Wednesday, June 30, 2021

May and June, 2021

In the last post, I shared some highlights from our property in March and April of this year, and now it's time to catch up with May and June!

I couldn't have asked for a better start to May than this close-up view of a male Chestnut-sided Warbler (I love these birds!) who was foraging and singing in the back corner of our meadow on May 2:

Swelling apple blossoms made a pretty stage for this Song Sparrow on May 10:


Eastern Phoebes started this season the same way as last year, with a successful nest in the rafters of an old, barely-weather-proof shed on our property. The phoebes' first egg appeared on April 30, and the five babies fledged by June 7. (I don't have any pictures of that brood to share, because the light in that shed is so poor.) Hooray for more phoebes in the world! Meanwhile, an American Robin built her nest just outside the same shed, on top of a broken picnic table we had leaned up against the shed wall. Here's the robin on her neat mud-rimmed nest on May 13:


Robin babies aren't exactly pretty! Here are the little monsters on May 20:


By May 26, the young robins were covered with mottled feathers and looking just about ready to leave the nest. How nice of a parent to pose here for a family portrait:


I was careful to give these robins plenty of space, but as I walked into the meadow to avoid the very alert robins, I nearly stepped on a Song Sparrow's nest on the ground! I never would have seen the hidden nest if the adult sparrow hadn't rocketed up suddenly when I got close. I took a quick picture of the lovely speckled eggs (as best as I could get without touching the surrounding plants), and then I moved on.... I have no idea how this nest fared after our close encounter. And then a week or two later, I accidentally startled another Song Sparrow from her nest in the opposite end of the meadow. I've learned that I need to avoid straying from the paths in the meadow as much as possible during nesting season! In any case, here's a glimpse of the first Song Sparrow nest from May 26:

This Gray Catbird was putting on quite a concert on the edge of our meadow on May 13 -- I absolutely love this bird's pose with his fluffed-out butt:


 Here's the same bird looking somewhat sleeker from a different angle:


The same as last year, we have a family of House Wrens and a family of Tree Swallows in our two nest boxes (although the birds swapped boxes compared to last year). Here's the male House Wren on May 13, bringing a spider egg sac into the box that he'd already stuffed full of twigs and egg sacs (that's a stick overflowing out of the entrance hole):


The House Wrens' nest must have been somewhere deep inside all those twigs, because I heard noisy babies eventually, but I was never able to actually see the eggs or chicks. I'm pretty sure the brood has fledged by now, but the adults are still visiting the box (perhaps gearing up for brood #2?).

The Tree Swallows and House Wrens seem to have been fairly amicable next-door neighbors, although the Tree Swallows were a little pushy sometimes (which is probably a good thing, keeping the House Wrens in their place). Here's the male Tree Swallow keeping watch from the top of the House Wrens' box on May 21:

At the same time, the female Tree Swallow gathered bits of grass for their nest; it was strange to see a swallow perched on the ground, but very cool to get to see this lady at work:

The finished Tree Swallow nest was perfectly padded with a variety of feathers. Here are the eggs in their nest on June 13:


And the very next day, the eggs had turned into a batch of tiny, brand new swallows:


I saw the nestlings peering out of the nest box hole today, which means the whole swallow family will probably leave us soon. The female Tree Swallow has gotten especially defensive in the past few days, and she's been dive-bombing me when she sees me in the garden or meadow. I will very much miss having the Tree Swallows as a constant feature in the yard, but I suppose it will be nice to not have a bird occasionally swooping angrily past my head.

Indigo Buntings are likely nesting somewhere around here, because I hear a male singing fairly frequently. Here's a male Indigo Bunting (here to stay, or passing through?) surrounded by apple blossoms on May 18:


On May 20, I was surprised and thrilled to see a female Hooded Warbler adding large dried leaves onto a nest right near the path in our woods:

Here's the leaf-covered nest, set in a low Multiflora Rose bush -- I never did see eggs or other activity in this nest, so I suppose this placement didn't work out, but it was still very cool to see this delicate nest-building process, and to have proof that Hooded Warblers breed in our woods:


Our woods were practically dripping with Veeries this spring! I hear and see these lovely thrushes in our woods every year, but they have seemed to be especially numerous this year, with multiple birds singing and calling nearly constantly. Fantastically, the fallen log that our trail camera was watching happened to be something of a Veery stage in late May: the camera captured multiple videos of a male Veery perched on the log and singing, and two nearly identical videos (on different days) of Veeries mating! Here's a compiled video with (1) a Veery singing, (2) Veeries mating, (3) a very wobbly baby White-tailed Deer and its mom (oops, sorry about the typo in the video), and (4) an Ovenbird (often heard in our woods but rarely seen) walking along the log:

May was a wonderful time for flowers (of course), and here are a few highlights from May 20 and 21. Here's Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra), a new plant for me, whose flowers appeared along our woods path (the later red berries on this plant helped me confirm this ID and distinguish it from White Baneberry, which also grows in our woods):

Here's a nice pair of Jack-in-the-Pulpit flowers:


And a perfect Starflower bloom, lit up by some sunlight:


And I was so happy to see this thriving patch of Foamflower in our front yard:

On June 4, a somewhat tattered but still beautiful female Promethea Moth appeared on our deck:


On the morning of June 8, the Spicebush Swallowtail chrysalis that I kept over the winter in our unheated mudroom turned into a butterfly! I had neglected to give the creature a suitable perch in its enclosure (I know better now), so I provided myself as a perch and kept watch over this new and very damp butterfly while it worked on expanding its wings:

After about 20 minutes, it was looking pristine and perfect. Soon after this next picture was taken, I transferred the butterfly to a sheltered leaf to finish drying off, and it stayed there for a while and then presumably left when it was ready:

 

Also on June 8, the largest Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) I've seen (they're not a very big species) got stuck while trying to fit through the small mesh fence around my garden; I pulled it backward to free it, and then I got to marvel at how soft and docile this lovely creature was:


This Red Eft (a juvenile Red-spotted Newt) was super photogenic in our yard on June 21:


And finally (back to nesting birds again), the Eastern Phoebes are currently well into their second brood in their traditional nesting spot over our front door. I really love having these birds as neighbors, and I'm so glad they decided to nest in this spot again. Here are the eggs in their moss-and-grass nest on June 25:


Here's to a wonderful spring and beginning of summer!

Monday, June 21, 2021

March and April, 2021

Here we are, already on the first day of summer as I write this! Spring is always a busy time, and this year's spring was indeed busy, but it was also wonderful. Unlike last year's chaotic spring (oh, 2020), this year's past few months have been relatively smooth, at least around here. We've had a fairly even transition from snowy frozen winter into warmer weather and rain and sun. And I've been able to wander outside and keep up with a lot of the plants and animals in our yard, meadow, and woods as their populations have grown and shifted. I played a game where I tried to know the name of every plant (native and non-native alike) as it flowered on our property this spring, and I made it all the way to the end of May before I had to admit defeat! (Maybe next year I'll make it even further.)

I have a bunch of sights to share from the past few months. This post will cover only the months of March and April (May and June will come later). It's time to go back to snowy days!

We must have had a big boom in our population of Meadow Voles over the winter, because the melting snow in March revealed lots of these rodents' nests in the meadow (and later, extensive tunnels across the ground, damaged plants, etc.). Here's one of the Meadow Vole nests and its perfect melted circle in the snow on March 11:

Big flocks of migrating Snow Geese and Canada Geese crossed the sky -- heading North -- fairly frequently in March. This flock of Snow Geese passed overhead on March 9:


Also on March 9, I saw this Red-tailed Hawk with what looked like a very full crop (I guess somebody found a big meal):
 

On March 21, I was surprised to see a Pileated Woodpecker clinging to our little suet feeder! I'd never seen one of these big birds at our feeders before, and I guess this setup doesn't look super comfortable:

April 11 was a big amphibian night (it was rainy and warm), and we saw Spotted Salamanders and Red-backed Salamanders galore (but no good pictures of those awesome amphibians), plus a couple of big Pickerel Frogs that I didn't recognize at first because I'd never seen them during breeding season before:

Lots of Spring Peepers were also out and about on the night of April 11, including this little peeper who perched on our doormat:


And this peeper who posed nicely on the blue background of our front door:


This was a great spring for flowers! Here are several pristine Bloodroot flowers in our front yard on April 14:


And female Spicebush flowers on the same day and only a few feet away:


Here's American Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum), also on April 14, and a totally new plant for me. These flowers are no more than tiny rings of orange dots, and I only thought to look closely at these plants in the pond in our woods after I read about these flowers in another blog (thanks, Saratoga Woods and Waterways!):


I found this next flower in the protected public land across the street from our house (which I've learned is especially rich in spring wildflowers!), rather than on our property. But I was so thrilled to see these Sharp-lobed Hepatica flowers, which I haven't seen up close in many years! Here's one of these beautiful purple flowers on April 19:

This patch of the woods had lots of white hepatica flowers, too, and I thought these were just as beautiful as the purple ones:


Back in our woods, I was super excited to find our first Red Trillium blossoms (after noticing what I thought looked like trillium leaves in previous years), right next to the path. This picture is from a rainy April 29:


To round out a few more April sightings, here's a very handsome White-throated Sparrow on April 19:


And here's a quite early Garter Snake (also on April 19) who sat perfectly still on the forest floor while I pulled up an invasive honeysuckle bush nearby (notice the large red Velvet Mite on the right as well):

A Common Raven stopped by several times to pull chunks off of a road-killed Raccoon across the street from our house, so we had front row seats for its shopping trips (perhaps it was feeding a family nearby?). Here's the raven visiting on April 22 (yes, that's snow):


Throughout March and April, our trail camera let us see some goings-on in the woods. Here's a compilation of a few video highlights from those months:

  1. A Raccoon feeling for critters in the small pond in our woods.
  2. Two Virginia Opossums walking together.... I've never seen two opossums at the same time before, so I wonder whether there might have been some thoughts of mating.
  3. For a few days in April, I happened to set up the trail camera in what turned out to be a White-tailed Deer's bedroom, and I ended up with many, many videos of deer sitting around and chewing. Here's one of those videos.
  4. Also from the deer-bedroom set, there's this video of the sleepy deer standing up, walking next to the camera, and audibly yawning. I think it's really cool to get to hear a deer's yawn.
  5. At the fallen-log spot that was so productive last summer, a Long-tailed Weasel.
  6. A beautiful Gray Fox.

 

And that's March and April! May and June are up next!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Goodbye Winter!

OK, I'm being a little optimistic here. We still have a substantial layer of snow covering the ground (which has been the case for at least the past two months), but that snow is getting slushy, and we're starting to get the year's first well-above-freezing temperatures. The 50 and 60 degree F temperatures predicted this week seem practically impossible after months of frozen landscapes, but here we are!

Before the winter's accumulated snow melts away, and before spring really starts to peek in, I'll say goodbye to deep winter by sharing some sights from these first frozen months of 2021.

The cold weather made for some really beautiful and interesting landscapes this winter. On January 8, a layer of frost appeared only on the topmost portion of the ridge visible from our house, as if deposited by low clouds:


On February 26, some combination of melt, freeze, fresh snow, and winds produced these intricate lines across the surface of our meadow:


In our woods and meadow, winter plants have made for similarly stark and interesting views. I'm always struck by these Black Cherry trees (wrapped in Virginia Creeper vines) that grow on the edge of our woods, and on this January 22 afternoon, it seemed to me that the gray winter sky was a river between these trees' reaching branches:


These seedheads of Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) are one of the few soft things in this landscape, and they were lit up by a rare bit of sunlight on January 9:

We've been happy to see our familiar animal neighbors this winter -- and some surprising visitors, too! We've kept our feeders well stocked with sunflower and niger seeds and suet, and the birds have certainly made good use of our offerings! Here's an American Goldfinch on January 9 (with blue sky!):


This handsome House Finch was checking out the snowy roof just outside one of our windows on January 22:


I love seeing Blue Jays add their fancy costumes to otherwise bare winter scenery (this picture is also from January 22):


When the snow got deeper, the Red Squirrels started making tunnels to get to the feeders. Here's one of these industrious creatures popping out of its tunnel on January 29:


This flock of Mourning Doves spent some time resting in one of our trees on February 5:


On February 22, I watched our three most common woodpeckers -- one individual of each species -- cling motionless to the branches of an apple tree near our house while a bitterly cold wind and snow blew in. The three woodpeckers were each hunkered down on the same side of their given branch, getting some protection from the wind. Here's the Downy Woodpecker (a male):


The larger Hairy Woodpecker (a female):


And the Red-bellied Woodpecker (a female):

 

This winter has brought two species of birds to our yard that have been rare visitors to our property in past years, but this year they've become regulars! Red-breasted Nuthatches are not especially uncommon in this general geographic area, but I'd only seen one of these birds in our yard once before, in April 2018.... But then this winter I've seen one or two Red-breasted Nuthatches every week since mid-November. I love these dainty little birds! They work over trees in our woods, and more recently they've been snatching sunflower seeds from our feeders. None of these birds has given me a great opportunity for a picture, so here's the best I've been able to manage (on February 19):


And then there's Common Redpolls! Again, I'd only seen one of these birds in our yard once before, in December 2018, but -- incredibly -- we've had up to three Common Redpolls at once visiting our feeders every week since early February! Here's one of these fancy northern finches on February 18:


The birds are starting to gear up for spring. Male Northern Cardinals started to sing from the tops of trees back in February, and Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Dark-eyed Juncos have since joined in. Here's a cardinal taking the stage to sing on March 3:


With the warm temperatures this week, it's going to be hard to keep me inside! I love each season, and I'm ready for the change -- goodbye, winter!