Chasing a Squawk across the Mohawk River
Late August. Hot, sunny, parched parking lot eases into cool, shady oasis beneath maple and cottonwood trees lining the Mohawk-Hudson Hike/Bike Trail. I settle down on a bench and open my book, as the air fills with swirling, drifting wisps of cotton, settling slowly onto the grass and picnic tables. “Squawk, Squawk” – loud, deep, guttural, throaty. I shut my book and scan the marshes. No suspect.
Distant cattails undulate in gentle breeze. Smack at the center of river, an angler’s boat. Red-winged blackbird hops amongst maple leaves. Here I see it, here I don’t. A flycatcher dives into carpet of water chestnuts for dragonfly. Mottled patterns of light and shade quiver across my page. “Squawk.” I gaze up and down the river. A grackle keeps its yellow, bright, inquisitive eyes on me, iridescent feathers – now purple, now the deepest blue. Red-tailed hawk dives into undergrowth, misses the orange-backed chipmunk.
“Squawk.” I walk, eyes peeled to the river, marshland, shrubs. Riverbank resplendent with vibrant rose-purple spikes of Purple Loosestrife. Across the water, a weather-beaten brownish-grey farm shed rests at the edge of a landscaped backyard of modern building. The ancient shed and surrounding meadow creates an ethereal stage where time froze a century ago. Waist-high Queen Anne’s lace enfolds the structure – white umbellate discs suspended in mid-air, cloud of thousand insects swirling above.
“Squawk, squaaaawk.” A large gray-blue bird rises from the duckweed, slowly flaps its way across the marsh, lands on driftwood at the center of river. I am spellbound, as I savor the leisurely, graceful gray and black flight; the elegant curve of the neck; bill so yellow, sharp and strong; slender long legs. It composes itself, then starts stalking with deliberation. Stilt-like legs cover long stretches of marshland in the blink of an eye. Yellow gimlet eyes intense and focused, a picture of rapt concentration. The beak dives in and out. My binoculars tremble, as I watch a primal struggle unfold. Gulp! “Squawk, squawk.” The Great Blue Heron! I stand at river’s edge, mesmerized.