Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Few Winter Birds at the Park Preserve

It was downright warm yesterday (nearly 50 degrees) and I just couldn't pass up the chance to walk outside without needing to bundle up and bury my face against the cold. So I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve, which always seems to have something new going on despite being a rather small park. We'd had a couple inches of snow the day before, followed by a layer of rain/sleet, making the snow-covered ground weirdly sleek and shiny:


I had a lot of fun crunching through ice-encrusted snow, and a few cool creatures showed up as well. A male Belted Kingfisher came speeding over the marshy area, calling more loudly and constantly than I think I've ever heard from a kingfisher, and he kept his tail cocked up whenever he landed:
 

This was one punky bird! Say it, loud kingfisher:
 

A Swamp Sparrow did a good job of staying mostly hidden among clumps of dried vegetation:
 

And I was very happy to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch working through the trees at the forest's edge; I love these little guys:
 

Red-breasted indeed!
 

I'm glad I had this snowy walk yesterday while I could, because now after another day of warm temperatures -- and plenty of rain -- the snow is all gone. It looks like the warm-ish weather will stick around for the next week or so, but winter certainly isn't over yet. I'm sure we'll have snow again before too long!
 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Icy Taughannock Falls

One of the star waterfalls in this area is a 215-foot drop in Taughannock Falls State Park. This waterfall is -- if you can believe it -- the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, even taller (by 33 feet) than Niagara Falls. I first saw Taughannock Falls this past summer (soon after we moved to the area), but with the drought conditions at the time, the waterfall was distinctly trickle-like and not particularly impressive. Things change, though, and when we made our second visit to Taughannock this past Saturday morning, we found a great deal of falling water surrounded by a basin of ice:


What a sight! I really wish I could've gotten some better indications of scale in that picture, but you'll just have to trust me, it's a tall waterfall. A couple of overlooks along the north rim trail gave us various perspectives:


I love that icy green color of the water at the base of the falls. And the crazily intricate ice formations on the walls were definitely worth a closer look (hooray for zoom lenses):


Here's a video of the waterfall (please pardon the skinny view):



I suspected this would be true and now I know for sure: tall waterfalls in winter are amazing!

Friday, January 6, 2017

There's a Lake Here!

I haven't done much exploring yet around Cayuga Lake, even though Ithaca is right at the southern edge of this finger lake, and I see the lake just about every day from my hilltop workplace. It's not the Long Island Sound, or Lake Erie, or heck, the Pacific Ocean, but it's still really nice to be living near a sizeable body of water, and Cayuga Lake is certainly beautiful.

So yesterday afternoon, I bundled up (it was around 20 degrees F and windy) and went for a walk in Stewart Park, where some creeks and waterways meet the lake's southern shore. Strange crackling sounds were coming from the ice at the water's edge, and a few hundred ducks and geese were hanging out on this part of the lake, but otherwise the place was quite still:



A big flock of Canada Geese was out on the water/ice, with more geese coming in for a landing all the time:


I was surprised to see that several geese in this group were banded; but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, given how many ornithologists there are in this area:


Most of the ducks on the lake were Mallards, but a couple of fancy male Northern Pintails were mixed in there as well:


And a small group of Common Mergansers were cruising away from the lake on the creek:


A Belted Kingfisher was keeping watch over this waterway as well:


Back on land, a Downy Woodpecker was exploring the craggy trunks of some big trees in the park's open space:


I expect to see woodpeckers on tree trunks, of course, but the woodpecker wasn't the only bird working over these trees:


A flock of seven or so Eastern Bluebirds (mostly brightly colored males, it seemed) were moving from tree to tree, foraging on the lower trunks and around the roots:


I'm used to seeing bluebirds in fields, not out on the bare ground or on trunks like this. But these beautiful creatures must have been finding something good around here:


Hello, lovely girl:


I mean, what is all this? I don't think I'll see so many bluebirds in one frame again any time soon!


There are certainly benefits to living near a big lake!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End-of-the-Year Woods

This morning, I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve, where it was cold and snowy and so beautiful. We got a new layer of snow last night, and I was the only person leaving tracks in these woods this morning.... What a wonderful thing, being alone in the snowy woods.

But of course there were plenty of other creatures (besides me) in the woods. I startled two deer and a rabbit at various points in my walk, each of which bounded off showing white tails. One deer gave a loud snort before it escaped through the trees; look, there's a deer leaping away back there:


A couple of flocks of Black-capped Chickadees were foraging and chattering. (More and more, I'm growing to love the sound of chickadees at work.) Some of the chickadees were checking out a big tree filled with old apples:
 

I don't know whether this chickadee was picking at part of the apple itself, or perhaps there were insects hiding at the apple's end, but either way there must have been something delectable here:
 

And all throughout the woods and fields, there were tracks from various animals moving around, lots of tracks just since the last snowfall (that is, since last night). There were canine tracks (coyote perhaps, or maybe a loose dog), deer of course, squirrel, and tiny dainty tracks I'm guessing were left by a mouse, with its tail dragging in the snow in places:
 

The big conifers in this preserve looked imposing in the snow:
 

And a grove of Quaking Aspen was lovely and stark:


A small stream near the beginning of the trail hosted tiny dangling ice sculptures at its edges:
 

While the gorge cliffs further along the trail made for much grander ice formations (note the tree above the ice for scale):


I'm definitely impressed by these layers and curtains of ice, even though I could only see portions of them through the trees:


At one point along the trail, I peeked over a ledge to see the most beautiful snow-covered valley:
 

I am so happy that 2016 landed me here in central New York, and I can't think of a better way to end the year than with a walk in these wonderful woods. I'm looking forward to many new adventures in the year to come!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Eastern Screech-Owl

Soon after we moved into our apartment back in July, I got a tip from one of my bird-watching colleagues that an Eastern Screech-Owl is known to sometimes roost in a tree behind a gas station down the road from us. I love owls, and I'd never actually seen a screech-owl before, so I've been careful to bring binoculars and/or camera with me on every trip to get gas these past few months, just in case the owl's there. But its hole has always been empty. Until the Friday before last, that is, when we went to the gas station and I left my distance-viewing gear at home. "Ha ha," I joked, "of course now that I don't have my camera, this is the day the owl will be there." And, of course... it was! Gah! Well, we got to at least glimpse the owl in the twilight that day. And then on a sunny afternoon a couple of days later (December 4), I revisited the gas station with camera and binoculars at hand, and oh happiness, there was the owl. :)

For context, here's the owl's tree, with its cavity facing out over the parking lot:


I've just learned that Eastern Screech-Owls are actually quite adept at living in suburban and even urban-park environments, which never would have occurred to me. Is the reason I haven't seen a screech-owl in all this time because I've been expecting to find them in the woods, rather than in gas station parking lots? Well, now I know! Of course, I probably would have never seen this owl in the first place if I hadn't already known the exact spot to check. This really is some amazing camouflage:


What a beautiful little owl, huddled into the tree, drowsing in the sun:
 

I love this creature's puffy feathers below its face, and all those different patterns and shades in its costume that make it blend so well with the tree's bark. The owl watched us through slitted eyelids for a bit:
 

But then it turned its full glare on us and we got the hint: time to go!
 

Wonderful screech-owl, I hope you stay for a good long while in your cozy winter apartment. It's so awesome to have this little owl as a neighbor!