Return to Sterling

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago the Vernal Equinox dawned on a Sunday morning with a cold, unforgiving forecast.

It would have been easy to hunker down in the warmth of my favorite reading chair and finish the compelling book I was reading about bees.

Yet some persistent need sent me rummaging for my hiking boots and daypack. The simple fact that I could even consider hiking on the first day of spring was an extraordinary opportunity not to be missed. Trails are usually still buried in snow well into the early weeks of spring.


A brief  glimpse of sun through the kitchen windows sparked my resolve to head Northward to a favorite trail along Lake Ontario.

I left a disappointed dog sitting in the hallway.”Next time,” I promised her each time she wagged her tail hopefully while I laced up my hiking boots.


I am never quite sure how I manage to leave this face behind.

This trip would be a scouting expedition. There were reports of owls nesting  in the midst of a Great Blue Heron Rookery as well as an eagle nest in the same area. With the trees still barren of leaves, the opportunity to spot returning migrants darting through branches is at its best right now.  All too soon, the forest canopy will fill in making it more challenging to spot those elusive songbirds and the hungry birds of prey who follow their migrating meals.

Lake Ontario is less than an hour’s drive north, provided of course I am not distracted by say a flock of wild turkeys dashing across the road requiring me to pull over and snap some photos.


or stop to check if the trumpeter swans have returned to their nest in a small swamp along the way


No one at the nesting site but a lone red wing blackbird

and I took a few wrong turns because I forgot to grab the GPS when I left. Sterling Nature Center is at the end of an elusive dirt road reached by a maze of several smaller country roads which may or may not still have their signs intact after a season of snowplow passes. Once I pulled into the parking area, this glimpse of brilliant blue water under a crisp blue sky encouraged me to brave the brisk winds blowing off the lake.


As I’ve mentioned,  hiking in high winds is something I avoid whenever possible.  So the distant cry of hawks over Dragon Fly pond encouraged me to pull on a wool headband and head for the trails to the heron rookery


But first a little photo op  with this happy fellow, who was so busy at the feeder he didn’t mind my quiet approach and shutter clicks as he ate.

SNC chickadee.jpg

Chickadees may not be a rare sighting yet I am always thrilled to see them anytime, anywhere. They are loyal little spirits who keep my connection to nature alive through winter’s fiercest weather and remind me warmer days and greener views will come.

For now mosses are the only green showing in these woods


although there were some splashes of color to be found here and there


Perfectly framed by a rugged yet graceful arch


Winter Aconite by the feeder gardens

The wind whistled through the barren tree tops and rattled dried leaves still clinging to bushes along the trail.


Long dead leaves rattling in the wind like fortune telling bones.

Even before reaching the water, the haunting echo of geese and herons calling created an eerie atmosphere. Standing alone on the observation deck it was hard not to get spooked by the weird sounds and ghostly image of the twisted trees.  I regretted leaving my dog at home.


Still, it was good to have my hands free to switch between my camera and big birding binoculars as I scanned the nests in search for the one being occupied by owls. There is a helpful photo posted on site with the owls nest marked which guided me to the right spot.  I could just make out two ear tufts flicking now and then in the blustery winds. Time will tell if the owls will still be here when Favorite Youngest Daughter and I set out for the annual Birdathon event in six weeks. Last year a mid April storm caused the nest to fail and recent bad weather may have the same outcome this year.

Meanwhile I had another section of the trails I wanted to explore, a path which would take me along the lake, an area I come to often when trying to settle an uneasiness in my spirit.


to be continued

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.





Deborah H Rahalski


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