A Week by the Creek

by Eugene Martin | Sep 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Stream and lupines
Stream and wild lupines. Photo © Dreamstime.com.

With a last cautious effort, the sun finally peeked over the eastern horizon. Gaining confidence, it rose fully, flooding the earth with its warmth and light. The mist covering the vales protestingly writhed in an effort to exist, then vanished. Morning had come!

And so had I—come to the irresistible place of sparkling waters and gurgling riffles. Come to the place where fish thrived in joyous numbers. Come to the place where oodles of wildflowers raised their cheery, nodding heads. Best of all, I had come to the place where birds, seeking a place of peace, chose to make their dwellings. I was at the brook.

Standing on the squishy sand, I gazed in ecstasy at the wonderful sight nature had furnished me. Sweet-smelling honeysuckles arched over the trail, which was bordered on either side by wild mustard and buttercups, accented by purple violets and Virginia bluebells. What a…

My thoughts were interrupted by an indignant screech followed by a just-as-thoroughly-indignant chatter. Parting the bushes, I was just in time to witness a Blue Jay give his parting advice in the form of a hefty peck to a young squirrel whose curiosity had again gotten him into trouble.

Chuckling, I resumed slinking along the creek-side path when I was startled to hear an insect’s trill. This time of the year? Up in the tree canopy? No, it was a bird. But after fifteen minutes I gave up. There simply couldn’t…

There he was. A Blackpoll Warbler in all his elusive glory sitting innocently in the treetop. Another lifer to add, with plenty of elation, to my life list.

A throaty, rising call filled my straining ears. A Black-throated Blue Warbler was sending his greeting. Like the Blackpoll, he did not show himself until a few minutes later when I scared him out of tricks by a hefty sneeze. Only then did I see his array of colors, brightened by the sun.

A few steps farther on was the “End of the Trail,” and I sank gratefully on a handy bench. Gazing over the gurgling waters, I meditated on the sereneness of this spot, made so by God’s hand many, many years ago.

The sereneness was violently shattered as a mass of brilliant orange dropped to inches above my head and remained there, screeching all the threats it could think of. With no relish for having my hair plucked, I made good my escape before the Baltimore Oriole should acquire a taste for fresh hair, perhaps to weave into the nest it was so vigorously defending. And with such thoughts, I left the stream and its mysteries.

The next day the rising sun again found me down by the stream, this time intently studying a flock of Song Sparrows. That bird on the fence post…why it looked startlingly like a Lincoln’s Sparrow, with those fine breast streaks. But the bird disappeared and so did my hopes. It was probably just one of those saucy little Song Sparrows.

My attention shifted to a flock of Cedar Waxwings passing overhead, all trying to screech their “two cents’ worth” at me for standing right under their favorite tree. Still screeching among themselves, they chose a tree farther upstream and settled out of sight.

Taking the waxwings’ hasty advice, I strode on down the trail, sat on the river’s edge, and peered into its depth. Dark forms of the fearless chubs darted among the rocks in search of food, sometimes provoking the suckers into a rage.
My growling stomach indicated breakfast before my watch did (as usual), so I headed back the way I had come.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I might see that funny-looking Song Sparrow again—there he was! On the branch! Yes, it was a Lincoln’s Sparrow. And so, with a grin on my face, I headed in for breakfast.

The next morning, I planned to head for the old bridge where I was highly suspicious of a cleverly concealed phoebe nest on an I-beam two yards/meters above the waters. Wading through the rushing waters in a very undignified manner, I found the nest without taking an unseasonal bath.

Now if I would give a prize to the bird with the softest nest, I would give it to the phoebe. The nest was an intricate display of fine workmanship. Built with mud and lined with the softest of moss, it couldn’t have provided a better haven for the two baby phoebes.

Turning away, I teetered precariously on a rock, then plunged onto the opposite bank, narrowly escaping a quite uncomfortable dunking. In doing so, I flushed a Spotted Sandpiper. With short jerky wing beats he flew a few yards and disgustedly eyed my aquatic maneuvers. So, wet and slightly embarrassed, but elated at my discovery, I went to work.

A light mist was bathing the land when I arrived at the brook the next morning. I headed for the willow grove where late-season warblers cheerily hopped about and sang their intriguing songs. An American Restart was one of them, singing and eating at the same time—something that I learned the hard way I couldn’t do.

Another puzzling note rang through the air, and I scanned the treetops. No bird. Perhaps if I scoured the trees with my faithful Bushnell’s…RELIEF! There he was—a perky male Cerulean Warbler trying his best to keep out of my sight.
Wading through the high grasses, I found myself wishing for chest waders. My trousers were so wet they literally dripped water. After stepping into a mud puddle, I began to anticipate the kind of welcome I’d receive if I should attempt to enter the house. But after making numerous promises to clean up after myself, I was admitted into its interior.

One day I watched, quiet as a mouse, a mother Mallard with her brood. She was giving them swimming lessons. But I ruined it all with a tremendous sneeze, after which no more baby Mallards brightened any of my moments down by the creek.

The last day of the week proved extra special since I identified a new bird and a new butterfly. I had just stopped on the trail when a middle-sized day-brightener fluttered by. It seemed as if I had seen a picture of it before. Running back, I dug out the August issue of Nature Friend and scanned its pages. There it was! Mourning Cloak! Exactly like the one I saw! Thanks, Nature Friend.

Mourning Cloak butterfly
Mourning cloak. Photo © Dreamstime.com.

Proceeding with my interrupted hike, I reveled in the panorama of gurgling riffles and sweet honeysuckles. Suddenly a demurely colored avian alighted on a snag and commenced to inspect me thoroughly with its big white spectacles bestowing on him the air of a professor—a Swainson’s Thrush.

My ramblings ended, I strode to the end of the trail and gazed at the merry waters rippling over the shoals of stone and sand, joyfully scurrying to get to the ocean in the least amount of time possible.

Schools of fish in its depth, scores of wildflowers on its brink, and a great multitude of wildlife all benefitted from that rippling source of life—the waters of our creek.

Turning, I ambled up the well-worn path as the brook merrily gurgled its good-byes.

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