Flyways in spring

It’s a frosty negative one degree Fahrenheit in the north country with a flag snapping wind. A lovely four mile walk from earlier this week, captured above, is a distant memory. It appears we’re in for a week or so of highs around zero.

There are people out walking still, mostly walking their dogs. A few are bundled from head to toe, buffering their skin from the bitter bite of the cold air. The Dutch have a word for it. Uitwaaien is the practice of jogging or walking into the wind, especially in the winter. It is invigorating, and I’m all for clearing one’s head. But if your eyelashes start to frost up into some avant-guard model look, it might be time to stay in doors.

Instead I let my thoughts flock to the bird migrations coming up next month in March. The Mississippi flyway brings a steady flow of avian creatures up from the Gulf of Mexico as they venture up to Canada and past the Hudson Bay. They seem to like our state with all our water features, including the headwaters of the famous flowing river.

Perhaps you think the whole binoculars and birdwatching thing is a little silly, but you are wrong. It’s delightful. While on a walk in the spring slush with tree branches bare of foliage, you learn the orange flash is an oriole, and a fleeting bright blue is usually a tanager. A brighter yellow-green with a bandits mask and pompous crest is a cedar waxwing, one of my favorites.

Perhaps you think that it would be frustrating to spot some small brown poof of feathers only to be bewildered in finding its identification. By the time you pulled out the green covered field guide from your back pocket, turned to the sparrow section, the details of what you saw become fuzzy. And you can’t choose from the oh so similar options.

Well there’s a new technology for that. It’s called Google Lens. Quickly capture a cell phone photo of the titmouse, chickadee or vireo, use the lens image at the base of the photo, and presto! The app identifies the bird and tells you all sorts of information about it.

Eventually you learn the difference from a yellow warbler and a goldfinch even if they both hop around in the grass looking for dinner. And you no longer confuse the black headed grosbeak with a robin as the beak (name implied) is thicker and its build a bit buffer. A swan and a Canadian goose are more than large waterfowl honking as they skim the lake’s surface.

But I digress. There’s a 20 below wind chill just outside my window, and the thought of a spring thaw luring wildlife back north is a pleasant distraction.