Blues in the Winter

Dear Nature,
I know that everyone thinks that Blue Jays are pests, but from a painter’s point of view, how can you not appreciate the Blue Jay?! Its kaleidoscope of blues flashing in the winter garden whispers breathily of fresh spring blue skies. And yes, they are noisy, but you have to appreciate their strong sense of family and community, always moving around as a flock, squabbling, shrieking and shouting.

They are such good mimics of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. So much so, that I am frequently trying to find the hawk I heard only to find a Blue Jay! It is thought they they do this to let other jays know that a hawk is around or to make other species believe one is present.

Oddly enough, I have actually never painted one. I will have remedy that. 

With Love, Kelly

The Sunset Owl Show

Dear Nature,
Short eared owls were a very elusive bird for me to find, until I understood that it gets down to knowing and understanding their habits and the territories they return to winter after winter.  Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts is one of those territories. 

Last February, we took a road trip there to see the owls and they didn’t disappoint! Against a strikingly beautiful sunset sky, we watched as several owls hunted the salt marsh. I think they look like large, ghostly elegant moths, as they navigate the winds with floppy wingbeats. They glide just over the tops of the marsh grasses and hover in place when they spot prey; sometimes disappearing from view as they drop into the grass onto prey. Other times they spin, turn sideways, and change direction on the turn of a dime, in unbelievably graceful arial displays. 

What an extraordinary end to a wonderful winter’s day of birding at the coast.

With Love, Kelly

2•17• 2021
Parker River American Tree Sparrow 

Dear Nature,
What I love about birding is that I never know what I will see. Yes, there are the rare birds, the ‘birds everyone wants to see’, (read – owls…), and then there are the little birds that some people tend to overlook. Don’t get me wrong, my heart starts to race with excitement when I spot an owl, but I also love to pause and watch little birds go about being little birds. This spunky little American Tree Sparrow with its jaunty rusty red cap,  was part of a small flock of sparrows doing what little birds do during a winter’s day, look for food. They were hopping around on the snow, picking at the grasses, and not paying any attention to me as I watched them.  I stood still as a few little brave ones bounced closer and closer, providing a wonderful opportunity to photograph them and observe them more keenly.

With Love, Kelly

Battle on the Ice

Dear Nature,
I don’t remember seeing bald eagles in Connecticut during my childhood in the 60’s & 70’s. Then DDT was banned in 1972, allowing for a miraculous comeback of the nation’s symbol, the bald eagle. The winter populations in CT began to swell as the eagles followed the open water down the Connecticut River. Despite development along the river, the eagles kept coming. The first pair to set up a nest since the 50’s, was in Litchfield County in 1992, which was the year CT passed their first official Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List. The bald eagle was listed as endangered in CT. 

They continue to make their winter pilgrimage down the CT river as it freezes from north to south. On this day it was frigidly cold, yet there were around 10-12 eagles congregated on the ice. Their in-flight aerobatics were quite a sight to see, as they fought to steal one another’s hard-won fish. “To the victor go the spoils”, the loser must fish again. EPIC!

With Love, Kelly

Red-shouldered Hawk Pair Study

Dear Nature,
February is a cold month here in Connecticut, but there are reminders that Spring is just around the corner when I see the raptors pairing up in preparation for nesting season. The hawks are monogamous, mating for life, but they still engage in courtship bonding rituals during the mating season. In late December/early January, I will see our very large Red-tailed hawk we call ‘Mama,’ paired up with her mate. Then in February I start seeing the red-shouldered hawks pairing up. I saw this red-shoulderded pair in my neighborhood. They were actively scanning the snowy field below them while they were snuggled up close. Usually a red-shouldered hawk will fly off the second it sees me observing it. Today, they were so intent on hunting and on one another,  that they paid me no mind. My lucky day.

With Love, Kelly

Good Dogs at Goodwin

Dear Nature,

A good dog is your heart’s heart,
your best friend, no days spent apart 

 A good trail is a well-worn treasure,
an old friend to visit in all kinds of weather

 A good walk with a good dog
       can’t be beat

made all the more special,
      all the more sweet

to be joined by one more,
       one more to adore.

dedicated to BFFs Hunter and Willa, and Hunter’s new bestie, Terra

With Love, Kelly

A Perfect Winter Birding Day

Dear Nature,
Today was a perfectly cold February winter day. Cold enough that the snow was crunchy and sparkled like a million prisms in the warm sunshine. We went to find winter birds at the Connecticut shoreline. We saw our first northern visitor up close and personal, the adorable horned lark. They walk with an endearing little bird swagger and I think you can guess how they got their name! 

Our second bird was the very cool red crossbill. They are an uncommon winter visitor, however this year has been a ‘super flight’ year, where the northern boreal finches are ‘irrupting’, or moving southward in search of food. They rely on conifer seed for sustenance; trees that produce food in cycles. Some years, called ‘mast’ years, there is an abundance of food, and other years very little. Hence they fly south looking for food. And we get to watch them feed on pitch pine cones in our little corner of the world.

With Love, Kelly