Boxing Day at Blackwater

We've been to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge many times in the '70's and '80's when it was about the only place in the mid-Atlantic you could reliably find bald eagles.  Now the eagles abound, but it is still a wonderful birding spot.  

We got great looks at three mature bald eagles over the marsh.  Two are pictured here.  

Between five and ten thousand Canada Geese were filling the air with the cacaphony of goose music.  I took photos of Pin Tails in the glow of late afternoon light, which I hope to paint when the holiday season subsides.

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Counting Hawks

How do you entertain yourself on a long drive?  My husband and I just drove 4+ days cross country to spend the holidays with distant family.  The first day was a bit harrowing as we encountered patches of heavy fog.  We saw a lot of hawks but were concentrating too hard on the driving to keep a count.  We also saw a ring-necked pheasant and 3 deer.  The remainder of the trip was sunny with no precipitation.  Day two we counted 86 hawks including a Bald Eagle over Kansas City.  The counts are probably a bit low, because we only counted hawks we could confirm by their silhouette, posture, and flight patterns.  We may have missed some smaller hawks that can be confused at a distance with crows or even pigeons.  If there was any doubt, we left them out.  Day three we counted 72 hawks and 14 turkey vultures for an identical total count.  Day four was a big disappointment - only 19 hawks in a full day of driving.  I doubt if our hawk-watching skills deteriorated that much, so I'm guessing wintry weather and less farmland had driven them further south.  Our last day we drove only 2 hours to our destination and again saw a total of 19, more vultures (including two black vultures) than hawks.  Our last bird was a mature bald eagle flying low over a marsh along the Potomac River - a magnificent sight at journey's end.

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Walks around the Lake

A Pelican fishing party on Lake McIntosh

Every day when we are in Colorado, we take a walk around Lake McIntosh.  It is 3.5 miles of good exercise.  And each season brings an ever-changing cast of characters.  A colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs inhabits the fields to the northwest of the lake.  In spring there are the pups with their big wobbly heads and almond shaped eyes.  In the fall, they grow as fat as rabbits preparing for the winter cold.  They have many calls, including one we've dubbed "the wave" where a prairie dog rises on his hind legs, and vocalizes as he leaps up while raising his forearms above his head.  Usually another prairie dog responds in kind.   In the fall, they eat voraciously and grow as fat as rabbits preparing for the winter cold.  Snow brings a visual confirmation of just how social the prairie dogs are--dozens of tracks lead from burrow to burrow.    

Winter visitors include rafts of ducks, skeins of geese, wheeling gulls, and the occasional bald eagle.  We see the kingfisher and hear his rattle more often in winter.  Spring brings the Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Meadowlarks and Yellow Throats sing at loud decibels.  Pairs of Eastern Phoebes, Say's Phoebes and Eastern and Western Kingbirds choose spots to nest.  And for most of the year, until the water ices over, majestic White Pelicans cruise the lake in synchronized fishing parties.  While I've since lost count, at one point we had a list of over 120 different bird species we've identified at the lake.  

A great many people we pass on the path wear earphones as they run, or are engrossed in their smartphones.  We feel sad that they miss the subtleties of sight and sound of the myriad species that share the lake.   

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