I don't really truly recognize January 1st as my New Year. My New Year comes the first day in early spring (usually around the Chinese New Year, which this year falls on Valentine's Day) when the scent of soft brown earth is on the air, the breeze no longer makes your eyes water, and the faint memory of running around playing with bubbles comes back. This is before the robins sing and the tulips bloom.
But alas, my nature friends are revisiting their nature haunts throughout 2009 and I couldn't resist. It was my first year truly birding, my first year really spending much of my free time out rambling around, enjoying the wild. And the great memories that come back are too awesome to not make honorable mentions:
- my first true bird presentation, for plenty of third graders who were visiting Moreau Lake with their schools, absolutely a great opportunity
- all the full moon hikes at Moreau, usually attended by my nature buddy Sue, with Environmental Educator Dave checking out all sorts of stuff to show everyone who couldn't keep up with speed-demon Naturalist Gary. Highlights of these include Gary doing a crow call and a mob coming in bringing a scarlet tanager with it, a truly dark walk, enjoying the scenery of the moon from the footbridge, weird noises Sue and I tried to scope out over the lake one night, and all the times other Dave cooked delicious hot dogs
- making the new lakeside trail with the boy scouts
- Wilton Wildlife Preserve birding with Rich Speidel and a group of seasoned birders - possibly the best birding trip I've had so far, as he has intense patience and was excited to help me see some lifers and took the time to go exploring with me to find them
- other WWPP birding, especially hearing and seeing Eastern Towhees for the first time ever (seeing my first Karner Blue butterfly hit the spot too, and long summer afternoons of resting near the open field listening to field sparrows)
- all of my solo hikes in Moreau Lake - highlight was shadbush up top of CP trail inundated with cedar waxwings, 1000' up!
- seeing other new sites right in the local area, such as the Glen Lake fen, Pilot Knob Ridge, Cole's Woods
- tasting many plants I have never tried before - wintergreen berries! Snacking on jewelweed seeds, sassafras, birch...
- Trailapalooza 2009 with Sue P. and Jackie D. - so much win
- meeting nature lovers and new friends Sue and Jackie and learning so much from both and seeing things I've never seen before with them (like frostweed!), enjoying long chats with Dave A., meeting other nature nuts briefly on my walks and discussing what has been seen
- so many hours of watching bird behavior and getting to know the feathered citizens better due to that. You don't really know birds until you see them sunning, fighting each other, wolfing down berries so quickly that their entire faces get covered with juice, and freaking out because a bee is nearby...and missing them when they go on vacation just as you would human neighbors. You don't really truly know your local area until you get to know the more wild side of it.
Another huge plus this year was getting to see many bird species I had not previously seen and learning plenty of bird songs. I tallied up the species I saw in 2009 (take note: this is not my LIFE list, but a YEAR list) and my list totaled 93 species just for a 30 mile radius. Highlights:
- the one common loon I saw a few times swimming around Moreau Lake. An ethereal sighting. Did not sing till one day with Sue and Dave on Spring Overlook trail which gave me goosebumps.
- the juvenile double-crested cormorant I saw on the Hudson River off Betar Byway this autumn...the best fisher I have ever seen.
- a great egret hiding in the quiet, still marshy pond off Bog Meadow Trail.
- the green herons, osprey, and belted kingfisher that made Delegan Pond in Wilton a fantastic birding spot this summer.
- wood ducks and more belted kingfishers hanging around Mud Pond this autumn.
- the whistle of the broad-winged hawk throughout summer.
- recent adult bald eagle sighting in SGF with Sue!
- a spring merlin couple in Oneonta in their town park, seeing one of the individuals tearing apart a nestling of another species
- hearing red-bellied woodpeckers throughout summer and eventually figuring out the strange song belonged to them
- seeing a likely pregnant female yellow-bellied sapsucker on one of my first-ever trips in Moreau, in the woods near the beach/playground
- my first blue-headed vireo sitting two feet in front of my face on Western Ridge trail and then disappearing, only to defecate on my head
- all brown creepers. Always. <3
- finding out that Carolina wren populations here are actually higher than I was once told, enjoying describing their wide variety of songs with Sue, including renaming it the Belushi bird hearing it sing "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!"
- my first time hearing the amazingly long song of a winter wren, pointed out by Sue while on Spring Overlook trail with Dave
- all blue-gray gnatcatchers in Moreau Lake
- all eastern bluebirds and their mournful songs
- all wood thrush, veery, ovenbird, and hermit thrush songs (and seeing that wintering hermit thrush recently), making the wet woods of this area dreamy and of another world
- gray catbirds for being the most hilarious bird
- northern mockingbirds being such earworms with their ability to copy so many songs and human-made noises
- while all the warblers I saw were wonderful, the most notable was hearing a prairie warbler in the power-line corridor at Moreau Lake and people not believing me for months after
- field sparrow, savannah sparrow, meadowlark, and R2D2 bobolink songs making hot, long summer days much more enjoyable
- broken tape-recorder white-throated sparrow songs in late fall, witnessed by Jackie, Sue and I on Trailapalooza
- the pine siskin irruption that lasted shortly into the beginning of 2009. I miss those birds dearly.
One last thing to note is that 2009 was a continuation of the reminder that nature can seriously make you ill, maim you, and possibly kill you. The increased spread and explosion of populations of ticks has concerned and terrified me. I remember the days when one could lay in the grass and not even know what a tick was because they weren't around here. This summer I was bitten almost a dozen times and fought off another bout of Lyme Disease. May you all enjoy 2010 with increased applications of permethrin to your clothing.
To another year of happy birding, hiking, rambling, and nature blogging!