The Mast-Head: Early Observations

There are to-do lists, and then there are want-to-do lists. For many people on Long Island, mid-March means keeping an eye and ear out for the arrival of certain birds. 

In this week’s “Nature Notes,” Larry Penny writes that osprey are due back about now. I keep an annual tally of the earliest fish hawks, as they were called locally in the old days, on a basement wall. There, too, I mark down when I hear the first spring peepers. This year, I added a column on the wall for the first red-wing blackbird, heard but not seen on March 8. 

These are driveway observations for the most part, made on a short walk to or from the house. The oldest pencil markings are faded now, and I really should try to make a more long-lasting copy somewhere.

March seems to be all about the want-to-do list, and what I want to do is drive around the usual osprey haunts to make more accurate observations for my basement wall. Though it is not a competition, someone else always seems to spot them first. In my case, there is always something else to take care of, and bird-spotting has to wait, even though the winter’s unwinding does not. I crack an upstairs window to listen as I open my computer to write. It is better than nothing.

Here on the south shore of Gardiner’s Bay, sounds give first notice of the coming spring. On a cold morning before dawn on Tuesday, a bird called briefly from the knot of bull briar near the road. As day came on slowly, all was silent again.