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Cracker Barrel: Off and running

A week ago my wife and I walked down to the shore of the small lake we live near to see what was going on. Each spring, with the melting of ice and the greening of branches, we feel compelled to take inventory of returning life forms, most of who...

A week ago my wife and I walked down to the shore of the small lake we live near to see what was going on. Each spring, with the melting of ice and the greening of branches, we feel compelled to take inventory of returning life forms, most of whom happen to sport feathers, and to give them a hearty welcome.

Nearing the edge of the pond we heard the unmistakable burble of a red-winged blackbird; a male, no doubt, come to lay claim to some choice territory from which to attract a mate. We found him perched atop a cattail stalk, gently swaying in the wind, probably tired from a long migration.

Tired or not, the next few months would find him faced with the sizable task of fathering a family, feeding, housing and keeping it safe from harm, and escorting it south in the fall.

Beyond where he perched, gabbling about in the sheltered water near shore, a pair of American coots swam into view. They, too, like all the other returning migrants, would soon be working their feathers to the quills creating a new generation of offspring in time to escape the frigid embrace of winter.

Birds, like garden plants, have a short growing season here in the north.

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"Oh, wow!" said my wife, gesturing out into the lake. "A second loon!"

I followed her pointing finger and nodded. We'd spotted the first loon the previous day. Seeing a second one made us both feel hopeful that we'd be hearing their haunting calls all summer long.

A few minutes later a flotilla of Canada geese swam into view from behind a floating screen of cattails; first five, then an additional four.

"A very stately promenade," I mumbled, mostly to myself. "But noisy."

But not as noisy as the trumpeter swan that soon began bugling loud blasts toward the stratosphere while rising to full height and flourishing his giant wings in the direction of his (presumably) female companion.

Trumpeter swans can't help but impress you, both visually and aurally. The largest and heaviest of North American waterfowl, decked out like a natty jazz musician in a white tuxedo, this bird could hold its own playing riffs with Louis Armstrong or Wynton Marsalis.

We were both listening, spellbound, to the trumpeter swan when a foursome of mallards slashed across the sky, circled twice, and came arrowing down to land on the water in the middle of the lake. We took turns watching them through the binoculars we'd brought with, exulting in our good fortune at seeing so many returning neighbors.

Then I looked up at the osprey nest atop a high-voltage power line pole at the south end of the lake and thought I saw something move.

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"Yep," said my wife, peering into the binocs. "No doubt about it. Welcome back, osprey!"

Later, walking back toward the house, we agreed that our 15-minute stint beside the lake welcoming back the arriving birds was truly time well spent, and that spring was off and running.

Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.

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