For the Birds: Always a nice walk in the woods

Photo by Chris Bosak
Ice on Little Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., winter 2019.

Any walk in the woods is a good walk.

I’ve always believed that and am reminded of it every time I step foot in New England woods, a field, a marsh or along a coastline.

For the birdwatcher, not every walk is filled with birds, but there is always something interesting to discover or observe. Even if you’ve walked your patch a thousand times, the next walk almost always holds something special.

A recent walk on the nature trail behind my house drove home that point. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of birds as the temperature was in the low 20s and the pond at the end of the trail was surely frozen.

Turns out I was right. Hardly any birds to speak of on this walk, but it was enlightening nonetheless.

I got to the pond, which is about a 20-minute walk, without seeing a single bird. The frozen pond, obviously, did not offer any hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, or even mallards or Canada geese. But the ice beckoned me and preyed upon my curious side.

I was at a crossroads: I could turn around and walk back the way I had just come; or, I could take a few steps onto the ice to see how strong it was.

Just a few steps, my mind told me. No surprise there. I took a few cautious steps onto the ice and realized right away I was standing on several inches of solid ice. Before I knew it those few steps turned into a few hundred and I was standing in the middle of the pond.

What made this ice so interesting is that, up until that point, we hadn’t had any snow. Most of the ice was crystal clear, offering a view into the pond seldom seen.

Small lily pad leaves, faded to a dull purple, were either trapped in the clear ice near the surface, or swayed in the water below the ice. Schools of tiny fish darted to and fro among the thick vegetation.

I kept my eye out for larger fish but never saw one.

A raven finally broke the spell this frozen aquatic world had me under. The bird was uttering strange raven noises as it flew over the pond and surrounding hills. Its seemingly aimless path brought it right over my head a few times.

I approached one of the many beaver dens on the pond. I used extra caution as I know ice is often weaker near solid objects jutting above the surface. But the ice was plenty solid, and I looked at the underwater branches, sticks, twigs, and grasses that make up the den below the surface.

The ice underfoot started cracking as I walked over to the other side of the den, however. I backed away quickly and cautiously. Taking chances on ice, for all the obvious reasons, is not prudent.

I walked along the edge of the pond — the frozen water edge, not the land’s edge — to where I could cut through the woods and pick up the trail further along. I stopped frequently to observe unique ice formations and watch the tiny fish move in unison below my feet.

The birding was slow — although the odd raven noises were certainly memorable — but the walk held great value for me regardless. They always do.

Click the following links for more ice photos:

Ice 1

Ice 2

Ice 3

Ice 4

Ice 5

Ice 6

Ice 7

Ice 8

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