As April arrives and we welcome another pandemic spring, I am reminded of a quotation from the American poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder: “The most radical thing you can do is stay home.”
We have all been doing a lot of that since last spring, and as a result many of us have become more attuned to our local bird friends, including the ones here year-round, the ones passing through, and the ones returning to nest.
We will soon miss our winter visitors, especially the winter finches who came in their large, cheerful flocks. An unusually large number came south this winter; pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and common and hoary red polls have been frequent feeder visitors, along with regulars like juncos and American tree sparrows. They will all be heading north to the boreal forest to breed and nest.
In early March we heard the first red-winged blackbird singing in the morning and then the first robin, quickly followed by grackles. By the end of the month, I saw my first female red-winged blackbird, which means nesting season is right around the corner.
But this grand migratory procession is not complete without Canada geese. There’s ideal living space waiting for them in Millbrook: a small island on a small pond with both lawns and wetland nearby. The geese, who were unusually absent from the frozen pond during the winter, began returning in mid-March. The pond is a stopover for most on their northward migration. This spring, at dusk, they began arriving by the hundreds — huge flights circling and gliding down to a graceful landing or tumbling acrobatically when the wind was high. These noisy, boisterous crowds are always good company. At night, when the pond is at full capacity, it sounds like any rowdy party.
The flocks diminished as the ice melted, but those that have stayed are probably home. Since it is the habit of geese to nest in their ancestral homes, the goose building a nest on the island directly across from my usual look-out point may well be the very same goose I saw in previous springs, whose parents mated for life and returned to the same nesting spot each spring, like their parents before them. If the young goslings survive, they will join their parents on the same migratory path south for the winter, returning to this same spot in Millbrook every year. It’s a comforting thought in uncertain times.
So, if you can, go out and try to catch a glimpse of these nesting geese. Later in the spring, you might even see yellow trains of goslings toddling along after an adult.
In the meantime, enjoy the sound of our honking migratory neighbours. As the poet Mary Oliver reminds us, they have much to tell us about both their home and ours:
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
GET OUT! By Lisa Stefaniak