Witt’s End

It's Not About Stories People Tell, It's About …

Sometimes birding requires a Plan B. For example: Thursday Susan and I joined the caravan of migrant birders moving toward the un-walled land around Washtenaw, Michigan. It was a peaceful crowd that only wanted to welcome a new migrant that had just arrived from Scandinavia. The Spotted Redshank, a rare visitor to our country was putting on a wonderful display, close up, for all to see. Here comes the spoiler alert–we waited a day too long. When we arrived early afternoon on Thursday the people in place reported that the bird had not been seen all day. The most common reasoning was that there was a big change in the weather coming overnight and birds have the uncanny sense of getting out while the getting is good–or bad for the birders. We wandered around the designated spot in the farmlands of south-central Michigan for a couple hours. The cold weather finally drove us back to where could make a Plan B in the warmth of the car.

The new plan called for us to head for the famous (in the birder world) Haehnle Sanctuary near Jackson, Michigan to see the clouds of Sandhill Cranes on migration. Early in November the cranes reliably gather by the thousands in this spot on their southward journey.

Hmmm. Looks like we were a bit late–again. We counted 15 or 20 birds.

On Friday we woke to a couple inches of snow on our car and temperatures a bit above freezing. We returned to the ponds where the Redshank had last been seen on Wednesday, and struck out again. We talked with other birders, all sharing the same pain.

Oh well, if it was easy the place would be overrun with birders.

Sandhill Crane near Jackson, Michigan.

We’ve set the clocks back to Real Time, the obnoxious music is playing in the stores, and most of my Halloween candy has been consumed. That can only mean one thing: Winter. Not that I object all that much to the cold weather, it’s all the inconveniences that come along with the package.

Yesterday I was staring out the window, watching squirrels prepare for winter; how they hide nuts, yet manage to find enough to survive the winter when the snow falls. It says much about self-preservation and long-term survival. (And by the way, even when a writer is staring out the window he’s still working.)

It got me to thinking and searching my mental database for how comparable things in nature might be reflected in the business world. In business it’s all about teamwork and cooperation for survival. That’s survival of the company, of course, at the expense of the individual.

I thought of a group of European Starlings I watched recently. A Cooper’s Hawk approached the loosely flying flock. Immediately the flock of hundreds of birds took on the appearance of a distant thunder cloud. No bird wanted to be on the outside of the cluster. It was every bird for itself. Someone on the outside was going to be Mr. Cooper’s lunch.

So much for security in numbers, teamwork and all that group survival stuff. The question becomes, which, or what matters most? Maybe the squirrels have it right–we’re all in this alone.

Squirrel1.11.5.18

Remember last winter? So, where’s the peanuts stashed?

Leaves.1.11.3.18

It was a dark and stormy night … (I really enjoy using that line, except, it was not that dark and only a slight drizzle.) We were headed to a concert with friend Bill and he made the comment on how much he enjoys the fall colors, even when the sun is not shining. I held back because I think, when the sun is not shining, northeast Ohio looks kinda dull.

This morning, while consuming some good coffee and attempting to read a rain-soaked newspaper, I glanced out at the continuing drizzle and noticed the sun was making a feeble attempt to brighten our day.

Ah, a win-win, I thought. Unless this is yet another attempt by Mother Nature to thrash us with holiday decorations when we haven’t fully digested all of our Halloween candy.

It’s that time of the year, again, when the leaves fall and the birders’ hopes soar. It’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news: It looks like the conifer seed crop in Canada is not so good this year. The good news: Consequently, many of the northern finch species should be flocking to the northeast of the U.S. searching for food. We can always hope for some of those rarities to come to our feeders, however, most will find the supply of natural food more to their liking in places like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

According to Ron Pittaway, a guru of the first order, and a member of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, this is an irruption (flight) year for winter finches in the East. Cone and birch seed crops are poor to low in most of Ontario and the Northeast, with a few exceptions such as Newfoundland which has an excellent spruce crop. It will be a quiet winter in the North Woods. Expect flights of winter finches into southern Ontario, southern Quebec, Maritime Provinces, New York and New England States, with some finches going farther south into the United States. Stock your bird feeders because many birds will have a difficult time finding natural foods this winter.

We’ve some early evidence of this invasion. One of our favorites, the diminutive Red-breasted Nuthatch has shown up this week. In fact, we counted three birds today at and around our feeder array. Fingers crossed for Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings.

RBNU.3 10.30.18

(This blog was originally posted in December 2012)

It was one of those evenings, two nights ago. Half my brain said, “No way can you get that shot.” Another half of my brain said, “Tough, but doable.” And the third half of my brain said, “Better to live life as a wolf than a shitty sheep dog.”

It was a classic three-day moon; the old moon in the new moon’s arms; earthshine helped define the nearby sphere.

When the Moon appears as a slender crescent, a chewed off fingernail, a dazzlingly bright, nearly full Earth can be seen, reflected on the surface of the moon. The Earth’s brightness, due to reflected sunlight, is strongly influenced by cloud cover and recent studies of Earthshineindicate that it is more pronounced during April and May. A description of Earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth’s oceans, in turn illuminating the Moon’s dark surface, was written more than 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s called ashen glow, Earthshine, even Da Vinci Glow. It’s possible at this time of the lunation cycle when the moon is at the same relative distance from the sun, but waning.

Pretty, but so what. Well, scientists observe this reflection to measure the so called ‘albedo’ of the Earth, to determine the global cloud cover. This is so because oceans reflect less light than continents, approximately 10 percent, while land masses reflect from 10 to 25 percent, and clouds up to 50 percent. These calculations are helpful to determine differences in cloud covers throughout long periods of time, used principally in measuring the effects of climate change. The overall results obtained are still somewhat unclear, but nevertheless important to learn more secrets about this place we call home.

Jumpin’ Jupiter, Geminid Meteors, luny Moons. On clear nights in northeast Ohio, the astronomy hobby is looking up. Even the coyotes are happy. Just listen: Hooooooowooooo.

Moon 11.20.2017

(This blog was originally posted 8 September 2006)

Some days are not meant for working. Today is one such.

6:28 AM. Dark. Head north to the bus stop. Challenges of the office tax my brain.

6:30 AM. Moon-roof open. Dylan crooning on the CD player. Zip across the architecturally spectacular bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River. Helps us commuters sail through the air along Route 82. Cleveland, if not in my sights, is in my mind.

6:31 AM. There hangs the moon—just hours past its full stage. Closing in on apogee in a couple of weeks. Only 238,855 miles away today. I could reach out and touch her. We measure her orbit against the stars. Humans try to do the same with themselves. Our future is in the stars.

6:32 AM. Now is when I need to run out of gas. Maybe a flat tire. Please Ra! Grant me this one wish and I’ll never again … Luck is not with me. More unanswered prayers.

6:33 AM. The river, somewhere down there 145 feet below, looks like it’s smokin’. I’m a wishin’ and a hopin’. If this is not the top of the world, I can, at least, see the top of the world from here.

6:33.5 AM. Luna’s golden buttery color belies her minus-387-degree- and maximum-253-degree temperatures.

6:34 AM. Who decided it was a “man” in the moon, then gave it a feminine name? Sorry Luna, white guys rule—or at least they used to—which is how we got to where we are.

6:34.5 AM. Summer’s over. You want the world to just let you be. Let the fog wrap you in its coolness. Cool sheets. Whispered good-byes.

6:35 AM. A flock of geese honking. Heading south. No! It’s the line of cars behind me. Forming the letter I, not the letter V. Follow.

6:35.5 AM. Some day I’ll learn to read lips in the rearview mirror. For today, however, I’m going to work on my internal compass; contemplate an attitude adjustment and figure a way to break Luna’s gravitational pull to achieve an escape velocity of 5,324 miles per hour.

6:36 AM. Or, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

(This blog was originally posted 2 October 2008, however, it seems appropriate today.)

Actually, the buck stops any place he damn well chooses in October. For example, I was hiking down the northeastern loop of the Carriage Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park this morning, just minding my own business, and that of any other creature I happened to see.

I stopped to watch a Pileated Woodpecker destroy a fallen tree. He had the chips flying like he was getting paid for the job. I heard leaves rustle behind me. Over my shoulder I  saw two does walking, cautiously, in my direction. Around here, whitetail deer are as plentiful as, well, as whitetail deer. It’s not uncommon in a four-mile hike to see a dozen or more deer, grazing or doing whatever deer do when they think no one is watching.

“’Morning ladies,” I said.

They halted, looked at each other, back at me, then to their right.

There stood a huge buck. Through my binoculars I counted eight points on each antler. I’m not sure how they count points when hunters talk about an X-point buck–this dude had a rack! I don’t want to get too deep into personification here, however, I had the distinct feeling this guy was looking at me as if I was looking at his lady friends with something other than a naturalist’s curiosity.

My 2k brain was running the options available to me in case this guy wanted to make a point—or two. Climbing a tree seemed the only thing available. I opted for a stare-down. I’ve read that staring at a wild animal is not the best plan of attack. But heck, it worked with squirrels and chipmunks, why not this guy?

He snorted a couple times and the does changed their trajectory to pass by farther to the left. The big guy watched them move on up into the trees, frequently turning to see what I was going to do. Since he looked away first I declared myself the winner of the stare-down and wished him a tolerable day as I walked on down the path.

It’s that time of the year when bucks stop here and there and everywhere.