Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring Beginnings, with a Dash of Snow

We got a sprinkling of snow last night, and temperatures were hovering around freezing when I went with some friends to check out the Etna Nature Preserve this morning:
 

It may not look it, but spring is happening, I swear! Up until today, we've had a streak of rainy and warm-ish weather, and these woods were showing signs of spring. Skunk Cabbage was blooming (although it's probably been blooming for a while) and starting to unfurl green leaves:
 

Tiny Trout Lily leaves were coming up, looking like little spears in the snow:
 

We even found pink flowers on a small leafless shrub that turned out to be a non-native garden escapee, Daphne mezereum:


A couple of Eastern Phoebes were calling and flycatching and working on constructing a nest under the eaves of a nearby house. Hello wonderful birds, and welcome back!
 

So yes, it felt like winter today, but we're well into the beginning of spring. Spring Peepers have been singing loudly every night (except last night) around our house, and I saw this Red Eft (juvenile Red-spotted Newt) wandering across marshy water at the Roy H. Park Preserve earlier this week:


Hooray for amphibians and flowers and returning birds! Hooray for spring!

Friday, March 17, 2017

March Snow!

Well that was definitely a snow storm! We had heavy snow and wind throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, and then when it was all over, Thursday morning was clear, bright, beautiful, and very snowy:
 

The reported snowfall in the area was around 15 inches, but there was so much wind that some spots (like a patch of yard next to our house) ended up with almost no snow, while other spots (like the garden bed out front where some hopeful daffodils were thinking about blooming a couple of weeks ago) are now under 3-foot snow drifts. So I didn't get very far when I somewhat foolishly tried to walk in the Roy H. Park Preserve on Thursday morning without my snowshoes. I'd forgotten how hard it is to walk while repeatedly sinking into almost-knee-high snow! Before I turned around I was at least able to admire the walls of snow-covered conifers:
 

And I enjoyed these dainty alder catkins (not yet in bloom) that were dangling next to the path:


When I got back home, I strapped on my snowshoes and added another layer of clothing (it was sunny outside but the wind was intense!) and I headed back out to walk along the fields near our house. I wasn't about to miss out on one of the only substantial snowfalls we've had this winter!

I love the combination of snow and bright blue sky, and this sky was amazing:
 

The wind really was strong. Big clouds of snow kept blowing off the trees on a neighboring hillside:


And when I turned around after 15 minutes or so of walking, the wind was already working on filling in my footprints:
 

A Turkey Vulture soared overhead, showing off wing and tail feathers that look like they could be made of steel:


What a cool sight: huge majestic Turkey Vulture and huge billowy clouds:


One more picture:


I'm glad I got to enjoy these post-snowstorm sights. Today has remained sunny and beautiful, and our neighborhood American Kestrel even stopped by again, looking extra handsome in the bright afternoon light:
 

With all the sunshine, the snow is already on its way out. I'll be curious to see how long it takes for this snow to fully melt!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

American Kestral and Red-winged Blackbirds, Pre-Storm

It's snowing heavily outside right now, and many places around here (and the roads, too) are closed to wait out the storm. This is only our second real snowstorm of the winter, and it's the middle of March! Have I mentioned that this winter is weird?

Yesterday afternoon, while the weather was still calm, a male American Kestrel showed up to hunt along the road next to our house:


A kestrel has been hunting in our neighborhood on and off all winter, and I wonder if this is the same bird. Either way, he's such a gorgeous fellow, and his fancy costume looks especially bright amid the still brown-white-gray landscape. He flew off to perch on the roof of a neighboring house, a tiny raptor on the lookout for a meal:


Somewhere off in the woods, a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds was making a lot of noise. I couldn't easily see the flock, so I'm not exactly sure how many birds were out there, but they were certainly vocal! I don't think I've ever heard so many Red-winged Blackbirds calling at once! Here's a recording:



I hope all these birds (not to mention the Spring Peepers I heard the other week) are hunkered down somewhere safe in all this snow!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Confused Winter Weather

This is my first winter in central New York, so I don't know exactly what the winters here are supposed to be like. But having lived in other not-too-distant locations, I have some guesses about what a normal winter should be like, and I'm fairly certain that this one is not it.

When I last posted, in late January, we'd had more than a week of warm, wet weather, and no snow. Well, the snow did return soon after that, and it stuck around for a while. We never had more than a few inches on the ground at a time -- never enough to get out my snow shoes -- but it did make for some nice wintry scenes. I especially enjoyed seeing the dark fertile fronds of Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) sticking up out of the snow like flags at the Roy H. Park Preserve on January 30:


And then it got warm again, the snow melted, and it started feeling decidedly spring-like! On the afternoon of February 24, we walked walked along the fields near our home wearing sweatshirts:
 

A very handsome American Robin was foraging among the dead leaves and wet ground, and it perched on a convenient rock long enough for a photo. I've never noticed such a perfectly clean dotted-line ring around a robin's eye before. What a beautiful bird:
 

On the same walk, I thought I heard a Killdeer calling, although I never saw it, and I definitely heard a lone Spring Peeper peeping. And things just kept getting more spring-like. I heard a whole chorus of peepers a few days later. Red-winged Blackbirds showed up and started calling. Bulbs were sprouting up in gardens.

And then yesterday... snow and frigid temperatures returned. Today was sunny but with a high of 16 degrees F (and a blasting wind that made it feel close to 0). This might actually have been one of the coldest days of the whole winter. The fields that looked so much like a prelude to spring a few days ago are now white again. They're still beautiful, though, especially with that strip of blue sky:
 

I hope the daffodils in our yard will be able to handle this weather roller coaster:
 

I love winter, but this has been a very strange season, and now that I've had a taste of spring I'm ready for winter to be finished. March means the start of growing greenery and flowers and birds and amphibians.... Here we go!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Colorful Twigs and Newts (and a Bonus Owl)

In my last post, I mentioned that our snow had melted and temperatures had gotten unusually warm. Well, here we are, 10 days later, and there still hasn't been any snow! OK, patches of old snow and ice are still hiding out in places, but it's gotten distinctly spring-like out there, all muddy and wet. And on top of that, this weekend was beautifully sunny, with temperatures in the 50s; perfect sweatshirt weather, really. So while I prefer my January to be suitably crisp and white (I haven't yet been able to bring out my snowshoes this winter), I just had to get outside yesterday afternoon and again today to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. As usual, the nearby Roy H. Park Preserve turned out to be a great place for a walk.

Most of the landscape is uniformly brown, but I kept noticing a couple different plants with brightly colored branches. Red Osier Dogwoods definitely stood out (and almost every twig's tip had been clipped off by deer):
 

Another area of the preserve was dotted with these shrubs whose branches faded from green at the base to orange/red at the top:
 

I've narrowed this plant down (I think) to some sort of willow, but I haven't been able to get further than that. Native or introduced? I have no idea! But I like how these plants add subtle swathes of color to the otherwise flat brown wetlands:
 

And I love the colors on this twig, growing out of the bank and set off by the water:


I saw lots of closed buds on plants, but these Quaking Aspen buds in another area of the preserve were actually starting to open, showing the tips of fuzzy gray catkins:


I'm still learning about Quaking Aspen (I didn't know until today that this tree's emerging flowers look a bit like Pussy Willows, for instance), but this seems awful early to start coming out of dormancy. Spring isn't here yet, plant!

Back at the water: I know Red-spotted Newts can stay active underwater throughout the winter, but it was still really cool to see several of these creatures in these ice-free pools. Amphibians in January! Every minute or so, a newt would swim up from the murky bottom of the pool:


Push its wonderful face past the surface of the water:
 

Pause just long enough that I could admire all that bright yellow on this tiny spotted creature:
 

And then dive back down:


Several newts were making these quick trips to the surface. Perhaps they were grabbing a breath of air? Or a meal? (I didn't see anything on the water's surface, but for all I know there may have been something tiny and delicious there.) Whatever the reason, I'm certainly happy I got to see these lovely creatures.

On the way home yesterday, I also stopped by our neighbor the Eastern Screech-Owl's tree to check in on this guy/girl. What a puffy owl, filling its entire hole! (And with its little ear-tufts sticking out.) I guess that must be a comfortable place to snooze in the sun:


:D Owl!

So sun and warmth is nice for a bit, but where's my January weather?

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!