November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Quest

Today at sunrise, a snowy owl's quest for its own feast, at Hanscom Field airbase, became the focus for a few fellow birders, who were willing to rise early this Thanksgiving and brave the bracing wind for a distant glimpse.  Thanks to our ever-vigilant spotters of rare bird visitors -- Alan Bragg via the Winstanley brothers via Simon Perkins -- word reached me last night about two owls hanging out in center field.  So up I went for a distance glimpse of this marvelous bird, from a hilltop at dawn among kindred spirits.  The best possible beginning to this day of gatherings, feasting, and gratitude.

High numbers of snowy owls have been reported moving south this November, throughout coastal New England and down into the mid-Atlantic states.  As indicated by the plumage on this one, it is thought that these may be young birds on a quest for food in years when their numbers run high in their customary northern latitudes.  Cycles of high lemming populations and successful breeding, in the tundra, may drive these cycles of southern 'invasions.' Though there have been sightings at Hanscom in the past, and the last one nearly four decades ago, I was told that this is the first time to be officially recorded.

One of two snowies, still near the tarmac on 11.30.13
 The bird was barely discernible through some very good spotting scopes.  My photos were taken with a Sigma 500mm lens and significantly enlarged and post-processed to enhance some detail. 

November 24, 2013

November's Icy Blast

A rare glimpse of serenity amidst yesterday's icy blast at Great Meadows.  The glowing collar around this dried and floating lotus pod hints at the turbulent waters and subfreezing temperatures of the early morning hours.  Near record cold and winds on this late autumn day makes for a harrowing yet inspiring walk through the refuge, with a few surprises along the way.    
The strong wind and frigid temperatures work together to splash and freeze the marsh waters onto the thousands of remnant lotus stems and pods, creating an expanse of sparkling and bobbing diamonds out to the horizon.

In the shallow southwestern channel, the entire frozen surface glistens in backlight as the wind pours across the tops of these highlighted cattail stands, where I discover two phragmites plumes(!).

At the river's edge, air bubbles, leaves, and pebbles are frozen into patterned still lifes.  And a river birch reveals it's peeling, branchy, still leafy essence in the long rays of the autumn sun.

A shadow crosses me from above and I look up to see an immature bald eagle, wheeling and soaring over the southwestern end of the marsh, trying to catch thermals above the ridge line.

Asters show their silvery seedheads in the clear morning light.  And a resolute goldenrod stands, still blooming, buffeted by the 10ยบ wind-chilled blasts. 

The shriveled fruit clusters and skeletal remains of smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) stand out along the trail's edge.

As I anticipated, the wind-whipped water on Borden Pond splashes and freezes into myriad ice forms along the water's edge. 

A decaying catfish washes peacefully in the undercurrents, beneath the glistening turbulence.

Ice bells and globes appear as water splashes against waterborn twigs and flash freezes as it drains down.  The ruffled form displays it's more exposed position and the perfect sphere of the second form belies its sheltered and slightly more elevated location along the shoreline.

Though my eyes are brimming with tears and breathing comes in quick, cold gasps, I'm reluctant to abandon my quest for the season's first icy novelties.  Finally, I spy three frozen creatures on low-hanging alder branches that let me know the morning's adventure is complete.

A heron
an emerging sea turtle
and a wild boar!

November 1, 2013

Sunset Glory Days

From now until year's end, sunsets warm the cooling sky with bronzed and fiery displays, filling us with beautiful light as we draw deeper into the season's dark nights.

Stirring winds from a powerful, clearing storm combined with the sun's lowering angle to ignite the sky with color during this November's first sunset. 

As the sun neared the horizon, the marsh turned from a golden hue to fiery orange, then a rose glow, and finally a deep purple.

Throughout this pageant of color, legions of ducks and geese flew in through the portal where the sun was setting, soared past the blushing clouds, and tumbled down into the refuge for their night's rest.

From now through December there will be many more vibrant evenings to illuminate the spirit just before the long dark night.