I Climbed a Mountain… and Found Some Birds

Okay, not really. But I did get in a good challenging hike straight up the side of a mountain. The almost-last section of trail was a couple hundred feet across what I think was once a glacial moraine. It’s basically a long (wide) line of large rocks and small boulders running across and sort-of-down the mountain.

I’ve gone up that trail before but always stopped at the edge of the rocks. Yesterday I said ‘fuck it’ and just kept going. Shortly after the edge of the rocks the trail I was on ended at the Appalachian Trail.

Gotta admit, I looked at the A.T. and was tempted to just keep going. Didn’t matter which way, I just wanted more trail and more time on the trail.

But I told Michael I’d be hiking in the local nature center. It’s basic trail safety: you tell someone where you are going to be, because accidents happen and cell phones don’t always work on the trails. So I turned my back on A.T. and headed back down the mountain.

Maybe next time.

Birds!

First Encounters

Along the driveway to the nature center, I saw a bunch of blue-and-white (with the blue shading to black in places) birds sitting on a fence. And a couple of yellow birds with black wings flying away. So before I hit the trail I stopped in at the center (open for once — I usually go late in the day after it’s closed) to see if anyone know what birds those were.

I mentioned to the volunteer that I had been thinking of picking up bird watching again. I walked out with the names of three new birds (while she was showing me some tree swallows to confirm that’s what I saw on the drive up, a red-winged blackbird flew by) a check list of birds that folks had reported seeing at the nature center and surrounding trails, and a guide to which birds are likely to be found where.

Bird Watching On the Trail

Walking through the scrub of the lower-trail to the trail I wanted was frustrating. I heard birds everywhere squawking their heads off. But I couldn’t see them. Or if I could it was just a quick flash. Once I got on my trail and into the forest-proper, I mostly forgot about the birds and focused on the hike.

I paused a few times to look for particularly loud or near-sounding birds, which also let me pace myself a bit. (Which I needed. While I felt fine pretty much the entire hike, when I was almost back to the scrub I noticed my blood pressure was spiking. I don’t have high blood pressure, so this was unusual and a concern. On the up side, I clearly got my cardio for the day.) Most of the time I didn’t see anything, and I never saw any of the noisemakers I was looking for.

But one time when I looked up at just the right moment, I saw a scarlet tanager (male) fly by.

(It’s possible the yellow-and-black bird I saw driving up was another scarlet tanager (female), but given that the area was scrub and wetlands I’m betting on American Goldfinch.)

There was a bench I knew of on the short loop trail through the scrub, so I got off my trail again I looked for it and sat down. Resting gave my blood pressure a chance to come down as my heart got a break, and gave me a chance to look through the guide in more detail than the quick glance I gave it before hitting the trail.

Awesome Ending

My last, and best, surprise came at the very end of the scrub trail. A tiny bird, small enough to fit in Kidling’s hand, was ‘hiding’ in a small evergreen shrub. ‘Hiding’ because I could easily see right through the shrub at any point it’s limbs were so loose.

The bird hopped from branch to branch, dipping it’s tail every now and again. I slowed, taking a step every couple of seconds and tried to stay quiet as I did so.

I’m pretty sure it knew I was there, but it must have felt safe in the shrub because it stayed there, letting me get a good long look at it. It was brown on the back and wings, yellow on the stomach. It had what looked like white lines around it’s eyes, but in the shadow of the shrub might have been yellow. On it’s head, a red cap. It was the red cap that kept me looking so long. I wasn’t quite sure I was seeing it. But eventually it tilted it’s head in just the right way that I saw the cap clearly.

As I passed the shrub it was hiding it, still at a slow pace, it flew away.

Mixed up Identity

The volunteer at the nature center told me it was an ovenbird and was really excited about it. I forgot how much fun it was connect with other people who are excited about nature and talking about birds and trees, and that weird-melted looking bit on the one rock, what could have caused that anyway?

I got home and immediately started looking up the birds I saw, confirming my identification.

It wasn’t an ovenbird. It was a palm warbler. Apparently they are pretty rare in the area. Ovenbirds are the usual warblers with a redcap around here, which explains the volunteers mistake. But ovenbirds have a white belly and no eye flash. This one must have been migrating a bit late (apparently they usually migrate in early spring, which is the only time we usually see them here.)

I’m not sure I’m right in my identification. But everything I’m seeing is that red cap, yellow belly, eye flash, tail bob in scrub means palm warbler. And the ONLY other warbler with a red cap is the ovenbird.

So that was a pretty cool end to the hike.

Personal Win

I woke this morning without any of the stiffness or soreness I half expected after climbing over all those rocks. I’ve always known it’s my legs that are in the best shape for my body, but that still surprised me a bit. Might make that trail a weekly run for the cardio, and see what other birds I can find while I’m at it.

Remembering Myself

One important thing I realized from this hike, is that in becoming the Old ‘Woman’ I’m not just trying to do new things or strengthen the things I already do. I’m reclaiming things I had lost. I grew up bird watching through my grandmother’s windows, with her huge, old, falling apart Guide to North American birds usually open the page on chickadees and sparrows. I spent most of my teen years tromping through woods whether doing a proper hike or just rambling through a local patch of forest.

These are things that were always part of me, and I lost track of with the stress, time-loss, and struggles of adulting-while-poor.

I’m going to enjoy reclaiming them.

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