What kind of warbler was it? Pamelia and I kept changing our angle, trying for a better look at the tiny bird in the roadside tree. There—some yellow on the wings! A whitish belly...and oops, he flitted to another hard-to-see shaded branch. It's the start of spring, and our forest bird-watching skills are rusty. Yellow-rumped warbler? We've seem several of them in this spot before. That's what I'll call it, but not with any confidence.
Are you seeing as many signs of spring as we are here in Maine? Two-thirds of our winter flock of 180 mallard and American black ducks headed north this week. I heard some geese honking over the bay, and more eiders than usual. The green tips of daffodils are just poking up. And the woodchuck has returned.
Most people see woodchucks as pests. Or weather forecasters. Woodchucks are also known as groundhogs, though ours never appears in time for the shadow-watching ritual early every February. We see our woodchuck—there's always just one here, consistent with the species' loner reputation—as simply another local resident, as much entitled to be here as we are. We put some fencing up around the gardens each spring to encourage him to dine on plants other than our flowers, and he tends to head elsewhere for most of the summer.
Woodchucks are genuine hibernators. After fattening themselves up, they snuggle into burrows well underground in late fall. When they emerge in the spring, as was obvious from our woodchuck, they're relatively skinny. Ours nibbled on birdseed and whatever hint of greenery he could find...meaning he's still probably quite hungry.
The origin of the name woodchuck, if you're wondering, has nothing to do with the old rhyme about how much wood one could chuck. It's a mispronunciation of wuchak or otchek, two Native American names for them.
Let me know—or send me photos—of the spring sights you've been seeing.
Sea Ice Fracturing Just North of Alaska The one-minute time-lapse satellite video below was just released by NASA. The Beaufort Sea is north of Alaska. Because of climate change, a larger expanse of its ice is melting and/or breaking off each year. The ice fracturing in the video looks like like kinetic art.
Answer to the Last Puzzler I'll let this photo, which we took at the Natural History Museum in London, tell the story:
Today's Puzzler Today is the birthday of French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, who was born in 1595 and (among other achievements) was the father of analytical geometry and a key figure in the scientific revolution. Which of these famous quotations is NOT attributed to him:
a) "It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well." b) "I think; therefore I am." c) "An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?" d) "The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. e) "I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am."