Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November Nest

We had our first real snow storm at the beginning of last week! There was a lot of snow and wind, and it was cold, and very beautiful. Unfortunately my old snow boots wore out a while ago -- new ones are on their way now! -- so we mostly just admired the snow from the cozy indoors. And then we went out of town for Thanksgiving, and by the time we got back most of the snow had melted. Even so, I loved seeing patches of snow still on the ground when I visited the Roy H. Park preserve this afternoon. The trees have dropped all their leaves at this point, making everything simply gray and green and brown... but I still think this scenery is lovely:
 

And spots of color are still hanging around, although they can be a bit hidden. Look at all the holiday-appropriate colors in this collection of strawberry and cinquefoil leaves lining one edge of the boardwalk:
 

Chickadees and sparrows and nuthatches were foraging all around these fields and woods today, and the bare branches on a lone shrub in the middle of a field revealed a perfect little nest left over from the summer:
 

The nest was so tightly constructed, and it was lined with what looked like the fluff from some plants' seeds (although this material was a bit sodden with rain). I don't have a lot of experience with bird nests, but this one seems to match the description of an American Goldfinch nest. How cool to think that a little goldfinch family might have had a cozy home in this tree just a few months ago:
 

Even on a gray, melting-snow day in late November, there are always interesting things to see outside!

Friday, November 18, 2016

All of Fall!

Well! I've been out and about in the past month and a half, and also working hard, and in that time: Fall happened! The weather report is calling for snow this weekend (!), so this seems like the best and last time to share the pictures of fall in Central New York that have been gathering on my computer since my last post. I missed this season deeply during my year in Northern California, so I tried to absorb as much fall as I could in recent weeks. Here are some sights from all of fall!

Way back on October 11, I was at the Roy H. Park Preserve just as the fall foliage was really getting going. I love seeing the trees make these waves of color:
 

A pair of White Cabbage Butterflies were feeding at New England Aster blossoms (Aster novae-angliae) while also making the next generation of butterflies. Actually, I guess just the one butterfly was feeding while the other was along for the ride. This whole process looks rather ungainly, but I guess it works:
 

All sorts of interesting fungi were sprouting up in the damp woods. This one log was home to at least three types of fungi, all with such different shapes and textures:
 

And this strange fungus looked like it was bubbling out of its tree's trunk:
 

A lovely little Garter Snake sat on the sunny forest floor near the path, waiting for the humans to move on:


A few days later, on October 14, I was back at another part of the Park Preserve, again marveling at the colors on the trees. Yes, we do fall pretty well here. I'll take it!


This was apparently a good week for snakes, because I nearly stepped on a Northern Water Snake who was basking on the path and looking way too much like a scraggly root:


The snake stayed motionless while we walked around it -- it was a chilly morning after all -- and I got to peek at its face through the grass:
 

In the woods, bright Canada Mayflower berries looked like little clusters of Christmas ornaments:
 

An almost-as-red dragonfly (one of the late-flying Meadowhawk species, I think) perched nearby, lacy wings against a lacy fallen leaf:
 

I'm always impressed that some insects are able to survive into the fall, past frosts and increasing cold. Several big grasshoppers were active in the marshy fields, and this one paused long enough on the boardwalk to have its picture taken:
 

On October 29, I got to walk in Sapsucker Woods, and the place was wonderful as always. The trees in some parts of these woods were bare by this point:


But other areas of the woods were still full and golden:
 

Witch Hazel blossoms floated over the path. How cool to see yellow leaves and yellow blossoms in the same day:
 

The view at the big pond was so still and beautiful:
 

A few Painted Turtles were out sunning, including this fellow with his impressively long claws:


And then, all of a sudden, it was late fall. On November 8, I was back at the Park Preserve, and the place was wholly different:
 

I have to say, for all the amazing riot of color in early-to-mid fall, I think I might love the muted colors of late fall around here even more... the floating yellows especially (are those birches?) but also the rusted browns and hazy grays and dark conifer greens. Ah, love:
 

The fields were filled with goldenrods gone to seed, here backlit for extra drama:


Even at this late date, a showy Meadowhawk dragonfly was still cruising around:
 

I happened to take a picture of almost the same scene at the Park Preserve nearly a month apart, and I love how these sights are both the same and totally different. Here's October 14:


And now, on November 8:


This place is amazing. :)
 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Wild Turkeys in a Late September Woods

Two weekends ago, on September 24, Paul and I went for a morning walk in Cornell's Sapsucker Woods. I'm starting to really love this place, and this visit held some particularly special moments. First, we finally found the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture that's eluded us on previous visits; this stonework cairn is tucked into the forest alongside a path, and it's lovely and subtle and such a fitting feature in these quiet woods:


A juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker blended into the shaded trunk where it was foraging; a sapsucker in Sapsucker Woods, how appropriate!


Green Frogs peered up at us from a small green-covered pond:


And one frog posed nicely on a dark log:


At one point, we rounded a bend in the path to see big dark shapes up ahead:


We'd wandered into a Wild Turkey parlor, and these birds were understandably wary about our appearance:


But we stayed where we were -- some distance from the birds, although not really very far away -- and after a minute or so, the turkeys started preening. One turkey even laid down right in the middle of the path to preen, settling into a sunbeam:


These turkeys certainly knew we were there -- the front turkey kept an especially close watch on us -- but they seemed willing to share their space with us. Here's a video of these turkeys preening (pardon the noise of an airplane flying overhead):



Eventually, we decided to continue on our way; and as we came closer to them, the turkeys just calmly stood up and ambled off into the woods. Through the whole encounter, I kept thinking how extraordinarily polite these birds were. Thank you, wonderful big creatures, for letting us be with you in your woods for a little while:


So that was awesome. A little further down the path, a flock of hundreds of Common Grackles worked through the forest around us. And past the grackles, I found Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) emerging from the forest floor:


I didn't even know that this plant existed before I saw it. Beechdrops, it turns out, is one of those weird types of leafless plants that gets its nutrients by parasitizing another plant (in this case, American Beech trees). These small flowers on plain branching stems are actually quite lovely up close:
 

At the end of our walk, a Painted Turtle basked in a sunny pond:
 

And colorful sprays of goldenrod and aster -- so many colors! -- decorated the path back to the parking lot:


And speaking of colors, in the two weeks since I took these pictures, the landscape here has almost entirely changed. Fall has arrived, and it's wonderful. Hooray for seasons, and woods, and big polite birds.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Two Trips to Fields and Wetlands

As it turns out, I've not only landed in a place that's beautiful and amazing and full of cool wildlife, but I'm also lucky enough to have met people here who love nature and are willing to go on adventures with me!

During Labor Day weekend, I got to visit Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge -- a swampy area at the north end of Cayuga Lake that's especially important for migratory birds -- with one of my new colleagues and his wife who happen to be very experienced local birders. Montezuma was wonderful, with plentiful habitat for shorebirds and other water-loving creatures, and with my companions' help I was able to pick out new-to-me birds like Pectoral Sandpipers and Stilt Sandpipers from among the flocks of other similar-looking species milling around the fields and ponds. (The real test will be whether I can identify those birds again on my own later! We'll see!)

A Ruddy Turnstone was drawing a small crowd of admirers as it foraged near the road (apparently these birds are relatively infrequent passers-by in this area):


A Greater Yellowlegs was foraging nearby, looking positively lanky next to the primarily smaller shorebirds in the area:


We saw quite a few juvenile Common Gallinules on the water:


And I couldn't resist this image of a preening Great Egret with a Double-crested Cormorant drying its wings in the background:


A pair of Sandhill Cranes apparently nests every summer at Montezuma, and I so wanted to see these birds (if they hadn't yet left for the year). I have practically no experience with cranes, which makes them almost mythical creatures as far as I'm concerned. Well, we were driving by some fields near the refuge, and then there were four tall gray/brown figures moving through the grass, like deer but not:


The parents are the gray birds with red masks, and the juveniles are the browner ones with plain faces. And now I know that baby cranes are called "colts," and it is the most wonderful thing:



The Sandhill Cranes were a highlight, but the whole trip to Montezuma NWR was awesome. It's a bit of a drive to get to this place from Ithaca, but I'm sure I'll be back to experience Montezuma in its various seasons!

Then last Sunday, I went on a walk with a small group of colleagues at the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve, a Finger Lakes Land Trust preserve just south of Ithaca. We were absolutely the only people in this place the whole time we were there. We walked in woods, around ponds, and through the most perfect, rolling, goldenrod-filled fields, and it was wonderful:


Beavers had flooded an area of these woods in recent years, leaving a big swampy stand of dead trees:


We saw a bunch of Wood Ducks swimming among the skeletal trunks and brush, but they stayed well away from my camera's reach.

I have missed Red Efts a whole lot in my year away from the east, and I was so happy to find them here in these rain-dampened woods. We counted 11 of these wonderful creatures just along the path; how many more were out wandering through other areas of the forest?


A fancy Scalloped Sallow moth (Eucirroedia pampina) sat in what looked like a headstand on a milkweed leaf:


I started feeling a hint of Fall during that walk (!), and I'm happily anticipating the cool, crisp weather and wonderful Fall sights to come. I'll close with my phone's view of the goldenrod fields at Lindsay-Parsons, all blue sky and yellow flowers and a ribbon of green (soon to be orange/red/yellow!) trees:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Here are the Turtles

Up until this past Saturday, it had been probably over a year since I last saw wild turtles. We never saw the one species of turtle in northwestern California while we were living there, and despite many walks around ponds, wetlands, and streams since moving to New York in July, there's still been a surprising lack of turtle sightings. But on Saturday morning, I visited the Cornell Plantations Arboretum, and apparently the ponds here are where all the turtles live.

Some children and their families were there tossing what looked like cereal into the water, and dozens of turtles were eagerly snatching up the food right along with the fish. There were lots of Painted Turtles, and, crazily enough, two huge Common Snapping Turtles right in the middle of it all:
 

I've never seen snapping turtles acting so much like fish, or like other turtles for that matter. What are these monsters doing casually swimming around in the light instead of lurking in some corner?


Easy food is a powerful motivator I guess. In any case, I loved getting to see these creatures' algae-covered faces:
 

Yikes, what a wonderful monster:
 

The Painted Turtles were also lovely, of course, with their beautifully patterned shells:
 

While the turtles fed in one area of the pond, big tadpoles in another part of the pond kept swimming up to the surface (to grab a morsel of something while the pond's predators were otherwise engaged?) then diving immediately back down into murky water. Those tadpoles were too quick for my camera, but some young Bullfrogs perched on waterlily pads were easier (and very handsome) subjects:


I was sure I'd find turtles sooner or later, but I'm glad I got to see such an impressive group before summer starts to wind down!