Bird Count

Cue the wildlife.

The loop at Tower Road has become one of our favorites. It has all the requirements of a perfect spot for me, Alden, and the dogs, especially that it’s outside the city limits so the dogs can be off-leash.

Last spring, a hundred-year-flood inundated the whole area, and masses of debris, tangled branches and limbs, are still piled everywhere. Since the flood, a new trail has been created, marked with red and blue arrows to make it easier to follow until it gets more deeply grooved by walkers. The trail winds through woods, meadow, along the sharp-cut river bend, over stony seasonal channels, past the backwater we’ve dubbed Beaver Pond, and even over large rock stepping stones. It’s about 2.5 miles— takes me a little over a half hour to walk it alone, but with Alden it’s about 45 minutes. Perfect.

We don’t need an excuse to go walk there, but the Backyard Bird Count was a perfect one yesterday. We went just before dusk, hoping we would (and pretty sure we would) see the Great Horned Owls we’ve seen and heard there several times before. Before we even reached the first bend in the trail, Josh spotted a Flicker, and we heard, then saw, three UFR’s. (Unidentified Flying Raptors.) I scribbled notes “buffy legs, pale breast, kreeee sound….” so I could look it up later.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to look it up… later that evening at the gig I ran into Kate Davis and described the birds to her… “Immature red-tailed hawk,” was her verdict (confirmed this AM, no surprise.)

Back to the trail…

Josh and Alden skidded down a bank to get a closer look at a tidy, compact little nest wedged in a willow, right at the junction of three branches. They decided to collect it, branch and all, to show the friends at school.

Josh and I both heard the canada geese at the same time– how many would there be? We hurried as quietly as we could around the bend to where we had a clear view of the river— there were five, and two mallards immediately behind.

The woods seemed very quiet, and I wondered if coming at this time of day was a mistake– we hadn’t really seen many birds.Then, four Great Blue Herons, looking like prehistoric creatures, heading toward a roost for the night, probably.

As we came toward Beaver Pond, we heard the first hoots from the other side of the channel, like someone blowing on a bottle. First one, then an answer, then several, overlapping. Josh and I scanned the woods opposite the pond through our binoculars while Alden dug his sandcastle (a Beaver Pond ritual), but couldn’t see any of them.

Heard two more, closer, calling back and forth, as we headed along the final stretch of trail back through the woods. We might have had better luck if we had been able to stay longer, but I was starting to get nervous about being late for my evening’s gig, so we just listened as we hustled.

The bird count…  I loved the sense of purpose and mystery it lent to our walk.

Alden tried at times to walk “like Sam Beaver” (the human hero in The Trumpet of The Swan)–meaning, as quietly as possible.

We all felt extra-awake, trying to listen, look, notice, anticipate, see.

The Count: 3 Red-tailed Hawks (light morph), 5 Canada Geese, 2 Mallards, 1 Red-Shafted Flicker, 4 Great Blue Herons, 5 Great Horned Owls, and one yet-to-be-identified songbird that goes “wigga-wigga-wigga-wigga-week”.


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