Witt’s End

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

Okay, I know we’re a few days from the start of Winter, not Spring, however, last night we were at a going-away party for a friend and I thought of blog I wrote a dozen years ago in which she was the protagonist. We joked about the event and when I read it this morning I realized how memories can change the reality of things. Sort of that alternate truth stuff we get out of the nation’s capital these days.

9 April 2006

Mysteries of Spring

Susan and I went for an early spring bird walk with our favorite naturalist, Wendy, to our favorite spot in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We call the spot Warbler Ridge. Don’t look at the map, you’ll not find the name. We gave it that designation years ago after a great day of birding there.

The real benefit of birding with a naturalist, as opposed to an ornithologist, is that she makes you look at things other than the birds—the ground for instance.

This spot is a bit off the trail and I suppose, if everyone strayed from the straight and narrow path, the place would begin to look like downtown Cleveland. However, we try to walk gentle on the land.

While watching where to put my feet and looking for wildflowers, I was stunned to see the corner of a $20 bill peeking out of the grass! On closer inspection we realized the bill was part of a field mouse’s nest. I gently removed the $20. One small nibble in the corner—not even as much deterioration as inflation—was the only damage.

How did a $20 bill get out here? We looked around for more. Nope, just the one and no sign of the mouse, either.

Who says birding doesn’t pay?

Thanksgiving tends to be a time for nostalgia. As conversation around the dinner table edged toward what we did in the past on this day, I thought of Thanksgiving 2014 when Susan and I, along with our birding buddies, ventured to the coast of South Carolina for a few day so birding. Here’s how the trip went:

Birding buddies Pat and Karin, along with Susan and I, opted to do something different. We headed to South Carolina for some serious birding–well, as serious as it gets for us. The impetus for this adventure was the fact that Pat had visited every state in the union except South Carolina; reason enough for an adventure. We’d heard and read lots of good things about birding the area around Huntington Beach State Park, it was a holiday and campsites were available. So what’s not to like?

Twenty-three hundred miles and 100-plus species later, I can tell you it was one great trip, assuming you like seeing thousands of perfectly choreographed Black Skimmers in flight, Wood Storks fishing 25 feet from you, and one of the more endangered birds on the plant, Red Knots, 57 of them, feeding like there’s no tomorrow–and for them, that might be the case.

Okay, so maybe sleeping on the ground when temperatures are a balmy 29 degrees is not for everyone. For us, the rustic tent sites (that’s what they were called) were perfect for our week-long adventure. Although there were many other spots to bird in the region, we found the Huntington Beach area most attractive. The joy of romantic, long walks on the beach lugging tons of spotting scopes, camera gear and day packs filled with almost-nutritious snacks are the things birders look forward to. Susan and I needed time to relax and unwind from the stresses of being retired, ya know. Youngsters Pat and Karin do have jobs so I guess it was relaxing for them, too.

There were many highlights during this trip; good and not-so-good restaurants, Great Horned Owls serenading while setting up the tent the first day, and happening upon a small group of Wood Storks feeding close to the road on our way out the last day.

Of ornithological importance was Pat’s early Friday morning sighting and identification of a group of Red Knots. He returned to camp with the news and we flocked (that’s what birders do) to the beach. We were able to get close enough to the birds to read the leg tags on several, even to see a tracking device on one bird.

Seventy-five percent of the birders in our group of four are not as addicted to listing as me. So I have to toss in the fact that I saw life bird (lower 48 states, no pelagic trips) number 606, a Purple Sandpiper. Again, the high-five for that one goes out to sharp-eyed Pat who spotted it loafing within a group of about 100+ Dunlin, a quarter mile away. Any questions about why we enjoy birding with Pat and Karin?

Happy not to see a television ad or a big box store for a week, made each birding highlight shine a bit brighter. I think only one or two dozen times a day did any of us say, “Well, we coulda gone shopping.”

Endangered Red Knots, Huntington, South Carolina, State Park

Wood Stork having fish for liunch

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.


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


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