Bon Voyage to the Birds

Pratt Cove

“The red-winged blackbird is the true harbinger of spring.” This is a sentence I repeat at least two or three times a year. I first hear it at the Connecticut Audobon’s Eagle Festival. My children and I went to the festival hoping to learn more about eagles and meet the bird experts. The festival is held in February, when everyone is looking toward spring and the return of migrating birds. One bird expert explained that many robins now winter over in our area, so “the red-winged blackbird is the true harbinger of spring.”

Deep River is home to two freshwater tidal marshes, Pratt Cove and Post Cove. Wild rice grows in these coves, and at this time of year it is ready to eat. Lucky for the red-winged blackbirds, who are starting to think of their autumn journey south. In preparation for migration, many birds, including the red-winged blackbird, enter a stage of hyperphagia, which means their appetite increases and eating is nearly continual. It makes sense: they are bulking up for a long flight to their winter home. This crop of wild rice provides them with lots and lots of food. In September and October the reeds in Pratt Cove are filled with flocks of noisy, hungry, red-winged blackbirds, eating, calling to each other, and flying from reed to reed. I marvel and delight in this predictable happening.

Many birds are now preparing to make a migratory trip south. Watch, listen, tune into the behavior of the birds. Their journey is not easy, many will travel thousands of miles and will meet many challenges: bad weather, electrical wires, air and road traffic, food and water shortages, and more. Bid them farewell and safe journey.

More information:

Winged Migration, a film released in 2001, is a documentary about the migratory patterns of birds. It is filled with beautiful images of birds in flight and in natural setting across the globe. The film also includes some footage of birds encountering obstacles and perilous circumstances along their migrational paths.
Common Sense Media Review

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Migration

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

The ebird link below will take you to an amazing site that maps the annual migratory cycle for North American birds. occurrence maps


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Friday Photo

Look closely, hidden treasures are everywhere.

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A Clearing in the Woods

It took two days of asking and bargaining, but I got Aurora and Stephen to take a hike with me. Actually, for months I have “led by example.” I walk or hike whenever possible. Stephen and Aurora know my beliefs about exercise and being in nature, yet they fight my attempts to get them outside. When motivating children, “lead by example” gets you only so far. After that it’s bargain, cajole, guilt, leverage, and bribe.

It was a simple plan: take the dog for a walk at a local preserve. Stephen agreed to come with me out of guilt; he had stalled long enough the day before that it got too dark to walk in the woods. He knew I had been disappointed, so he agree to go to Canfield Woods with me. Aurora wanted to go shopping. I told her she had to walk with us first. I had a bargaining chip and I used it.

When we arrived at the preserve, I told them we would do the short loop—yellow trail to blue trail. They grumbled, but set out down the path.

Stephen wanted to walk next to me, so did Aurora. They started to push each other. I gave Stephen the dog and asked him to walk ahead.

That worked for a while, then he gave me the dog and started collecting acorns. “Oh good, he’s getting interested in things,” I thought. Then he started throwing the acorns at Aurora. She got mad and said something unkind, and he reacted. “Mom…!” he said. “Mom…!” she said. I walked away in frustration thinking, “Maybe its NOT worth it.”

Eventually they both ran up to me complaining about the other. “She never wants to play with me any more,” declared Stephen. “He’s so annoying,” Aurora said in a way only a 13-year-old can—part bratty child, part superior “cool kid.”

A light bulb went off, and I stopped walking. It’s true, Aurora doesn’t play with Stephen as much as she used to. She’s in the regional middle school now, busy meeting new friends and getting involved in new activities. Stephen has been looking for attention from his sister. If he can’t get the attention in a positive way, then it seems he will settle for negative attention. So he pokes her and trips her. He annoys her and throws acorns at her.

Out in the woods with no distractions—no phones, TV, homework, or friends, the dynamic was clear. We talked about it. Stephen had his say and then Aurora had hers. They hugged and we continued down the yellow trail. Stephen and Aurora walked ahead of me, together in a way they hadn’t been at the beginning of the hike. They settled into the hike—they talked, pointed out interesting finds, and climbed up rock faces, a favorite activity.

It happens all the time: I work hard to get Stephen and Aurora outside in nature and am rewarded in some way. Aurora will share stories about friends and school. Stephen and I will get down on the damp ground and watch a toad, or he will  challenge me to a race. Aurora and Stephen spend quality time together. We relax, we share, we unplug, we connect. It’s always good, if I can wait them out. Start a friendly battle with your kids and get them outside.

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A Close Encounter

An early morning hike with my friend, Caryn was the start to my birthday celebration. We hiked the blue and yellow trails at Canfield Woods as a light rain fell on the leaves above us. It was wonderful. While we walked along a swampy area, I saw something hop. I stopped to investigate and found a toad sitting next to a log. “Let’s play one of my favorite games, ‘How close can I get?'” I said to Caryn.

I stepped off the trail, nearer to the toad and pulled out my camera. I focused on the toad and took a picture. Then I crouched down, moved in and took another picture. The toad sat still. I moved in even closer and took another picture. Caryn said, “It would be cool if you could take a picture straight on.”

“They don’t usually let you do that,” I replied. Then I moved my camera around to the front of the toad, he didn’t move. I held my breath and took a picture.

I stood up, laughed with delight, and returned to the trail. And the toad calmly hopped away. What a birthday gift!

Next time you are out in nature, watch closely for movement, it often means wildlife. Then you can play “How close can you get?”

Remember: When you encounter wildlife, approach with gentle respect. You are a visitor in their habitat. 

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Little Things

And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom. Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous. With this beginning, it is easy to share with them the beauties we usually miss because we look too hastily, seeing the whole and not its parts. Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.   —Rachel Carson

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Planting Pansies

For my daughter, Aurora, spring means planting pansies. When she was four-years-old my mother came for a visit. My mother (Aurora’s Granny) announced to Aurora, “Wait until you see what I have in my car.” With excitement and anticipation Aurora and Granny walked to the car. On the floor of the backseat were 2 six-packs of pansies and a spade. The pair spent the next hour planting beautiful purple and yellow pansies in a big wooden planter at the front of the house.

Mother’s Day is approaching and I am thinking about pansies. Most Mother’s Days, I buy my mother pansies. I have never questioned it. It’s just something I do, something I have always done. As I remember the sight of Aurora and my mother carefully planting their happy little harbingers of spring, I am reminded of another pair of gardeners. My young, dark-haired mother and me, crouched at a garden bed with spades in our hands and the sun on our backs as we planted pansies.

Happy Mother’s Day

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A late day hike

My friend, Caryn and I took a hike late in the afternoon on a recent spring day. It’s a beautiful time of day for a hike. On a sunny day, the sun rakes across the trees casting long dramatic shadows and illuminates the greenery. Caryn took the best photograph of the day.

ferns unfurl

photograph by Caryn Paradis

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Cute little Critter

Photo by eaglemoon

If you are quiet and still, amazing things will appear.

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Books to Ring in Spring

Two of my favorite books to read in the spring are Possum and the Peeper, by Anne Hunter, and and then it’s spring, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

possum and the peeperIn Possum and  the Peeper, possum is roused from his long winter sleep by a loud and constant noise. “Peep! Peep! Peep!” He decides to leave his cozy winter nest and find the source of the inconsiderate racket. As he searches she is joined by a pair of catbirds, a bear, a muskrat, and a turtle, who all agree that the noise needs to stop. The animals’ search takes them through the woods, by the “trout lilies blooming along the path,” and then down to the marsh. Among the reeds of the marsh they find “a speck of a thing” that is the source of the “peeping.” In his loud voice, the unapologetic little frog delivers a spring message, “Rise and shine!” Read the book to hear the frog’s other spring messages.

and then it's springAnd then it’s spring, is that wonderful combination of beautiful artwork and wonderful words. This team created a lovely book.

Think spring. What color comes to mind? Green, right? Spring is the arrival of green… or, if you flip it, it is the disappearance of brown. And then it’s spring, starts with brown: “First you have brown, all around you have brown.” The author then adds seeds and anticipation, and takes us into spring. The simple, measured text articulates the hopeful, watchful anticipation of spring.

The illustrated characters—a boy, a dog, a turtle, and a rabbit—stand in a brown field, plant seeds in a garden, hope for rain, march in mud, and wait. While the characters wait, the reader waits. The images

of the little boy and his friends are sweet, playful, and timeless. Erin E. Stead uses woodblock printing techniques and pencil sketching to bring this story to life. The stage is set with a big tree in a fenced field, a small red farmhouse set on a distant hill, and sky—big, cloud-filled sky. The characters of the story move within this stage to play out the celebration of spring.

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Hiking and Singing in the Rain

On a recent Monday, the Explorers took a hike in the rain. Earlier that morning, I emailed the parents and asked them to bring in boots and raincoats for their children because we hoped to take a hike before the heavy rain settled in. The Explorers arrived properly dressed. (Thank you parents!) We did morning activities while we watched the puddle in front of the school for signs of rain. It looked pretty light. Naya, one of our Explorers and I checked the radar. Rain was suppose to get heavy around noon. We ate a quick snack, dressed in our rain gear and walked out of the school. The rain was coming down heavier than we hoped for but we forged on. Kelly, co-teacher, and I decided on a short hike close to the school in case the rain got heavy. “Let’s walk to the magnolia tree and look at the buds. Then we can observe the changes and developments through the next few weeks,” I suggested.

We made our way to the magnolia tree on the hill as the rain fell heavier. The Explorers didn’t seem to mind the rain. This was a new twist on our typical outdoor routine and they were ready for it. We looked closely at the fuzzy gray buds, Kelly, pointed out how the rain collected in droplets on the branches. We cut a branch from the tree to bring back to the classroom so we could observe and record the changes. Then we made tracks for home, the rain now committed to ending all outdoor activity. The children were wet but smiling; enjoying the adventure and pleased with themselves—true Explorers!

Thinking ahead, Naya asked what we were going to do with the soggy rain gear when we reached the school. Kelly made a plan, “We’ll leave our wet jackets in the foyer and head into the cozy warm classroom.” I stayed back in the foyer to hang up the wet jackets. As I returned to the classroom, the Explorers were still buzzing about the hike in the rain, showing off their dripping clothes and hair. And Kelly was talking about, “a famous actor who danced and sang in the rain.”
What happened next? Yes, we found the video of Gene Kelly dancing in the rain in the movie Singing in the Rain and played it for the Explorers. In order for everyone to see the video, I held my laptop up at an angle. This meant I watched the children while they watched Gene Kelly dance. I saw amazement and delight in their smiling faces. And then, when Gene Kelly stood under the rainspout and stomped in the puddles, I saw shock and mischievous joy on those same faces. It is so much fun to share with children!

Jeanie, our Director, came in to see what all the laughter was about. The Explorers answered all at once, that they watched a man dancing in the rain. As if planned and rehearsed, Jeanie started dancing and singing: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again….” On cue, Amy, a teacher in the preschool, enter the room and joined Jeanie, “I’m laughing at clouds, so dark up above. The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love. Let the stormy clouds chase, Everyone from the place. Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face. I walk down the lane with a happy refrain. Just singin’, singin’ in the rain.” They finished the song and the class erupted in applause and laughter. A great way to spend a rainy day!

Kelly and I wanted to focus on the joy and adventure of being out in the rain. We could not have imagined how much fun we would have! Below is the video. (We skipped the goodnight kiss at the beginning.) Enjoy!

P.S. The video was shared with our preschoolers who reacted with the same delight. Teachers noticed a dramatic increase in puddle splashing that week!

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