By Kirk House, The leader, link to original post
One St. Patrick’s Day Mrs. House and I walked part of the trail through Sperr Park in Big Flats. Mrs. House in particular likes “rail trails” like this one because they’re level, straight, and well-surfaced. Heading east from Kahler Road we walked about 20 minutes to the end of the trail, reversed course, crossed Kahler, and circumnavigated the eastern pond in the park.
The moss was greening up, though the grass wasn’t, and the trees hadn’t budded yet. But we were delighted to encounter that traditional sign of spring, a robin. A large shadow passing over us alerted us to a year-round resident, the turkey vulture. As we walked we met little flocks of juncos and chickadees, and the endless rattling call of male red-wing blackbirds, staking out territories and showing off their shoulder flashes. High overhead, almost out of sight, a gull soared and circled on motionless wings, for all the world like a sailplane from looming Harris Hill.
Patient study paid its reward as we tracked familiar chirping to a bright red cardinal. We didn’t see any of the elusive pileated woodpeckers, but we did find the fresh rectangular gouges that they’d chiseled into a dead tree. And at both ends of the trail we stepped around owl pellets — oblongs of indigestible hair and bones that the night hunters spit up.
The still pond lay under blue sky, doubling trees and duck boxes and the sky itself. Here we found Canada geese, and tracked a rapid-fire repertoire of calls to a single mockingbird on a slanting branch above the water.
Creeping up on rustling brush along the causeway we expected another bird, but instead came face-to-face with a rich brown chipmunk. We’d already watched a gray squirrel bound across the trail, and found the hoof prints of deer. Now we found numerous trees gnawn through by beavers… along with the sharpened stakes they drive into mud to form their underwater larder.
So in little over an hour we had discovered by sight or sign eleven types of birds and four of mammals… without any plan or effort, using only naked eye and ear. As we got into the car, a hunting kestrel (smallest of our native hawks) swooped low along the pond… raising the bird-type count to twelve. If you’re ever at Arnot Mall… or the shopping centers… or Elmira Airport… and you need a little nature in your life… I know exactly where to go.