Saturday, April 18, 2020

Red Fox in April Snow, and More Sights from a Very Long Early Spring

I'll get to the fox in the title by the end of this post, but first I'll share some sights from what has felt like an especially long first part of spring. I'm sure some of the reason why early spring has felt so long is the fact that I'm now home all the time, and every day seems like an extension of the last. But spring also started pretty early this year, and it sure is taking its time to progress.

On the night of March 19, a Spring Peeper showed up on our doorstep as if to say "Hello, it's spring now!" and we heard choruses of these little frogs starting up the next night. This was way earlier than last year, when I didn't hear or see any Spring Peepers until April 5. Here's a picture of this year's early spring herald:

Also on March 19, I was surprised to see Ramps pushing up through the leaf litter in our woods, again a good two and a half weeks earlier than last year:

Wood frogs also got an early start this year, gathering in the pool in our woods and making their quacking sounds way back on March 13 (compared to April 6 last year). Here's one of these frogs floating in the pool on March 26, and staying silent as long as I was there:

While some of our plants and amphibians got an early start, the birds arrived back in our yard this year pretty much right on schedule. It's so wonderful to see so many birds again after they've been absent all winter. I was happy to admire this handsome Song Sparrow up close on March 27 as it and a few of its fellows sang from various corners of our property:

On the morning of March 30, I woke up to the wonderful discovery that our pair of Eastern Phoebes had returned -- they seemed confident and comfortable hunting insects from our back deck, so I am assuming that they're the same pair who has nested at our house for years. Welcome back, phoebes! The male spent some time sitting right outside our bedroom window and loudly announcing his presence:

On April 13 -- amid soaking rain and soggy ground -- I watched the female phoebe gather mud and moss from our yard and fly it up to her usual nesting spot above our front door. The weather hasn't been great for nest building since then, and she hasn't made much progress yet, but it's a start:

On March 27, the Silver Maple tree next to our house looked beautiful in full bloom and backlit by the afternoon sun:

And on the same day, I came across a White-tailed Deer who wasn't expecting to see me emerge from the woods:

The deer got some impressive height as it bounded away:

On March 30, a male Wild Turkey displayed for a few foraging females in our meadow:

White-throated Sparrows have been stopping by our yard in recent weeks, and this brightly-costumed individual looked just too perfect in the midst of a forsythia bush with its emerging yellow flowers:

A couple of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers have been hanging around the yard as well. Here's the male on a pine tree that bears the marks of many past sapsucker visits:

These birds have made such interesting patterns on this bark, and the resulting textures provide such a wonderful backdrop for the bird himself:

A storm last night brought a few inches of heavy, wet snow. When I woke up this morning, I was surprised, first, by the white stuff covering every surface (this isn't very spring-like!), and then surprised again by the rusty red animal moving through the white meadow. A Red Fox!

We see foxes only rarely during the day (much more frequently at night on the trail camera), and this fox was quite close to the house, so this was an exciting event indeed! What a treat to see this animal so close and just doing its thing. (Please pardon the blurriness of many of these pictures, which I took through windows.)

The fox criss-crossed the meadow and yard, clearly on the hunt:

About half an hour after I first saw the fox, I spotted it again in the meadow, and I witnessed a successful hunt: A precision pounce into a clump of snow-covered grass, and the extraction of a plump vole. Hooray, good job, fox! We have a robust vole population in our yard, if the extensive tunnels throughout the grass (which were exposed when the winter snow melted) is any indication. The fox then moved back through the meadow and yard, stopping at a couple of spots on the way to gather something... which turned out to be more voles that it had caught and cached while I wasn't watching! That's quite a haul!

A quick stop for one more vole buried in the snow:

Got it:

Groceries obtained, the fox headed off our property, presumably to a den of hungry kits somewhere nearby:

Best of luck with your family, fox. Maybe we'll see you around again sometime!

And here we are, still in the early stages of spring. This morning's snow is now entirely melted again. The Bloodroot flowers in our yard are so close to opening, and they've been stalled at the closed-bud stage for days now. We saw a few Spring Peepers and an American Toad out and about on a rainy upper-40s (F) night back on April 7, but we still haven't had the first big amphibian night yet (last year we saw salamanders and more on the night of April 12). It looks like we'll have a stretch of warmer weather coming soon, though, and spring will certainly continue. I'm dreaming of new-green leaves on trees, flowers everywhere, and May birds.... All of that will be here soon enough. :)

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Change-filled Week

Wow. I think I would describe this past week as... "turbulent." With the quickly escalating world health concerns, several aspects of my work were abruptly turned on their head this week, and many people in my part of the world are facing sudden changes in their personal and professional lives. Amid all the uncertainty, I've made sure to take the time this week to go outside and marvel at the changes happening there. These changes in nature can be sudden and surprising, too, but they're also thrilling, joyous, and wholly positive. Spring is coming! So let's focus on those happier changes for a bit, shall we?

The first flowers of the year appeared in our yard this week. :) On March 10, with temperatures in the upper 60s (F), a patch of newly opened Snowdrops played host to a European Honey Bee, who must have been happy to find the only flowers around:

This is not a native plant, and not a native insect, but it's so wonderful to see flowers and pollinators again after months of winter. And Snowdrops are so whimsical, and honey bees so fuzzy, and the sunlight was so warm and sweet on this perfect spring day:

Yesterday, March 12, a patch of reliably early crocuses added their colorful blossoms to our yard:

And today, I spotted tiny blossoms appearing on our American Hazelnut bushes, the first native plants to bloom in our yard this year. American Hazelnuts have these long, hanging structures that produce pollen, and also tiny frilly female structures, all on the same plant:

I planted these hazelnut bushes in 2017, and this is the first year they've bloomed. I'm so happy to see the brilliant pink color of these female flowers, just now emerging from their protective buds:

Most other plants around here are still a ways away from flowering, but hints of life are starting to appear.... Tiny nubs have popped up above the ground where I planted Bloodroot rhizomes near the house last year, which gives me hope that I'll see these wonderful white flowers -- or at least their lovely lobed leaves -- sometime in April:

The bird activity is ramping up around here. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles have returned to the area, and many of our year-round species have increased their singing efforts. A pair of local Common Ravens has become especially vocal, and I have frequently seen the two of them together and heard them calling as they fly over our yard. Yesterday, they got into a dispute with another pair of ravens who must have encroached on their territory, and the four big black birds chased and dove and yelled at each other several times during the day:

Common Ravens are not actually common around here, so seeing four birds in the midst of a territorial conflict was pretty amazing. Here's an image of two of those four birds, flying close together either in support or in opposition, but I'm not sure which:

Today, I saw a pair of ravens gathering sticks from White Pine trees in the woods around our property. It seems like a nest is in the works somewhere out there, and hopefully this means there will be baby ravens later in the year.

I have a couple of other sights to share from this past week that aren't really related to spring-time changes. Here's a sleek Hairy Woodpecker (a bird which has somehow never appeared on this blog before now) enjoying the suet feeder, the newest addition to our bird-feeding setup:

And the night of March 10 was warm enough that I stepped outside to take pictures of the full supermoon, first with clouds:

And then alone:

And here's one more spring-time report: Today brought my first Wood Frogs of the year. I heard them calling as I walked down the slope toward the small pool in our woods on this sunny 50-degree afternoon -- what a joyous surprise indeed! More change will be on the way now. I'll do my best to focus on the happy changes in our yard, meadow, and woods, and try not to be overwhelmed by the other less happy changes that may come our way.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Trail Camera at the Frozen Woods Pool

For the past week, my trail camera has been watching a corner of the small pool in our woods. The water was frozen over, and I had noticed some tracks on the ice, so I set up the trail camera there, thinking it was possible that a creature could pass that way again. I didn't actually think the camera would see much of anything, but I figured it was worth a try at least. So I was pretty well surprised when I checked the camera today and found several videos of furry passersby, and quite close up, too. I had no idea the ice on this small pool would make for such a popular pathway!

The video compilation here shows: (1) a cautious Eastern Cottontail Rabbit; (2) a Raccoon reaching into the water -- and is it making sounds? (3) two Raccoons, one after the other; (4) a brief appearance by a sleek Red Fox; and (5) a Gray Fox. Judging from how many times they've shown up on the trail camera in these past couple of months, Gray Foxes seem to be especially frequent visitors in our woods. I'd never seen a Gray Fox at all before moving to this house, and I'm very happy to have these beautiful creatures around.

The ice on the pool is now melted, but I'll leave the camera at this spot for a little while longer to see whether any animals still pass this way. I'm very much enjoying these glimpses of the wildlife in our woods!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Deep Winter

January and February this year have brought a few new discoveries in our yard and woods, but mostly this has been a time of familiar sights amid snowy landscapes and gradually lengthening days. I love being in a place long enough to build a sense of the familiar, to be able to feel that, yes, this is what winter is like here. And then when new creatures show up, or when I see something familiar in a new way, there's a basis for comparison -- it's nice, and quite different from a couple of winters ago when everything in this place was brand new to me.

I finally set up the trail camera that I bought about a year ago, and I've been moving it among a few spots in our woods and at the edge of the meadow. Even in just the past two months, this trail camera has already given us a greatly expanded view of our wildlife neighbors, especially carnivores who I've only rarely glimpsed before now. Here's a collection of some of my favorite videos from the trail camera so far: a young male White-tailed Deer in the snowy woods, a Coyote loping along our woods trail, a Gray Fox moving more cautiously down the same trail, a Gray Fox in the meadow (this spot turned out to be part of a particularly frequent fox trail), and what I'm pretty sure is a Red Fox passing through the meadow carrying a captured meal.

On January 7, a group of Black-capped Chickadees let me stand close by while they foraged in a fallen sumac tree:

I will always take the opportunity to hang out with chickadees. This picture looks like it's sideways, but the chickadee was just working at an angle:

A storm on February 7 left a thick layer of ice on everything. The Silver Maple buds in our front yard turned into glass-like globes:

On February 9, the ice had only just started to melt, and shockingly bright sunlight made all the trees sparkle with multi-colored lights -- I couldn't quite get my camera to capture the effect, but this photo at least gives an idea:

On February 15, an American Goldfinch posed on snow-covered fir branches:

The edge of the meadow hosted an impressive network of rabbit tracks (this is the area where the trail camera saw so many foxes go by -- watch out, bunnies):

And I admired the now mostly ice-free Silver Maple buds against a blue sky:

Another perfectly blue sky on February 22 made a striking backdrop for the bare Virginia-Creeper-covered trees at the edge of the woods:

And the sunlight lit up a few remaining seeds dangling from a nearby Basswood tree:

The more I think about it, I think February may be one of my favorite months, for its combination of snow and lengthening days. I love sunny, crisp, blue-sky February days, with a good blanket of white snow on the ground.... And February holds the first, tiniest hints of spring. In the past few days, cardinals have started singing in our yard, and a pair of bluebirds have stopped by to check out our nest boxes. I'm clearly not the only one starting to think about spring. Winter is long, but spring will come. And in the meantime, there's still the rest of February to enjoy!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. I made sure to spend some time outside yesterday to mark this event, but the weather was bitterly cold and overcast, perhaps suitably bleak given the day. Much better was today, the day after the solstice, when temperatures got into the 40s (F) and the sky was sunny and clear. From here on out, the light will be slowly returning, and being outside on this sun-filled day felt like a great way to celebrate that fact!

This is the first place I've lived where I've noticed such a vast difference in the sun's height between summer and winter. (And now that I think about it, I suppose this is the farthest north I've lived.) On summer days, the sun reaches almost directly overhead. Now, the sun barely gets above the trees. I took this picture in our meadow at around 12:30 today, and that's maximum sun for this time of year:

The sun lit up these fuzzy Virgin's Bower seedheads at the edge of the meadow:

A Common Raven called for several minutes from the ridge above our house and made a pass over the meadow. Common Ravens aren't actually all that common around here, and I feel very lucky that a pair of these birds seems to be year-round residents at this nearby ridge:

I watched some Black-capped Chickadees foraging among old seedheads on our Tulip Tree:

While a couple of noisy White-breasted Nuthatches worked over one of our old apple trees. Those rusty feathers under this bird's tail are one of my favorite things about White-breasted Nuthatches:

What a handsome bird you are, little nuthatch:

I'm hoping for more of these wonderfully sunny days in the wintry months to come, with the sun a bit higher in the sky each day!