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Look, look goose

The sound of the avian call-and-response floated not far above my head as I stepped out of the house here on Weathering Heights.

Hearing Canada geese communicating as they make their way to and fro is nothing new around this part of Upstate New York. We are, after all, on the Eastern Seaboard flyway for migrating birds. When some of them decide this is far enough south to winter over they are pervasive year-round. No, the thing that caught my attention on this particular day was that in the midst of the first real snowstorm of this unusually mild winter the geese were headed north. Going home, as it were.

This was only one of numerous signs of confusion in nature this winter. Some spring-blooming plants have been sending out emissary shoots to tentatively test the air. Robins, traditionally not on the scene until becoming a first sign of spring, have been abundant at our feeders for much of the winter.

Here on the first day of March, the iconic Farmers’ Almanac prognosticates that things won’t change much through the month, which may mean a drought of sorts could result from the lack of snow pack in the mountains regions that supply not only local water, but New York City’s main supply as well. To wit: “1st – 3rd, Light snow/flurries. 8th – 11th, fair. 12th – 15th, light rain, then fair. 16th – 19th, showers, heavy thunderstorms. 20th – 23rd, fair, pleasant; 24th – 27th, showery, windy, then fair. 28th – 31st, increasing clouds, unsettled by the 31st.”


• Nature offers another lesson

I awakened at first light this morning to what sounded like a steady rain hitting the gutters on my roof. It took a minute for the usual awakening fuzziness to clear before I realized it wasn’t raining. It was the sound of the remnants of last week’s ice storm melting away.

The disaster that hit the Northeast and left literally hundreds of thousands of homes without power claimed its victims in deaths, accidents, lost business and general discomfort. But, as usual, the wildlife that surrounds us up here on Weathering Heights persevered nicely.

As I drove around to check on the status of several people, I glanced toward one of the large ponds that helps nurture and shelter the huge flocks of Canada geese that both decorate and plague our region. There, placidly swimming in the frigid water, were dozens of the big birds, acting as if nothing untoward were going on weatherwise.


Speaking of the topic of birds, Andre, the larger of The Other Beings that co-inhabit our house up here overlooking the Hudson River, isn’t given to sudden movements unless there is food involved. This morning was a different matter entirely.

What had struck a chord at the very center of his feline being was the huge blue jay perched in the crabapple tree outside the kitchen window, the one where the ice had finally departed. The smaller finches, nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers, titmouses (titmice, titmeese? … I never can quite get it straight) and assorted wild birds that usually perch there awaiting their turn at the suet and mixed-seed cages had been temporarily spooked by big bird.

Whiskers standing straight out, tail twitching, that funny little mewling noise deep in the throat that beings of his persuasion often employ when contemplating winged potential food. Finally, I thought, he’s distracted from breakfast and ready to exercise his Creator’s design by making a mad dash at the window to scare off the cocky intruder.

Then, Lily, the smaller (but not by much) of The Other Beings, glided sleepily down the stairs from the loft where she’d spent the night on her comfy pillow bed, ready for breakfast and mewing at Andre to join her at the dish.

That broke the magical spell and we all lapsed into the morning routine. A forkful of tuna for each of them, a bowl of fresh water, and then a bowl of crunchy stuff to keep their tummies satisfied and their teeth sparking clean.

There still was hope for them to pay attention to the world around them. Morning sunshine actually was spilling over Bald Mountain just behind us. However, geese, wild turkeys, cackling crows and other bully birds we’re used to were nowhere in sight for a change. The rainbow of smaller creatures would soon be twittering and scampering about in full view before heading off on their migratory ways.

Things are getting back to normal, looking winter-sloppy and very wet, yet the mighty trees that had bowed down under the weight of the clinging ice have reasserted themselves once more and are standing tall.

The bird, the trees, the deer, the leaden skies … . No matter how many office towers we erect, traffic roundabouts we install, housing developments we sprout, the wildlife keeps reminding us we’re just a nod or two away from unspoiled nature.

• The wonderful world of animals

monkey• SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Spokane woman who hid a sedated monkey under her blouse on a flight from Thailand to Los Angeles — pretending she was pregnant — has been convicted of smuggling charges. Gypsy Lawson, 29, successfully passed through U.S. Customs in Los Angeles with the rhesus monkey hidden in her shirt after the November 2007 trip.

• BOSTON (AP) — Veterinarians in Boston performed an unusual surgery to reattach the face of a cat they think was injured by a car’s fan belt, probably because she tried to stay warm under the hood. Edgar, a 4-year-old long-haired female, disappeared from her home in Winthrop for three days last week. When she came home, her owner found her in her litter box, with part of her face dangling from her head. “When her owner saw her face, she passed out,” said Elizabeth Kendrick, a surgical technician at Angell Animal Medical Center.

• An international team of scientists, led by Spain’s Luis Fernando Gosálvez, has carried out a study in five European countries to identify and evaluate the factors involved in causing injuries or even death in pigs as they are transported to abattoirs where animals are slaughtered.

• NYABBISAN, Cameroon (CNN) — The animals are gone. Hunters facing food shortages in Central Africa push deep into forests for food, exposing themselves to viruses. Deep in a remote region of Cameroon, we are following two hunters looking for bush meat — forest animals they can kill to feed their families. They’ve spent hours in the forest already, but all the traps they’ve set are empty. They will have to push deeper into the forest and they may be hunting for days. Last year, rising food prices touched off riots around the world, killing dozens of people. Unable to afford basic supplies, communities in Central Africa are increasingly turning to the forests for food. In doing so, hunters expose themselves to hidden dangers — microscopic pathogens living in the blood of forest animals. Most of the viruses are harmless, but some are potentially deadly when passed to humans.