And off we go, trying again to turn over a new leaf. A short recap of the end of December, I think, before we go off into the fresh year’s stuff.
So, we celebrated the holidays by taking the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, in the traditional pagan style – celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new at and after the Winter Solstice. In my case, that involved a lot of beer and too much driving (not, of course, in any sort of overlapping relationship). After returning home from the family holiday pelican (well, I can’t think of any synonym for “get-together” that has three syllables and an ‘l’ in the middle, so I just picked a word at random) to find that the Great Snow of Doom of 2010 had by some incredible mischance (if you watched the TV forecasters, anyway) managed to pass us by with only a dusting of snow, we took a day to loaf and then headed out to the Atlantic coast. Try saying that three times fast. The trip down to Chincoteague was very nice, if a bit longer than I remembered – especially as we got closer to the coast and the snow began covering the fields and building up at the sides of the roads. It was particularly great to have the wind-blown crests at the tops of the banks – they looked like the hairstyles of the Leningrad Cowboys, who by a particularly odd coincidence, we were listening to as we drove down. If you haven’t enjoyed ‘California Girls’ or ‘Gimme All Your Lovin” covered by a Finnish rock group backed by a Red Army (or Air Force, but that’s a trifling detail) Choir and Orchestra and balalaika ensemble, you owe it to yourself to go buy one (or more) of their albums without delay. Do it for the kids! Anyway, when we crossed onto the island, it was more like winters from my youth – only the main roads were actually clear, and the side roads were pleasantly snow-packed and rutted/slidey – just the way I like them. We had a couple of good meals at a place down toward the southern end of Chincoteague called Mr. Baldy’s, which I highly recommend, and not just for the food. The general ambience possesses a je ne sais quois which is a sine qua non for the finest of fine dining in an atmosphere conducive to a feeling of replete satiation. It was my kind of place. The food was good, and plenty, and the Beatles memorabilia and the amusing quotes on the walls made it a most pleasant stop. We were all well-stuffed and relaxed afterwards.
So, on to the wildlife – we had to stick to the main Beach Road route on the refuge, since some of us were not able to handle the snowy walking trails, but that turned out fine; we spotted a number of ponies (maybe as many as a half-dozen), and got nice looks through the scope. Several of them were saddle-shoe (roan at each end and white in the middle), and the rest were a various shades of brown, but all of them were cute. When we reached the beach, I was happily surprised to see a couple dozen or so Surf Scoters scattered not far offshore mixed with several Red-throated Loons and a couple Common Loons. Very nice looks through the scope. In between, a D-c Cormorant, lots of very close, hunting Great Blue Herons and several Great Egrets, surprisingly musical Boat-tailed Grackles, the normal gulls, maybe 50 Tundra Swans and some Canada Geese, along with Black Ducks, Mallards, Shovelers, a single female Pintail and a couple female Buffleheads. A solo Black-bellied Plover, and a Willet, a Marbled Godwit and a bunch of other sandpipers flitting around took care of the shorebirds, and we also had a nice brown Harrier perched where we could get good views of its owl-like face. No Turkey Vultures, but 4-5 Black Vultures, and a bunch of sparrows, of which I could pick out the usual Juncos and Song and White-throated (along with a Towhee) at the visitor’s center, and plenty of Savannahs scattered along the road. I’m sure that there were others mixed in, but it was not an easy day for sparrowing with the family along. No Brown-headed Nuthatches, and only a glimpse of a probable young Bald Eagle; somewhat surprising. In general, a fine, happy day; sunny and not too breezy, so that when the younger boy decided to get soaked by the surf to his knees, it wasn’t too uncomfortable. Maybe next year, we’ll do a two-overnight trip and get up to the Ocean City inlet as well, but this was very pleasant if a little strenuous on the driving end for an old guy like me.
We were welcomed home on Friday by our big female Sharp-shin who spent quite some time standing in our backyard at the tree line on what looked like a snow patch, plucking what turned out to be a pure white pigeon. That’s the second time she’s left a pile of feathers there; it appears to be one of her spots. She’s pretty big, too: at crow-sized, I could easily mistake her for a Cooper’s. I’ve reconsidered putting up a winter feeder – in our neighborhood she and her male don’t really need the assistance, what with all the local pigeons and starlings and other songbirds. Plus the local rats eat quite well enough as it is. We could really use some rat snakes and Horned Owls around here, but wishing won’t make it so. Speaking of which, it was nice to hear a Horned Owl hooting during the day down at the parent’s house in the Shenandoah valley on the 26th. I miss the days when we had a wooded back yard big enough for Horned Owls to nest in.