Thursday, March 14, 2019

Things I'm Excited About (Spring!)

Spring is coming (!) and lots of exciting things are happening:

1. A male Eastern Bluebird has been checking out our two nest boxes over the past couple of days. I would absolutely love to have a bluebird pair take up residence in one of these boxes, which are a new addition to the property as of last year. (Of course, I also love having Tree Swallows as tenants, and other birds are welcome, too, but these are "bluebird" boxes, after all!)

2. Yesterday was apparently a fantastic day for migration, because big flocks of geese were passing overhead all day. In 10 minutes in the middle of the day, I counted 500 Canada Geese flying over our house, plus a couple of Snow Geese. And I saw reports yesterday of people counting Canada Geese in the tens of thousands as they passed over the area. We even heard flocks of geese honking overhead at around 9:00-10:00 PM, times which have normally been so silent around here all winter.

3. Garden season has started! I planted some asparagus seeds indoors a couple of weeks ago (I know people usually plant asparagus crowns, but seeds turn out to be much cheaper, and you have to wait a year or more to harvest the asparagus either way), and now there are the tiniest asparaguses (asparagi?) growing in our basement. I didn't know asparagus could be so small! And tomorrow I'll plant the next wave of vegetable and flower seeds and tuck them into their cozy growing area, with lights and heat mats. Yay, plants!

4. I visited Sapsucker Woods today (at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and saw even more early spring sights. Beautiful Skunk Cabbage blossoms are poking up above the snow, and while I didn't clearly see whether any of these super-early spring flowers are actually open yet, I was still very happy to see these lovely speckled plants:
 

Red-winged Blackbirds have just returned to the area (like, yesterday), and male blackbirds were displaying from perches all around Sapsucker Woods's many marshy areas. These are the first Red-winged Blackbirds I've seen this year! Those bright wings are intense, especially in otherwise bare trees:
 

This male was a little more reserved, keeping his red shoulders partly covered while he puffed up and called:
 

Here's one more picture of this bird, looking handsome in between displays:
 

And we're off! Hooray, spring!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Assorted Winter Yard Sights

Winter is so quiet and static, compared to the riotous diversity and quick change of the other seasons. It's nice, really, to have a couple of months of white-brown-green landscapes, bare branches, and just the core wildlife regulars, so I can enjoy the silence and consistency, notice details in my environment that I've never noticed before, appreciate surprises when they show up, and celebrate even gradual change. My chart of eBird checklists on our property over the the past three months (December through February) shows only 23 species, which is fewer bird species than I might find during a single walk around our meadow and woods on any given day in May. And of those 23 species, only about 14 have appeared on our property with any regularity during that time. (If you're curious, here are the regulars: Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal.) Our regular winter non-bird creatures (the ones we've seen, anyway) are the White-tailed Deer, Eastern Cottontail rabbits, Red Squirrels, White-footed Mice (or possibly Deer Mice), and Meadow Voles. And that's it. Winter is comparatively simple, but even so, these past couple of months have brought plenty of interesting sights.

I've already posted about the flock of Evening Grosbeaks that visited our feeders in early December. Those fantastic birds stayed around for four days, and then they moved on for good. (I wonder how many years it will be before I see another Evening Grosbeak.) Just a week later, though, on December 13, we had another surprise at our feeders when a single Common Redpoll showed up:


I haven't seen a Common Redpoll since I came across a small flock of these little finches at the Connecticut shore in 2013. These birds certainly aren't common around here, and my understanding is that it's quite special to have one visit your feeder. Either way, I was delighted to meet this streaky brown-and-white creature, with its pointy yellow beak and perfect little red cap:


The redpoll seemed to thoroughly enjoy the nyjer seeds at our feeder:


While I watched the redpoll, I also had the opportunity to see one of the Meadow Voles that had taken to boldly foraging under the feeders around that time (I haven't seen these creatures outside of their burrows beneath the snow in a while, but there was a span of a couple of weeks when we saw them frequently in the open and munching on dropped seeds) -- look at this cute little rodent face:


The redpoll stayed around for a few hours and then moved on. I'm happy to host these rare northern visitors in our yard, even if only for a little while!

On the morning of January 14, a layer of ice on twigs and branches made for some amazing sights in our meadow:


By around 9:45 AM, clear sunlight (in January! amazing!) lit up the icy trees and created all sorts of interesting textures and patterns:


Perfectly ice-coated treetops made for quite a view through a telephoto lens:


Even an old spider web outside our kitchen window was beautifully highlighted by frost and sunlight:


By a couple of hours later, the sun had melted much of the ice, and this male Red-bellied Woodpecker looked very pretty in his sunlit apple tree:


The half-melted landscape was in some ways even more interesting than the fully iced version of two hours earlier:


I don't know how the sunlight melted the treetop ice on the hillside into these distinct lines, but I think the result is amazing, like wave-shaped sand on a beach:


On January 27, I wandered through our snow-covered meadow and admired the intricate patterns of dead flower stems -- many of them from seeds we planted -- against the pristine snow:


These Black-eyed Susan blooms were strangely pretty from above:


I love the graceful shape (and reddish color) of this Little Bluestem stalk:


And these Common Yarrow stalks made interesting shapes against the snow:


While walking in our woods on February 2, I came across the signs of what seemed to be a rabbit festival, with more rabbit droppings than I think I've ever seen in one area, as well as -- this is new to me -- spots of shockingly red pee:


The next day (February 3), a walk in the woods turned up a spider -- what a robust creature this must be, to be out and about in February, with snow still on the ground:


On February 17, I wandered outside under an amazingly blue sky; I love sunny February days:


This Blue Jay perfectly matched its gray-branch and blue-sky surroundings:


A Dark-eyed Junco sang quietly from within a sun-lit bush (practicing its song for breeding season?) and then emerged long enough to have its portrait taken:


An American Tree Sparrow also made an appearance:


This is such a handsome sparrow, especially against the clear blue sky:


I stopped to admire (as I do every time I pass by) the fuzz-tipped buds of this Allegheny Serviceberry tree I planted last year:


At another edge of the meadow, I was surprised to see the incredible amount of old Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes on this very old apple tree, and just as surprised that I'd never noticed all these holes before now:


The afternoon light perfectly set off some big pine trees on the wooded ridge across the street from our house:


On February 21, a temporary thaw and bright sunlight brought out a cobweb-like tracing of snowy remnants on the hills across the valley:


As I write this on February 25, we're getting frigid winds and fresh snow, and it certainly still feels like winter. But changes are happening: the daylight is getting noticeably stronger and longer, the cardinals and chickadees have started singing in recent weeks, and I even spotted some crocus leaves emerging from the ground way back on February 10. I know that March will bring more tantalizing signs of the coming spring, and I'm excited to see what will happen during this year's more active seasons.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Trail Camera in 2018

Back in January of 2018, I set up our trail camera along the trail we made in our woods. The trail itself was an enlarged deer trail, and the many hoof-prints in the snow at the time suggested that the trail was still in heavy use, so I figured it would make for an interesting spot for a camera. And it definitely was! Over the past year, the camera has made many, many videos of creatures walking on and across our trail -- mostly lots and lots of deer, but some other creatures, too -- at both day and night (except for a couple of months at the end of the year when the batteries ran out sooner than I expected and I neglected to check it). 

So here are a bunch of video clips of animals in our woods from the past year!

The first few months of videos were all of deer. Even though deer are super common around here, and we see them frequently from a distance in our meadow and woods, it's still very cool to get to see these big animals up close. This first video compiles some of my favorite clips from the beginning of the year: a deer lying down on the path in the snow, a deer walking up the path during heavy snowfall, a daytime grooming session, a snowy portrait, a very fuzzy little deer (the previous year's fawn?) in very early spring, and a heavily molting deer up close in May.

 

Suddenly, in April and May, the camera started showing a whole slew of other creatures besides deer; I don't know what was going on here, but there was a greater variety of animals in these two months than we saw on the camera all year. The next video compiles clips of April and May's diversity, most of the clips at night: a rabbit taking a stroll in the woods, a raccoon searching for a meal among the leaves along the path, incredibly a Gray Fox (the first Gray Fox I've ever seen) with its bushy black tail and low/long body, a glimpse of a larger canid that surely must be a Coyote, and a flock of turkeys (I find that last turkey really funny).

 

During the rest of the year, the camera went back to mainly producing a ton of deer videos. Lots of interesting things happen with deer in the summer and fall, though, and some of these videos were especially amazing. Here's one last compilation of clips: a mother deer with the tiniest twin fawns I've ever seen, so tiny and unsteady that I think they must have been no more than a day old; another mother with her slightly older fawn, stopping in front of the camera for an extremely sweet grooming session; fawn zoomies!; at some point, the twins' mother got a very bad looking leg injury, but she and the twins continued to show up on the camera through the rest of the summer (the last time I saw her was in September, but the camera's battery also died soon after that); and the final clip shows a buck with an impressive set of antlers (I wonder if he made it through hunting season).



I'll be moving the trail camera to a new location this year, as soon as I figure out another likely place to try. The first year of trail camera footage was definitely a success, and I'm curious to see what creatures show up this year in other areas of our property!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Evening Grosbeaks!

The word is that this winter will be a good irruption year for northern finches. Basically, because of food shortages or other factors, various fancy northern birds are wandering farther south than they usually do, which means an increased chance of unusual visitors in the Northeastern US. Since November, I've been hearing reports of Evening Grosbeaks showing up in our Central New York county with some frequency. Evening Grosbeaks are -- in normal years -- a very rare bird in this area, but this year, they're definitely around. Having never seen an Evening Grosbeak before (at least not that I can remember), I was so hoping that I'd get to see one this year. And then yesterday, in what feels like an amazingly lucky event, a flock of 12 Evening Grosbeaks paid a visit to our yard! Even luckier, I was working from home, so I got to enjoy and celebrate their visit. Oh my goodness, Evening Grosbeaks!
 

Most of the individuals in this flock were females or immature birds, with intricate costumes of muted gray, olive, yellow, white, and black. And that big ivory beak is really something. These birds seem to have mostly come to our yard for the sunflower seeds. I'm really glad I put these feeders here!


These are big finches, and they look almost monstrous from some angles, and especially in groups:
 

Even better! (And note the dwarfed Tufted Titmouse on the left.)
 

The American Goldfinches who came to the platform feeder in between Evening Grosbeak visits look so tiny in comparison:
 

Mostly, though, the goldfinches stuck to the large tube feeder stocked with nyjer seed (the most recent addition to our bird-feeding setup), leaving the platform feeder to the visiting grosbeaks:
 

Here's a wider view, with grosbeaks on the right, and tiny goldfinches on the left (and yes, that feeder pole has gotten really tilty):
 

This flock of Evening Grosbeaks included one adult male, who came down to the feeder only while I was inside and taking pictures through windows; that combination of brown and yellow body, glowing white wings, and bright yellow eyebrow really is incredible:
 

The male Evening Grosbeak certainly stands out, but I love the colors and patterns on the other birds in the flock as well. What a lovely coincidence that the other birds' wings and tails blend so well with their background of black sunflower seeds in snow:
 

The sun even came out for a bit, so here are some Evening Grosbeaks in the sunlight:
 

How amazing to meet a brand new bird right here at home! The same flock of Evening Grosbeaks even stopped by our feeders again this morning, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll make our yard part of their regular route this winter.... We'll see! At the very least, I'll be sure to keep our feeders well stocked. The season is off to a fantastic start, and who knows what fancy creatures might show up next!
 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Catching Up With Summer, Heading Into Fall

Wow, is it really October 1? It's been three months since I last made a post! I didn't mean to go so long without updating, but things get busy.... And this summer had all sorts of new ways for my time to get away from me. There's my new vegetable garden, for one thing (I'm really happy with this garden's first season!), and on July 1 we brought home this wonderful creature, who sure does require a lot of our time:


Oooo I love this puppy! I already can't believe he was ever that small. He's a very sweet, very smart, very good fellow (most of the time), and he's gotten about three times bigger than he was when we first brought him home! Here he is posing nicely during our daily walk through the meadow on September 22:
 

Sweet boy. Although I'm outside and walking on our property every day, being tethered to an easily distractable puppy doesn't really allow for a lot of picture taking or careful nature viewing. (Maybe that'll change when he's older?) Even so, I've seen many interesting creatures around our house in the past three months, and since this is now our second summer at this property, I've enjoyed comparing this year's sightings to last year; in some ways, this summer has been very different!

I'm rather sad to say that last summer's invasion of tiny Spring Peepers in our yard (and on our porches, windows, etc.) seems to not be an annual event. In the past few months, I've heard scattered peepers testing out their voices from hidden spots in the yard, and I caught a glimpse of one adult in the woods, but I never saw a single young peeper. I would have expected the wet weather this summer to boost amphibian populations, if anything, but maybe something happened (or didn't happen) early in the spring that affected our local peepers' breeding attempts. Or maybe last year's invasion was a fluke?

Instead of Spring Peepers, though, Ref Efts (juvenile Red-spotted Newts) have been particularly common on our property this summer. I saw one (or more) of these brilliant orange amphibians nearly every day from roughly July through September. Here's a handsome individual in our woods on August 9:


And here's a teeny tiny eft among the flowers of (I think) Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare), a very common plant throughout the un-excavated part of our meadow:


Speaking of plants, many of the wildflowers that came with the property have continued to put on a fantastic show this year. September is when this property practically glows, with wild asters of various species blanketing every edge and border around the yard. Here's just a small section of the swaths that are now covered with our yard's most common aster, Crooked-Stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides), on September 14:


And here's a view of the path I've maintained this year through the un-excavated part of the meadow, alight with goldenrod and aster blooms on September 22:


Since last summer, though, we've also added quite a few new plants to the property, making for some very different summer scenery. About 1/4 of our meadow was excavated last fall during a geothermal project, which left a bare stretch of soil and rocks (lots of rocks). In late November, with the ground already starting to freeze, we scattered several pounds of native grass and wildflower seeds (a mixture of 3 grasses and 18 wildflowers) onto the bare ground. In the spring and early summer, we started to see some plants sprouting from the seeds we spread, but we were fairly certain that this disturbed part of the meadow would be mostly bare -- or at least flower-less -- this year. So it was quite a thrill to see species after species appear and bloom over top of what was basically a big empty mud pit at the beginning of the year.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) has done especially well, and these plants make up the bulk of this bright scene on September 15:


Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) has been a delightful discovery from among this mix of seeds, with tall sprays of bright yellow flowers, shown here on August 6:


And how interesting that this plant produces nectar in little wells along its stems -- I'm sure this ant is here for the Partridge Pea's sweet treat:
 

I found the flowers of this native grass, Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), especially charming (this picture is from September 6):


Overall, I've seen at least some plants of all 3 of the grass species we planted, and 9 of the 18 wildflower species. I'll be very curious to see how this part of the meadow changes and grows in the coming years! (And I'm geared up to battle invasive plants, as I'm sure they will try to take over this recently disturbed area.)

Up closer to the house, the Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) I planted in the yard last fall produced their amazing blooms (this picture is from July 17):


I had never thought of this showy native as a candidate for a perennial garden bed, but there it was at the native plant nursery when I visited last fall, and now it lives here with me. I saw hummingbirds visiting these flowers several times this summer, but I never did manage to have my camera with me at the right moment.... Maybe next year.

I also added Purple Coneflower to the yard, which proved to be very popular with the local butterflies, bees, and beetles. Here's a Tiger Swallowtail at the coneflowers on July 18:


And here's a bumblebee with a distinctive torn wing; we saw this individual at these flowers every day for at least a couple of weeks (pictured here on July 17):
 

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seemed very happy to also find big pots of flowers on our deck this summer, and we got the benefit of seeing these birds regularly and up close. On September 12, I was able to take some pictures of one of these wonderful little birds as it visited my zinnias:


What a sweet little bird, sometimes even perching on the petals as it arrived for a drink:


The nearby snapdragons were also tempting, but I include this picture here mostly to point out that perfect little paddle-shaped tail:


There have been a lot of birds around the property this summer. A family of Common Yellowthroats frequently showed up to forage in the various shrubs and brush right near the house. Here's one of these perky little birds on July 18:


And here's another angle, because I'm not used to having such a clear view of these birds:


On August 7, I met up with a family of Dark-eyed Juncos along our woods trail. The juvenile -- looking nothing like a junco except for that half-grown white-striped tail -- made agitated chirps from a nearby tree:


While its parents foraged for honeysuckle berries:


A family of Eastern Wood-Pewees (I saw up to three individuals at once) hung around our house for a while in August, and I was happy to get to see and hear these little flycatchers regularly; here's one of the pewees on August 16:


This Gray Catbird watched me cautiously from the edge of the meadow on September 6:


And this molting American Goldfinch looked especially fancy as it foraged on some goldenrod on September 12:


A few more assorted sights round out the summer. On July 14, I moved a rock next to the garden to find a mother wolf spider carrying her many tiny babies on her back:


An impressive Black and Yellow Argiope spider (Argiope aurantia) hung her egg case on our deck, pictured here on August 25 (although the spider disappeared a few days later):


Several Monarch caterpillars showed up this year, including this individual who was eating an immature seedpod on a Swamp Milkweed plant (Asclepias incarnata) on July 30:


I found this gorgeous, big Laurel Sphinx caterpillar (Sphinx kalmiae) munching on the leaves of a small ash sapling on August 1:


But when I saw the caterpillar again just two days later, it was covered with the cocoons of parasitic wasp larvae that had -- it turns out -- been eating the caterpillar from the inside this whole time; isn't nature crazy?


Finally, because there haven't been enough amphibians in this post, here's a little Red-backed Salamander, one of four that I found under three rocks along our woods trail on September 22; it's nice to know that this salamander's population here continues to thrive:


I continue to be impressed and amazed at the variety of wildlife right here at my home. And now the seasons are turning again, many of the summer birds are already on their way out (with others passing through), and increasingly chilly days mean I should be sure to enjoy all these flowers while they still last. Here comes fall!