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!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

From Brown to White

The landscape becomes so brown in late November. Although it's a mostly quiet and dormant time of the year, there are still plenty of interesting things to see. On November 25, I wandered in our meadow, admiring the wide variety of textures and shades-of-brown on the plentiful dried plant stems remaining after this year's growth. These arching goldenrod seedheads were especially fluffy and pretty:

And I love the mix of puffball seedheads and curly dried leaves on this aster:

Wider views of the undisturbed part of the meadow (the part that wasn't excavated and reseeded afterward) showed interesting patchworks of dried plants:

Red pedicels on Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) shrubs at the edge of the meadow added some color among all the brown:

A few familiar winter-season birds were out and about as well. This Black-capped Chickadee was busy processing a sunflower seed and didn't seem to mind me standing nearby:

And a fluffy White-breasted Nuthatch worked its way along a tree trunk:

Hey, do you have a seed, too?

November 25th and 26th were relatively warm days, and I was surprised to see several moths -- which turned out to be Fall Cankerworm Moths (Alsophila pometaria) -- both during the day and at night under our porch light:

Here's another one of these moths that ended up in our house for a bit:

And after I saw my first wingless female moth earlier in the year, wouldn't you know it, female Fall Cankerworm Moths are wingless as well. (The moths in the above pictures are males.) Since that was the only species of moth I saw on those warm-weather days, I have to assume that this wingless moth on our porch on November 26 is a female of that species. Nature is so interesting and weird!

And speaking of insects, on November 25 I moved a log against our house's foundation and uncovered a pile of hibernating ladybugs; that's a lot of bugs, but given how many ladybugs we find in and around our house on warm days, I'm not particularly surprised to find this big of a group here:

On December 2, we got our first big snowstorm of the season. And it was a big storm, bringing a layer of ice followed by about a foot of thick, clinging snow overnight, and then more snow throughout the day. Most places around here closed that day -- including my work -- so I had some extra time in which to enjoy this transformation of the landscape into a world of white. The hillside across the valley from our house grew massive white structures (with pine trees somewhere underneath):

Here's a view along one edge of our property, with the old and nearly-collapsing shed surrounded by heavy snow:

The snow was so sticky -- and there was so little wind -- that it gained quite a bit of height even on narrow spots, and formed some interesting shapes. I especially like these fancy hats that developed on the Purple Coneflower seedheads:

Several birds were active throughout the snowy day, including this Northern Cardinal who was munching on Pokeweed berries:

Now that we're in December, I expect to see a lot of white landscapes for the next few months. It's definitely winter now!