Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #8

Compared to earlier this week, when it was freezing all day, this afternoon was gorgeous.  It had warmed up, and the sun was shining.  The Mom of No had spent a substantial amount of time this past week sampling Girl Scout cookies, and I was feeling a bit sluggish and in need of a walk and some time with nature.

I had high hopes for observations, since the weather was so perfect (except for a little bit of wind).  The hike, however, started slow- I saw an osprey, with a fish, perched on top of a tree.  I saw some ducks on the water.  Other than that, it was quiet.

As I made my way to the blind, I passed a family with a young child.  The child had dropped the trail map in the water, and was upset about it.  His mom was soothing him, reassuring him that they could easily get another, and telling him that they needed to pack it out so that they didn't litter Nature's house.

Bless you, lady.  Bless you.

Some turtles were out, soaking up some of the sun.  I could hear birds rustling around in the reeds, and I sat for awhile where I saw the marsh wren last week. The day after I saw the marsh wren, I had gone back and seen a winter wren in the same spot, but both wrens were apparently about other business this day.

After sitting quietly for several minutes, a yellow-bellied sapsucker paid a visit to the marsh, and soon after that, a ladder-backed woodpecker.  A pair of gadwalls swam in the distance, poking around in the vegetation along the waterline.  I could hear a couple of great blue herons squawking about something in the distance.  I wasn't the only one who had the idea of a hike; the blind was getting as many human visitors as it was critters.

ladder-backed woodpecker

Eventually, I moved on.  I was a bit disappointed since I had been expecting to see more than I had.  However, as is often the case, nature had surprises waiting for me as I got closer to my car: a wonderful western ribbon snake sunning on a log, and a opossum climbing a tree.

Seen on the trail today: Osprey, ruby-crowned kinglet, cardinals, sparrows, turtles (possibly red-eared slider), gadwall, mallards, ladder-backed woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker,  common goldeneye, more sparrows, diamondback water snake (deceased), armadillos, western ribbon snake, and an opossum.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Cumulative Impacts

Early this morning, the Teenager and I got up and headed out to the local nature preserve to get a couple hours of volunteer service in.  Our task was, simply, to pick up trash.  We worked our way down the river trail, picking up cans and glass bottles and cigarette cartons and socks (who leaves their socks on a trail?) and Styrofoam containers and fishing line (lots and lots of fishing line). We dumped all this trash in a big black heavy duty garbage bag.

Eventually, the trash bag was full and I hauled it back to the beginning of the trail, staggering under the weight.

One empty glass beer bottle does not weigh very much.  A large black trash bag filled with glass bottles weighs a lot.

Yesterday, the Son of Never Stops Eating and I went to church and heard a sermon on the power of words.  I asked him after church what he'd learned, and he said "I learned about God".  I laughed, told him that was a good try but kind of obvious, since we were at church, so try again.  His second attempt was this: "Don't be like Homer Simpson!".

Whether it's speech or glass bottles tossed out on the trail, our words and our deeds have a cumulative impact that we may not ever even see.  The people tossing the glass bottles on the trail might be thinking "that's just one glass bottle; who cares what I do with it?" When you have what seems like hundreds of glass bottles in a big black garbage bag, it's a staggering weight to bear.

This past year, I feel like every day has had at least one "WTF moment".  99.9% of the time, my WTF moment of the day involves politics (the .1% was the day the 6 month old battery in my car died).  I don't usually get political on my blog or my Facebook page because one of my basic beliefs about social media is that nothing you post about politics will change anyone else's mind.  But I'm feeling the cumulative impacts of all the WTF moments, and it's becoming a heavy black trash bag filled with glass bottles.

The latest glass bottle was the "sh**hole" comment heard around the world.  After that, the usual chaos ensued on Facebook.  Lo and behold: the WTF moment of the day.  So much for the gravitas of high office, or the hope that it might be possible to have some serious conversations about important issues. We're arguing about whether or not a cuss word that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap as a kid is "fake news". 

Where's a good zombie apocalypse when you need one?*

When I was a kid, I had a set of books about the Presidents and First Ladies. Dolly Madison was my favorite, although I don't actually remember why.  Even though later I learned that (like the rest of us) they were flawed human beings, they represented lofty ideals. They owned their mistakes, overcame challenges, triumphed over adversity, made wise decisions.  The presidents were like your teacher, or the minister at church- it was impossible to imagine them engaged in mundane tasks like grocery shopping, buying underwear, or going to the dentist, but they were paragons of leadership; they were worthy of emulation.

Now, it's just so many glass bottles clinking around in a big black bag.

I'm glad my children are older and realize that there's nothing to emulate here.

The amazing thing, about cumulative impacts, however, is that they can also be forces for good.  Pick up one glass bottle, and another, and another, and soon the trail is clean (at least temporarily).  Every kind word, every good deed, every act of positive leadership, it all matters in ways we may not recognize. It may seem small, insignificant, weightless.  Put together, however, it matters.

It matters greatly.

*This is my weird sense of humor at work- I don't really want a zombie apocalypse; I've seen enough "Walking Dead" to know I'd end up either as a zombie or as a brain snack for a zombie somewhere in the first week.  

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #7

More cold.  Not just cold but your feet are frozen solid despite the fact you're wearing hiking boots and thick socks cold.  The cold, however, was not a problem when it came to getting some good observations- the birds were definitely out both for my morning and afternoon visits.

I went out early in the morning, bundled up, to see if the marsh has frozen over (some of the shallow water had) and I managed to get a observation of a new bird: two canvasback ducks.

On the way to the blind, I also saw several ruby-crowned kinglets walking on the ice.  Those birds move fast so I took several photos and hoped that I'd get one that wasn't blurry or just showed the bird's butt.

Finally, I had to admit that it was too cold even for someone as obsessed with nature as I am (and I was craving a hot cup of coffee and some breakfast), so I headed back to the car.  However, later in the day it warmed up so I put the thick socks and four layers of shirts back on and headed back out to enjoy the sunshine.  I definitely had chores to do around the house but chores can wait when the birds are calling.

As I walked by one of the reedy areas on the boardwalk, I heard the distinctive sounds of a marsh wren.  These birds are rather reclusive and hard to spot, but this one was flying in and out of the grass and the reeds, so I stood quietly for a few minutes and tried to predict where the wren would go next.  I took several photos, mostly of the vegetation after the wren had flown through it, but I was able to get one photo I liked.  Patience is not one of my personal strengths but if you want to get good photos of birds you have to make at least an attempt at patience. 

The armadillos were also out, rooting around.

Observed on the trail today:  Armadillo, belted kingfishers, common goldeneye, cardinals, the usual little brown birds, marsh wren, green-winged teal, gadwall, canvasback, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, Canada goose, one turtle with his head sticking up out of the water,  a few deer (in the morning), ruby-crowned kinglets,  American coots, American kestrel, great blue egrets, mallards.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #6

Another cold and cloudy day.  Yesterday I'd been out in the area picking up trash (mostly beer cans, bottles, and Styrofoam containers- if you brought it in, you should take it out, or at least put it in the dumpster at the parking lot) with some other volunteers and I hadn't had time to make it out to my spot even though the weather had been perfect.  This morning, the feel of rain was in the air and the weather app on the phone informed me that there was a 100%  chance of rain this afternoon, so it was probably a good idea to get the nature time in early.

The birds were chirping and doing their usual "I'm hiding and you can't find me!" tricks, except for a pair of Canada geese, which hung out near the wildlife blind for a few minutes and then flew off, squawking.  After several minutes, I could see a small water bird in the distance but I couldn't tell what it was; there was something silvery and flashy about it.  Finally, it got close enough to where I thought I might be able to see closer with the camera, and what I was looking at was (I think) a pied-billed grebe with a fish.  I got one not-very good shot and then the grebe dove down into the water head-first with its fish treat.  I learned something new today, because I actually hadn't known that grebes eat fish.

All this past week, the temperatures have been really cold, and I'd been hoping to make a very quick trip out to the spot at least once during lunch to see if the marsh had iced over, but the one day that I thought I'd be able to do it, I ended up having to take my car to the mechanic (long story).  However, I did see what looked like some residual ice.  I wasn't about to walk into the water to find out.  Last year around this time, we'd had a spell of freezing weather and when the marsh iced over, I saw several great blue herons walking on the ice.  It was a fun sight, and I'd hoped to see something like that again, but it was not to be.

Downy Woodpecker

Sightings on the trail: Canada goose, pied-billed grebe, mallards, downy woodpecker, least sandpipers, lots and lots of ruby-crowned kinglets, greater yellowlegs, the usual little brown birds, what I think was a hooded merganser but was too far away to tell for sure (but I've seen one there before, so it's possible), great blue herons, American coots, an osprey flying, and a northern flicker.  Plenty of animal tracks and scat, but no actual mammals.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

In Praise of Teenagers

Last week, after Christmas, the teenagers and I traveled down to see the Grandparents of No at their homestead.  Upon arrival, I discovered that the Son of Never Stops Eating had left his deodorant at home.

Mom, he said, exasperated, I don't need deodorant! I'm on vacation!

That is life with teenagers, right there: teenagers are often odiferous attitude-filled buckets of sass and stress added to a substantial amount of idealism mixed in with the idea that everything worth knowing, they know and anyone over the age of 30 has forgotten. The whole mess is spiced up with a dash of believing that the generations before them have completely and irrevocably messed the place up and it's up to them to fix it as best they can (this generation of teenagers might actually be right about that; sorry, guys.)

On social media sites, it's often popular to bash teenagers as a group whenever something in the community goes awry- or even just for fun.  Car doing doughnuts in the school parking lot? Must be teenagers.  Danged teenagers have no respect; it's not like when we were growing up when even the thought of wrongdoing would earn us a whipping from our father and a public flogging in the town square.  Vandalism?  Teenagers.  Rude, entitled behavior? Snowflake teenagers. Lazy with no work ethic whatsoever?  Entitled teenagers.  Crime of any kind?  Definitely teenagers, with too much time on their hands. One teenager messes up, they're all to blame.  Teenagers are viewed as the Borg Collective of humankind.

I'm sure that since the dawn of time, old geezers have been complaining about the young whippersnappers up to no good with their weird haircuts and odd fashion sense and their lack of work ethic and their strange ideas about almost any issue affecting humanity and, last but not least, their ability to sleep soundly until 2 PM and eat everything in sight that isn't frozen solid.

Adults are guilty of a lot of the same sins as teenagers, but we've lived longer and we should definitely know better- and no one blames adults as a group for the sins of one grownup.  One entitled, rude adult is one entitled, rude adult; one entitled, rude teenager is to condemn every teenager walking the planet at this point in time.

Honestly, you couldn't pay me to be a teenager again for anything.  If you're a teenaged girl, you can't dress correctly no matter what you wear. College tuition is a runaway freight train headed your way, your adults are probably nagging you about what you're going to do after high school,  you're beginning to learn about stressful adult stuff like driving and working, everyone over the age of 30 automatically assumes you're up to no good any time you go anywhere in a group (or even by yourselves) and there's all kinds of pressure to do or not do. Being a teenager in the 1980's wasn't anywhere near as complicated as being a teenager in the late 2010's seems to be.

Yes, I know there are plenty of teenagers who manage to get themselves into big trouble.  Adults manage to do that, too, but without the collective blame that teenager wrongdoing seems to create.  I also know that there are plenty of teenagers getting up at the crack of dawn to go to band or athletic practice, spending their weekends working a part-time job, spending part of their summers doing good deeds, taking college-level classes, helping with the care of older and/or disabled family members, and basically trying to get to adulthood without running their personal lives off the road too many times before that all-important 18th birthday.

So, for my teenagers-yes, I like to pester you about college and community service hours and saving your money and wearing deodorant and cleaning your rooms and driving (at least I don't have to nag about data usage anymore; thank you unlimited data plan!), but I also respect the serious amount of work that you're putting into your life.  Being a teenager is serious, stressful stuff and I do respect it even if you think I don't.  Now, go work on those scholarship applications.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Marsh Project Week #5

It's cold out there. Really cold out there. I forgot gloves, so I had to stick my hands in my pockets when I wasn't trying to photograph critters and fungi.  The temperature is supposed to drop even more tonight, and a few armadillos were out rustling around, probably preparing.

Birds were out, mostly in flight; they weren't hearing my pleas to be still so that I could get great photos.  I don't have the kind of camera that takes great shots of birds in flight, and my hands were cold, so I had to mostly settle for standing in the blind and observing.  An osprey flew overhead several times, as did a raptor I'm fairly certain was a red-tailed hawk although it wouldn't slow down enough for me to get a positive ID.

I did get to see my first common goldeneyes of the winter.

Since the critters weren't posing nicely, I kept an eye out for stationary lifeforms and was rewarded with this lovely fungus. I didn't want to stick my hands near the water to see if it had gills or pores on the other side, but my guess- having seen similar fungi before on this log- is going to be gills.  I used the vibrant function of the camera to get this shot.

Then, back on the trail headed to the car and warmth, this beautiful ruby-crowned kinglet actually sat still for me long enough to get a photo.  These birds are so cute but they almost are never still long enough for my neophyte nature photography skills, so this could be the best photo I've ever gotten of one.  I kept thinking I was hearing woodpeckers but either they were hiding really well or it was really just branches moving around in the wind.

Seen on the trail today: Osprey, eastern phoebe, greater yellowlegs, mallards, gadwall, common goldeneyes, great blue herons, great egrets, a few small brown birds, unidentified raptor (probably red-tailed hawk but not sure), northern cardinals, armadillos, ruby crowned kinglets, and one brave turtle swimming near the surface of the water.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Marsh Project Week #4

The calm before the chaos.

It was a freezing morning to be outside.  Even though I had on thick wool hiking socks my toes were still cold. Even the critters, for the most part, seemed to have holed up somewhere warmer, with a few notable exceptions- I saw a few deer as I drove to the trailhead parking lot, and even they stood at the edge of the road placidly staring at my car.  A nutria/coypu swam across the marsh; a large flock of unidentified birds flew high in the sky on some undisclosed mission.  The mallards, of course, were out in force.

This is Christmas Eve morning, and today there will be church (twice!) and last minute baking and errands and cleaning (Do we need more eggs? Did I get all the stocking stuffers? Who tracked in mud on the kitchen floor ? Oops, that was me!) until the sun sets, the stores close and the day is done; whatever stage the preparations are in, they will have to be sufficient.

But for now, in the early morning light, there is a quiet stillness as the day begins.