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  • Published
    February 4, 2012

    Tracking our summer birds south

    Remember that unusual raft of 600-plus coots that hung out on Chickawaukie Lake into early January, dwindling down to two, then none, as the lake finally froze over? I think we found them. My husband and I were birding in Florida recently, and coots were everywhere — in canals, swamps, and ponds wherever we went. In fact, as our plane was touching down at Palm Beach International, we passed coots in a wet area …

  • Published
    January 12, 2012

    Meditations on gulls

    In a high school writing class years ago, I wrote a compare-and-contrast essay on how to tell apart different species of Maine gulls. Even then, I was both fascinated with birds and bent on encouraging people to take a second look at what’s usually dismissed as ordinary. My life as a bird nerd had begun. And 30 years later, I still find gull-watching to be a satisfyingly challenging exercise, especially in winter …

  • Published
    December 24, 2011

    Meditations on totems and clans

    A friend of mine believes the fox has special meaning for his family. Right after the birth of each of his daughters, three years apart, he saw a fox out the window. One of his daughters is now old enough to tell the story herself. I have no doubt that she’ll carry this affinity with foxes throughout her life, sharing the story with her own children one day, perpetuating a family legend. If my friend were a …

  • Published
    December 12, 2011

    Meditations on screams in the night

    A friend taking part in an owl survey a few years ago thought she’d heard a barn owl screaming in the woods. At least, she hoped it was a barn owl, because otherwise all she could think is that someone was being murdered. If you’ve heard a barn owl shriek (described on the Stokes bird song CD as “human-like scream”), you’ll get some sense of her concern. The sound will make the hairs stand up on the back of your …

  • Published
    November 10, 2011

    Meditations on Butterflies

    Here’s a cool trick to show off at an outdoor party: identify the gender of a monarch butterfly. All you need is one monarch butterfly, a common, easily recognizable species: big, orange with black stripes. (The viceroy is similar, but has an extra black stripe crossing the hindwings.) When your chosen butterfly is posed in such a way that you can see the tops of its wings, look for a tiny swelling along one of …

  • Published
    October 12, 2011

    Meditations on porcupines

    Recently my five-year-old niece, Fiona, came to our house overnight for her first sleepover. After a viewing of the movie “Rio” — “because you like birds, Auntie ”— we finally went to sleep way past her bedtime. She slept with me, while poor Uncle Paul was relegated to the guest bed, so it was with some dismay that I was awakened the next morning at 6:15 by a flock of blue jays yelling raucously right outside the …

  • Published
    September 3, 2011

    Meditations on the river in summer

    A lot of creatures swim in the Megunticook River. From my parents’ house on the banks of the “mill pond,” we’ve watched beavers ply the waters with branches in their mouths, muskrats hustling from here to there with their snaking tails leaving a curving wake, families of Canada geese, and a loyal pair of loons (with a chick or two in lucky years). From water’s edge, we’ve seen painted and snapping turtles, …

  • Published
    August 20, 2011

    Meditations: On animal sounds; or, what does a chipmunk say?

    Spending time playing with my young nieces, I’m reminded that among the first things we teach children — in addition to body parts (where’s your nose?), colors, numbers, and the ABCs — is what sounds different animals make. There’s the toy barn with the door that moos, the toy that oinks when you push on the pig, meows when you push the cat, etc., and Old McDonald is still on his farm with a “baa, baa” here and a …

  • Published
    June 27, 2011

    Meditations: Slugs

    Consider the lowly slug. When I was a child of about five or six, I apparently did. My grandmother was busy with a sharp garden tool killing slugs that were rampaging through her strawberry patch. “But Nanny,” I implored, “slugs have to live too.” I came around a little bit when she showed me all the strawberries that I wouldn’t have the chance to eat because the slugs had beaten me to it. But for the rest of …

  • Published
    May 24, 2011

    Meditations on alders

    In this season when leaves are almost the size of squirrels’ ears and the first wildflowers brighten the forest floor, when mornings resound with birdsong once more, I find myself drawn to an unlikely spring bloomer: the alder. A plain and abundant tree bearing indistinct flowers, the alder is often overlooked. But its buds have been in front of our eyes all winter, clusters of stubby brown fingers at the ends of …

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