Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Land of Ice and Snow

This week our region has certainly been the land of ice and snow - but no midnight sun, and no hot springs flowing. Just cold, steady below-freezing temperatures.

For several years I've followed a relatively mindless path as I commute back and forth to Ithaca on a near-daily basis. During that time I'm usually preoccupied with a combination of things: reflecting on the upcoming/just ended workday, listening to music and/or NPR (depends if we're in an election cycle), haphazardly noting the "road birds," and/or just zoning out (especially at the end of the day).

Scenic view from following the ridges, not the valleys.
Sometimes you just have to stop to take it all in.

Recently I've branched out, trying various back roads for at least part of the journey. I have a couple of goals, such as stay on roads where it's easier to pull over without getting hit, trying to stay higher on the ridges rather than follow the valley, partially for the view and partially to pass through more habitats where I can stop and maybe stumble across some birds I would ordinarily miss. Flocks of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and perhaps a Lapland Longspur in a field come to mind, along with the possibility of winter finches (especially Red and White-winged Crossbills) in some conifer stands, or Evening Grosbeaks and redpolls coming to feeders. Northern Shrikes and raptors patrol the open areas along these roads.

Covered in glistening ice for now, I wonder what migrants will
be found at some of these road-side stops
when spring arrives.

The most beneficial aspect, though, is that this drive is so much more relaxing. I'm zoning out less, keeping in a more mindful state, more like focused meditation. The birding so far hasn't yielded anything of note, but the scenery more than makes up for it. I make regular stops to enjoy panoramic views of the rolling hills, to listen for birds singing from the wooded areas, to actually pay attention to the region where we live instead of focusing on the taillights in front of me. The roads, it turns out, are fairly easy to navigate in snow and slush, I'm more worried about "mud season" when these roads may be impassable.

This morning included heavy snowfall along
with the layered ice. This Red-shouldered Hawk,
regular at the Lab, didn't seem bothered.

Given the current conditions (the hawk photo was from this morning), it's hard to believe the first migrating Red-winged Blackbirds and Turkey Vultures are due back in another week or so. Spring, in one sense, is in the air!


slybird said...

Nice 'shoulder picture! I just saw that bird for the first time this year.

Greg said...

Hi, Mike
In response to your comment on my blog I said: "We seem to get a bad ice storm once or twice/winter in the Ozarks these days. Although I wouldn't trade for your constant snows"

Oops, shouldn't have said that.... Sorry about the ice in your area....

Glad the back roads are providing some relief from your winter mess.

noflickster said...

Nick - thanks! I was happy to see the bird perched relatively close, and stayed put long enough for a shot. Glad I tried in spite of the heavy snow, I was wondering if the bird would even show up behind the curtain of white!

Greg - I think in most years your statement would be accurate, but every so often we get a wicked ice storm - power lines sagging, branches cracking, deer netting ripped under the weight . . . come to think of it, the deer must love it: it opens up a previously off-limits buffet! This year feels like we've had more ice more often.

Thanks for dropping by!
- Mike

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Mike - your thoughtful posts continue to hit a chord over at The Zen Birdfeeder. Check out Zen Nature Lessons at

Locations of visitors to this page