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!