Pandemic. Stuck at home. Winter snow and ice. Stuck in the house. Wait a minute, this sounds like a broken record.
It’s easy to draw the conclusion that we are in a rut, and a horrible one at that, with all the impacts of COVID-19 and the unwelcome winter weather we are in the midst of (that’s unless you are a kid who doesn’t even care about the sting of ice and snow). Silver linings are still out there though, and nature has been one huge one.
I frequently read stories now of people in big cities and small towns seeing and hearing wildlife that they didn’t even know was on their doorstep. The frantic world we live has slowed down, not because we wanted it to, but because we had to for our own survival.
Nature has sensed that pause and to the delight of many people, myself included, we are experiencing firsthand the healing power that she has to offer.
As a novice birder, I look back on 2020 and am amazed at what I found in my own back yard while in the throes of the pandemic. When I wasn’t looking in the sky, I was nose deep in my bird books trying to figure out what I saw.
Warblers ranked high on my “I can’t believe I saw that!” list. Though glimpses were often fleeting, I managed to get a good enough bead on them to figure out who they were. I added at least five new warblers to my growing list of sightings in the yard.
That was on top of orioles, red-headed woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and Swainson’s hawks and wood thrushes making star appearances, too. Add to that two snake sightings (a 3-foot-long black rat snake literally wrapped himself around the pickets of our fence hunting for birds), numerous salamanders, turtles, many, many deer and multiple sightings of a red fox (I’m convinced it has a den nearby).
Staying close to home and paying a lot more attention to what surrounded me left me shaking my head in wonder. I had no idea our yard and areas close by were such a haven for so many creatures. Though the pandemic has had dire consequences for so many people, it has also opened our minds and spirits to new experiences in the natural world that have proven to be a lifeline for so many.
Never was this truer than what happened recently in our house. I lost my best friend and constant companion, my beloved black lab Navi, to cancer after a short three-month battle. Experiencing any loss of life is always devastating, but in these isolating times, it is even more so.
It became impossible for me to walk in our woods and fields without her. I knew there were more wonderful discoveries waiting for me, including frequent visits by a barred owl, but my heart was not in it.
And then it happened. A friend told me about a Snowy owl only an hour and a half drive from here. Snowy owls are the stuff that dreams are made of, at least for me. Over the years, I viewed with envy the sightings posted on social media of these magnificent birds. They only come this far south every few years, looking for food or just spreading out when populations are higher than usual up north.
Some of them end up on the Eastern shore, where wide expanses of fields provide a perfect habitat for hunting. Catching a glimmer of one there would be at least a six-hour round trip with no guarantee that I would even see it.
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If there ever was a time to see one, now was it with one so close by. It was the kickstart I so very much needed. Off we went up the road on a very cold, cloudy and windy day and it was worth every minute of it.
As soon as we turned the corner on to a country road with farm fields, I knew we would be in luck. Just a short distance down the road, a small cluster of cars and people could be seen. Everyone was looking at the same thing way across the field of corn stubble. There she was, hunkered down next to a large rock, looking as bored as one could possibly be.
One great thing about this group was the obvious respect they had for this owl. Everyone kept their distance and kept their voices low. Amateur as well as professional photographers snapped away while she napped away, sometimes completely closing her eyes to all the humans who were obviously so enthralled with her.
It was a magical moment. I could literally feel a bit of sunshine and hope on that cold gloomy day. Here was this incredible bird who had traveled all the way from north of the Arctic circle to land here in this field. Imagine what odds she faced just getting here, not to mention what she’ll face when she eventually goes back home.
It was a lesson in beauty, grace, power and perseverance. Perseverance, in particular, hit home for me the very next day. Almost two weeks after Navi’s passing, I found a rescue lab to adopt.
By the time you read this, Chester will be in his new home with us. He and I will walk the fields and woods again and find new adventures to share with you. I had come full circle. Navi would be pleased.
Thank you Snowy owl, and thank you Navi. You opened the door to nature’s possibilities once again. Godspeed to both of you.