoon sun. Also, many Shovelers, Gadwalls and a few Wigeon. Many Ross's, Snow and White-fronted Geese. A lone Cackling Goose. A Prairie  Falcon lands on a distant transmission line tower for five minutes. Through our spotting scope, it looks beautiful in late light again.

Dec. 8 – I watch deer on high alert. They move quietly, hardly disturbing a leaf. They can be on top of you before you hear them. They are constantly stopping, heads up, eyes bright, ears perked, alert for any sign of danger. They browse but not for long periods. They constantly are looking, listening. Sometimes they stand motionless for long minutes at a time. No wonder you can’t walk up on them. There seems to be a leader who decides when to move, where to go, how fast to depart. They also disappear when they stop moving. They blend into the bare woods perfectly. If you see one, look away and then look back, you will have a hard time finding it again, even though it hasn’t left that spot.

Dec. 8, 07 – Two tree sparrows under the feeder. Seven redpolls at feeder down the road. High flock of migrating Canadas just at dusk.

Dec. 8, 12 - Crisp and clear. High 60. 41 at first light. We walk two miles at Gray Lodge Wildlife Management Area. Thousands of geese rising in clouds over vast marshlands. We encounter Barn and Great Horned Owls on the trail. An American Bittern emerges from cattails and gives us a good look. In the afternoon, we drive auto route at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Again, countless thousands of ducks and geese. Toward sunset, thousands of Pintails rise as one and fly away against pinkening skies. I get good photos of White-tailed Kite and  Red-tailed Hawk perched in trees along auto route. Also photograph 5 White Pelicans, sleeping on a berm by water's edge.

Dec. 8, 15 - A wonderful interlude with an adult Cooper's Hawk today. Driving in the driveway, I noted a female Cardinal on the hopper feeder. Cardinals have been very scarce at the feeder so far this season, so I decided to stop the car, turn it off and watch to see if a male might be nearby. The female simply perched on the edge of the feeder while I watched for several minutes. Suddenly, she flew directly into the woods and a Bluejay began screaming. Immediately after that, the Cooper's hawk swept into view, flying low across the front yard and landing in an ash tree directly above the feeder. There it perched, shifting positions several times, looking down at the feeder, for 3 or 4 minutes. No birds around! The spell was broken when a Bluejay, hidden in dense shrubs about 25 yards away, scolded again. With that, the hawk, swooped off the feeder, flew low up through the back yard, took a hard right and zoomed into the woods. I watched it fly across those woods for 30 yards or so before disappearing. Its speed was at least 30 mph as it effortlessly flew between trunks and branches.

Dec. 8, 17 - On the Otselic River, just above bridge, I observed two adult female Surf Scoters. The birds moved gradually downstream with the current, diving frequently.

 Dec. 9, 07 – Pileated calling above the house as I walk up road toward it. Suddenly, a second pileated flies from lower woods across road in front of me, silently heading in direction of calling bird.

Dec. 9, 12 - Sunny, breezy, high of 70. We drive from Yuba City to Colusa NWR to see rare Falcated Duck from Eurasia. Bird sleeps on strip of land jutting into main pool, 50 yards from viewing platform. Finely speckled breast, green face and ruddy stripe covering crown and nape are clearly visible in bright sunshine. We then drive to Solano County park, where we get good looks at a Red-breasted Sapsucker. On the river there, we look down at 6 Common Goldeneye swimming with a male Barrow's Goldeneye. White barring on the male's wings is clearly visible, as well as comma-shaped marking on face. At Berryessa Dam, we watch a Peregrine Falcon dive-bomb a juvenile Bald Eagle. Final birds of the trip are Clark's and Western Grebes  at Lake Hennesey.

Dec. 9, 15 - Very warm weather continues. I have received several e-mails from people disappointed that birds aren't at their feeders as a result. I did hear Goldfinches overhead this morning, and a Junco appeared on the ground under our feeders yesterday. These are the two species I fight to keep at the feeder all winter.

Dec. 9, 17 - Observe a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hitching up ash tree where suet feeder is located. Never have seen this bird here in December. 

 Dec. 10, 06 - Very warm – 40. Eight big gobblers appear in the yard just before sunset.

Dec. 10, 07 – Linda reports 80 redpolls at her feeder – Monkey Run Rd.

Dec. 10, 08 – Four gobblers cross the road just below house.

Dec. 10, 15 - Seven Juncos appear on ground below our feeders. I've sprinkled seed there. Haven't see a single junco for days. Very warm weather allows them to feed on weed seeds in the wild at their leisure.

Dec. 11, 08 – Prior to sleet and snow event, 25 juncos and 25 doves at feeder.

Dec. 11, 13 - High of 24. Searched for Red-throated Loon on the river but with no luck. Observed 15 Common Mergansers, 35 Mallards and a Bald Eagle.

Dec. 11, 15 - First sighting this season of Brown Creeper at suet feeder. We have noted in past seasons that the creeper will only come to suet that is affixed to a tree trunk - not to a hanging basket or a basket attached to our hopper feeder.

Dec. 11, 17 - A record 18 Mourning Doves at the feeder this morning. Also, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker I saw here two days ago has returned, feeding several times at suet feed on ash tree. Also, a juvenile Cooper's Hawk perched on tree at edge of 
driveway.

Dec. 12, 08 – After sleet and snow overnight, NINE deer in yard – certainly a high for this year.

Dec. 12, 12 - Encountered a pair of soaring Red-tailed Hawks swirling above a vast corn field on a hilltop country road.

Dec. 12, 13 - Observed two light phase Rough-legged Hawks over high country pastureland in southern Cortland County. Also, found a Northern Shrike there. The shrike was perched in low trees surrounded by scrub. At one point, it flew into a field of cut corn and perched on top of a 12-inch stalk.

Dec. 12, 17 - Sapsucker still here, on hanging suet feeder. Brown Creeper appears on ash tree below suet, gleaning fallen pieces. 

 Dec. 13. Mist, rain, low ceiling all day. I walk at Briar Hill toward dusk. Come upon a huge spray of wood chips below a dead aspen tree. Chips are light-colored in contrast to brown soggy leaves. Pileated has been working. Large bird of prey flies away, across hemlock ravine. Not an owl; head not blocky enough. Not an accipiter – too chunky. It’s the red-tail I’ve seen the past several days – soaring low overhead as I look out my office window. I’ve disturbed this bird from its roost. It flies away, not happy, in the rain and mist, clears the trees, glides toward the same ravine a bit downstream, Where it will find another white pine in which to take shelter. White deer flags flash against the dreary brown background. Several stand and watch me, incredulous someone is walking in this nasty weather.

Dec. 13, 12 - A nice walk, on a lovely 40-degree and sunny day, by the Chenango River. Eight Common Mergansers on the water. An eagle soaring overhead. Ten mallards floating down a  side channel, letting the current drift them away from us at a leisurely pace. 

Dec. 13, 15 - Record-breaking 64 degrees. I kayaked my local river. Encountered two minks, each one slithering about among the roots of riverside trees. Each one hid, then popped out again to check me out. The best looks I have ever had. Also watched two large flocks of Snow Geese migrate overhead, plus 5-6 flocks of Canadas. Found two Tree Sparrows in a weedy section along the bank. Heard Kingfisher and Raven. Saw three Hooded Mergansers in river channel. Also saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker fly from one side of the river to the other. When it landed, it called.

Dec. 13, 17 - Bitter cold morning. Fifteen degrees with a 20 mph NW wind. Sapsucker appears on the suet. Drove to Whitney Point. Lake more than half frozen. 200+ Canada Geese, 200+ Common Mergansers and 15 Mallards on what open water remains. Watched an adult, and then a juvenile, Bald Eagle fly over the water without incident. Also watched two juveniles cavorting in close circles just over treetop level at the edge of the lake. Two adult Red-tailed Hawks perched in tree three feet apart at top of hill near hops farm. Bright white breasts caught my eye. Flocks of 12 Mourning Doves and Juncos feeding by the roadside.

Dec. 14, 07 - Following 6 inches of snow yesterday, we have 40 turkeys in the yard seeking food. Also five deer, eating chopped pumpkins I placed on the compost heap.

Dec. 14, 12 - Counted waterfowl at Whitney Point Lake. The numbers: Canada Geese - 200+;  Common Mergansers - 60+; Hooded Mergansers - 30; Mallards - 30; Black Ducks - 8; Red-breasted Mergansers - 2; Common Goldeneye - 2. The RB Mergansers and Goldeneyes were each and male and female. The Hooded Mergansers were already courting females, with several males swimming around a female, fanning their crests to the fullest while throwing their heads back.

Also, walked outside  at 2 p.m., looked across the road, and saw a Raven perched near the top of a 40-foot Trembling Aspen - the first time ever I have seen a perched raven near my house. Many times, I've seen the flying over, but never perched. This bird looked huge. It was making a constant gurgling sound in response to the loud caw-like call of another Raven, which was circling over the valley below. After two or three minutes of this, the perched bird took off, dropping down toward the valley on set wings, then shut skyward without a wingbeat, and headed away toward the northwest. The second raven followed. Red-tailed hawk perched in the back woods in late afternoon - a relatively common sight with this bird.

Dec. 15, 09 – At Chenango Valley State Park – flock of goldfinches eating seeds from arbor vitae.

Dec. 15, 12 - Observed 4-5 flocks of migrating geese overhead. One was a flock of Snow Geese; the others Canadas. All were extremely high - specks the naked eye, although their calls were easily discernible. At dusk, a commotion of Wild  Turkey cackling erupted from the lower woods. Sounded like dozens of birds were involved. It went on 5 minutes. Two rival flocks meeting and discussing whose territory was who's.

Dec. 15, 15 - Encountered an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk on a back road in Vestal. The bird was perched low in a roadside tree as I approached, then flew down the road another 50 yards and landed 15 feet high in another roadside tree. Rarely have I seen this hawk so out in the open. Our encounter took place in open surroundings.

Dec. 15, 17 - Six degrees overnight. Sapsucker we've had for a week survived and is at suet. Flock of 10 juncos 
appeared and fed in the yard.

Dec. 16 - Walk at Chris’s – Sunday morning. Bright sun. 35 degrees. Canada Road, I hear a raven. Sounds as if it is perched in the ravine near the mill site. I scan the sky. Nothing flying. Walk 50 more yards. Then the bird calls again, constant squawking. Now I see it, flying out of the ravine, away from me at first, but then circling back and eventually cruising nearly straight overhead. Beautiful look at rounded tail, bent wings, long neck. Back at Chris’s, crows are taking suet from stump where Claire has placed it. Good comparisons available. The raven is close, calling from right around the house. Has it discovered the suet as well?

Dec. 16, 15 - Put up several sprays of juncos that were feeding in roadside ditches. Their numbers seem plentiful now. They obviously prefer wild food to anything they can get at feeders. And this year, with no snow on the ground, that wild food is still available.

Dec. 17 – By mid-day, low ceiling of gray has given way to brightening skies. Temperatures will hit 48 by 4 p.m. I drive to Upper Lisle. I spy a pileated flying over as I drive along the Tioghnioga River. Those irregular wingbeats tip me off it is not a crow. Then I get conformation when I see the white patches of the underwings. The reservoir has been drained. What was previously my lagoon now is a river channel, flowing briskly thanks to an inch or so of rain over the past two days. Three ducks swim covertly in marsh grasses in wetland. Five smaller ducks, flashing white on their breasts, take off from the river. Kingfisher flies over the channel.

From high above it on the edge of a clay bank, I photograph the beautiful ox bow the Otselic River makes. Beyond the river, a huge corn field, brown and harvested cleanly. Sprayed against the blue sky are flecks of white clouds. Warm low sun on the willows at 3:30 p.m. The big ones spread 180 degrees.

All the rivers are flowing today, rejuvenated. They gurgle and funnel their current downstream., always seeking the least arduous path, cutting banks. Loosening soil from around the roots of bankside maples, setting the stage for a blowout, a breakthrough, when – one day a century from now – the oxbow I photographed will no longer carry water, drained dry when the river cuts a new channel.

Dec. 17, 08 – 20 mourning doves at feeder.

Dec. 17, 12 - At Whiney Point Lake... At least 140 Common Mergansers, including one flock of more than 100. Also a few Mallards, two Ruddy Ducks and a female Common Goldeneye. Entering the driveway close to dusk, I stopped to watch 20 Wild Turkeys cross single file across the rose, from upper to lower side.

Dec. 17, 13 - I discover a Carolina Wren trapped inside our screen porch. I haven't seen one here in a year. I opened the door to the outside, and the bird was gone an hour later. No sign of it on the feeder or anywhere else.

Dec. 17, 15 - Male Red-bellied Woodpecker at the suet feeder. He comes every 5-6 days, perhaps more when we get some cold weather.

Dec. 18, 07 - Several large flocks of swirling starlings still in evidence around the city.

Dec. 18, 12 - Twenty turkeys appeared in the side woods this morning. They milled around, bumping each other and clucking loudly. Suddenly, one bird took off and flew 30 yards, landing 20 feet high in a forest oak. That seemed to settle group, as they got about scratching for food almost immediately.

Dec. 18, 15 - We encounter a flock of 30 Starlings along back road in Vestal. They're been there on several occasions in the past two weeks. Today, they were grubbing on a lawn covered with the first snow of the season - 1 inch.

Dec. 19,  09 - At Park Diner  - Large flock of starlings swoops in and eats fruits of staghorn sumac.

Dec. 19, 12 - Wind shifted to the Northwest overnight, ending a prolonged warm spell. It also provided the first tailwind for migrants in more than a week. At 9 a.m. a small flock of migrating Canada geese flew over. Also, a migrating swirl of 8-10 Turkey Vultures.

Dec. 19, 13 - Observed 8 Bluebirds on Page Brook Rd. On wires and then dropping to roadside. Encountered small group of Tree Sparrows at Landers Corners. Two Snow Buntings on Holtsmart Rd. and a flock of 20 on George St. George St. birds were also on roadside adjacent to a field where manure was being spread. 

Dec. 20, 06 - Clear and 45 degrees. A pair of hooded mergansers on Upper Lisle Reservoir.

Dec. 20, 12 - At WP Lake... Large flock of 50+ Common Mergansers, 12 Hooded Mergansers, 15 Black Ducks, 15 Mallards. A juvenile Bald Eagle soared low over the lake Tree sparrows on the lake road. No ice on local lakes or ponds.

Dec. 20, 15 - Sat by the campfire in back yard at sunset. Clear and 35 degrees. At deep dusk, 8-10 Mourning Doves flew into view, landing in an oak overhead. I think they were headed for a roosting spot deep within a Norway Spruce 10 yards to our left, but were thrown off by our being out there. So they landed in the oak, then dropped down to the edge of our frozen garden pond, picked around there a moment, and then, on whistling wings, flew down across the road and were gone.

Dec. 21. Winter at 3:21 p.m. Sun hardly arcs as it slips just over the trees to the south. Lake effect snows for several days. Sky changes every five minutes – brilliant sun and long shadows; trees illuminated with black background of ominous sky; pink and pale blue blending together, broken up by curtains of charcoal, more strongly defined. Flakes swirl about. Where are they coming from? Sky overhead can look clear and still they fly, generated from a dark mass that seems too far away. Wind picks up and dies. Trees creak and squeak, bird feeders sway; bird feathers turn inside out. Activity at the feeders increases with the wind chill. Late afternoon – half moon already brilliant in blue sky. Low sun a burnished silver disk with fuzzy edges as it burns through thin mass of clouds. Deer make their way through the yard. We all have our habits. Theirs is to make their way up the hill at this hour, ready to bed down in thicker hemlock cover above. Mine is to be outside for an hour before dark, hauling firewood and kindling about. We keep bumping into each other, staring each other as I reappear from inside the house, after disappearing into it (then they think the coast is clear). They want to come close to see if there is food in the side yard. So some of these surprise encounters are at close range – mad scraping of deer hooves on the driveway as they try to scurry away. But not too far. They know me. They know my voice. I am always alone, always here, in this place. We do a lot of looking at each other, these deer and me. I never stamp the ground with my foot. They never try talking to set me at ease. A flock of 50 geese flies over at 4 p.m. Good chevron with three wavering about in the middle. Changing places. They move in and out of the snow that flies wildly about – making very good time on the northwest winds. Several flocks pass by within 10 minutes. I think they all woke up this morning on the same lake. They all decided it was time to move south - but in different flocks. They honk and then disperse with the wind, but I hear them.

 Dec. 21 - 06 - Pale red-breasted nuthatch at Harriet’s sunflower feeder.  

Dec. 21, 08 – Seven crows at the feeder after three inches if snow. Several gc kinglets with chickadees in hemlock woods at Chris’s.

Dec. 21, 10 – Linda sees two dark rough-legs on her way from home to Whitney Point. On a walk up Keibel Road we see 3 cardinals, two creepers, several chickadees and titmice, plus a pileated woodpecker and a flock of four or five cardinals. Red-bellied woodpecker continues visiting suet and sunflower feeders here. Twenty or so turkeys also are visiting every day. 

Dec. 21, 13 - A dozen turkeys wander through, kicking up leaves. Eight inches of snow has disappeared in 48 hours with rain and very warm temperatures.

Dec. 21, 15 - Drove a loop through upstate New York today, hitting Elmira, Corning, Rochester, Syracuse, Oneida, and south back to Binghamton. En route, we counted 12 Red-tailed Hawks perched by the roadside.

Dec. 22 - Difficult to improve on this day. Bright morning from dawn onward, Low sun through the trees, rising far to the south, not the east. Temp during the day doesn’t get much above freezing  - certainly not in the morning. But it is not cold – temps around 27 at noon. So the snow doesn’t melt, but you can walk about comfortably. I wear light gloves. I drive to Upper Lisle. It is quiet there. When I walk the trail that leads to my river sanctuary, I note there are no human tracks. It snowed several days ago. No one has walked here since – except deer, fox and squirrel. I follow deer trails through the tangle of shrubs that makes walking here difficult. I have to bend down occasionally, which the deer don’t, but the walk isn’t bad. Snow already has beaten down the dense march grasses. Perhaps two inches covers the ground. It is perfect photo snow. It accents the scene, but does not obliterate it. Other colors and textures still show through – the tawny marsh grass hummocks. The chocolate brown ostrich fern fertile fronds. The milkweed pods and their silvery seeds. These still show their faces, but the snow adds so much to this scene. And the river. It flows clean, cold and silvery/golden in the sun. I spy a lone male hooded mergansr, diving in the current, them bobbing up and preening. White on the breast. White on the hood, but not flared. I surprise a female common merganser, as she floats in the elbow of an oxbow. She flaps and runs on the water to take off – clumsy. Upriver she goes, out of sight. Thirty seconds later she reappears, circling around, flying overhead, nearly at treetop level, perhaps 50 feet overhead. Totally graceful now. Totally streamlined, the Concord of waterfowl. She circles again, this time coming over me higher. Then she heads toward the reservoir, where dozens of her compatriots await. A pileated calls. Then the calls grow louder. Then I catch a half-second glimpse in the binocs – that thick stilletto shape – in between wingbeats, sinking fast, as it crosses the river. I photograph the willows. Craggy, deeply furrowed bark, uniform, spreading crown. They are my props. I use them to frame the river. I photo their reflections. I lie down and look up at them. I climb up on fallen trunks and try to get a more lofty perspective of them. They cling to the river’s bank, spreading. I walk in the sun. Now it is noon, but the sun on this first day of winter is low. I hear birds in a tangle. I spish. Up pops a tree sparrow. Gorgeous. Low sun behind me, shining on bird. In binocs, I note rufous head,  gray on face, line through eye, wingbars of white, yellow lower mandible. The bird sits there, wanting to know who made that spishing sound. I spish again. Another sparrow rises from impenetrable tangle, in which seeing it well would be impossible, and lands on an exposed twig, 30 feet from me. I also see a goldfinch this way – spished from the depths, suddenly right in the sun, every field mark available, rich colors, nothing brash, but so beautiful Who said winter plumage couldn’t be gorgeous? A flock of Canadas flies over – high and calling – gorgeous off-white on their breasts, blue sky, low sun. They seem to hang there. I think they are slowing to have a good look at the reservoir. Granted, it is only 1 p.m., and a flock of geese could make the Chesapeake by nightfall if they were truly driven, but this day does not drive anyone to flee. Maybe they will decide to land and loaf. It’s that kind of day. Later I scan the reservoir. I see Canada geese, common mergansers and many ring-billed gulls. Are those the geese I watched flying overhead? Driving home I spy turkeys - dozens of them – combing a farm field for seeds in freshly spread manure. On the Tioghnioga River, I see mallards tipping up and feeding where the T. and Otselic River meet. I can’t watch for long. I’m in traffic. People from the Interstate pull off here. Lines at the McDonalds drive-through are ten cars long. Yet five miles away, there is snow without one human print.

Dec. 22 – 06. 25 doves at the feeder – an all-time high. A grouse flushes from the driveway edge and flies over the house. Reddish brown phase. 

Dec. 22, 12 - High wind and blowing snow. Several flocks of migrating Canada geese winging overhead on NW winds.

Dec. 22, 15 - In the afternoon here, I hear a Chickadee singing its "tee-ter" breeding song twice in short succession. It's the shortest day of the year, but the temperature is 55 degrees.

Dec. 23, 08 – One tree sparrow at the feeder after two days of bitter cold and snow.

Dec. 23, 12 - A huge wedge of migrating geese flies over at 4 p.m., low and illuminated by bright sun.

Dec. 23, 13 - Red-tailed hawk adult perched on telephone wire not far from the house. Not all these birds migrate. Also saw a chipmunk running around near the feeder. No more snow and warm weather has brought him out, but not for long.

Dec. 24, 08 – Counted one pine siskin at the feeder and 20 juncos under it this morning. Around noon, noting a large number of doves under there, I started counting and reached 19 before the entire flock erupted into flight. Half second later a Cooper’s hawk swooped into view, attacking the feeder from across the front yard. That flight path gave the doves time to see it coming, and they all escaped. Looking down on the hawk as it swept past the feeder and into the woods, I could clearly see the bird’s rounded tail. This was an adult – charcoal gray on the back. 

Dec. 24, 10 – Light-phase rough-legged hawk cruising over large corn field at Upper Lisle. 

Dec. 24, 12 - Several more large flocks of Canada geese migrating overhead.

Dec. 25, 08 – Six big Tom turkeys in the yard, accompanied by one hen. Three pine siskins at sunflower feeder. 

Dec. 25, 12 - Pushing snow off the driveway, I heard the faintest croaking sound in the sky over the back woods. Had it not been Christmas morning, cars or other machines in the distance surely would have drowned out this subtle sound. But I heard it and knew it was made by a raven. Looking up I saw two, flying low, heading north through a solid gray sky. At dusk, we discover a set of fox tracks, crossing the driveway.

Dec. 25, 13 - 8 degrees at 7 a.m. Dusting of snow gives us white Christmas. We walk in lower woods. The stream is semi-frozen, with a good flow still coming off the hill. Beautiful ice formations. Tracks from a flock of turkeys crosses the path. Also, we see fox tracks and those of a bigger canine, perhaps a coyote.

Dec. 25, 15 - More record temps this month. Today hit 55, which inspired me to float again on the Chenango. I encountered one muskrat at close range, plus a flock of 10 or so Tree Sparrows feeding on goldenrod seeds along the bank. They were quite vocal, their calls sounding like small tinkling bells. One Great Blue Heron and one Kingfisher remained on the river. In one tangle, I counted three pairs of Cardinals. They weren't fighting, just staying together, flying after each other from tangle to tangle. Also observed a flock of 40+ crows perched in three adjacent trees at the edge of a huge corn field.

Dec. 26 - I visit Salt Springs State Park late in the afternoon. This is a steep ravine, covered on one side by towering hemlocks. The ravine looks to be at least 100 feet deep. Very steep, potentially dangerous, side, especially in winter, when springs freeze, and frost heaves loosen rocks. The hemlocks are estimated to be 600-700 years old. Sun only strikes the water in the ravine very briefly, if at all, during the shortest days. Below me, the stream runs loudly. Ice encrusts rocks in the current. Snow covers portions of the banks, immune to melting. There as no snow visible on my drive to Salt Springs. The sun is catching the tops of the hemlocks only – coloring them a lovely yellow-green. I try to take whole tree photos with my wide-angle – lying on the ground looking up. Not possible. They are too tall. Hemlock needles carpet the ground – soft in summer but frozen hard now. A distant pileated calls. I hear a thurring of wings as a grouse flushes from high in a hemlock above me. I admire an old stump, a cut stump from years ago. The sides flare toward the ground as they approach it, lending a graceful angle to the old stump. These sides are still barked, but reddish, deeply furrowed the bark is covered with mosses and lichens. The color they give it is a lovely sage green. On top of the stump, three or four hardwood saplings have begun growing. Now they are one-quarter inch in diameter and two feet high. They have taken advantage of their nurse log and will compete until one manages to take over the log as its own source of nutrients and stability. Sun drops lower and lower, still gilding the hemlock tops. I shoot 10 or 15 photos, lying on my back for some even though I can’t fit an entire hemlock tree in the frame. I pass one hemlock that has fallen across the path. A section has been cut out  to allow people to walk through. It looks to be four feet in diameter – as big around as a wagon wheel, a coffee table. The trunk lies on its side, straight for so many feet - the kind of fallen tree a youngster would have to leap up on and walk on as far as its length would allow.

Dec. 26, 10 – Five redpolls reported at feeder outside Castle Creek.

Dec. 26, 15 - A Brown Creeper has discovered our suet feeder, attached to the trunk of a tree. It's been visiting daily for nearly a week. It starts on the ground at the base of the trunk, stabbing little pieces of suet that have fallen. Then it hitches up the trunk and takes chunks from the suet block - not many before flying away.

Dec. 26, 16 - Around 8 a.m. a Red-tailed Hawk sweeps low through the back yard, then into the woods, where it alights high up in a hardwood.  

Dec. 27- Cold with lake effect snows threatening showers but not coming through. Buffalo has received nearly 7 feet of snow in less than a week. It’s all about wind direction. This week the wind has been from the SW, flowing over the entire length of Lake Erie before dumping on Buffalo. Cars have been lost under four-foot drifts. The band is only 10 miles wide – three miles at its thickest. I drive up my road and see a flock of a dozen or so cedar waxwings braving the 20-degree temps and wind. They are fluttering about crab apples still on the tree. The color of the apples had faded since November when they flashed brilliant red-orange in the sun. Now they are a faded pink, but the waxwings don’t mind. Also on the road I see the withered white berries of dogwood shrubs – just waiting for the waxwings to see them. 

Dec. 27 - 12 - After 6-7 inches of snow overnight, yet another migrating flock of geese during the day. They flew right in the middle of lake effect flurries.

Dec. 27, 16 - Drove the roads in northern Broome County that I often drive in search of winter birds. Today, only two adult Red-tailed Hawks.

Dec. 28 - The cold continues. The woodpile shrinks. Two redpolls on the thistle. The big doe and her two fawns appear in the yard on schedule an hour before sunset. The doe is less fearful. The fawns are skittish. They all have snow from a recent squall on the noses and backs. When they run through the woods, their hooves make a loud piercing sound as they pierce frost-penetrated ground. Squalls come at dusk. Very gray sky with a smudge of orange on the horizon. That too gets blocked out when the squall arrives. The wind picks up. Hemlock tops sway. Leaves on white oaks rattle. Flakes blow in sheets horizontally. I step under a pine. The snow stops falling on my head. I know what the deer are doing now – where I will find the spots in morning that show me arm bodies have melted the snow. I look at the house as I stand in the woods. The snow has turned the roof pure white. Smoke from the chimney and pipe swirls on the wind, less white than white, less gray than gray – somewhere in the middle.  The gray sky helps me define gray. It dominates the scene. Naked trees offer stick silhouettes.

Dec. 28, 13 - Clear and 40 degrees. A red-tailed hawk soared low over the lower woods at 2 p.m. 

Dec. 28, 08 – Plum Island, Parker River NWR, MA – 62 degrees! Steve and I see several female harriers and one male – all hunting the marshes. Several red-throated loons nor far offshore. Also, one horned grebe and one dovkie. 

Dec. 28, 15 - A red-tailed hawk flew across the road in front of me, about 1/2 mile from the house. It was clutching a mammal in one talon. This prey item looked smaller than a squirrel and bigger than a chipmunk? A rat?

Dec. 29, 13 - Adult red-tailed hawk flew up from the road below our house, then landed on a phone wire. Very pale red on tail.

Dec. 30 - Audubon census day. Of course, my turkeys don’t show up. But two redpolls do. They are nervous, flying away when I approach. Cold wind. Trees creaking and swaying. I call in a flock of chickadees and titmice, in the Norway spruces, hoping they might bring a golden-crowned kinglet – but no. 

Dec. 30, 10 – Flock of 300 snow buntings observed off Carr Rd. above Upper Lisle. Saw them at two locations: a hilltop grass field and a hillside stubble corn field. A huge flock. Also observed a dark rough-legged hawk at field edge in same area. Also, in corn field that had not been cut: tree sparrows and Lapland longspurs.

Dec. 30, 16 - Two ravens sail through the woods on the other side of driveway - maybe 40 yards apart. Both are calling out in gravelly voices. They swing around some 50 yards down the road and come back, flying up the road past the line of spruces - still calling. Back and forth like this several times before heading away to the south. 

Dec. 31 - 20 degrees at 3:30 p.m. Stream at Chris’s starting to freeze. Layers of  ice remind me of hot spring terrace at Yellowstone. Grouse tracks lead to the stream. I see cress-like vegetation in the water. Has the bird come to the water to nibble this cress. Deer feed at the feeder. They have taken on thick coats like yaks, darker brown, all erect. 4 gobblers show up. They are sleek by May standards, especially when a noise startles them and they stretch toward the sky on alert. Colors still glisten but not with the glow of May when their hormones are on fire.

Dec. 31, 16 - Male Red-headed Woodpecker is at the suet. Nice to now it is hanging in there with us. It hasn't been a regular visitor of late.













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