Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Things Left Behind

As we get deeper into November and head toward winter, there are still plenty of animals hanging around our yard (feisty Red Squirrels, noisy Blue Jays, flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and House Finches that come through...). But when I've been walking on our property recently, I keep noticing the signs of creatures no longer here; some of these animals passed through only days ago, while some of these animals have been gone for a long, long time.

Bald-faced Hornets built a large and beautiful nest at the base of some old blueberry bushes in our yard over the summer. I gave these creatures a wide berth when they were active, but now that the hornets are gone, I can safely admire their construction up close:

In the time since I took the above picture (about a week ago), another creature made its own inspection of the hornet nest, digging into the nest's side; I wonder whether the creature found anything good to eat inside:

Even with part of the nest damaged, I still got to admire the wasps' exterior work when I visited the nest today. Earlier in the summer, I watched these wasps harvesting bits of wood from our shed's old beams. How amazing that the wasps turned those mouthfuls of wood pulp into these fantastic designs:

There's been a lot of excavation here recently (the geothermal loop field is fully laid out and buried, and as of tonight, we have heat!), and about 1/3 of our meadow is currently a big mud field. This change apparently hasn't bothered our local White-tailed Deer, whose footprints throughout the meadow reassure us that they're still regularly passing through, even if we haven't seen the deer themselves in a while:

The excavation has also turned up some amazingly interesting things that were hidden underground. As it turns out, we've got a lot of rocks on and in our property, and a small portion of those rocks contain fossils. The fossils in this area of New York are from the Devonian period, somewhere around 400-350 million years ago.... As far as I'm concerned, finding even the small delicate cast of a 400-million-year-old brachiopod -- a marine creature, right here in our yard -- is pretty amazing:

Some of the rocks we've found here are extra interesting. This rock has a couple of small, regular-looking brachiopod fossils on one side:

While the other side looks to be a thick conglomeration of fossilized material, like a slice right out of a marine mud bed (and this looked so much like mud that I tried to clean it off, but no, it's rock):

The best fossil rock so far is a big round thing (somewhere between 1 and 2 feet across, I forgot to measure it) with large brachiopod fossils all over. From one angle, the fossils are more or less recognizable as shells, although larger than any I've seen yet on this property:

From another side, though, the rock is covered with cross-sections of brachiopod casts, making me think of some interesting and unknown calligraphy, or that a giant made indentations with its fingernails all over the rock's surface:

What fascinating things animals leave behind!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fall is Turning to Winter, and We Have Basement Tenants

Peak fall foliage made the hillsides around our house look really spectacular. Here's a panorama from October 26 (click to make it bigger), with sunlight and all sorts of colors under a cloudy sky:

Now it's a couple of weeks later, and the color has gone to mostly brown and gray. And we had our first persistent snow today -- just a few flurries, but it's bitterly cold, and the white flakes stuck. Here's our first taste of winter at the new house!

It's really cold outside (high in the 20s today, low around 18 degrees F tonight), and unfortunately it's also cold inside. We're keeping the house at a manageable but not-quite-comfortable temperature with a few space heaters while we wait for a delayed geothermal project to finish up. (The project is very exciting, but it means that half of the meadow currently looks like a field of dirt piles -- dressed up at least in snow in the above picture. And also, yes, it's cold.)

So the house is chilly, but it's still significantly warmer than the outside temperature. And this afternoon while poking around in a back corner of the basement I found two tenants who have apparently decided to spend the winter indoors with us:

A Woolly Bear and -- my goodness -- a Spotted Salamander are surprising additions to the household, but I'm happy to let them hibernate here. I'll keep an eye on this corner over the next few months to see how these two fare. I hope these creatures survive the winter and make it back outside when spring returns!

Update: After posting this, I went back into the basement and saw the sweetest little salamander face looking out of its hole. Happy hunting tonight, little creature!