Saturday, December 31, 2016

End-of-the-Year Woods

This morning, I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve, where it was cold and snowy and so beautiful. We got a new layer of snow last night, and I was the only person leaving tracks in these woods this morning.... What a wonderful thing, being alone in the snowy woods.

But of course there were plenty of other creatures (besides me) in the woods. I startled two deer and a rabbit at various points in my walk, each of which bounded off showing white tails. One deer gave a loud snort before it escaped through the trees; look, there's a deer leaping away back there:

A couple of flocks of Black-capped Chickadees were foraging and chattering. (More and more, I'm growing to love the sound of chickadees at work.) Some of the chickadees were checking out a big tree filled with old apples:

I don't know whether this chickadee was picking at part of the apple itself, or perhaps there were insects hiding at the apple's end, but either way there must have been something delectable here:

And all throughout the woods and fields, there were tracks from various animals moving around, lots of tracks just since the last snowfall (that is, since last night). There were canine tracks (coyote perhaps, or maybe a loose dog), deer of course, squirrel, and tiny dainty tracks I'm guessing were left by a mouse, with its tail dragging in the snow in places:

The big conifers in this preserve looked imposing in the snow:

And a grove of Quaking Aspen was lovely and stark:

A small stream near the beginning of the trail hosted tiny dangling ice sculptures at its edges:

While the gorge cliffs further along the trail made for much grander ice formations (note the tree above the ice for scale):

I'm definitely impressed by these layers and curtains of ice, even though I could only see portions of them through the trees:

At one point along the trail, I peeked over a ledge to see the most beautiful snow-covered valley:

I am so happy that 2016 landed me here in central New York, and I can't think of a better way to end the year than with a walk in these wonderful woods. I'm looking forward to many new adventures in the year to come!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Eastern Screech-Owl

Soon after we moved into our apartment back in July, I got a tip from one of my bird-watching colleagues that an Eastern Screech-Owl is known to sometimes roost in a tree behind a gas station down the road from us. I love owls, and I'd never actually seen a screech-owl before, so I've been careful to bring binoculars and/or camera with me on every trip to get gas these past few months, just in case the owl's there. But its hole has always been empty. Until the Friday before last, that is, when we went to the gas station and I left my distance-viewing gear at home. "Ha ha," I joked, "of course now that I don't have my camera, this is the day the owl will be there." And, of course... it was! Gah! Well, we got to at least glimpse the owl in the twilight that day. And then on a sunny afternoon a couple of days later (December 4), I revisited the gas station with camera and binoculars at hand, and oh happiness, there was the owl. :)

For context, here's the owl's tree, with its cavity facing out over the parking lot:

I've just learned that Eastern Screech-Owls are actually quite adept at living in suburban and even urban-park environments, which never would have occurred to me. Is the reason I haven't seen a screech-owl in all this time because I've been expecting to find them in the woods, rather than in gas station parking lots? Well, now I know! Of course, I probably would have never seen this owl in the first place if I hadn't already known the exact spot to check. This really is some amazing camouflage:

What a beautiful little owl, huddled into the tree, drowsing in the sun:

I love this creature's puffy feathers below its face, and all those different patterns and shades in its costume that make it blend so well with the tree's bark. The owl watched us through slitted eyelids for a bit:

But then it turned its full glare on us and we got the hint: time to go!

Wonderful screech-owl, I hope you stay for a good long while in your cozy winter apartment. It's so awesome to have this little owl as a neighbor!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November Nest

We had our first real snow storm at the beginning of last week! There was a lot of snow and wind, and it was cold, and very beautiful. Unfortunately my old snow boots wore out a while ago -- new ones are on their way now! -- so we mostly just admired the snow from the cozy indoors. And then we went out of town for Thanksgiving, and by the time we got back most of the snow had melted. Even so, I loved seeing patches of snow still on the ground when I visited the Roy H. Park preserve this afternoon. The trees have dropped all their leaves at this point, making everything simply gray and green and brown... but I still think this scenery is lovely:

And spots of color are still hanging around, although they can be a bit hidden. Look at all the holiday-appropriate colors in this collection of strawberry and cinquefoil leaves lining one edge of the boardwalk:

Chickadees and sparrows and nuthatches were foraging all around these fields and woods today, and the bare branches on a lone shrub in the middle of a field revealed a perfect little nest left over from the summer:

The nest was so tightly constructed, and it was lined with what looked like the fluff from some plants' seeds (although this material was a bit sodden with rain). I don't have a lot of experience with bird nests, but this one seems to match the description of an American Goldfinch nest. How cool to think that a little goldfinch family might have had a cozy home in this tree just a few months ago:

Even on a gray, melting-snow day in late November, there are always interesting things to see outside!

Friday, November 18, 2016

All of Fall!

Well! I've been out and about in the past month and a half, and also working hard, and in that time: Fall happened! The weather report is calling for snow this weekend (!), so this seems like the best and last time to share the pictures of fall in Central New York that have been gathering on my computer since my last post. I missed this season deeply during my year in Northern California, so I tried to absorb as much fall as I could in recent weeks. Here are some sights from all of fall!

Way back on October 11, I was at the Roy H. Park Preserve just as the fall foliage was really getting going. I love seeing the trees make these waves of color:

A pair of White Cabbage Butterflies were feeding at New England Aster blossoms (Aster novae-angliae) while also making the next generation of butterflies. Actually, I guess just the one butterfly was feeding while the other was along for the ride. This whole process looks rather ungainly, but I guess it works:

All sorts of interesting fungi were sprouting up in the damp woods. This one log was home to at least three types of fungi, all with such different shapes and textures:

And this strange fungus looked like it was bubbling out of its tree's trunk:

A lovely little Garter Snake sat on the sunny forest floor near the path, waiting for the humans to move on:

A few days later, on October 14, I was back at another part of the Park Preserve, again marveling at the colors on the trees. Yes, we do fall pretty well here. I'll take it!

This was apparently a good week for snakes, because I nearly stepped on a Northern Water Snake who was basking on the path and looking way too much like a scraggly root:

The snake stayed motionless while we walked around it -- it was a chilly morning after all -- and I got to peek at its face through the grass:

In the woods, bright Canada Mayflower berries looked like little clusters of Christmas ornaments:

An almost-as-red dragonfly (one of the late-flying Meadowhawk species, I think) perched nearby, lacy wings against a lacy fallen leaf:

I'm always impressed that some insects are able to survive into the fall, past frosts and increasing cold. Several big grasshoppers were active in the marshy fields, and this one paused long enough on the boardwalk to have its picture taken:

On October 29, I got to walk in Sapsucker Woods, and the place was wonderful as always. The trees in some parts of these woods were bare by this point:

But other areas of the woods were still full and golden:

Witch Hazel blossoms floated over the path. How cool to see yellow leaves and yellow blossoms in the same day:

The view at the big pond was so still and beautiful:

A few Painted Turtles were out sunning, including this fellow with his impressively long claws:

And then, all of a sudden, it was late fall. On November 8, I was back at the Park Preserve, and the place was wholly different:

I have to say, for all the amazing riot of color in early-to-mid fall, I think I might love the muted colors of late fall around here even more... the floating yellows especially (are those birches?) but also the rusted browns and hazy grays and dark conifer greens. Ah, love:

The fields were filled with goldenrods gone to seed, here backlit for extra drama:

Even at this late date, a showy Meadowhawk dragonfly was still cruising around:

I happened to take a picture of almost the same scene at the Park Preserve nearly a month apart, and I love how these sights are both the same and totally different. Here's October 14:

And now, on November 8:

This place is amazing. :)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Wild Turkeys in a Late September Woods

Two weekends ago, on September 24, Paul and I went for a morning walk in Cornell's Sapsucker Woods. I'm starting to really love this place, and this visit held some particularly special moments. First, we finally found the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture that's eluded us on previous visits; this stonework cairn is tucked into the forest alongside a path, and it's lovely and subtle and such a fitting feature in these quiet woods:

A juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker blended into the shaded trunk where it was foraging; a sapsucker in Sapsucker Woods, how appropriate!

Green Frogs peered up at us from a small green-covered pond:

And one frog posed nicely on a dark log:

At one point, we rounded a bend in the path to see big dark shapes up ahead:

We'd wandered into a Wild Turkey parlor, and these birds were understandably wary about our appearance:

But we stayed where we were -- some distance from the birds, although not really very far away -- and after a minute or so, the turkeys started preening. One turkey even laid down right in the middle of the path to preen, settling into a sunbeam:

These turkeys certainly knew we were there -- the front turkey kept an especially close watch on us -- but they seemed willing to share their space with us. Here's a video of these turkeys preening (pardon the noise of an airplane flying overhead):

Eventually, we decided to continue on our way; and as we came closer to them, the turkeys just calmly stood up and ambled off into the woods. Through the whole encounter, I kept thinking how extraordinarily polite these birds were. Thank you, wonderful big creatures, for letting us be with you in your woods for a little while:

So that was awesome. A little further down the path, a flock of hundreds of Common Grackles worked through the forest around us. And past the grackles, I found Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) emerging from the forest floor:

I didn't even know that this plant existed before I saw it. Beechdrops, it turns out, is one of those weird types of leafless plants that gets its nutrients by parasitizing another plant (in this case, American Beech trees). These small flowers on plain branching stems are actually quite lovely up close:

At the end of our walk, a Painted Turtle basked in a sunny pond:

And colorful sprays of goldenrod and aster -- so many colors! -- decorated the path back to the parking lot:

And speaking of colors, in the two weeks since I took these pictures, the landscape here has almost entirely changed. Fall has arrived, and it's wonderful. Hooray for seasons, and woods, and big polite birds.