We accepted IslandWood’s invitation today for a bird walk, our first foray into proper birding with a guide, binoculars, book and camera. Actually arriving on-time for the 8 am start was accomplishment enough; had we not seen a bird at least the get-everyone-ready time trial resulted in victory.

Since it was pretty overcast and the Saturday walk saw few birds Mark, our guide, would instead focus on calls. As we walked through the woods he would call name after name of birds, which pretty quickly became a mess in my head. I could either remember the name of the bird or the call, but not both.

We strolled towards the pond where I took a photo of a mallard sleeping on the pier with only one leg down, a sleeping position of which I was unaware.

The swallows, so named apparently for the bugs they eat skimming over the water, were out in force. We also saw two great blue herons on the far side of the pond, easily seen with binoculars but not so clear to the naked eye.

From the pond we started making our way toward a pileated woodpecker nest the naturalists had previously scouted. The group split a little as we migrated, those with kids falling behind those without – providence.

As we walked through the woods yours truly spotted a barred owl flying through trees and land on a branch but given the overcast skies and deep woods it wasn’t easy to make out much detail with the naked eye. While I pointed out the owl to others my wife used our single pair of binoculars to view it while I held our daughter and directed everyone to “see that triangle of dark trees with the light tree behind them, you can’t miss it.” (Of course, the “you can’t miss it part” didn’t hold for everyone. I found birding to be as much about listening and observing as it is about being able to follow someone else’s directions. Unsurprisingly I was much better at giving orders than taking.) When my wife finally did decide to hand over the binoculars the owl, of course, departed.

When looking at pictures of the owl online this evening, I asked my wife “Hey, did you get to see the eyes?” to which she responded “Oh, many times.” We will now own binoculars for all for us.

After the owl (and getting to brag about spotting it when we re-grouped) we made our way towards the woodpecker nest. Not only was the nest visible but the bird itself was out too. It’s huge! The entrance way to the nest was so cleanly pecked out it was as though the bird had used a router. The accompanying photo is terrible I know, but I was excited to take it, forgive me. The bird is black with a red head in the center of the photo.

On the way home I put one of the calls I learned to use. One bird, I remember the call and not the name, basically makes the sound I use to call my dog. I flirted with the bird back and forth – pretty cool.

Peonies, ants and rhodys

Back in the garden, I had noticed yesterday the beginning buds on our peonies so I went to take a closer look. This is my first time growing peonies but I had always heard about ants associated with their budding so I was unsurprised when sure enough every bud had at least two ants busily eating the sap the flowers excrete.

In other budding news, I love the look of a rhody pre-bloom. The rhodys just keep coming, each more showier than the last. I could probably post a rhody photo a day for a month without repeating a color.

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