Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: 'Two once-in-a-liftime sightings in one day!'
So began a letter from one of our long-time Alexandria readers who continued in part: “(The first) For more than two decades we have lived on the very edge of what is locally called 'The Bog.' Years ago most people thought of 'The Bog' as a wasteland swamp. To the contrary, it is a paradise of flora and fauna, teeming with life. Through chance and studied observation our 'backyard' has revealed to us many amazing, interesting, and wonderful aspects of the life cycles of our wildlife neighbors.
“In our first Spring we were thrilled to hear the 'oonk-ka-choonk' mating call of the American Bittern. 'The Bog' (actually a fen) is 300 acres, very wide in the area next to our home, and serves well to allow its inhabitants to go about their business beyond view of nosy humans. We have seen motionless Bitterns, far off, which is in itself a thrill, but not the mating moves and call. The morning of May 5, glancing out the window, I saw a flash of white in the wetland sedge. It seemed odd, as it appeared to be a bittern with a white back. Our bird book does not show or mention a white back for a bittern. Grabbing binoculars, I could see it was an American Bittern! He had a wide, fluffy splay of feathers in his mid back, wrapping around his sides. I was able to see every detail clearly. He was motionless, had an alert eye, and bright intensity to his gaze. The vertical streaks on his neck exactly matched the color and pattern of the sedge around him. If not for the white feathers I would not have spotted him. With the exception of the white feathers, I marveled at his ability to blend in. He pointed his beak and neck toward the sky, at the same angle as the sedge. He finally broke his silent stance by bending his neck and, using his beak, pruned his chest feathers. Much to my total delight, he slowly lowered his neck to horizontal, took a few steps and smacked his beak together twice to make two loud clapping sounds, puffed out a fan of brown feathers around the back of his head, puffed up a white fluff of back feathers — swelled out his belly and neck and made the much-loved 'oonk-ka-choonk' sound!! It looked like he emitted a purposeful belch from deep in his belly. Oh, what a JOY to see! He repeated this many times until he disappeared into the natural camouflage. What a gift to me!”
In a subsequent letter (May 7) our reader wrote in part: “The male Bittern was acting very differently, making no attempt to hide and not standing motionless for more than a moment or two. He made no sound that I could hear except a few beak claps. Then I saw HER! He had successfully attracted a mate! She was standing quietly about 10 feet from the male, mostly well hidden, but her head and neck were above the sedge and unmistakable. She appeared to take no notice of the male, but it was CLEAR what was on HIS mind. She put her head down and slowly moved, hidden thru the sedge with her crouched body appearing as she passed thru openings in the grass. The whole while the male was craning his neck to keep an eye on her and follow her every move. In my wildest dreams I thought I would ever see THIS!!!!
“The SECOND once-in-a-lifetime observation happened along the road in a sandy area where I have often seen adult female Painted Turtles looking for suitable nesting sites in mid-June or so. I have never seen new hatchings in this particular spot though. Today, however, I did see two tiny Painted Turtle hatchlings, about ten feet from each other, freshly run over in the middle of the road. I was confused and somewhat distressed since I believed that the hatchlings should only appear in the later part of the summer. On-line research revealed that occasionally Painted Turtles will emerge from their eggs in the autumn, but over-winter in their nests freezing solid, then emerge in the Spring and make their way to the water. Since we did have cold spells in late summer and early autumn, I wonder if this is the answer to the mysterious appearance of these two today.
“We have had many more rare viewings and encounters with wildlife within 'The Bog.'
“The local bear has a regular trail he follows from the upland forest to 'The Bog.' His normal time to pass thru is usually around 10 p.m. This morning I went out to view his large claw marks in wet sand.
“Further along, the deer have a regular path where they cross the road from forest to fen. There are always deer prints there, but today there were distinct tiny fawn prints along with the larger ones.
“Tonight at dusk the resident mated pair of Wild Geese patrolled Bog Brook, making low grunts to each other.”
A bog can be a grand location for watching wildlife.
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.
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