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The Gifts of Winter

Open horizons and swans to unite us

photo by Mark Hendricks
     If Bay Weekly were a three-ring circus, you’d find swans in every ring. For that, there’s good reason.
     This week’s paper, our first in December, marks the arrival of meteorological winter. Here in Chesapeake Country, it’s not the serious winter already chilling our northern-tier neighbors. As I write, it’s –2 degrees in Crosby, North Dakota, right up on the Canadian border.
     So far, Jack Frost has made only occasional visits here, and Old Man Winter is still in a jolly mood, as local visionary artist Brad Wells has drawn him in this week’s Coloring Corner. But winter has softened our light, muted our color scales and opened our horizons. With those changes, we see new things and see in new ways.
     The opportunities winter opens are photojournalist Mark Hendricks’ subject this week in his Chesapeake Winter seasonal feature. “Take advantage of the quiet — and of migration — to go birding,” he advises.
     But readers, as you’ve noticed in Your Say, continue to lament the absence of birds at our feeders. Letter-writer Mike Stewart’s first complaint, a month ago now, didn’t ring true at my house. Back then I was filling my feeder with black sunflower seeds each day. Now it remains full for days, even weeks.
     My holly trees — a sure attraction, Hendricks says, are fuller of red berries this year than I’ve ever seen them. They may be the reason I see the flutter of birds beyond making-out distance and — suddenly, feet away on the deck — a sparrow I don’t recognize.
     No, birds are not absent. From where I write, a mocking bird — never a seed-feeding visitor — keeps vigil atop a neighbor’s weeping cherry tree. A vulture soars through opalescent skies. Blackbirds fill a sycamore as densely as ornaments on a Christmas tree. 
      The snow bunting Hendricks recommends is on my Christmas list of hoped for presents, though for it I may have to visit a winter beach.
      Winter has already brought us the waterfowl ­Hendricks has so beautifully photographed. Vast stretches of ducks — more than I’ve ever seen — are speckling my part of the Chesapeake this winter.
      Swans need no magnification. Big, white and distinct in silhouette, sound and movements, the swans are the stars of Chesapeake winter. Thus their three-ring appearance in this issue of Bay Weekly.
     In ring one, Hendricks advises us to seek the “large and eloquent tundra swan in the shallow waters of wetlands and tidal rivers.” 
     A tidal creek is where, in ring two, Creature Feature chronicles their arrival in the here and now, with Fairhaven neighbor Jimbo Gonia the first to shout out this year’s appearance, on the early date of November 21. 
      In ring three, we see the swans as our eloquent friend Bud Taylor saw them, forever fixed in beauty. Artist, naturalist and conservationist, Bud left us in October. Remembering him and his achievements is writer (and nature explorer and mapper) Dave Linthicum.