Back on the water, 2014

I woke to fog. To a duck perched in a tree. It was beautiful and felt out of place., the tree high on a ridge in my front yard. Still, this seemed a good omen: wonders for the day.

Four of us carted our kayaks down the wooden stairs at the North Tivoli Bay launch at noon. Sun, blue sky, a light breeze had taken over. We eased our wetsuit-cloaked bodies into our sleek boats and pushed off. It seemed so normal. And yet but two months ago we were walking this same spot on ice, hefting through snow that reached to our thighs. Now it was all liquid and freedom. To paddle out, under the railroad trestle onto the Hudson River, cold and brown, wide and empty. We skirted the eastern shore, trailing the rip rap, and the still bare trees; the wake of a tug and barge knocked us around a bit. Then we popped back into the bay through a southern passage.

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A Birdy Day

Snow Geese in flightThrough the winter on the east coast, I’m happy when I see and hear a few birds in the day. There are house finches at my feeder, the goldfinch, and a black-capped chickadee or two.  And, of course, the reliable woodpeckers, the sapsucker letting out its little mew sound, the pileated cackling in the woods. But these birds are like finding little diamonds in a vast landscape.

So when, on Sunday, my friend Bruce Robertson and I went out to see what ducks were coming through the valley, I was stunned by the masses of birds. Hundreds of Canada Geese congregated on the fields at Greig Farm and a flock of over 100 Snow Geese with their black tipped wings skittishly took off, circled and landed. In every direction I looked there were birds coming in or taking off. A puddle of ducks—the puddle just freshly melted ice from this interminable winter—brought me a Pintail with its elegant neck and an American Wigeon.

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Feeding Birds

Hollywood FinchTwo American Crows arrived at my feeder yesterday morning. They looked enormous, black against the white snow, towering over the Dark-eyed Juncos that vied with them for the sunflower seeds that had splashed to the ground. The one let out a few caws and soon both flew off.

The birds at my feeder this cold winter season have been fairly consistent: House Finch, the males turning more red through the winter; Goldfinch in their little yellow tuxedos; Black-capped Chickadee, ready to perch on my head while I refill the feeder; White-breasted Nuthatch peering head-down from a neighboring tree; Tufted Titmouse, their wide eyes in a constant stat of alarm; White-throated Sparrows showing off their striped helmets; from time to time a splash of red that is the Cardinal; and a few Mourning Doves, like loaves of bread on a limb, waiting their turn to forage on the ground.  I spend a lot of time with my binoculars watching them come and go. They become, in my mind, my birds. We agree the feeder should be full when the sun comes up. We agree the cat should watch from the safety of the window. We agree they are beautiful.

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Sailing on Ice, Walking on Water

Ice boat with the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge in the backgroundAn ice boat is a beautiful thing. It glides across the ice on giant ice skates, propelled by a sail. Each boat can hold one, maybe two people, who crouch low, often using feet to direct the rudder. Some are wood, formed and stained over a hundred years ago. Some are sleek and modern. All require ice, thick ice. And wind.  Those two things came together today, March 1, on the Hudson River. It was one of the biggest ice boat events on the river.

From high at Poet’s Walk, just north of the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge, we could see the boats skidding across the ice. In the not so far distance, an enormous tanker lazily crunched its way south in the open channel. The ice boats stayed away from that channel, zipping carefree north to Barrytown and south toward the bridge. Four or five boats were under sail.

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Mute Swans

This winter the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) of New York State announced that they were going to eliminate the 2,200 Mute Swans living in the State by 2025. I have a visceral reaction to any killing—spiders wander my house unharmed—but it’s not just because I’m a goofy animal lover that I don’t like this plan. Making decisions about what is best for the environment—are we really so good at that?

Here are the reasons why the DEC has decided on this move—which has caused an outcry throughout the state, the country and even the world. A friend from Australia sent a link to a story in their papers about this plan, making us Yanks out to be pretty cruel!

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