Friday, March 18, 2022

Moving Toward Spring

February is undoubtedly a winter month around here, but then March starts to bring the first hints of movement and growth, and now we're inching gradually toward spring. (It's coming!) I love getting to witness these scattered signs of the changing seasons. I have several sights to share from our home over the past month or so, and I'll start back in wintry February.

On February 21, I wandered into our woods in the afternoon sun and ended up admiring some little living things that I would probably overlook in other seasons. This fallen branch had quite a pretty collection of lichen (I'm guessing the bright yellow one is Common Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina):


And I noticed the delicate tracings of some species of liverwort (genus Frullania) on many tree trunks:

Here's a closer view of one of those liverworts; I wonder how long it took this tiny, tiny plant to grow to this size:


This moss looked especially green and fuzzy surrounded by melting snow:


This Black-capped Chickadee was checking out tree trunks, too, and it perched for a bit on an old, thick Virginia Creeper vine:


On February 27, I stepped outside the front door to see an immature Bald Eagle wheeling over the house -- what a big bird!


I also admired the sight of our Tulip Tree still carrying many of last year's dried seeds against the clear blue sky:


On March 5, there were hundreds of Snow Geese and Canada Geese streaming northward overhead in big flocks. Yes! Let the spring migration begin! I am so happy that our property is apparently right under a regular flight route, because I love seeing -- and hearing -- these travelers each year in early March. These flocks made such interesting patterns in the sky:


Here's another big flock, this one with all Canada Geese:

And here's a closer view of one of the Snow Goose flocks (with a couple of Canada Geese mixed in):

Meanwhile, a male Northern Cardinal sang out from the top of a big spruce tree in our meadow:


We've actually had a cardinal (or maybe more than one) singing around here since December this winter, which seems very strange to me -- I'm used to hearing cardinals starting up in February. I suppose they're really interested in establishing this territory this year. Go for it, cardinal!


In early March, I learned that the Entomological Society of America has adopted "Spongy Moth" as the new common name for Lymantria dispar (formerly Gypsy Moth), and yep, we've got this moth's spongy egg masses all over the trees in our front yard, after this invasive moth's big population boom last year; here's hoping we'll see a decrease in their numbers this year:


On March 6, I got to see a couple more cool birds flying overhead on a sunny and clear day. This Cooper's Hawk crossed over our house a few times; I love those puffy white feathers at the base of its tail:


And it was wonderful to see a Turkey Vulture in the sky again after their absence during the winter:


A wet snowfall on the afternoon of March 9 made for a really pretty scene on the steeply sloped woods across the street from our house:


Here's a closer view into those woods:


Our first Song Sparrow of the year arrived in the midst of this snow, and it dug a hole at the base of the feeders and spent quite a bit of time feeding on dropped seeds there; I don't think I've seen a sparrow in a little snow burrow like this before:

What an industrious little bird. It flew from its hole to a nearby shrub a few times while I watched through a window, and I can't help thinking it looks super grumpy in this picture:


The next day, it was nice to see our newly-arrived Song Sparrow (the same bird?) in the sunlight:


This White-throated Sparrow also posed for bit in a tangle of wild grape vines:


In the woods, at least three recently awakened Eastern Chipmunks were scurrying around a snow-covered bank:


And perhaps because of the extra moisture from the melting snow, the various mosses and lichens on tree trunks in the woods were looking especially bright and verdant this day:


Here's another scene of tiny mosses and lichens among the crevasses of an old White Pine's bark:


Many of the trees had fuzzy socks made of moss:


And this moss almost seemed to be pouring out of this tree:


Back at the house, the persistent snow cover that's been around for months was receding, and our first Snowdrop buds were peeking through:


Then a storm brought another foot of snow, delaying things a bit.... But spring is certainly coming. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are back in the area and singing, and as I write this, we're having a stretch of 60-degree and sunny days. Right now, I can see nearly equal parts bare ground and snow, I hear a Song Sparrow singing, and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds are checking out our nest boxes. The Snowdrops are uncovered again and I think they'll open today, our first flowers of the year. Here comes spring!

Friday, February 4, 2022

A Cold and Snowy January

It's winter, all right! This January has been a month of very cold temperatures, and all those signs of life in my previous post have been buried under a secure blanket of snow for weeks now. The landscape is all white and brown and gray, with some dark-green conifers for good measure. Here's our meadow on January 19, for example, but this picture could have just as easily been taken on most days this month:

There's still plenty of life and activity to see above the snow, though!

This flock of House Finches looked quite decorative, arranged as they were at the top of a fir tree in our yard on January 19 (waiting for me to leave so they could come down to the feeders, I think):


Purple Finches are much less common visitors to our yard at any time of the year, but especially in the winter, so I've been happy to see a few stop by this month. I love the colors on this rosy-all-over male who perched in the apple tree outside our windows on January 23:


I've been thrilled to see American Goldfinches making good use of the dried seed heads of the Purple Coneflowers that grow in a flower bed near the house. I snuck open a window on a sunny January 22 to get an unobstructed view of these little birds at work -- I especially like the spiky shadow one of the seed heads is casting on the bird in this picture:

Although the sun was shining, the air was bitterly cold, so I kept the window cracked open only long enough for a few quick pictures; here's one more:

Did I mention that this has been a cold month? When I woke up on January 22, the outside temperature was -13 degrees Fahrenheit (!), and a Blue Jay outside our windows had frost ringing its face -- it's kind of a glamorous look, but spending the night outside in those temperatures doesn't sound fun to me!


This bold American Tree Sparrow came to the feeders on January 19 while I was nearby, so I got to have an especially close look at one of these very handsome birds:


I'd never noticed before how dark this sparrow's feet are, like it's wearing black gloves. And that's a dashing little bow tie on its chest. Here's one more picture of this fancy bird, at an angle where the rusty line behind its eye reminds me of a lightning bolt (I feel like I've just described a superhero's costume):

This past summer, I first noticed what I'm pretty sure is a large Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) bush tucked back along an edge of our property; I suppose I'll need to keep an eye on this plant -- and watch out for others -- since it's non-native and can be invasive. In any case, I was surprised to see a Dark-eyed Junco munching on this plant's berries on January 19, since I'm much more used to seeing juncos eating seeds:

Among the flock of Dark-eyed Juncos that's been hanging around our yard this winter, we have one individual with a smattering of white feathers:

I've been thinking of this individual as a female, because her coloring overall is browner and lighter than the starker male juncos, but I don't know for sure. Either way, she's very distinctive, and it's fun to have an easily recognizable individual bird visiting our yard:

I assume she's partially leucistic, which has to do with some patchy absence of pigments. The white feathers on her face look a bit like she's simply dusted with snow:


She even has a little white-edged feather on her wing, and the mostly-white back of her head is especially striking:

Even from a distance, it's easy to recognize this bird:


I hope that bright white patch doesn't make her a target for predators! Good luck out there, little bird, and we'll keep the feeders well stocked.

I don't get to see all the winter activity in our yard myself, but the snow keeps a record of unseen activity (until the next snowfall at least). Here's a neat trail of White-footed Mouse tracks crossing our yard on January 19, for example:

Finally, in our woods on January 5, I noticed this White Ash tree that's missing a great deal of its bark:

After some searching online, my best guess is that this is a sign that Emerald Ash Borers are indeed on our property; apparently woodpeckers will do this type of work on a heavily infested tree to get at the beetle's larvae under the bark. I knew that Emerald Ash Borers have appeared in our county in recent years, and I figured our many ash trees would be victims sooner or later. I suppose we've reached that time. Here's a closer look at this extensive woodpecker work -- I hope the woodpeckers got a good meal at least, and maybe this tree will make a good home for other creatures after it dies:

I wonder whether a particular one of our species of woodpeckers is mostly responsible for all that stripped bark, or whether all the woodpecker species contributed. It's hard to imagine our little Downy Woodpeckers (like the fellow below) chiseling away here, but who knows!

Male Downy Woodpecker working on a tree next to the meadow on January 19

The cold temperatures and snowy weather sure seem like they're here to stay for a while yet. Happy winter!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Some Signs of Life at the Beginning of Winter

We've already had a bit of snow and some very cold days this month, but the afternoon of December 16 was relatively warm and sunny, and I took the opportunity that day to wander around outside. With such short days and long nights, and with mainly cold and snowy months ahead, I was especially looking out for signs of life as winter started to settle in.

Plants may be dormant now, but it's really interesting to see how some of the plants around here have gotten ready for next year's growing season. I transplanted Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) into our front yard this fall, and beneath the dried stems from this year's growth, spiky purple shoots have already appeared:

The neighboring Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) produced several tiny plantlets along their flower stalks this year, and I tucked those stalks into the dirt. Now rows of baby Cardinal Flowers are waiting through these cold and dark times -- with green leaves intact -- to start growing in the spring:


Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) also keeps its leaves through the winter, making a carpet with colors ranging from green to rusty orange:

The American Hazelnut shrubs have dangling catkins and little round buds that will grow and flower in the spring:


In the woods, this fern (I don't know the species yet) holds next year's fronds in coppery coverings at its center, looking like a small collection of coins:


These Common Milkweed seeds were ready to float off and start new plants, and after taking this picture I helped them along:

The Shagbark Hickory tree in our yard produced a large number of nuts this year (although strangely, most of the nuts I cracked open were empty) and a bird has stashed a hickory nut inside a crack in the neighboring Tulip Tree:

Because the weather was so warm on this day, I even saw a few insects out and about. This Honey Bee landed on some aster seedheads; I'm sorry, little bee, I don't think there are any flowers blooming around here right now:


A beetle (some sort of soldier beetle?) was climbing along Little Bluestem stalks:

The beetle even opened its wings a few times and flew a bit:


Finally, I watched a small caterpillar make its way up a Pawpaw stem and pause at a bud, where it seemed to nibble on the bud's outer layer:


It's nice to see signs of life in the middle of December, even as winter is settling in.

As I write this, 2021 is coming to a close, and 2022 is in sight. Here's to the new year! Who knows what 2022 will bring!