Saturday, May 9, 2009

Festival of the Birds: Let the Festivities Begin!

Diane and Judy on the job at the registration table.

Well, the 2nd annual Festival of the Birds at Presque Isle kicked off last night with registration and an Artists' Reception at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. Wind, Sand and Song: Presque Isle's Habitat, a magnificent film about the varying habitats present at PI was shown. Film-maker Tracy Graziano and her husband Ben Konewicz were on hand to answer questions for the audience. After the showing of the film, *Quackers & Cheese and hors d'oeuvres were served and the beer, wine, and sparkling grape juice flowed. Everyone was looking forward to a wonderful weekend of birding...stay tuned for updates.

Marcy and Pat discuss birding hotspots on the park. Steve D., bartender extraordinaire, testing his wares.PIAS President-Elect, Mary Birdsong, chats with friends.Participants from around the state and east coast flocked here for the festival. *Many thanks to our wonderful sponsors: Mazza Winery and Line X Erie for the wine, The Brewerie at Union Station for the beer and Welch's for the sparkling grape juice.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Now Is the Month of Maying

Hi! Linda McWilliams here, Jerry’s other half, as Michelle described me in her posting last Saturday. She also caught me on camera, waist-deep in the cottonwood saplings on Beach 11, looking through my own camera lens. I was documenting the first appearance of silverweed on Presque Isle this year.

The year's first sprouts of silverweed.

Silverweed (Argentina anserina) is a rare plant in Pennsylvania. Presque Isle is the only place in the state that offers the sandy shore it requires for its habitat--seven miles of beach and at least seven more of bayshore. You can see for yourself how silverweed thrives and spreads if you go to Leo’s Landing at the 0.9 mile marker on the multipurpose trail and walk back the dirt road. Silverweed hugs the ground on the bay side of the road. Its runners creep across the road toward the marsh on the other side, but there’s enough car traffic to keep most of it from getting to the other side. The leaves are only an inch long now, but they will get to be as long as eight inches before summer is over. Each one is divided into many leaflets with deeply cut, sharply saw-toothed edges.

Turn over the leaf to find the silver.

You don’t need to wait for the flowers to bloom in order to identify silverweed. (They’ll have five bright yellow-gold petals.) For now, just turn over a leaf. If you’ve found silverweed, you’ll see silky white hairs on the underside, which reflect a pale metallic silver light, and gave the plant its name. The French, noting that this plant produces both silver AND gold, call it richette.

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May Day! For me, it’s another New Year. My celebration of the January New Year involved grim resolution: jutted chin, clenched teeth, tensed muscles, daunting effort. The New Year that comes in May is an entirely light-hearted affair. It involves warm sun that beguiles us to shed layers of clothing, it rains Vitamin D down upon our bare skin, and it reactivates our feel-good hormones.

The month is named after the Greco-Roman goddess Maia, the eldest of her seven sisters, the most beautiful, and the shyest. Maia was the goddess of springtime, warmth, increase, fertility, and beginnings. She and her sisters form the constellation Pleiades, which rises above the eastern horizon in May and can be seen just before sunrise. The chance of spotting them is sufficient motivation to set my alarm and get up at 6:00. If that doesn’t work for you, you can see the Pleiades--even on cloudy nights, even in broad daylight--on any passing Subaru. The six stars in its logo are meant to represent the constellation Pleiades, which is called Subaru in Japanese. The reason there are only six stars is that they also stand for five related Japanese industries and their parent company.

In my own personal mythology, May is the time of year when the auxiliary verb “may” changes in its predominant usage. “May” usually suggests a possibility (“We may be able to ride our bikes this weekend”), but makes no firm promise (“This may be the last snowstorm of the season”). But when April is over, “may” becomes an active--yea, even a boisterous--verb.

Look at Thomas Morley’s famous madrigal, “Now Is the Month of Maying.” In it, and in May of every year before and since, “to May” means to play, to sport, to sing “Fa la la,” to “dance upon the greeny grass,” and to enjoy all of “youth’s sweet delight.” In Oxford, even to the present day, it means racing boats during exam week. To me it means going out to Presque Isle with my bike, my kayak, my camera, my binoculars, or my field notebook.

I’ve formed a hypothesis this year: I believe that if I go out into the May, I will be able to find some new phenomenon every day for 31 days in a row. A warbler on its way to Canadian breeding grounds. A leaf where yesterday there was only a bud. A flower in bloom. A newly hatched chick or polliwog. I’ll limit my search to Presque Isle. That will give me 3,200 acres to tramp and paddle and 25 miles of trails to bike and hike.

Will this be easy to prove? Or even possible? There are more that 31 birds that return in May or pass through in migration, but they don’t arrive with one-a-day regularity. Plants, though--there are hundreds of species on the park, and most of them will be creating like crazy in May, working magic, making something out of nothing, converting invisible energy into living green tissue, building umbrellas to protect their flowers, painting stripes to attract pollinating insects...Botany will be my mainstay in this project.

Now, let us go a-Maying.


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