So I initially was going to start out with the past two days that I spent at Moreau Lake and then write up today, but I just couldn't wait. The past two days were awful there and humans were absolutely to blame for both days of fail. I have developed a newfound insanely deep hatred for dog walkers, no exceptions. Screw birding ethics, where you're supposed to be kind to everyone you come across on trails to help make birders not look bad, when you are doing something completely against state law that ruins my ability to enjoy myself and feel comfortable in the wild, and have to hear a massive sense of entitlement and a rash of incredibly stupid excuses for the bad behavior, well, then eff you dog walkers. All of you. In fact, you should all count your lucky stars that the state park is so lenient that they do not enforce the leash law despite having plenty of signs.
But anyway, today I planned on getting together with my buddypal Sue for some dual birding (got a little lonely with the solo birding, today was supposed to be lovely weather, and I enjoy nature walks with Sue). The weather was colder than I had expected, but I am definitely not complaining, especially when Sue decided to take me to Mud Pond and show me the frostweed! She seemed disappointed that the ones we found were so small, but I was completely impressed with seeing the frozen vapor. It reminded me vaguely of midsummer cirrus clouds - neat how the seasons can seem so connected. There was also plenty of what I am mostly sure is British soldier lichen. I also found a half-buried golfball which I had too much trouble trying to dig up, so I left it there.
Back to the park office we went and walked a different way than I had been going the past few days. I quickly found that this pathway is much less ruined by rude humans and was greatly pleased. We enjoyed the sounds of plenty of white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees even right in the parking lot! Both species are pretty much everywhere in the park this time of year. We also had two brown creepers come right down a tree trunk, in plain view, at maybe knee-level in the sun to check us out. It was absolutely incredible. One flew high up near the top of the tree and let out it's high, rushed, rarely-heard melody.
Along we went, checking out everything. There were plenty of chipmunks and the occasional squirrel before we came up to where the old Fernwood mansion once was, where Sue found broken pieces of china and an old doorknob half buried in the trail. I stood there trying to picture what it must have once been like to actually live in a fancy house in the park, which I may have to include in my nice daydreams.
I must be honest, in this area I did not really bird much (besides noting a few downy woodpeckers) until we got further down the trail and could see the water as we came upon an area with a bunch of chubby American robins. They fluttered about and called many times. One robin looked erroneously colored, a dark brown down it's side and a mostly black face. It was difficult to tell whether it was being shadowed by a nearby branch or if it really had miscolored feathers. Near the robins were a bunch of dark-eyed juncos and tufted titmice, both of which I absolutely love. The tufted titmice today were letting out calls I was not too familiar with.
We eventually made it to the marshy area, where this past summer a group of us created a trail along a bunch of phrag. The wind blowing through the dried reeds sounded like rushing water and was relaxing. Off on the water by a beaver hut were four hooded mergansers, at least three of them male. The sun shining off their white patches made it looked like they were shiny metal sticking out of the water, reflecting the rays. They're amusing to watch simultaneously pop back up from a dive.
The phrag itself was busy with chickadees watching us, and a patch was chock-full of hidden red-winged blackbirds making a bubbling call.
A nearby small marshy pond was already beginning to ice over. Sue and I stopped to see if there was any activity under the ice, and sure enough we saw insects just under the surface carrying leaf bits around. Sue got ahold of one of them, and it looked as if the insect, now hiding inside, had glued together the leaf bits like a tiny makeshift sleeping bag. Both Sue and I believed them to be caddisflies, and I began thinking back to a stream ecology course I had where we talked about shredders, collectors, filterers, caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and gathered larvae in the fall. Also not a few feet away was a grouping of about 12 snail shells, apparently with snails in them as when I tried to pull one off of where it was attached it would not budge. Near this area was a pileated woodpecker making it's extended jungle call.
Sue then showed me a great place near Mud Pond where one can sneak up on anything in the water without being seen. A bonus is that the area had quite a few wintergreen berries which we snacked on. We quietly peeked to see a beautiful hooded merganser pair floating around, the male occasionally zig-zagging in the water and slightly extending his neck. Nearby there was a much larger group of hoodeds which took off together in a group with a surprise belted kingfisher zipping across the water with it's loud rattle! I was absolutely thrilled to see her - yes, her - as I haven't seen a kingfisher in about two months now. She came back across the water again, flashing her brown vest briefly before disappearing back into the trees.
By that time it was time to head back due to our crazy work schedules. I did very little birding on the way back and instead enjoyed nature-y discussions with Sue. I was quietly elated to have had such a great nature walk, and I think this was one of the best I have had with Sue. And I will now be back to Moreau sooner than I had planned, knowing I now have a quieter path to walk in these cool months.