Last weekend, a cold front came through our area. One minute I was sitting outside in a short-sleeved t-shirt enjoying a sunny December afternoon, and the next, a frigid breeze was blowing through. My son and I had been watching a tailed orange butterfly; the butterfly disappeared. By that evening the heater was on and the dog was refusing to go outside because it was too cold.
The next morning, I woke up and consulted the weather app on my phone. Too cold to hike? Yes, too cold to hike. I rolled over and went back to sleep. By mid-morning, however, the call of the trail was too persistent to ignore. So what if it was cold outside? I have winter clothing and thick socks. I suspect that my husband thought I was a little nuts. Who in their right mind would go hiking when it was freezing outside? I had no idea if I would find anything, but I had to go look.
As I drove into the park, I saw a red-tailed hawk hanging out on an electric pole. Mother Nature was smiling upon my endeavor. My hike would be a success.
I parked the car and got out. No other hikers were in sight, but I could see some fishermen down on the river; I wasn’t the only crazy person outside. I felt somewhat vindicated. In fact, these fishermen were even crazier than I was because they were wading in the water.
As I walked down the trail, I could hear bird sounds. I saw no egrets or herons on the water, but I heard a great blue heron flying overhead. One red tailed hawk sighting and a heron; a good start. A killdeer was on the island in the middle of the river, making plaintive sounds. Small unidentified birds flew from one side of the river to the other. I looked over to my left and spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet on the ground. The fingers on my right hand seemed to be frozen to each other, so I blew on my hand so I could use the camera- and success!
I turned to go towards the boardwalk and the marsh with the bird blinds, and – osprey sighting! He was perched on the top of a dead tree, so I walked stealthily until I could get to an unobstructed view. Just as I got there, he flew off. Then I heard it: peck….peck….peckpeckpeckpeck…peck….
So, no luck photographing the osprey, but the downy woodpecker seemed unaware of my presence as I stood still and observed it go under the branch, over the branch, up the tree, down the tree…peck peck peck….
I moved on. As long as I was moving, I was warm. The minute I stopped walking, I could feel my limbs start to freeze. I pulled my hat down over my ears; I could hear my own mother’s voice in my head, saying, “Cover your ears! You’re going to catch a cold!”. In the distance, I spotted a great blue heron, hunkered down.
Ice was on the water as I walked to the large bird blind. On the trail, the cold had been bearable, but over the water it was too cold even for a nature nut like myself. The mallards, however, seemed to be fine with the cold.
I continued walking. Other than birds, nothing was out moving around, but there were birds aplenty. Cardinals flew from tree to tree, the bright red of the males easily visible in the bare branches. I heard more woodpeckers. Little brown birds moved around in the ground brush.
My phone beeped. My husband, wanting to see if I was frozen solid yet? No, the Teenager wanting to know how much money was in her teen checking account (not much, so sad). I didn’t want to take my gloves off to text her the bad news.
I decided it was nearly time to head to the car, after walking back down the river again to see if, by some chance, the osprey had returned to his perch. He had, but once again he flew off as soon as I was in position to get a good picture. The downy woodpecker, however, was in the same spot…peck…peck…peckpeckpeckpeck…peck…
I took that as a sign- that, and the fact that my face felt like an ice cube. It was definitely time to head back to the vehicle and crank the heater up as far as it would go.
As I drove down the road to the gate house and the exit, I spotted the red tailed hawk again. One more try! Fortunately, no one else was driving down the road because I stopped the car and jumped out with camera in hand, ready to go. One of the advantages of cold weather hiking: you get the place to yourself!
I got back in the car, feeling a bit like a human popsicle. The hike had been worth it. However, I was ready to go home, get a cup of hot tea, and begin thawing out.