The snow out in Worcester today had more of a feel of permanence than what I'd been experiencing on the South Shore of Boston. It supported my weight ninety per cent of the time, with only the occasional crunch through. That made tracking difficult, which was a shame, as there was little else going on wildlife-wise. Well, at the start of the walk anyway.
There was not a bird to be seen or heard for the first hour of my trip today. There was one bird discussion. One man stopped me and asked if I had seen a program recently on the extinct Bermuda tern. But apparently, unlike him, the birds in these woods were not interested in speaking to me. Nary a peep arose from the power lines, and not a chip issued forth from the Smiley Face Trail.
Yes, the Smiley Face Trail. The trees were marked all along with the familiar 1970s iconic image. The irony was that the trail was in rough shape, enough to make one frown as he or she tossed aside downed branches or found alternate paths around large felled trees. Some parts of the trails - all of them - looked as if a logging company had stopped for lunch and then never came back. The recent storms had certainly taken their toll on these woods. Who knows how many combined centuries of tree life have fallen in recent days?
At the end of the Smiley Face Trail I emerged onto Granite Street. I felt naked as cars passed. At the first chance I got I ducked back into the woods, via the power lines. Not even the sight of the new windmill on Vernon Hill could make me stay. It's amazing how much safer I feel in the woods than on the roads, how much more at home.
On the Cardinal Trail, I finally heard a golden-crowned kinglet. When I emerged onto the Troiano Brookside Trail, staring the full moon in the face, I met up with thirty-two mallards, seventeen males and fifteen females. Eighty-nine American crows flew west, heading for a roost as the sun hit the horizon. I met another man who told me where that roost was, and where I could find a flock of cedar waxwings if I had the time. I notched the conversation as a stranger hello for my list, but just a minute into our confab, he mentioned a common friend. That was just one degree of separation; could he be counted as a stranger? Well, separation is separation. He went on the list.
Not ready to call it quits, I found one more loop to loop, the Frog Pond Trail to the Sprague Trail to the Enchanted Forest Trail. I crossed the Broad Meadow Brook three times to fit it in, holding onto a small tree for support the last go-round. I was watching my footing when I reached up to grab the tree. I felt the density of the wood and knew right away what it was. Sinewy and strong, the American hornbeam is also known as "ironwood" or "musclewood."
The trees had been a specific focus of my walk today. I found myself staring at trunks. Although no reports had said they were here, I was fascinated with the concept of finding damage from or the exit holes of Asian longhorned beetles on maple trees. I'm happy to say that I didn't see any evidence whatsoever during my entire sojourn.
Two hours into the walk, the sun was nearly down. Crepuscular species were starting to stir. The many white-tailed deer that use these woods - the only creatures heavy enough to really leave tracks in the frozen snow - were ready to claim their portion of the day. I left the woods to them, as my meeting was about to start anyway.
Time: 129 minutes
What else is going on: Led my weekly three and a half hour birding porogram (see below); regional coordinators' meeting for the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas II project.
New species for 2009: Redhead, Ring-necked duck, Greater scaup, Lesser scaup, Barrow's goldeneye, Common merganser, Red-throated loon, Double-crested cormorant, Great cormorant, Black-crowned night heron, Cooper's hawk, American kestrel, Purple sandpiper, Belted kingfisher, Northern flicker, Gray catbird, Brown thrasher, Yellow-breasted chat (life bird!), Snow bunting (number 76 for the year).
Stranger hellos: 4 (11)