Even when nothing out of the ordinary is seen, walks in nature are still valuable and memorable.
While my recent walks haven’t been full of extraordinary sightings, many moments stick out in my mind as enduring.
Here are a few:
A friend and I were taking a walk in a large conservation area dominated by wide swaths of fields. Thank goodness for those areas because birds such as bobolinks need that habitat to nest. While bobolinks were indeed plentiful, another sighting remained with me from that walk.
We were about to round a corner of the path that cuts through the field when we noticed something on the trail ahead. It was large and dark, and I thought at first it was a mammal such as a groundhog. Then I thought it was a turkey. Finally, my eyes and mind started to work together, and I realized it was a turkey vulture.
I could tell from its movements that it was eating something. Why else would a turkey vulture be sitting on the edge of a trail in the middle of a field? I peered through the binoculars and noticed the vulture was eating a dead snake. I tried to determine what type of snake it was, but I couldn’t get a clear enough view. It’s highly unlikely that the vulture killed the snake, but rather a hawk, kestrel or some other large predator.
As a supplemental sighting to that one, a second turkey vulture was perched behind us in a snag. It had gone unnoticed until we walked past it. Our heads turned when it flew off its perch and left the dead branch bouncing up and down like that old drinking bird toy. We heard its wings as it flapped past us. A resident red-winged blackbird did not take kindly to the circumstance and chased after the vulture rather aggressively. The vulture rose quickly, which seemed to satisfy the blackbird.
During that same walk, a multitude of monarchs (I think that should be the official name for a group of monarchs) visited the ubiquitous milkweed in the fields. Several of the monarchs were mating and therefore attached while flying. We found out later that monarchs can be attached like that for up to 16 hours. I’ll be sure to check that milkweed later in the year for caterpillars.
I had mentioned bobolinks earlier. We saw dozens, and several males rose out of the tall grasses to sing their funny, strange and bubbly song.
On a solo walk through the woods, I came across a pond I hadn’t discovered previously. The trail continued through the woods, and there were no side trails leading to the pond. Unable to resist a closer look at water, I bushwhacked to the pond’s edge. A great blue heron stood on the far end of the pond and a small group of wood ducks gathered on a large rock serving as an island in the middle. I hadn’t seen wood ducks in several months and was thankful for the discovery.
Later on that walk, I came across a large swampy area with several snags. A great blue heron perched on one of the snags like the swamp sentinel. It is a rather common sighting to see great blue herons perched near swamps, but it’s always interesting to see nonetheless. One of my first birding memories, before I was obsessed with the hobby, was of a great blue heron perched on top of an evergreen in Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont. That moment still sticks with me.
Finally, on two separate walks with a group of friends, the strange song of the veery and the boisterous call of the great-crested flycatcher were constants in the woods, while cardinals and catbirds were most common where fields and woods met.
As I mentioned, nothing extraordinary, but well worth it nonetheless.