Speaking of Nature: Records and a national spotlight in 2023

This photo of an immature ruby-throated hummingbird was the breakout superstar of the entire year. Somehow, this image went national and was seen by tens of thousands of people across the country.

This photo of an immature ruby-throated hummingbird was the breakout superstar of the entire year. Somehow, this image went national and was seen by tens of thousands of people across the country. FOR THE RECORDER/BILL DANIELSON


For the Gazette

Published: 01-02-2024 9:12 AM

Welcome to 2024 everybody. As is tradition at this time of year, I like to take a look back at the highlights, successes and other happenings we have shared over the past 12 months. So without further adieu, let’s dive back in time to one year ago.

January: The first bird that I laid eyes on in 2023 was a female downy woodpecker. It was 7:30 a.m. on a cloudy New Year’s Day, and the weather was actually rather similar to the weather today. It was cloudy with a northeast wind at 2 mph and a temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit. This sort of unremarkable weather seemed to prevail during the month, and, on Jan. 16, I took photo No. 1,000 for the year — a male house finch. The rest of January was very quiet.

February: Who remembers the Green Comet? Well, I didn’t until I read about it in the pages of my red journal. The last time it visited Earth was 50,000 years ago, but I never got the chance to see it myself. However, just as it arrived, we experienced a severe cold snap during which I recorded the lowest temperature that I have ever seen at my house:
-17.4 degrees Fahrenheit! I also hit photo No. 2,000 for the year — a gray squirrel.

March: In mid-March, we experienced what I thought to be the major snow event of the winter. The snow was wet, heavy and sticky, and it caused a great deal of damage to trees, lilac bushes and the like. School was shut down for two days, and I took advantage of the situation by taking photo No. 3,000 for the year — a red-winged blackbird in flight.

April: I heard spring peepers for the first time in my neighborhood on April 4, and, on April 8, the tree swallows and eastern phoebes arrived simultaneously. The American toads started singing on April 14, and the lilac buds opened. By April 20, I had reached 4,000 photos for the year, but the momentous event of April occurred on Friday, April 21, when four sandhill cranes flew over my yard. They were magnificent and allowed me to check off another box on my life list of birds.

May-June: The floodgates opened and migratory birds surged northward with the spring. A trip to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge proved a success when I crossed paths with a green towhee, a bird more commonly found in the southwest. There was all manner of drama around the nest that the eastern phoebes built near my front door, and the school year dragged out, but I managed to get through the first half of the year with no new birding records.

July-August: Everything changed in July. It was a rainy summer, but I managed to log a great many hours in my Thinking Chair, and the photo count just kept climbing. By the end of the month, I had taken 12,000 photos and had observed 63 different bird species from within the confines of my yard. In August, the photo count rose to 18,000 photos, and the bird count was 68 different species — another record. But the biggest event of the entire year occurred when I published a photo of a young ruby-throated hummingbird. Somehow, that photo went national, and I received emails from all across the United States.

September-October: Back to school in September and then things took a bizarre turn. I found myself with some time on my hands and I used it to immerse myself into the happenings of the wet meadow behind my house. By the end of September, I had yet another bird species record (56 species), and then the good times kept rolling into October, by the end of which I had set yet another monthly bird record (50 species in October). Warblers were aplenty during the fall migration, and by the end of October I had captured more than 23,000 photos for the year.

November-December: Things finally got back to “normal” in November, and it then became apparent that we had an El Nino on our hands. The weather has been unusually warm, and there were times when it felt more like spring than late fall. Another bird list record was recorded (35 species in November), but it happened so late that I was never able to talk about it with you. December was warm and cloudy and, at the time of writing this column, I was only one species short of tying the December record of 31 species (set in 2022).

Looking forward into the possibilities of 2024, I am thinking that I might want to spend more time exploring new places. I have already scheduled a visit to Cape Cod in the summer, but I want to get out and stretch my legs a little more this year. I will still spend time with all of my little friends down in the meadow, but I want to fill my photo collection with pictures of lakes, ponds, streams, fields and forests from around western Massachusetts. There’s plenty of state parks to visit and all manner of wonderful things to see, and I will make sure to keep you posted on all of my adventures throughout the year.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks, and he teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation, visit his website at speakingofnature.com or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.