Sunday, November 30, 2008

Missing the snows

Sunrise over Heron's Foot impoundment; November 2008

Friday morning at Heron's Foot was unseasonably warm. Even in the relative chill of pre-dawn, gloves were not necessary and, by sunrise, the temperature was in the upper 40s.

With the exception of a mid-November cold snap, the region's fall and winter temperatures are well above average this year. The warming effects are especially notable with respect to migratory waterfowl patterns. During my Thanksgiving visit in 2005, four to five thousand snow geese (Chen caerulescens) nightly took refuge in the estuary alongside Heron Hope. One year later, only a few hundred of the birds roosted there and, by the end of December 2006, the flock had grown to around one thousand individuals, at least three thousand birds shy of the previous year. 2007's numbers were similarly low and, astonishingly, I saw only a dozen geese this Thanksgiving! But I shouldn't be surprised. If the temperatures don't force the issue, what reason do migratory birds have to continue south?

I caught a ride back to New York on Friday afternoon. In southern Maryland, I spotted small groups of snow geese feeding in the roadside fields. As daylight faded and we approached the Maryland-Delaware state line, I finally saw the impressive flocks of thousands, trading in the half light from field to field. Soon, they would rise en masse for their evening flight.

These were the very birds that have made my childhood home their winter refuge but, this year, they've settled seventy miles north of Heron's Hope. I miss seeing and hearing them there, but I must also marvel at the rapidity of the changes we're witness to. Everything, always, is in sensitive flux.

Northern pintail decoy; Heron's Foot impoundment; November 2008

Photo credits: Hungry Hyaena, 2008

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