Date: 7/12/20 6:17 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] July 12, 2020: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
5:27 a.m. 72 degrees, wind S 10 mph. Sky: gray, overcast, and indecisive;
begins in mist, ends in showers; in between alternates drizzle, fog,
sprinkle; Gove Hill in hiding. Leaves in motion and every branch hung with
rain. Wetlands: mistless, and in sharp relief. Pond: mistook a fist-sized,
broken branch for a snapping turtle head. Patches of white ash seeds litter
road. Red-flowering raspberry sheds petals, magenta spots on the dark
earth. Turn my collar to mosquitos and deer flies, which are everywhere and
hungry.

DOR: American toad and pickerel frog
AOR: Hermit thrush pauses on the shoulder; looks both ways and then flies
across.

Tanager in full voice in oaks. House wren going off in the pines. Ringing
laugh of a pileated. Thrush and veery drawn-out fluty voices enliven dank
woods. Only two ovenbirds sing this morning. They've fallen off the sylvan
version of this week's *Billboard's Hot 100*, number one spot occupied by
red-eyed vireo for the eleventh week in a row. Three more weeks and
vireos equal Queen's run with *Bohemian Rhapsody*.

Deer prancing through woods above the pond; dogs, eyes riveted and ears up,
come to life. Bat behind barn door; the first time in more than a month.
Seems to be grooming one shadowy wing, then the other.

Yesterday, a friend in Vershire banded five kestrel chicks, ensconced at
the bottom of a nestbox. One, recently fed, had several inches of bright
red tail sticking out of its mouth, the aftermath of a colorful feast. The
tail belonged to a northern red-bellied snake—ventral scales overlapping
like shingles—a resplendent little snake, tan above, red below, an eater of
slugs and snails, which must have been caught crossing open ground.
Regardless of what the scientific literature says, the parent kestrel, the
ultimate opportunist, took what was below it, an extended, thin package of
protein for a developing chick. I think of kestrels eating grasshoppers,
dragonflies, and meadow voles but that's the beauty of natural history . .
. just when you think you know something about something, something pops up
that surprises you. Expands the possibilities; maybe in a direction, you
didn't think possible. Years ago, while watching hawks migrate over Fire
Island, a fellow birder told me when he was a boy in the 1920s, he saw a
kestrel snatch a smooth green snake on the Hempstead Plains, near Garden
City, a disjunct bit of tallgrass prairie now occupied by shopping malls.
And, much more recently, I was sent a photograph of a timber rattlesnake
out on the limb of an Iowa oak, a sapsucker in its mouth. Who would have
thought a rattlesnake would climb a tree and wait for a bird to pass by, a
solo analog of *Waiting for Godot*.

Natural history: a mutating jigsaw puzzle; every piece joined for a moment;
then every piece changes shape to fit another circumstance, and
circumstances, endless and pliant, are timeless. To be surrounded by
variation . . . an antidote to boredom. The perfect companion for a COVID
walk.
 
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