Monday, November 28, 2011

A Nuthatch with a Treat

Seen in the Red Cedar outside my office window yesterday afternoon:

Mmm, enjoy your snack, little White-breasted Nuthatch!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Skunk Cabbage Buds

In my recent walks in the woods, I've noticed something that I'd never noticed before, at least not at this time of year:

Skunk Cabbage buds! I always think of these plants as a sign of spring, but as it turns out, the cone-shaped buds form in the fall and then overwinter under the snow, ready to unfurl into dark purple/brown flowers and bright green leaves when the weather starts getting warmer again. Who knew!

These stout buds make me think of some creature trying to claw its way out of the earth:

How cool to see such clear signs of growth, right when everything else seems to be dead or resting. I'll add that to the list of reasons (along with "generates its own heat") why Skunk Cabbages are such fun plants.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mouse Relocation

Last winter, Paul and I had our first experience with a mouse in our apartment. We never actually saw the thing, but someone was clearly chowing down on the food in our cabinets and leaving little droppings everywhere -- not really something we wanted happening in our house. We decided, eventually, that we didn't want to kill the creature, but we did need it removed -- besides the destruction of our food, mice can carry diseases dangerous to humans, which is a little scary -- so we settled on a humane mouse trap that came highly recommended to us*, prepared our bait, and waited for the little monster to fall for it.

The next morning, we heard scurrying sounds coming from the trap and were almost afraid to look, because we didn't want to see the dirty, grimy creature that we imagined would be inside. But we did look, and it wasn't a monster, but a little puffball with big round eyes and ears, a rusty red back and shining white belly, and as soon as we saw it both Paul and I immediately exclaimed: "Awwww!"

The little mouse turned out to be a White-footed Mouse**, which is a native species, and not the introduced (European) House Mouse that most frequently causes problems in human homes. We dubbed our new friend "Cracker", and released him/her in a park a few minutes drive away.

So now that we are experienced mouse relocators, we were all ready to deal with the little house guest that made its presence known in our cupboard last night. Again, we set our trap, and were greeted this morning by another adorable White-footed Mouse face. Paul had a hard time letting this one go (they really are cute, and this one seemed curious and friendly), but we drove "Cracker II" out to the woods and gave him/her a chance at a new life -- there won't be any crunchy granola bars out there, but there also (hopefully) won't be poisons or baited death traps, so maybe it's a good trade.

Cracker II paused for a picture before bounding off, with astonishingly high leaps, over the dry leaves and into the woods:

Goodbye, little fellow, and good luck!

Two mice in two years doesn't seem too bad, so we're just hoping that we don't start to see an increase in numbers. From what I've read, White-footed Mice don't tend to nest in people's homes, so maybe we'll be OK. You're welcome to keep living, pretty little creatures, we just don't want you in our pantry. :)

*If anyone's curious, the trap we use is the Smart Mouse Trap, and it's worked perfectly right away, both times we've put it out.
**It's also possible that this could be a Deer Mouse, which looks almost exactly the same as the White-footed Mouse. However, most of the sources I've seen don't extend the Deer Mouse's range into Southern Connecticut, so White-footed Mouse is my best guess.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Pine Barrens Bog

One big perk of visiting Paul's family (in addition to seeing everyone, of course) is that I sometimes get the chance to explore the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a truly strange and interesting place (and very different from the New England forests I'm used to). Even better, I get my own personal tour guide in Paul's dad, who is always willing to share his great knowledge about the wildlife and history of the area. So this past weekend, when we made our way into the wild lands of South Jersey to join everyone for an early Thanksgiving, I got to go on another adventure. :)

This time, Paul's dad took me to Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest, which was the name that still appeared on the signs and map I saw there). It's quite a big piece of land, as Google Maps tells me, encompassing areas that -- once upon a time, a century or so ago -- held industries and homes, but are now mainly forest. We spent most of our time driving around what was once a productive cranberry farm. The bogs are still there, as are the cranberries, but the place has become a little more wild in the intervening years:

I love the purple hue on those cranberry leaves, which make up most of the bog in the above picture, and the berries themselves are so festive:

We saw a few people wandering through the bogs, gathering the bright red berries into plastic bags. I munched on a berry out of curiosity, and it really wasn't as sour as I was expecting -- perhaps I picked a particularly ripe one. :)

There were a few other treats to be found on our adventure as well. This male Eastern Bluebird, along with his girlfriend, were hanging out with a flock of goldfinches in the trees next to the bog:

And this juvenile Northern Water Snake was sunning itself right in the middle of the sandy road:

Isn't it a little late in the season for you to be out, little creature? Not only was this snake much smaller than the others of its species that I usually see (it was about the size of a small Garter Snake), but its banded pattern was much clearer and brighter, too -- very pretty:

But that was nothing compared to the fantastically gorgeous and intricate pattern on its belly:

I've certainly never seen a Northern Water Snake from this angle before -- they're usually too big and imposing to try to pick up -- and it was quite a pleasant discovery! In the end, we encouraged the little snake to find a less hazardous place to bask, and we all moved on our way.

I think another trip to this bog in the spring may be in order, if the timing works out -- I suspect there will be many interesting plants and animals to see in a more active season in this place!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Still Alive

So we've had below-freezing temperatures, and even a few inches of snow already (it's all gone by now) -- you'd think the insects around here would mostly be either asleep or dead. Yet in yesterday's warm, sunny weather, there were still a few dragonflies out and about:

I'm pretty sure this is an Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) -- a very appropriate name if that's indeed what this little creature is -- one of the last dragonflies to still be active before winter. I just love all the red, and I think the dragonfly and its perch are very pretty back-lit as well:

Mmm, fall. Here are some more assorted sights from my walk in Naugatuck State Forest yesterday afternoon:

A trio of Black-capped Chickadees preening and chirping in a bare-branched thicket. They let me come quite close to their tree without seeming to mind at all, really.

An old (paper-light, empty) cocoon dangling from a branch. I'm not entirely sure what used to live in here, but it looks like it might have been something big.... Does anyone know?

A mysterious whirlpool in a flowing stream.

Late afternoon light over the lake. Of course I didn't have my wide angle lens with me, so this is a composite of several images. (I would've kept adding shots for a nice big panorama, but my camera got too variable with its colors after this.)

I'm so glad I took advantage of the temporary warm weather to go for a walk in the woods!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Early Snow at Lighthouse Point Park

What a week it's been! My surprise birthday snow, while awesome and beautiful, knocked out the power in much of Connecticut (and elsewhere), and our entire town lost electricity. Our apartment finally got up and running again only yesterday, after a light- and heat-less three days. (!)

On Sunday morning, though, after the storm had passed through and before our power went away, we left bright and early for Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, unaware of the adventures to come in the next few days. Paul was running in a Halloween-themed 5K in the park, and I figured I would take the opportunity to look around and explore a little. :)

As it turns out, it's quite a nice place! Various signs informed me that this is an Important Bird Area (says the National Audubon Society), and a good place for watching migrating hawks -- there were a few scattered hawks flying low overhead while I was there, but the bulk of the migrants have already made their journey, I would think. Plus, the beach is always a fun place to visit, and this one is particularly picturesque, made even prettier on Sunday with a dusting of snow:

There were quite a few cool birds flying around -- or running, in the case of this Killdeer, which used its long legs to keep a good distance from me:

A few Savannah Sparrows were flitting among the smaller trees. This is a new bird for me, and I just love this one's fancy yellow eyeshadow:

And I got to hang out with a small flock of American Pipits, another new bird for me:

These little guys were really cool, climbing over rocks and bobbing their tails constantly. I don't think I'd ever heard of them before a few months ago, either. Plus, they were hanging around near the path, so I could watch the birds and also keep an eye on the race:

It was a fine trip in all -- Paul got a new best personal time on his race, and I got to see some fun new creatures. :)