Sunday, January 22, 2017

Colorful Twigs and Newts (and a Bonus Owl)

In my last post, I mentioned that our snow had melted and temperatures had gotten unusually warm. Well, here we are, 10 days later, and there still hasn't been any snow! OK, patches of old snow and ice are still hiding out in places, but it's gotten distinctly spring-like out there, all muddy and wet. And on top of that, this weekend was beautifully sunny, with temperatures in the 50s; perfect sweatshirt weather, really. So while I prefer my January to be suitably crisp and white (I haven't yet been able to bring out my snowshoes this winter), I just had to get outside yesterday afternoon and again today to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. As usual, the nearby Roy H. Park Preserve turned out to be a great place for a walk.

Most of the landscape is uniformly brown, but I kept noticing a couple different plants with brightly colored branches. Red Osier Dogwoods definitely stood out (and almost every twig's tip had been clipped off by deer):

Another area of the preserve was dotted with these shrubs whose branches faded from green at the base to orange/red at the top:

I've narrowed this plant down (I think) to some sort of willow, but I haven't been able to get further than that. Native or introduced? I have no idea! But I like how these plants add subtle swathes of color to the otherwise flat brown wetlands:

And I love the colors on this twig, growing out of the bank and set off by the water:

I saw lots of closed buds on plants, but these Quaking Aspen buds in another area of the preserve were actually starting to open, showing the tips of fuzzy gray catkins:

I'm still learning about Quaking Aspen (I didn't know until today that this tree's emerging flowers look a bit like Pussy Willows, for instance), but this seems awful early to start coming out of dormancy. Spring isn't here yet, plant!

Back at the water: I know Red-spotted Newts can stay active underwater throughout the winter, but it was still really cool to see several of these creatures in these ice-free pools. Amphibians in January! Every minute or so, a newt would swim up from the murky bottom of the pool:

Push its wonderful face past the surface of the water:

Pause just long enough that I could admire all that bright yellow on this tiny spotted creature:

And then dive back down:

Several newts were making these quick trips to the surface. Perhaps they were grabbing a breath of air? Or a meal? (I didn't see anything on the water's surface, but for all I know there may have been something tiny and delicious there.) Whatever the reason, I'm certainly happy I got to see these lovely creatures.

On the way home yesterday, I also stopped by our neighbor the Eastern Screech-Owl's tree to check in on this guy/girl. What a puffy owl, filling its entire hole! (And with its little ear-tufts sticking out.) I guess that must be a comfortable place to snooze in the sun:

:D Owl!

So sun and warmth is nice for a bit, but where's my January weather?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Few Winter Birds at the Park Preserve

It was downright warm yesterday (nearly 50 degrees) and I just couldn't pass up the chance to walk outside without needing to bundle up and bury my face against the cold. So I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve, which always seems to have something new going on despite being a rather small park. We'd had a couple inches of snow the day before, followed by a layer of rain/sleet, making the snow-covered ground weirdly sleek and shiny:

I had a lot of fun crunching through ice-encrusted snow, and a few cool creatures showed up as well. A male Belted Kingfisher came speeding over the marshy area, calling more loudly and constantly than I think I've ever heard from a kingfisher, and he kept his tail cocked up whenever he landed:

This was one punky bird! Say it, loud kingfisher:

A Swamp Sparrow did a good job of staying mostly hidden among clumps of dried vegetation:

And I was very happy to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch working through the trees at the forest's edge; I love these little guys:

Red-breasted indeed!

I'm glad I had this snowy walk yesterday while I could, because now after another day of warm temperatures -- and plenty of rain -- the snow is all gone. It looks like the warm-ish weather will stick around for the next week or so, but winter certainly isn't over yet. I'm sure we'll have snow again before too long!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Icy Taughannock Falls

One of the star waterfalls in this area is a 215-foot drop in Taughannock Falls State Park. This waterfall is -- if you can believe it -- the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, even taller (by 33 feet) than Niagara Falls. I first saw Taughannock Falls this past summer (soon after we moved to the area), but with the drought conditions at the time, the waterfall was distinctly trickle-like and not particularly impressive. Things change, though, and when we made our second visit to Taughannock this past Saturday morning, we found a great deal of falling water surrounded by a basin of ice:

What a sight! I really wish I could've gotten some better indications of scale in that picture, but you'll just have to trust me, it's a tall waterfall. A couple of overlooks along the north rim trail gave us various perspectives:

I love that icy green color of the water at the base of the falls. And the crazily intricate ice formations on the walls were definitely worth a closer look (hooray for zoom lenses):

Here's a video of the waterfall (please pardon the skinny view):

I suspected this would be true and now I know for sure: tall waterfalls in winter are amazing!

Friday, January 6, 2017

There's a Lake Here!

I haven't done much exploring yet around Cayuga Lake, even though Ithaca is right at the southern edge of this finger lake, and I see the lake just about every day from my hilltop workplace. It's not the Long Island Sound, or Lake Erie, or heck, the Pacific Ocean, but it's still really nice to be living near a sizeable body of water, and Cayuga Lake is certainly beautiful.

So yesterday afternoon, I bundled up (it was around 20 degrees F and windy) and went for a walk in Stewart Park, where some creeks and waterways meet the lake's southern shore. Strange crackling sounds were coming from the ice at the water's edge, and a few hundred ducks and geese were hanging out on this part of the lake, but otherwise the place was quite still:

A big flock of Canada Geese was out on the water/ice, with more geese coming in for a landing all the time:

I was surprised to see that several geese in this group were banded; but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, given how many ornithologists there are in this area:

Most of the ducks on the lake were Mallards, but a couple of fancy male Northern Pintails were mixed in there as well:

And a small group of Common Mergansers were cruising away from the lake on the creek:

A Belted Kingfisher was keeping watch over this waterway as well:

Back on land, a Downy Woodpecker was exploring the craggy trunks of some big trees in the park's open space:

I expect to see woodpeckers on tree trunks, of course, but the woodpecker wasn't the only bird working over these trees:

A flock of seven or so Eastern Bluebirds (mostly brightly colored males, it seemed) were moving from tree to tree, foraging on the lower trunks and around the roots:

I'm used to seeing bluebirds in fields, not out on the bare ground or on trunks like this. But these beautiful creatures must have been finding something good around here:

Hello, lovely girl:

I mean, what is all this? I don't think I'll see so many bluebirds in one frame again any time soon!

There are certainly benefits to living near a big lake!