January 27, 2012

Fleeting Winter Glimpses

Crows grazing on lotus seeds
Yesterday's bright, quiet morning offered brief glimpses of wintery moments before today's deluge arrived.  Retuning my seasonal clock one moment at a time.

Ice shelf on the river
Mink scamperings
Swamp dogwood glow
Long-awaited sight of hooded merganser swimming upstream

January 22, 2012

January 16, 2012

Phase Change

Assabet River - flash frozen
For as long as I can remember, my inner clock has been set to rhythm of New England's seasons, in all their glory.  For these past few weeks, I've been waiting to feel my annual reset kick in.  This usually comes with the first delicate calls of returning juncos, the low hanging sun highlighting the landscape, a silent snowfall, and the interplays of ice with all of the elements.  With this year's snowless winter, my attention has been drawn to subtler manifestations of our coldest season to realize the annual phase change that sets me right for the coming year.

In yesterday's flash frozen landscape, that transformation began.  Bundled up for the 3ยบ windchill, this is what I saw (through watery eyes).

No matter how much each season conforms to my expectations, in the end I'm reminded to go with the flow... 

January 14, 2012

Snow Melting into Music

Brian Pertl, Dean of Lawrence University's Conservatory of Music where my son is now a student, writes that, "Part of becoming a better listener is to embrace silence."  He goes on to write about the conservatory students' experience in 2010 with visiting artist Gordon Hempton, Grammy award-winning natural sound recordist.  "Silence in nature, Hempton reminds us, is never truly silent, but rather contains worlds of music just waiting to emerge. To listen into such silence takes a quiet mind," writes Pertl.

In my walks and programs, I often emphasize the importance of quieting the mind and cultivating deep listening as a foundation to forming a more intimate and inspired relationship with the natural state of this world...of which we are a part.  Yesterday, this lesson was offered spontaneously by a pair of swans coming in low over the heads of my students who were amazed by the remarkably flute-like tones made by the powerful beating of their wings.  This morning, I'm delighted to discover this understanding so beautifully articulated in the context of my son's college learning experience too. 

Inspiration for this post came from http://blogs.lawrence.edu/conservatory/2010/10/%E2%80%9Csnow-melting-into-music%E2%80%9D-the-art-of-listening.html.

Thanks to photographer, Stephen Gingold, for sharing the link to this clip on Hempton's silence conservation efforts, "One Square Inch of Silence," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0xHfFC_6n0&feature=related.

January 13, 2012

Exploring Winter's Changing Moods

January fog with first snow since October.
Our homeschool adventurers got to see and feel the many moods of winter today.  Arriving in the stillness of a foggy morning, we made introductions and headed out into a white on white land and marshscape.  We spied coots bobbing and diving in newly opened pools in the ice.  As members of the rail family, they appear to walk more adeptly than they paddle or fly.  Along the way, we investigated lotus pods and scats and tracks that appeared to belong to some canine - likely a large fox or small coyote.

Walking along the river where the trees open up, a pair of mute swan came flying in low overhead with a loud whistling of wings to merge white feathers with white fog before landing in the water.  Just then the sun began to brighten and a breeze to gently blow.

Breeze clears the fog away
Within minutes the fog blew away and revealed blue sky and billowing clouds.  We anticipated the coming cold front, checked the wind direction - still southwesterly - and walked on to check the screech owl's roost.  It wasn't in the "doorway" this morning.  As we headed down the old RR bed trail, the winds picked up and began to shift westerly.  By the time we reached the parking lot, small branches were falling and gusts were strengthening.  Clouds thickened and as cool air met warm, a light rain filled the air.  Just after everyone but I had departed, the sun came out to brighten the showery sky and I looked around quickly for a rainbow and spotted a double arc dropping down into the eastern side of the marsh...a perfect finish to a beautiful morning.

January 10, 2012

Rare Great Meadows Goshawk Nabs a Coot

A rare sighting and photos of a juvenile goshawk yesterday, by Roy Haddock, has the area's bird world in a buzz!  To see images of the catch in action, go to 

January 8, 2012

Coot Tales...and Feet

Twenty hearty souls turned out for this month's Great Meadows walk.  With no obvious signs of this season on the ground, we set out ready for surprises.  The low sun angle cast a raking light across the marshes, highlighting every detail.  Clouds in the western sky brimmed the setting sun, focusing its light dramatically across the landscape. 

Along the way, we studied patches of ice, the plants in the floodplain forest, and ducks in the river (female buffleheads and mallards).  A harrier perched on a duck box, a pair of swans swam serenely in the late day light, and gatherings of Coot were bobbing in open pools and skittering across the ice.

One of our walkers discovered piles of dark feathers strewn along the eastern Dike Trail under an overhanging tree.  Trying to make sense of someone's apparent demise, we then discovered pieces of brilliant red carcass and the telltale foot of a coot...distinguished by its green color, lack of webbing, and distinctively shaped toes.  It likely was lunch for the day's visiting bald eagle or marsh hawk.

India Rose holding coot's foot

The foot's reptilian-like scales highlight the coot's distant ancestry

Silver-lined clouds and silhouetted lotus stems gave painterly detail to the setting sun's deepening glow.

And many coot skated across the ice toward the Dike Trail as the sky darkened, coming close as they waited for us to move out of their way.  Over the past few weeks, I've become very fond of these gregarious and awkward little birds, who have become the easy meal of choice for the refuge's many winter raptors.

As we neared the parking lot, some 60 robins flew in from the marshes and perched, mumbling in the oaks overhead.  India left the coot's foot under the blackboard for all to see.  The evening's geese flew in and we all bid farewell.

January 4, 2012

Bald Eagle's Repast

Bald eagle dines on coot right next to its swimming  kin
A bald eagle has been making long daily visits to Great Meadows since the fall.  Open water has persisted in both the river and the marshes all the way into January, with just enough ice to corral the waterfowl and provide a handy feeding platform for their predators.  Add to that, a record number of coot staying on for the winter, and the refuge has become a destination dining experience for the eagle and other raptors.

On this cold winter day, I've been watching the eagle perch and move about the refuge for some two hours since 10 a.m.  Having lost track of him while photographing some long awaited river ice formations, I was surprised to re-spot him sitting on the ice at the far end of the lower impoundment enjoying a coot for lunch with nearly forty others swimming at his side.  Wished I'd had a 500mm lens to catch that uncanny juxtaposition!

The coots' taking refuge at the refuge this winter, gives new meaning to living in the moment.

Monthly Great Meadows Walk - January

Silver ice bells
Sunday, January 8, 2:30-4:30 pm

A continuing series of monthly walks exploring the landscape, plants and seasonal wonders of Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord

The interplay of snow and wind, ice and sunlight, and the wandering signs left by wild ramblers continuously reshapes the winter landscape.  We'll explore the ephemeral beauty of frozen forms and the long rays of changing light along the trail.  The warm glow of the setting sun will complete the afternoon.  Bundle up, wear appropriate footgear, and grab those hand and toe warmer packets.

Led by Cherrie Corey, local naturalist and photographer

No pre-registration required.  A $5/person voluntary donation will be gratefully accepted.

Co-sponsored by Musketaquid Arts and Environment Program and Friends of the Assabet River NWR

Meet at Great Meadows NWR in Concord, MA.  (Monsen Road, off Rte. 62, driveway on left where road curves right) 

For questions, email cherrie.corey@verizon.net or call 978-760-1933

January 1, 2012

See Anything Interesting?

So many Great Meadows' visitors stop to ask me this question.  Of course, most want to hear that there's a rare bird up ahead.  Many are baffled when I mention the small caterpillar adorned in flower petals, the prismatic light reflecting off of river ice, or a perfect collection of snowballs adorning one of the refuge benches.

Rarely a moment passes when Great Meadows doesn't offer something interesting.  So in honor of all those questions, here are some of my most memorable encounters in 2011!
Snowballs relaxing
New Year's Day pilgrim
Ice etching
River reflections
Ice out, eagle in
Great blue heron
Water magic
Wavy-lined emerald caterpillar adorned in fleabane petals
Bedazzled by lotus
Spider weaving over evening primrose
Primrose rosette revealed
Wooly aphids dining on alder
A Sunday stroll with the kids - always interesting!
Yesterday's sunset

May 2012 bring you many happy and interesting returns