The shortest day of the year dawned with a heavy frost, but all was calm and bright. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the shopping is done, and the guest rooms are ready for the extended family, soon to converge here on the Eastern Shore. This was one last chance to bird before the guests arrive and the joyous celebration begins in earnest.
I consider myself knowledgeable regarding astronomical events, but the neolithic cultures have me beat. Those observers in Stonehenge, England and New Grange, Ireland, warmed only by primitive furs and campfires, somehow determined the exact timing of the solstice. They built stone edifices that survive today, aligned precisely with the sites of sunrise and sunset on their horizons. It must be they were more aware than us about the natural world, being so dependent on timing the changing seasons for planting and harvesting.
I’m thankful for the 23 degree tilt. That is the tilt of the spinning earth off its axis relative to the plane of its revolution around the sun. It accounts for our changing seasons and spurs me on to Florida’s warmth each winter. At the winter solstice, December 21, the northern hemisphere is tilted directly away from the sun and our hours of daylight are at their minimum. Fear not, for the days begin lengthening tomorrow.
My birding destination today was the Blackwater NWR. I’ve described this wonderful location in an earlier posting called “Blackwater NWR, Dorchester County, Maryland”. I only saw a few birders today but the site was loud. Thousands of Canada Geese in the fields and shallows constantly squawked–what are they saying? On a few occasions there was a sudden crescendo and on cue a huge flock took flight, the beating of their wings adding to the cacophony.
The Mallards were the next most numerous Aves and the second loudest. I describe their vocalizations as a mocking descending chuckle, mocking whom I’m not sure. There were also fewer retiring and quieter Northern Pintail and Shovelers scattered in the flock.
Every birding trip seems to have a memorable event or bird-of-the-day. During the recent Christmas Count, for instance, I saw more Cedar Waxwings than ever in one day; 207 to be exact. The bird today was the Tundra Swan. They have a plaintive, ghost-like call, almost but not quite drowned out by the geese and Mallards. These seasonal visitors from the north are especially welcome when they treat me to a close flyover as they did today. I saw them approaching low over the marsh just in time to jump out of the truck, aim, and shoot, hoping the settings were reasonable. I was lucky this time. It was another day to remember.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and may the Peace that passeth all understanding descend on you and yours throughout the New Year.