Reflecting on Birds

I’ve amassed a small collection of bird photos showing their reflections in water, so I thought it would be nice to share them as I reflect a little bit on birds’ lives. Hope you enjoy this quick little item.

Black-necked stilt with reflection - copyright Kim Smith
Black-necked Stilt

Imagine what it would be like if you had to spend virtually every waking moment of your life either finding food, or trying to impress a potential mate, or hiding from other critters who want to eat you. I think of this often as I watch large numbers of birds arriving here in the spring, some of them just passing through and others who will stay and breed in this area. Regardless of whether they’re migrants or returning breeders, all of them are tired and very hungry. It’s a matter of life and death for them to find enough food to survive each day.

American Avocets at with reflections w sig
American Avocets (2×2=4)
Great Egret and reflection in water w sig
One of my first bird reflection shots, Great Egret
American Tree Sparrow and reflection in water w sig - Metzger Marsh
American Tree Sparrow and his winter reflection

And for many of them, this is a new place where they don’t know the special spots for the best food sources. So they’re in a strange place with thousands of others who are also hungry and tired. Competition for survival is fierce, and they get no vacation from it. I’ve never seen a bird take the weekend off to sit on the patio and drink iced tea, have you?

Watching birds in the winter is another time when I’m deeply moved by their lives. Among our resident birds, the struggle for food is more intense when most of the plants have gone dormant and insects have died or hibernated or migrated to warmer climates. And getting through the cold nights is a special kind of challenge when you can’t snuggle up under a warm blanket in front of a blazing fireplace.

We humans definitely have our own set of problems, but thinking about the difficult lives of wild animals helps put things in perspective a bit, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

Coot looking into water w reflection w sig
American Coot doing a bit of self-reflection

H2O on My Mind…and My Floor

Leaf macro with water droplets and pointy edges.jpg
Water. It sustains life. Literally, we cannot live without it. It’s precious.

Grackle splashing water for blog w sig
Common grackle in my birdbath

But it can also be a real pain in the backside, especially in the winter. In the past several weeks, during a period of very cold temperatures, water has caused me some big headaches.

One day in December I heard water dripping in my furnace closet (which is in the main hallway of the house). I opened the door to find a puddle below the condensate pump, which had backed up because its drain pipe had frozen solid.

A few weeks later, I woke up one morning to find that I had no water in the house. My pipes had frozen.

Then just the other day, when we had a couple days of warm weather that melted all the snow on my roof, I found water all over the kitchen counter. This is the exact location of a roof leak that I’ve had repaired twice already.

So whether the water is where it shouldn’t be, or it isn’t where it should be, it’s a problem. But most of the time, when this life-giving element is where we want or need  or expect it to be, we take it for granted, don’t we?

Since water has been so much on my mind lately, I went out the other day hoping to find some interesting ice formations on the river in my neighborhood metropark.

Ice formations on river for blog - Wildwood (2)

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong. — Lao-Tzu

A few years ago I found some more interesting formations. Sometimes I can’t figure out how the ice ends up in certain shapes.

Ice formations on rive

Ice formations on river

And then there were these bi-level ice shelves attached to tree trunks. I’m assuming these formed when the water levels changed.

Ice shelves on trees along Ottawa River at Wildwood - blog

Even though water can be beautiful in the winter, I’ll sure be glad when all the ice and snow are gone in a few months and the water flows freely again.

water drops on leaf v2 reduced w sig.jpg

Three Rivers

Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.  – John Muir

Sandusky River
Sandusky River behind the dam, deeper water

On my drive to work each day I cross three rivers, and I feel…something…as I drive over each one. I feel happy. And I can actually feel my heart rate slow as I gaze down at the water flowing beneath me. I would imagine that most people just drive across bridges without much thought, but I can’t stop thinking about why I’m still having such a significant response to these rivers after three months of driving over them.

Kayaking on a small lake in Michigan
Kayaking on a small lake in Michigan

Like many people, I’ve always been drawn to water. The ocean and the beach don’t hold much attraction for me, though, for whatever reason. I generally gravitate to ponds and small lakes. When I lived in Michigan I spent a lot of time kayaking on some of the beautiful lakes in their state and county parks, watching birds and taking photos of dragonflies.

But somehow I’ve not spent much time on or around rivers during my life. So maybe the attraction is partly due to the novelty of it. But there’s something fascinating about the way a river winds its way through the landscape, always changing, always moving.

I guess I get a feeling of peace when I’m near a river. Something about the movement of the water maybe. It’s coming from somewhere. It’s going somewhere else. Sometimes slowly, other times more rapidly, but never motionless. Moving water is cleansing, so maybe it has the same effect on my soul, helping to purge negativity and stimulate optimism.

A shallower section of the Sandusky River
Shallower portion of the Sandusky River

The first river I cross on my drive is the Sandusky, which is only about a quarter of a mile from home “as the crow flies.” It’s very shallow here, with many areas of exposed rocky riverbed. I think that makes it very scenic. As I cross the small bridge, I look to my left and catch a glimpse of the Ballville Dam that will most likely be removed soon (based on our recent election result). I look to my right and often see a pair of Bald Eagles sitting side by side in a tree overlooking the river. The eagles are just icing on the cake though, because I fell in love with this river long before I ever saw those birds hanging out here. And I’m excited about the possibility that the eagles will be able to stay all winter long because they’ve found this spot near the dam where, I’m guessing, there will be an area of open water year round. I’m looking forward to trying to get some photos of them soon.

Sandusky River seen from the Tindall Bridge
Sandusky River seen from the Tindall Bridge
Tindall Bridge with sunburst
Tindall Bridge with sunburst

About a mile from home in the opposite direction, where the Tindall Bridge crosses the river, there’s a sign marking it as an “Ohio Scenic River.” I’m drawn to the bridge as well as the water here, because it’s a one-lane metal bridge that makes a humming noise as you drive over it. One sunny day recently I walked down under the bridge and wandered around on the exposed rocks.  There was a guy in hip waders fishing out in the middle of the river, and a few lingering Killdeer calling out and chasing each other back and forth from one bank to the other. I still smile when I recall how I felt that day with the sun on my back and the cool air on my cheeks, and the sound of water trickling through dozens of small rock pools.

Tindall Bridge, 100 years old
Tindall Bridge, 100 years old
Below the Tindall Bridge, on the Sandusky River
Below the Tindall Bridge, on the Sandusky River
Portage River in Oak Harbor, Ohio
Portage River in Oak Harbor, Ohio (Image (c) Google Maps)

Next on my northward journey to work is the Portage River in downtown Oak Harbor. It flows into Lake Erie at Port Clinton.  I like how this one seems to be overflowing its banks, almost too much river to be contained within the channel.

Toussaint River, where the water is close to the road (Image (c) Google Maps
Toussaint River, where the water is close to the road (Image (c) Google Maps)

The last river I cross is the Toussaint, a 6-mile-long river that flows from west to east in Carroll Township, also emptying into Lake Erie. Crossing this one is the most exciting because the road is at the water level rather than far above it, so I feel like I’m literally driving across the water. Until most of them migrated south, I usually saw quite a few Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons here. There are still lots of gulls hanging out near this bridge, and often a Red-tailed Hawk on a nearby light pole, hoping for a hunting opportunity.

have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water…has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river.  – Roderick Haig Brown

The other day I went to visit a friend in Brecksville (near Cleveland) and on my way home I had just a few minutes to stop by the local metropark for some ecotherapy. Even though I drive right past the Brecksville Reservation on the way to my friend’s house, I’d never taken the time to go in and see what it was like. From the entrance, I drove a few miles on a winding road through beautiful woods that were shrouded in a light mist from the rain that had been falling all day long.  Just around one of those bends I came upon Chippewa Creek, where I was thrilled to see a collection of stone cairns in the water near the road.

Stone cairns in the river at Brecksville Reservation, Ohio.
Stone cairns in the creek at Brecksville Reservation, Ohio.

Obviously I’m not the only person who enjoys walking in a shallow river. I often see rock cairns along hiking paths, but this is the first time I’ve seen them in the water. Notice the one on the right with five stones balanced on each other. Clearly that took some time and patience to find the right rocks and get them balanced properly. And although I know some people disapprove of the practice of building these cairns, I think these are very pretty and I hope to get a chance to visit that spot again. I’d like to take some time to just sit and look at these, listening to the sounds of the water flowing between the lovely wooded banks.

So in this month of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for these three rivers that have been an unexpected bonus in the fabric of my new life. Although the vastness of Lake Erie is never far from anyone’s mind in northern Ohio, I’ve found a stronger connection to these winding ribbons of water that snake through the endless farm fields. I look forward to spending much more time exploring and contemplating each of them in the months to come. Who knows what kind of inspiration might be lurking in that moving water?

A river, though, has so many things to say that it is hard to know what it says to each of us.   — Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It