A Morning for the Birds and Planes

We started seeing them soon after we started our walk from Sycamore Landing. They were everywhere. There were so many of them! This was the morning for the birds. And their presence was easily revealed because of the bare branches of the trees and bushes this time of year. There are other Sunday mornings, when we start the walk with my hope of seeing the birds in the woods before they become active and fly away from their nests, and we end up seeing very few of them. This was not that kind of a morning.

The first sets of birds we saw were at the parking lot even before we got on the trail, high up on a tree.In my mind, limited as it is in its capability to understand such things, the birds had nested close to each other on the tree for the night, had just woken up, and were getting ready for the activities of the day. You could see the early morning light hit the upper branches of the trees – to light up the birds, and to perhaps warm them up. I could not identify these birds. They looked like doves from this distance, but I could not confirm this in spite of some research.

We were happy to see that the work on upgrading the trail had already reached Sycamore Landing. They had even filled in the massive potholes that used to exist in the parking lot. We had noticed the previous week that progress on the upgraded trail had reached just north of Rileys Lock, which is the entrance to the towpath just before Sycamore Landing. The work is now complete to a point beyond Sycamore Landing, closer to Edwards Ferry. At this rate they should be able to get the work done by the end of the year. This is great! I can now start my bike rides heading north from Rileys Lock without having to fear the potholes and the puddles of mud. But back to he birds….

The whole area close to Sycamore Landing appeared to have a large concentration of birds. It was noisy. It looked busy. You could hear a lot of movement in some of the bushes beside the trail. They were full of sparrows, but very few of them were clearly visible. The brown branches provided a good camouflage.

A hawk hung around on the upper branches of a tree, most likely keeping an eye out for prey.

We saw this bluejay in the canal bed.

This was a woodpecker that popped up for a short viewing. It might have been a female Downy woodpecker.

This Pileated Woodpecker was high up on a tree. These woodpeckers are much bigger than the others that we usually come across.

I found this female Northern Cardinal in a bush by the trail. There were a few other cardinals that were flying around.

This Eastern Bluebird landed on the pathway in front of us in the later part of the walk towards Edwards Ferry.

I am posting this picture of this sparrow just because I like the way the picture came out!

And then there were the many aircraft that we saw crossing the river. They were flying at a low altitude and heading towards Dulles airport. They were coming in one after another at a very high frequency, to the extent that the noise that they were creating in the background was nearly constant. They seemed to be lining up for landing one after another. This level of air traffic felt unusual, especially for that time of day, and for that day of the week. Most of the aircraft were small to medium size, and seemed to be on domestic flights. I could recognize the United tails. I did recognize a flight from South Korea,and I thought I had seen an Emirates aircraft earlier on when we were driving in. Based on what I noticed that morning, I get the impression that the international carriers have reduced the size of the aircraft that they are deploying for their flights.

The volume of air traffic over our heads had reduced quite significantly by the time we started heading back from Edwards Ferry to Sycamore Landing.

We were thinking to ourselves that any story about a multitude of birds being sighted along the towpath would be incomplete without a picture of our signature bird, the Great Blue Heron. We had seen one in the distance as we were approaching Edwards Ferry. We had tried to keep our eyes on it through the bare branches of the trees as it flew away in front of us – in the distance over the bed of the canal. We had not been able to see it in the location where we thought it had landed. It turned out that it had landed high on a tree top, and we had missed it because we had been looking for it on the canal bed. We had walked past it without noticing it. Fortunately, the birds do not move around too much, and we found it on our way back to Sycamore Landing – high up on a tree!We had seen a Great Blue Heron in the same area during previous walks. This led us to consider the possibility that this was the same heron that we had seen before, and that the bird had somehow claimed this area as its territory. Fact of the matter is that we do not even know if herons are territorial and behave like this.

We saw some other birds during our return to Sycamore Landing. This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I could be wrong, but my searches lead me to believe that the bird in the picture below is a Female Golden-crowned Kinglet. This is a bird I am not very familiar with.

Even though I had considered that possibility earlier in the year that 2020 could be the year of the owls, we did not sight one this Sunday!

I will leave readers with a picture that I took at Edward Ferry that gives you a sense to the wonderful morning we experienced on the trail. The picture is best viewed in its full resolution.

Caught my Attention

Was it…

The spring flowers that lined the trail with different colors in different in sections,
Or the light tinge of green beginning to appear among the branches of the trees;

The big fat bird that I sighted in the distance,
That kept running away from me along the trail as I slowly caught up with it,
That eventually managed to lift its huge and somewhat ungainly body off the ground
and disappear into the woods around a corner;

The small turtle crossing the trail oblivious to the dangers posed by folks like me;

The big turtles perched on the logs in the waters of the canal warming themselves,
Or swimming in the clear waters with their backs sticking out above water level;

The incredibly bright red cardinals zipping across the trail in front of me;

The extremely loud pecking of the woodpecker ringing through the woods;

The fox crossing the trail and the canal as I approached;

The barred owl that rose from a tree just beside the trail as I went by,
Flying off to settle on a tree further away from the trail to stare at me;

The vultures that reluctantly rose from the trail as I approached,
Only to land on the trees above the trail to watch me go by;

The appearance of the two dogs that seemed to have no master,
One approaching me with an awkward and sideways gait,
Seemingly looking at me warily out of the corner of one eye,
And the other running away to the berm side of the canal to stare at me from the distance?

But the overall result was a great time riding my bike even though I did not stop to smell the roses, and even as I covered 20 miles in each direction along the towpath in  preparation for the ride from Pittsburgh to the DC area happening later in the year.

 

 

The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

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I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.