This weekend I took a rare Saturday off to go to a concert by the Boston Philharmonic. While in the city, Laurie and I went with our host, Ken, and our friend Genevieve, to a couple of the recreational green spaces in the area.
On Saturday afternoon we went to the path along the Charles River in Watertown for a short stroll. The big story this time of year is birds. Whatever species still have winter habitats anywhere are returning for the spring breeding season here in the northern US. Ken's pretty good with the avian fauna, even identifying them by ear when they can't be seen. Of course none of the rest of us knew enough to call him on any of it. But we did see a nice selection of specimens.
Right by the Watertown Dam we saw a black-backed gull and a herring gull. Nearby we saw a cormorant. Then, as we walked upstream, we saw two beautiful wood ducks. The urban woodies are a lot less shy around humans than the ones we see along the rivers in our part of New Hampshire.
Take a moment for whatever plays on words you can't keep your mind from pursuing.
Along came the inevitable couple of mallards to see what we might be giving away. Further along, at a little boardwalk spur to overlook the bank, some Welfare Geese came up, also hoping for charity. These are the variant of Canadian goose that no longer migrates. There really is something sad about that. Not deeply sad, just disappointing. Come on! Migrate! Your tundra home is calling.
Nope. Not today.
Other species included a goldfinch, yellow-rumped warblers, a grackle, red-winged blackbirds and a stunning northern oriole, looking very freshly painted. There are hardly any leaves out yet, to hide the bright plumage of the males.
The next day Ken took us to Forest Hills Cemetery to see the Great Horned Owl owlets. In the photo he showed us, they looked like little teddy bears with piercing, burning eyes and savage beaks. Cute! Fuzzy! Egad!
When we got to the cemetery, which is also maintained as a public green space, the young owls were no longer in the nest. They're about six or seven weeks old at this point, so they've "branched," as Ken put it. Unable to fly properly, they've hopped out onto the branches and actually manage to go from tree to tree with ungainly, flapping leaps. We searched the area, but did not see them. Laurie pointed out the owl pellets on a flat memorial slab in front of us. For a while that and the empty nest seemed like all we would see.
We did see a titmouse, a mourning dove, another red-winged blackbird and another warbler of some sort before we gave up and started to leave.
On the way out of the cemetery we saw a small group staring into the upper branches of a large tree. One man had a camera on a tripod with one of those lenses only really serious people bother to buy and carry around. The kind that mount to the tripod themselves, with the camera hanging off the end like a vestigial organ. We'd located the owls. Or, more correctly, we'd located the people who had located the owls.
We joined the craning crowd, talking in hushed tones. Two sandy-gray owlets, juvenile in plumage and configuration, but not in size, clung incongruously to tiny twigs in the crown of a tree just unfurling yellow-green leaves. The breeze swayed the crown of the tree, so the owls bobbed and swayed, occasionally putting out a wing to stabilize themselves. They stared solemnly, appraisingly down at us as we looked up at them.
Cool as it is to sight something rare in nature, there's only so long you can spend invading the privacy of a creature whose only interest in you is whether you will try to eat it after it has determined that it is too small to eat you. We soaked up as much owl ambiance as we could, before heading off to find some much-needed lunch.