by Deb Desalvo
The sunrise this morning was spectacular! The sky was clear, which was most welcome after yesterday’s thick and dramatic fog. There were pink and orange clouds scattered across the azure sky, as well as a few long contrails stretching from east to west. The brilliant sun, as it came over the horizon and above the tree line, lit up our farm field planted with mustard, turning it golden, as a gentle mist was lifting. It was a magical sight.
And with the sun came the Canada Geese: My first bird(s) of 2023. At all times of the day, every day of the week, all year long, these local ‘honkers’ fly from one pond to another in our bucolic neighborhood. I see them all the time. It makes sense. They are living the good life and have all the things that make them stick around: Agricultural fields in which to nibble on old corn stalks, grassy rolling horse farms, and plenty of ponds. In our neighborhood alone, we have three large ponds. And the geese fly from one, to the next, to the next, thrice daily.
I realize it isn’t too kind of me to wish my first bird of the year is anything but a Canada goose. It’s not that I don’t like them, like the neighbors I had in Montclair who would fight their presence in a local park and advocate using a series of methods to get rid of them and their filthy, evil goose-y ways. It is just that I see Canada Geese every day. And not just one. Many.
I had hoped my first bird of the year would be the Northern Harrier female, who has shown herself here on our farm three to four times a week. She loves to perch on our deer fence that was made from our very own cedar trees that had blown over in a storm some years back. I think our Harrier appreciates that the posts are actual trees. Maybe it is just that they provide an excellent vantage point. She sits and looks in every direction onto the mustard that is about 3 feet high. Or she looks down into our swale that extends along the backside of the house and is covered with wildflowers that have gone to seed. The voles, shrews, and field mice take shelter in both these areas and our Harrier takes advantage of the bountiful habitat.
My first bird of 2023 could have been one of the six Eastern Bluebirds that have chosen to stay here this winter, after successful broods in our two nest boxes this past summer. They continue to explore these boxes almost daily: The males typically sit on top and the females tend to peek their heads and bodies into the cavity. They, too, love our deer fence and sit on the posts or the wires squares, sitting side by side and hunching their bodies to take a side glance to the ground. They dart down and come back up with some sort of crawly critter.
I had hoped that my first bird of the year would have been the local Great Blue Heron who fishes in our brook and does a daily commute from North to South along the edge of our field, near to the brook. Or perhaps the local Belted Kingfisher, who also fishes in our brook and makes that distinctive trill almost every day to let us know he is there. Two days ago, I heard two Kingfishers calling to each other.
It would have been a real treat to have my first bird of 2023 be an American Kestrel. We had a few visit us for a few days in late October, perhaps part of a migrating bunch, but they are not seen regularly and I knew that was a long shot. We have two nest boxes on our property and are ever hopeful that we will host a pair in the Spring. The Starlings, not a bird I wished would be my first bird of the year, typically nest in one of the boxes, and we must be quick to remove them before they take over and begin nesting.
Now I know March is only two months away. At that time, the Woodcocks will return and I will be out there (as will some of you) in the dusk hours listening to their distinctive “meeps” and watching for their acrobatic propulsions into the skies. Of course, the Woodcock would not be my first bird of 2023. It would either indicate I saw nothing in January and February or that something was very wrong in the mating and migrating schedule of one of my favorite birds.
And so, alas, I am resigned to the fact that it was many Canada Geese. They may be a nuisance to park-goers in Montclair, but out here in Hunterdon County, they are part of the landscape and very much a part of the neighborhood. I remind myself that even though I see them every day, and they are ubiquitous, if I didn’t see them, I would be sad. I guess I could dream about next year. Maybe I will go out at the crack of dawn and try to get a glimpse of or a sound from our local Great-Horned Owl.