I know, I’m a week early for Thanksgiving, but I want to tell you a story.
Just before I left to go on my walk this afternoon, I received an email with some bad news. Don’t worry, nothing life-altering, just enough that I was feeling kind of sad when I set out. I took my binoculars with me because coworkers and students at lunch had told me about seeing White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks on campus in the past day, so I wanted to keep an eye out for winter finches.
I walked out to the same section of bog that in the past has yielded my first Gray Jays here, my life Boreal Chickadee, and last spring a gorgeous look at a Blackburnian Warbler. A Gray Jay appeared almost immediately, and I thought to myself, even if I don’t find the crossbills that’s still a nice bird right there. Then, while I was watching it, two enormous dark birds flew in low over the spruce trees. Crows–no, bigger, must be ravens–no, eagles! Two adult Bald Eagles swooped low overhead and then chased each other out over the lake, calling the whole time. Yes, Bald Eagles are pretty common here, but if you ever become so jaded that a sight like that doesn’t make your heart pound a little, you have my pity.
Following the Bald Eagles with my eyes led me straight to the male White-winged Crossbill perched in full view in the sunlight at the top of a tree. After posing long enough for me to get a good look he followed his flock deeper into the bog. If you’re not sure what a crossbill is, Google them, they’re very cool.
On a whim, I walked further along the lake to a little boat-launching spot at the far edge of the school’s property. I don’t go that way very often, because the trail basically dead-ends there, but there were ducks far out on the lake and I wanted to see if I could find a better vantage point to watch them. As I walked down to the lake’s edge I heard a splash. Must have scared away a muskrat, I thought. But as I was pishing at the chickadees in the bushes–I can never resist stopping to gossip with chickadees–I saw a face watching me from a hole in the thin ice around the lake’s edge, around twenty feet out.
An unmistakable face. A river otter face.
I had never seen a river otter in the wild before. Sea otter yes. River otter no. And now one was staring at me.
After a minute it slowly swam away across the lake, toward the raft of mergansers bobbing in the open water. There were more crossbills foraging in the trees around me. The eagles were still chasing each other on the far shore. Waiting for me when I got home from my walk was a snug apartment, a nice dinner, and friends who’d be excited to hear about my latest wildlife sightings.
What could I possibly have to be sad about?