Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vole Snow Palace

It's super cold and windy in Connecticut right now, but we had some lovely light snow yesterday, and today was sunny and clear, and I just couldn't stay inside any longer. So I bundled up (so many layers!) and paid a quick visit to Naugatuck State Forest this morning. I can't believe I've been away from this place for so long. The woods and lakes were wonderful, and aside from an early-morning ice fisherman, I was the only person there.

(The panorama option on my iPhone is cool, but the result looks so weird to me. Those paths to the left and right are a straight line in real life.)

The woods were quiet, but there were signs of activity all over. Deer and squirrel prints crossed the people-paths, and I saw these long vole trails pretty much everywhere I walked, left by the little creatures burrowing between snow and ground on their search for food:

And then, while I was admiring a particularly expansive network of vole trails right in the middle of the path, I heard little scritching sounds and saw the snow move.... And there was a vole right there, just burrowing around and nibbling on things and chattering on to him/herself! I've never come across a live vole before, and I have to say, I was totally enchanted by this creature. Here's a video of this little guy. (Listen for the chittering sounds at the end!) 

I'm assuming this is a Woodland Vole (Microtus pinetorum) because these woods are the right habitat for this species, but glimpses of a dark wriggly body aren't exactly enough for a definite ID. Whatever the exact species, I can't believe how much this little prey animal just didn't care that I was standing right there, and it certainly wasn't trying to hide itself. I really could have just reached out and plucked it out of the snow. (And if I were an owl or a fox, I definitely would have.)

I used up all the space on my phone with that last video, but the little creature was still running around right at my feet, so I used up the last of my camera's battery (oops, I forgot to charge it!) to get one more quick video:


And then all my technology was used up, and I realized I was getting pretty cold, so I left the little vole to its work. What a cool surprise meeting! Yay, animals and snow. :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Beautiful Starlings??

On Friday, with a fresh (thick) layer of snow on the ground and the wind howling, a flock of nearly 100 European Starlings blew into our yard and set to work clearing out the last of the Red Cedar cones in our trees (a bunch of American Robins helped out, too):

And as I looked at these raucous (invasive) birds eating all the food I'd rather save for the little Yellow-rumped Warbler who's been hanging around (and others), my world turned upside down a little, because these birds were beautiful. How is this a starling?

I've had mini-epiphanies about starlings before, but something about the light and these birds' fresh feathers must have made for some sort of ideal combination, because I couldn't stop looking at these birds. Seriously, how amazing are these feathers?

Awesome patterns from every angle:

And of course there was THIS guy, fancier with purple/blue/green iridescence even than the other starlings in the flock:

What's going on??

Wow, I'm actually feeling a bit of sensory overload looking at these birds. Here's a classically handsome robin from the same photo-shoot as a palate cleanser:

Ah, that's better. Lovely robin on a windy day:

In reading some more about starlings, I've learned that they keep these feathers into the summer, but the white tips wear down so that these birds end up with the plain glossy black outfits that I'm more used to seeing. So that's pretty cool.

Well, I've definitely gained a new appreciation for starlings. I still wish they hadn't eaten all the Red Cedar cones, but yes, I'll now admit that they are very pretty birds.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Highlighter-bellied Sapsucker

In case you've been wondering where Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers get their name, this young male outside our window today has been kind enough to demonstrate:

This guy has been hanging around (ha ha) for a month or so now and he has just the most outrageously yellow underparts. At least, they're outrageous compared to all the other Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers I've seen, who -- as far as I could tell -- weren't really yellow at all. But now this fellow keeps dangling from our Red Cedar tree, eating berries and flashing us, and I keep thinking someone has colored his feathers with a highlighter. It's pretty cool!

Flash away, bird!