Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Change of Seasons on the Trails

This is not a small pond, but in fact a trail I had to navigate across this morning at Douglas State Forrest.

Why do I run? Some of you may be wondering that and I can't say that I blame you as for many, running is not their cup of tea as its associated with pain, boredom and more pain and I can totally see why some would feel that way so allow me to explain it in my own words through pictures.

The woods are my refuge, the place I go for peace of mind after a long week of work where I am bombarded with deadlines, requests and projects. I run to them on weekends the same way I run to my birds who are still in winter mode and harder to come by, so I have learned to compensate and still get my nature fix by counting miles instead of birds.
I suppose I could hike them, but I want to see all, and being rather short, it takes me longer to get there then others so I have learned to compensate by picking up my pace and running through them as I pass by hikers, cross country skiers and others who look at me startled at fist as running is not the norm in these necks of the woods, but we always smile and wave to each other as we pass on by.
Small body of water near a river at Douglas State Forrest

I run these trails as it awakens every one of my senses. My eyes scan all around as I take in the natural beauty, my ears are alert to listen for birds, running water nearby and other songs that can only be heard in the woods. I can smell the earth starting to thaw as I make my way through earth that is slowly starting to soften. The hints of green are starting to appear as well as the vivid colors of last autumn that have been buried by shades of gray and white. I run through all of this with joy in my step as I start thinking of May and all of the warblers, vireos and my beloved Veery that will soon make their way back to their summertime residence and I will be there to greet them.
I stop for a couple of minutes for a drink of water and chart my next course by looking at the trail map. A sense of adventure and anticipation creeps up as I hear running water nearby and run toward it for further investigation.
Small trickles of water from a nearby brook take over the trails as I run through them, splashing through puddles just as I did in my youth and all of the burdens of adult hood like bills, work and family demands disappear as I finally feel free.
The trail has thin layers of ice that cause me to stop as I crouch down low to really look at the magnificent ice crystals. Each of of them a unique work of art. I carefully walk past them, making sure I don't crush their beauty as I make my way further up the trail.
I cross a charming little foot bridge that is very slick with ice. I stand in the middle of it paralyzed at first as I can feel my feet staring to lose control somewhat, but fast thinking takes over as I angle my feet in such a way that walking this narrow bridge is a breeze and for that one brief moment a nice feeling of accomplishment takes over as I take out my camera for a picture and a memory.
My endorphins are in high gear now and my eyes sharp as everywhere I go, I see beauty so I stop often for pictures like the moss covered with frost above.
And a puddle in the middle of the Midstate Trail takes on a new life with the decaying leaves from last season laying heavily below as reflection of trees create an illusion that is so lovely I stop and look at it for a while as I drink more water.
The birds are few to come by, but except for the distant call of a Common Raven, I would only hear the regulars like the White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees and dozens of Golden-crowned Kinglets like the one above.
Snow crystals on branches were everywhere too as the temperatures were not yet warm enough to end their magnificent display.
You know it's amazing how different the world can look in 24 hours. I did some trail running yesterday morning at Broad Meadow Brook and this is the world that awaited me. A wonderful winter wonderland that was so stunning it was hard for me to focus on my running to make sure I didn't trip or anything like that. Every corner I turned, there would be more of this. There was not a sound to be heard except the sound of my footsteps and tiny, wet snowflakes that continued to fall from the sky and hit the branches and leaves.
The wonderful sound of water drew me toward Broad Meadow Brook as well as a Red-bellied Woodpecker who was on the very top of a tree making its call. A great way to start the day, and bid a final farewell to winter (hey I can dream can't I!).

So this is why I run. There is so much to see out there and such little time, that I take advantage of it. When I am in these woods, I have a total sense of freedom as the outside world is far away and I am living in the moment. The woods are my refuge.

Take care all

Friday, February 26, 2010

Another Peregrine Falcon Visit-This time the Misses

I was at work today and just finishing up on the phone as I stared out the window feeling as gray as the skies as this weather is starting to get old when suddenly I could see a bird whip on by past my building while gaining altitude. I hung up the phone and decided to venture up to the top of the building as my gut told me one of the Peregrine Falcons would be up there and sure enough, who do I see? Why the misses of course. She could sense my presence as I adjusted my camera settings and was lucky enough to get this photo.
And this one that really shows off her gorgeous talons.
And another where she is looking above as the male flies by overhead trying to dazzle her with his acrobatic talents.
It was rather wet outside so she spent some time trying to shake it off but it was no use as the precipitation just didn't want to seem to want to end unfortunately.
That didn't stop her from preening though in an attempt to look groomed. Check out those gorgeous feathers on her chest and belly.
And another. As you can see, both she and the male look as if they found plenty of food this past winter and downtown Worcester was good to them as the Rock Pigeons were a plenty!
Finally a shot that I thought came out wicked cool. Check out the size of her in this picture. It really puts the urban setting she lives in, in better perspective.

Take care everyone!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mr Peregrine Falcon Takes to His Favorite Ledge

Despite what the forecast says, spring is definitely in the air, and while you can't tell by the temperatures or the snow fall, you can tell if you pay special attention to nature signs whenever you venture outside. The Male Northern Cardinal is singing as well as some others, the days are getting longer, and I am convinced I can smell the scent of spring in the air late in the day here and there. Want more proof, check out Mr Peregrine Falcon here who is back at his favorite spring and summertime spot which is the ledge right across from the nest box!
I peeked my head over near the nest box as the female spends a considerable amount of time there lately, and low and behold, the Mr was across from her and staking out his territory. I decide to grab my coat and camera and run up the 7 flights of stairs for a brief visit as well as some pictures before he decides to take off.

I slowly approach him with camera in tow wondering if he would remember me as the crazy stalker broad from last year who would visit him weekly last year and yes, even talk to him at times, but that's between you and me ok. ;-). I tiptoed closely and he just gave me the same bored stare he did last year as if to say "oh no, not you again" as I smiled and gave him a really good looking over to make sure all feathers were in tact, wings looked okay, etc as this is the closest I have gotten to him since last summer. After careful examination, I deemed him a healthy little Peregrine Falcon as he went on about his business just like the old days.
He spent some time defending his turf and then decided to take a little cat nap as shown above. So cute!
He was in la-la land until a loud truck roared on by which caused him to awaken to check out who the culprit was.
After a while he determined the honkin truck was no threat and went back to his laid back ways with most of it being preening and napping on occasion. Very happy to see they are getting closer to my building and think it's only a matter of time before they make one of their frequent stops on top of the 446 Main Street Building where I will be waiting with camera in tow!

Take care everyone.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Larks, Hills and Signs of Spring!

Another beautiful day today here in Massachusetts so I decided to get out bright and early to enjoy every minute of it. I am very much in tune with the seasons and have a hard time getting into the groove of things really early, up until this weekend that is as it seems as if daylight starts to peek its weary head through my window at around 6 in the morning now which seems to invigorate me with a little more hustle in my step to get out the door. I headed out at about 7:30 and decided to check out the Worcester Airport while I had my 2nd cup of coffee for the day in hopes I would see the Lapland Longspurs that have been reported there.

When I arrived there wasn't a bird to be seen so I pulled over to wait. The wind was blowing strong and could hear it beating against my windows and was grateful for the hot cup of coffee and the heat from my car as I watched a lone American Crow battling the wind to join a small flock of others foraging for breakfast just a little past my car. I look up to the sky to see a flock of Horned Larks coming toward the parking lot where they proceeded to land fairly close to me for some photos. One in particular was pretty close and was checking me out as I clicked away.
Soon enough off they flew and I drove around the parking lot loop slowly still hoping for the longspurs. I parked again as my stomach started to grumble some and didn't' bring much food as I had just had a veggie omelet and whole wheat toast an hour before this, but then remembered that I still had a 1/2 a peanut butter and banana sandwich in my bag from yesterday so I grab it to examine to see if its still edible and when I look up, I am psyched to see a flock of Snow Buntings directly beside me. Funny though in that I turned away for only about 15 seconds to grab my snack and voilla, they appeared without me knowing it. HA
The little birds took off as fast as they arrived as I watched them take to the sky with their fast wing beats and hyper chatter. Still no signs of the longspurs but I held out hope.
There would be no Lapland Longspurs for me today, but wasn't too disappointed as the Snow Buntings and Horned Larks were more than enough entertainment for me during my cup of morning joe. One bunting in particular was all by itself near my car, paying me as much attention as I did it, which was fun to be a part of.
As I drove away, the sun was starting to break through thick clouds and I yearned to get out of my car and head for some powerlines for some running and playing so decided to go to one in town. I open the car door with microspikes in tow and navigation device prepared to track my miles when suddenly I am paralyzed and unable to move as the area is filled with song. My ears perk up as I try to identify it all. American Robin, spring song.....check..... Northern Cardinal singing his tune......CHECK!..........Song Sparrow doing a lousy job of his....Check....And then a song I hadn't hear for a while so I stood there looking down at the ground so I could just focus on the tune and nothing else.......What is it, I wonder...... I finally can't take it anymore so start pishing and out pops the little soprano to see who the pishing suspect is. It was no other the a Dark-eyed Junco. Sweet!!!!!! Forgot how nice their song is I thought as I started to run down the trail.
Song Sparrow checking me out as I prepare for my run.
My legs felt light as I ran on bare earth that was not yet softened by the early sun, but not heavy with snow which made running a breeze so off I went to drink in the day.
There would be birds everywhere as I moved along which allowed me to bird by ear and stop on occasion for a picture or two as I drank some water.
The sun was perfect for picture taking, so I decided to do some micro photography here and there whenever I found something interesting.
A frozen pond nearby that I love to run past in the summer to look for the Great-blue Heron. There would be no heron here today, but it didn't take away from the ponds loveliness.
The pond from a different point of view.
Soon enough I have explored every nook and cranny of the powerline, including side trails so I make my way back to the car wondering what time it is and am shocked to see that not only is it early, but I had done 4 miles and it didn't even feel like it (the benefits of increasing millage is when 2 miles feels like 1, 3 like 2, etc). So with that I decided to go to another part of the powerline across the street from where I was to do some more exploring as the sun felt fabulous and I hadn't been there since summer. The first thing my eye is drawn to is the steep small hill in the picture above. The picture doesn't do it justice as it is so steep it's almost like walking up a wall in some spots and I remember walking up it this past summer to get a better look at two Red-tailed Hawks above. I made my way up there as my legs shook a little and I was a little winded, so I decided to try it again to see how I would be this time. It would be a piece of cake so I ran back down and decided to do some hill sprints which were a blast.

Every time I made it to the top I would take a breather and watch a Turkey Vulture across the way that would never cut me a break by getting closer for a photo.
That wasn't until my last sprint on that hill as it flew a little closer and past me as it went about it's business. Call me crazy (many people do ;-)), but I am convinced the TV decided to stick around as I did my 5 sprints to keep me company and to motivate me. You just gotta love Turkey Vultures! ;-)
I ran along the powerlines and would see paths that were hidden this past summer that were finally revealed to me so I followed them along to see what I would find.
The wooded paths were covered in a thin layer of snow and hints of green would pop out here and there which caused me to stop on occasion for a photo or two.
I had found a super cool path that seemed to go on forever and to the right of it stood this tiny little oasis that caused me to stop while drinking my iced coffee and stood there transfixed over the lovely green (a color I have missed for so long now)
The water was laden with plant life and algae and my camera begged for the opportunity to capture it to share with you all. Is this cool or what!
Different angle but just as pretty.
After another two miles I headed back to my car as hunger took over and thoughts of lunch seemed to take over my mind.
The ground had softened some since I began and mud coated my running shoes, but I didn't mind in the least as it was nice to finally sink my toes into some soft earth.

Take care all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Found the Perfect Place to Snowshoe in Worcester County!

His days are numbered!

That's right all, I found the perfect place to snowshoe in Worcester County. Lot's of snow, a scenic route, few pockets of birds here and there and of course 40 degree weather topped off with gorgeous sunshine. You can't beat that on a Saturday!! The only problem is, I didn't have my snow shoes with me as I figured they wouldn't be needed today after yesterday so they stayed at home while my trail running shoes came with me as we were both thinking we could finally get some running in on bare earth which would have been nice for a change.

Nnnnnot so fast.......Yes, there may not have been much snow left in Southern Worcester County, but that doesn't mean there won't be snow a little further north like Barre Falls in this instance!

I stare at the snow with a mixture of disbelief and denial. Sure there appears to be a lot of snow on the path directly ahead of me, but I'm sure it's because there is no sun in that area so plenty of the trail will be bare I think as off I go to attempt to explore and run. I am soon about to find out that not only is there at least 3 inches of snow on the ground, but it's also that heavy, wet snow that is like running through quick sand and not that fantastic powdery snow I had last time I was here with Alan.

I thought for a brief moment of turning around and heading closer to home but changed my mind as I drove all the way there for a run and I am by no means a quitter so off I went for a very labored run. The sunshine and warm temperatures felt fabulous and I stopped often to search the skies for birds and take some scenic pictures like the one above.
After about 4 miles, I spent just as much time walking as I did running as my legs were tired from all of the running in heavy snow, so I would take breaks and drink my new energy potion I created which is awesome!! You see, I bought this really yummy and strong French Roast coffee from Trader Joe's yesterday and can't get enough of it, so what did I do? Why I put it in a lidded cup with some whole milk and a ton of sugar for an energy drink to sustain me while in my travels! Yeah, I know all about how you shouldn't drink caffeine and all that while performing intense physical exercise and yadda, yadda, but I take some of that with a grain of salt, and besides I had a water with me too so there explained my logic. The best thing of all is that I had it in attached to a belt that was around my waist and every time I opened it, it would be nice and frothy due to my running which kept it constantly mixed up, so it was like having your own mocha frappe with you at all times. Am I a genius or what!
Despite the horrible snow for running, it was still fabulous and I did 7 miles of both running and hiking. I am getting used to there not being many birds in my journey lately and the only thing that's keeping me positive is that the end of February is almost near and March is just around the corner and that's when things start to pick up and it can't come soon enough for me. I walked back to my car and had to take one last photo of "shadow play" just for old times sake, as I am hoping this will be the last of it. Yes I will miss my snow shoes, but am sick of the snow so adios amigos to the white stuff!
The funny thing was that while walking back to the car, I noticed a lot of melting had occurred since I was there last. Just a preview of things to come all, check out that fine mud that is just starting to emerge. Looks like it's time for me to buy some of those wader boots for Bolton Flats soon and I can't wait!
And check out the shoes which were soaking wet from running in the wet snow. To make matters worse the snow was so wet and sticky it would actually cling to my micro spikes which caused me to slip around some and make the task at hand even more taxing. Luckily though I had a change of socks and other shoes in the car for the ride home (see I do use my brain sometimes)! Also notice the puddles of water that are just starting to appear. I am guessing if you want to snow shoe at Barre Falls, tomorrow will be your last chance so get out there and take advantage of it!
As I got back into my car, I bid farewell to the snow man that was there who had lost a considerable amount of weight since I saw it last. He smiled at me as I drove away and I most likely won't be meeting up with him anytime soon. Yes, I know they are saying snow this week, but it won't do him any good.

Take care all


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