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MARTHA SEZ: The signs of spring

April 12, 2012
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Signs of spring: Town workers are out sweeping up the sand they spread on the roads and sidewalks over the winter.

"What do you call those machines they use to sweep the roads?" I asked Bill Ferebee, our town supervisor.

"Road sweepers," he answered.

They're just tractors with sweeper attachments, he said.

In town gardens, crocus are blooming and tulip and daffodil shoots have pushed through the earth. Mint and chives are up, and, of course, the bishops' weed-also called ground elder or goutweed-is flourishing.

At the school, Addie, a kindergartner, showed me a vat of wood frog eggs in her classroom. Soon, they will hatch into tadpoles. Addie laughed when I told her some people call them pollywogs.

Behind the school, inside the beaver dams, it's the time for beaver kits to be born.

In the woods, black bears are molting, white-tailed deer bucks are growing antlers and little barred owlets are hatching.

My neighbors have returned from Florida, where they spent the winter.

Big coalitions of blackbird types, traveling together, arrived in the North Country. Red-winged blackbirds and their pals, the grackles, starlings and cowbirds, then hang out together in big, noisy blackbird conventions with a few robins thrown in for good measure.

Mountain Meadows Bed & Breakfast in Keene Valley is the best location I know for watching and listening to birds. For one thing, the management has strung up, and assiduously maintains, multiple bird feeders to accommodate a huge and varied avian population. And then, location is everything; there are woods, shrubs, fields and wetlands within an easy wingspan of the feeders. I'm sure the bird realtors hardly need to advertise. It's all word of beak.

"I've been coming here for years, for the season," says Lucien, a red-winged blackbird with a particularly liquid, burbling, come hither mating call. "My wife and I have raised 13 nests full of children over the years."

Permanent residents who frequent Mountain Meadows year 'round, however, have something to say about the blackbirds' boastful claim to this Eden. I overheard a conversation when I was there a few days ago.

"We're here all year," a junco pointed out, "not like those blackbirds."

"Where are the blackbirds when we're here toughing it out in sub-zero conditions?" asked a pileated woodpecker.

"Living it up down south, getting drunk on fermented berries, " complained a song sparrow. "So irresponsible."

"Yeah. Then they magically turn up, just when the weather starts to improve, like the robins," chimed in a chickadee.

"Hold on just a goldarned minute!" put in a robin, swallowing the tail end of an earthworm. "Some of us robins are here all year too. My father and mother go south now for the winter, but they've earned the right."

"Beg pardon, but I thought only swamp robins overwintered," the junco said. "You don't look like a swamp robin."

"There's no such thing as a swamp robin!" the robin squawked. "I don't know how these rumors get started."

"Well, speaking of rumors," the woodpecker said, "I don't understand how the red-winged blackbirds can stand to fly with the cowbirds, considering what the cowbirds do to them, year after year. Those red-wings are cuckolds. A cowbird lays her eggs in their nest, and they just hatch them right along with their own as if nothing happened."

A flock of gangsta blue jays came screaming in.

"I couldn't help but overhear," said one, "and I don't see why the redwings put up it with it either. When a cowbird lays her eggs in my nest, I push 'em right on out. I'm not raising any cowbirds, thank you very much."

"I get rid of cowbird eggs too," said the robin, "and I agree the red-wings are idiots. But I don't blame the song sparrows, because their eggs look just like cowbird eggs. Once they recognize their mistake, it's too late."

"Well," the song sparrow murmured, "It's not the babies' fault their trashy parents abandon them. We try our best with them, and some turn out really very nice."

"Don't get defensive," the jay said. "They may be cute when they're little, but I still say ..."

At this point a huge flock of gurgling, chattering blackbirds wheeled in and descended onto the grass, and the permanent resident birds moved off to another part of the yard. I can't vouch for anything they had to say. Birds like to gossip. I'm just telling you what they said.

Have a good week.



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