Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reflections on Groundhog Day 2012 in D.C.

(Transcript of today's For the Birds)

Cherry Blossoms on February 1

Russ and I have been spending a few days in Washington D.C. while he attends meetings for work. Yesterday, February first, I took a walk around the mall. I was on a mission—I’d just finished reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, and badly wanted to see the Grant Memorial.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

I asked at least a dozen people where it was, but not one Washingtonian that I asked had even known there was a memorial to Grant. So I wandered from the Vietnam Memorial,

Vietnam Memorial

Vietnam Memorial

Vietnam Memorial

Vietnam Women Veterans Memorial

and the Lincoln Memorial,

Lincoln Memorial

to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Then I wended my way to the Capitol, which is where Grant’s Memorial turned out to be.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

The statue of him on his horse is the second largest equestrian statue in the United States, and fourth largest in the world, with only the statue of Don Juan de Oñate, in El Paso, Texas, the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue in Mongolia, and the monument to Italy's King Victor Emanuel in Rome larger. I didn’t care about that—after reading his memoirs, I found I just really, really like Ulysses S. Grant.

Even though I was searching for one specific thing, I of course was watching for birds, too. Hundreds of Canada Geese grazed on the lawn beneath the Washington Monument—I scanned through all of them in an optimism-fueled spurt of energy, hoping I could convert a small group of them to Brants, but had no luck with that.

Canada Geese at Washington Monument

The Reflecting Pool is currently being repaired and was completely dry, but the Tidal Basin held quite a few Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Buffleheads in addition to the ubiquitous Mallards. A couple of Great Blue Herons and a Belted Kingfisher also graced its shores.

Tidal Basin

Ring-billed Gulls seem to be everywhere in D.C. I always scan them carefully, and invariably see something else—yesterday it was a Great Black-backed Gull. House Sparrows and starlings are also ubiquitous. And I get a kick out of the squirrels that scamper about. There were a lot of Chinese visitors to the Mall yesterday, and I came upon two crowds of them gathered near and photographing squirrels. One Chinese student told me that they virtually never see wild birds and mammals in China. I couldn’t help but wonder if our country isn’t on a slow but steady path in that same direction.

Chinese students watching and photographing a Gray Squirrel

Yesterday was just a few hours from January, but the hundreds of robins feeding in large flocks were no sign of spring—Washington is well within their typical wintering range, and except during the breeding season, robins are extremely sociable. But I came upon one sight that made me think Groundhog Day is completely meaningless this year, at least in D.C. Some small trees near the Freer Gallery seemed to be glowing pink.

Cherry Blossoms on February 1

I was shocked to realize I’d come upon a grove of cherry trees that were coming into full bloom! I may have been surprised, but the dozens of bees feeding in the flowers seemed utterly at home.

Cherry Blossoms on February 1

For me, bees and cherry blossoms aren’t just a sign of spring—they’re the very definition of spring. So at least in Washington D.C. this year, Groundhog Day has no meaning whatsoever. I’m sure there will be wintry weather here again, these blossoms will die, and these trees won’t be bearing fruit this year. But anyone who still denies that the climate is changing dramatically is wearing blinders.

I finally worked my way to Grant’s Memorial.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

After taking lots of photos, I sat down with a group of Ring-billed Gulls to eat my lunch.

Ring-billed Gull in D.C.

It was a lovely day even if it was filled with sobering reminders of much impact our burgeoning human population is having on the natural world.

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