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Spring Chirps: A Walk through Mercer Meadows

Beltaine has come and gone. After a winter that seemed to cling upon the earth for an seemingly indeterminate amount of time, daily highs are consistently above sixty-five again. I’ve been fortunate to get some decent hours at work which has afforded me the opportunity to enjoy what has been—up until now—an incredible, beautiful month of May!

My recent ventures into the natural world have brought me to the world-class birder’s paradise that is Mercer Meadows. I’ve driven past this particular park maybe a thousand or so times without really paying it much mention. It certainly nice to look at as I zip by on Federal City Road at 40 MPH, but the view from the road simply does not do this place justice. Up until 1995 the park was a site owned by AT&T, coined “the pole farm” for the hundred-foot tall telecom antennae that criss-crossed the fields in days of yore. These were timber poles by the way. Hundred-foot tall wood poles. There’s actually one still standing which can be seen from the road.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

The well-tended paths and pair of stargazing platforms give the park an inviting community feel, but the real draw is unequivocally the quality of bird sightings that come out of this treasure of a green-space. I’ve got an avian fever and the only cure is more birding. In the past month alone, I’ve seen atleast two-dozen varieties of birds that I’ve never identified before (a perched Cooper’s Hawk has been my favorite so far!) To be fair I am a novice birder who thirty-days ago couldn’t tell you the difference between a Blue Bird and a Blue Jay (Jays have the crested caps!). Still the grumpy bastard with $8000 worth of Nikon gear whom I saw walking up from the parking lot on my way out to the car today would indicate that I’m not the only one with an interest in the local flappy fauna.

Photographing birds presents its own set of special challenges. Firstly, birds are rarely just chilling. Their little dino brains have them constantly fluttering from spot to spot which makes it difficult to get a good focus before hitting the shutter.This is compounded in my situation as I have no auto-focus on my zoom lens. You really want to have some long-glass as well. I have a lens with a 210mm focal length which is just barely enough to a decent shot of a bird that’s in my immediate surroundings (10 feet max).

Eastern Towhee

It’s actually a good spot of fun shooting with the “thrifty” gear, but anyone serious about wildlife photography would benefit immensely from longer glass with good auto-focus. Also, you need a flash too. I got my flash for forty-one bucks at Best Buy. It works good. I’m actually a little bit impressed with the sharpness of the old Minolta glass. There’s some ugly aberrations that come out when the lighting conditions are too harsh. I believe this issue is related to the coatings on the glass but I’m no expert.

In other news the pollen has gone off the charts in the last week. Instead of the gradual awakening of the different flora, Spring switched on overnight and everything seems to be flowering at once. On the news there was a video of a guy ramming a tree with an industrial truck for kicks—the ensuing pollen bomb had him hitting reverse in that near-instantaneous comical sorta way.

Morning Dove

Mercer Meadows is a great place to while away an afternoon in the sun or unwind on a quick after a long day at the office or cemetery. There’s always plenty of joggers and bikers out, so if that’s your sort of thing, crack out the trainers and get going. Sun is shining. Vitamin D, Shinrin-yoku, and bird friends. Go now.

Things on my mind:

  • I want to buy a portable mill from alibaba.com but I have concerns—many, many concerns
  • I’m reading Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World by Patrick J. Geary and at the half-way mark really enjoy learning about the bridges between late antiquity and the medieval world. (ISBN: 978-0195044584)
  • I’m also working my way through German in 10 Minutes a Day and although I’ve missed a few days and most of the lessons take more like an hour, I’m really enjoying the workbook so far. Lots of watercolors and stickers and flashcards make it pretty fun to learn a new language. (ISBN: 978-1931873314)

Auf Wiedersehen,

John

 

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