Sunday, May 2, 2010

SLEEPLESS SUNDAY

It is still dark outside, and raining, though only the lightest of drizzles. I've been awake since before 5:00 a.m. which is about an hour earlier than usual. For a while I remained in bed, listening to the soft patter of rain on the roof and its steady drip off the eaves, savoring the fresh scent of damp air coming through the opened window's screen.
Usually the sound and smell of a spring rain acts like a tranquilizer, making sleep easy. But this morning, I found myself becoming more awake as the minutes passed, and after an hour of increasing restlessness, decided to slip from bed before I disturbed Myladylove. Even Moon the dog, who sleeps beside the bed but normally follows me to my work room whenever I get up, simply gave me a baleful stare and re-snuggled herself on her doggy bed, where she remains. So much for loyalty.
The weather pundits have predicted heavy rains and severe storms. There are flash flood warnings out. Of course they predicted the same thing for yesterday, and it only rained briefly in the early morning—not enough to discolor the river or cause a rise. I'm hoping their notions for today prove just as overly estimated. Certainly the light rain now falling is not going to make any problems, riverwise. Of course it is never the rain falling here—but rather that which falls on the watershed of the fifty or so miles of river upstream from here that becomes the issue.
The photo of the large white trillium at the head of this post was taken Friday during a brief ramble to check a nearby woods for warblers. A friend and I had hoped to get out yesterday morning for a much longer photography/birding session, but ended up calling things off based on the early showers and advice from the weather prophets. In retrospect, we should have ignored the warnings and gone anyway. I fear I'm turning into a wuss.
Late yesterday afternoon, I sat on the deck watching dark clouds swirl overhead and wondering why I'd failed to catch a single smallmouth bass during the fifteen minutes worth of casts I'd just made to the nearby pool. Usually, a quarter-hour of fishing garners me several rock bass and a feisty smallmouth or two. Was my angling omnipotence also slipping?
As I mulled this somber thought, a great blue heron clatter-squawked upstream and came flapping downriver. I watched as it gained altitude, skimming over the tops of the first trees—mostly tall sycamores—at the head of the long island across from the cottage. Then the big bird angled down, into the woods, leveled at about fifty feet high, sailed and flapped through the thick timber, and finally made a little upward maneuver to land lightly on a limb in one of the very tallest of the sycamores.
I suppose I could have taken a photo of the bird in that treetop, but you likely wouldn't have been able to see anything. The light was low, and even knowing the bird's exact location, it was just a dark blob among various limbs and shadows that also appeared as dark blobs. It might surprise you—unless you've lived beside a heron-rich stream for a while—that these huge wading birds even perch in trees. I know this revelation surprised me when I moved into this riverside cottage and began taking note of my feathered neighbors. Yet I've come to learn that blue herons spend a great deal of time sitting in trees—and not just low down, close to the water, either. A limb choice of fifty, sixty, even seventy-five feet up is a common height. Who knew?
What does still surprise—or at least amaze—me about these birds is how effortlessly and deftly they can fly through the island's dense woods. You wouldn't think a bird with a 6-foot wingspan could easily find a path between the jungly maze of intertwined limbs. Yet it does, and does so at high speed—faster than the turkey vultures who also come gliding into the island's woods to find themselves a lofty perch.
Well, it is now light. The rain has ceased, at least for the moment. The robin who started singing before even a hint of dawn appeared is still singing…and I'm pleased to report my old dog came into the workroom and curled up beside the desk soon after I wrote the line questioning her commitment to early action. I was premature in my remarks; I hope she forgives me.
And now it is time for coffee…
———————

22 comments:

Debbie said...

I'm always disappointed when I oversleep the robins. I love to hear them singing early while I make coffee. I observed a heron leaving a large dense tree early one morning last year. It startled me! I see them flying around the neighborhood. Someone told me they look for backyard ponds with goldfish the way I look for Starbucks! Debbie

Jayne said...

Oh, I don't know... there is something sacred about being the only one awake at that hour, and things are seen through a different lens. We were expecting all those rains too, and it fully went to our north. Funny how we alter our behavior and plans so much when we expect dreary skies. Sipping coffee today and waiting for the actual rains to come. Sound like you will be due for a nice Sunday nap today. :c)

Wanda said...

I hope the weathermen are premature in their remarks as well.
I'm used to seeing turkeys fly from a hilltop to the low limbs of trees on the hillside, but have just recently seen them fly off into the distance, from where they were perched on the tops of very tall trees. I mistook them for turkey vultures the first time.
They weren't very graceful though!
...Wanda

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Debbie…

Me, too…though you have to wake up pretty early in the summer to beat the robins, since they start singing long before first light.

I've spent much of my life wading streams and frittering around lakes and ponds. Herons have always been a part of the scenery—and I've done more than one photo session at heron rookeries. But it wasn't until I moved here and began watching them on a daily/hourly basis that I realized how much time they spent during their everyday lives in trees…and WAY UP in trees, at that!

I've heard, more than once, of urban/suburban herons finding their lunch on backyard goldfish. Especially vexing if your goldfish is an expensive koi.

(As an Irishman, I'm too cheap for Starbucks…though they make great coffee. I'd rather brew my own java and spend the savings on a BMW or Nikon lens.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

I love getting up before the sun. Love that sort of sacred isolation of the night's end, the meditative quite, the hushed peace and calm. You do see and consider things through a different lens.

All day yesterday, I kept think how I just allowed an empty promise of downpours to prevent me from getting out—and also kept noticing how wonderfully soft and shadowless that light under those cloudy skies was, and great it would have been for photos.

Probably no nap…though I'll no doubt get sleepy later on.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Turkeys are neither graceful nor quiet when it comes to flying in and out of roost trees. That's how a lot of savvy turkey hunters mark and successfully bag their birds. You can hear a turkey take or leave its roost tree from a great distance away in the woods—and this tells you when and where to begin calling, or where to post yourself the next morning before they come off the roost.

Turkey vultures—and herons—fly much quieter; and of course a great horned or barred owl slipping through the woods is the absolute embodiment of stealth.

I'm taking a position based on faith and past history that the weathermen HAVE gotten it wrong for today.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ
.....and happy Sunday to you and your Lady!! :-)

Gracey-Blue was "dancing" around six this morning letting us know she had to "go". We all went back to bed once she did her business and curled up and fell asleep until nine!!! It is cloudy and sticky even here today. Everything is calm and still. Just like we all were for three more hours of wondrous sleep.

There are herons here too. They are, well, sloppy creatures, not an ounce of grace to be seen. Clumsy and perhaps unaware of their limbs and odd body frames. Still, delightful to observe.

I love how you "see" things and how they relate to your spirit and sense of your world - it is so in tune with that which surrounds you. Most people "miss the boat" soto speak - but you? You ride every wave, weather every storm, savor every calm and protect all of God's creatures. Amen.

Love to you
Gail
peace.....

Jenn Jilks said...

I suffer insomnia. If you are given lemons - make lemonade! With changing light levels, and cats rising early, I went out 3 days in a row to try and capture a moose at 6:00 a.m. Skunk Monkeyed again! But a delightful trip out into the woods.
When I rose this morning, the heron was sitting on the dock, checking out her territory.
We had a massive storm go through, and power outage for 5 hours. Nice quiet times!
All wonderful pieces of the natural beauty of this world!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Myladylove slept 'til 9:30, which meant we missed going to church. But given what we went through last weekend, I thought she needed her sleep.

We're getting ready to head out for a day's rambling—take Moon the dog, maybe look at some plants, walk around a lake some 70 miles north of here, have a late lunch, take some photos, stop wherever the mood strikes.

Herons are rather awkward, gawky birds—but good fishermen and graceful on the wing once they're up and going.

If I have any gift of seeing and relating nature though my writing, it is simply because the natural world is where I live and feel comfortable—I understand birds and animals, wind and sky, the spin of the seasons, because it has always been such a vital part of my days and who I am. I hope I do pass some of that along occasionally…

Take care.

Tramp said...

Here the timing on the weather forecast is also a bit out. After a week that got warmer and warmer we were promised a wet weekend and so we were led to curtail our activities in expectation of inclement weather. The rain only really arrived on Sunday evening and it feels that it might last a while.
Also I understand what you say about the early morning, if I wake up I must get up.
I hope you enjoyed that coffee...Tramp

Joy K. said...

I was fortunate enough to discover a heron's nesting site in a very tall tree just on the other side of a creakk that runs behind my house. When I saw the first one coming in for a landing, I was surprised that it didn't break through the thin branches and crash awkwardly down. Instead, he landed softly, with nary a wing thrash. Like you, I had no idea they were so comfortable in the upper reaches.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

I used to have real problems getting to sleep, often spending most of the night awake. I'm much better nowadays. But when I wake up, I'm usually up.

On the other hand, I don't seem to need much sleep—a good thing, considering.

Like you, I often go out first off to see what I can photograph…though moose aren't on the list. Not many moose in Ohio, unless we're talking lodge members.

George said...

After a long flight home today, it was a pleasure to read your posting, Grizz. Smooth and satisfying. As a heron watcher myself, here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I must confess that I have never seen herons in the tops of tal trees. I'm not disappointed in the herons, but I'm a bit disappointed in my bird-watching ability. This, I trust, will improve.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

We've been out on a ramble most of the day, but it appears a fair bit of rain fell while we were gone. The river is muddy and up maybe a foot. Not bad. However, yesterday's mowed grass looks as though it has already grown 2 inches.

Damp here, but still near 70˚F.

Oh, I DID enjoy that coffee. I love good coffee. And tea, actually. Some days, I think that's the best thing I have in the way of food.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

Hey, I truly thought I knew great blue heron behavior rather well. I'd spent countless hours on streams and lakes, watching them fish, photographing them in various situation, including nesting, and paid attention to what I saw. I've even rescued a couple which I found entangled in discarded fishing mono, and one caught in one of those plastic six-pack holders. Up close and hacked-off, they are intimidating birds, I can tell you. You don't gently catch a heron, do what it takes to get it out of trouble, set the critter loose…and come away unscathed. They'll peck you in the eye in a heartbeat—and even if they just manage to nail you on the wrist, you're going to bleed. It's like taking on Zorro and not having your own sword.

Anyway, I moved to this riverside cottage and really began watching them—every day, at all times of day and night, through all the seasons. Knowing something you see regularly, and knowing something because you live with them is the difference between familiarity and intimacy. I had no idea herons spent so much time in trees, just as I had no idea they were so noisy at all times during the night. And maybe that's just river-dwelling birds, or even birds of this region. I don't know that…but now I know I don't know.

Does that make sense?

Bottom line—I've learned more about herons in four years than in all my previous life. You'll learn, too, if you watch…and mostly because you can watch whenever the opportunity presents itself. You have a real treat ahead.

BTW…welcome home!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Joy K…

Several years ago I did a lot of photography in a heron rookery not too far from here. There were, as I recall, 15-20 nesting pairs in that rookery, which was located in an isolated "woodlot" type of woods, that is, a sort of "island" of big trees, well back from and road, surrounded by meadows and planted fields. The nearest river was about two miles away, and not even small, jump-across streams were closer than a half-mile or more distant. But that's where the birds had been nesting for decades.

Hundred of times over the course of my photo taking, I watched those herons come flying into the woods, sift down through the trees, slipping and sliding on the air, dodging branches and limbs, graceful, sure, with nary a miscue or clumsy moment. And those nests were 35-45 feet up.

So yeah, you're right…until you've seen one do it, you don't realize how good they are at treetop landings. Of course they still look rather silly up there…

Bernie said...

Oh your Sunday sounds peaceful. I am glad your area is not affected by all the bad weather happening right now. We had mixed weather today and it is still cool but I can feel and smell the Spring air and I love it.
I sleep with my window opened as well and awake every morning to birds chirping and I never see them or seldom do but they must be in my pine tree and they do empty the feeders.......:-) Hugs

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Trilliums, a favorite of mine...who could not love them?!

My favorite? Elegant Cats Ear (of course) followed by Shooting Stars, then Trilliums

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Maybe my birds are lazy when it comes to foraging for themselves now that spring is well underway, but the two large seed feeders have a steady stream of cardinals, chickadees, titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, goldfinches, etc. all day long. Sunflower seeds disappear at nearly the same rate as they did back in January.

Yesterday was cloudy and light showers all day. Today looks lovely. Birds are singing their hearts out. The river is up a couple of feet and muddy—but nothing bad. Grass and plants look lush. Seeing as how I have to go grocery shopping this morning, things will probably dry out about the time I get done with my errands.

Take care of yourself…and enjoy your spring. I'll bet it's really pretty up there this time of year.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

I like trilliums a lot—but then, I like almost all the spring wildflowers. I'd hate to have to choose a favorite. Bluets? Fire pink? Bloodroot? Trout lily? I'd even hate to have to choose a favorite trillium. Wake robin? Painted? Large-flowered? I even like toad trillium, though it doesn't open up like the others; maybe it just the name, including "toadshade" or the plant's mottled leaves. And I also like prairie trillium a lot. And at this point I might just as well throw in snow trillium and nodding trillium…or just say I've never yet found a trillium I don't much like.

Don't you just love a decisive man?

Scott said...

Grizz, I'm jealous that you have trilliums. They don't grow naturally in my part of the Piedmont (probably too warm), and they'd be eaten to nubs by the deer even if they did grow here.

While waiting at a traffic light in a very densely developed part of my environs this last Saturday, I suddenly saw a Great Blue Heron become airborne. The bird had been foraging, unseen, in a tiny, tangled, overgrown drainage channel alongside the road. Something must have startled it, and it startled me!

I have a coffee mug shaped like a Great Blue Heron; I think of you every time I use it.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scott…

I'm sorta amazed you don't have trilliums in your neck of the woods; I guess I took it for granted you did. I don't know how many species we have around here—but even considering my limited botanical skills, I can count five or six. And of course we have a bumper crop on whitetails, too…so if they think them such a treat, I wonder why deer don't eat 'em all?

I'm not surprised about that heron being in a tiny drainage ditch. I've noticed them in such places myself, especially if the brooks, creeks, and rivers are up, in spate, and not readily fishable.

Yesterday, while Myladylove and I were driving around—and this was after a night of rain sufficient to muddy and flood local streams—I saw herons in several farm drainage ditches.

There a long, straight field drainage ditch four or five miles from where I live. It's about 12-18 inches wide, and generally carries water in it throughout the summer. Vast corn or bean fields on either side. It's actually dug in the bottom center of a much wider ditch, long gone to grass. I've never seen water high enough to actually need this wide, deep ditch—so I don't know why the thing was ever dug.

Anyway, as you pass the field on the road, you can look straight up this "little ditch at the bottom of a big ditch" and see about 250 yards of water. I can't tell you how many times I've looked up that rail-straight shimmering, watery line, and saw a half-dozen or more herons all standing in this foot-wide little waterway—evenly spaced, about 25 yards apart. Don't know if it's especially good fishing there, and territorial disputes are minimized, or if the birds are all just brother members of the Ohio Heron Union and not about to buck their assigned spots.

I do know they're really spooky when they're down in this ditch. Even slowing the truck for a better look puts a bird or two up. Stopping flushes them all. nevertheless, one of these days I'm going to put the serious sneak on them get a photo!

Finally…glad you think of me when you sip from your heron mug; from here on, I'll be thinking of you…thinking how jealous I could easily become of that mug. :-)