Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13, 2009 - Sand Pits, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I would never have known the sand pits existed had I not been forced to scrutinize the Marshfield map for the state's Breeding Bird Atlas project last year. I noticed a big blank area in a map within my "block," and dove headlong into the woods. Little did I know the woods were just a disguise.

On a summer's day I walked this area under a blazing hot sun, unprotected by the large trees that completely rim the vast bowl of seeming nothingness. A mother killdeer used broken wing techniques to throw me off the trail of her youngsters. A prairie warbler built a nest in a low shrub. A ruby-throated hummingbird zipped past a buzzing eastern kingbird atop a tree. Today, the snow buried those memories, and hid the truth about the unexpected soil composition below.

I have never felt sorry for myself in wintry conditions, since I have feet. I don't have to be here. I can walk away. But the small trees struggling for life in the wide open space have had it bad this winter - and winter, mind you, is only three weeks old - trying to support the weight of all the snow that has fallen. At first I compared their recent plights to those of my spine. But for me, the pain of snow shoveling only comes a few hours every few days. The small conifers here have drooped limbs and twisted trunks, and no way to shake the snow off.

I noticed that there was a strange phenomenon happening. Many of the trees here had icicles dangling from the ends of their limbs. During yesterday's thaw (today it's back to 29, below freezing), water starting running off the limbs at the most convenient point. As the temperatures dropped, the ice built up into this shiny display, leaving long this spikes of frozen water hanging from the limbs. One per limb, no more.

Back in the woods, I tried to relocate a hummingbird nest I had found last summer. I found the tree and found the branch, but it was covered from end to end with snow. There was no chance of finding the thimble-sized cup of moss until the snow was gone. And that hummingbird is somewhere well far south of here right now. Smart bird.

My last sighting today was a red-shouldered hawk that perched on the same tree one utilized last summer Same one? Most likely, but nearly impossible to tell. I'd like to think so.

Time: 50 minutes
New species: None.
Stranger hellos: None.
What else got done: worked for 8 hours at the day job; went to the Bruins-Canadiens game at night; formatted a book manuscript; wrote articles for two magazines.

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