Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. I made sure to spend some time outside yesterday to mark this event, but the weather was bitterly cold and overcast, perhaps suitably bleak given the day. Much better was today, the day after the solstice, when temperatures got into the 40s (F) and the sky was sunny and clear. From here on out, the light will be slowly returning, and being outside on this sun-filled day felt like a great way to celebrate that fact!

This is the first place I've lived where I've noticed such a vast difference in the sun's height between summer and winter. (And now that I think about it, I suppose this is the farthest north I've lived.) On summer days, the sun reaches almost directly overhead. Now, the sun barely gets above the trees. I took this picture in our meadow at around 12:30 today, and that's maximum sun for this time of year:

The sun lit up these fuzzy Virgin's Bower seedheads at the edge of the meadow:

A Common Raven called for several minutes from the ridge above our house and made a pass over the meadow. Common Ravens aren't actually all that common around here, and I feel very lucky that a pair of these birds seems to be year-round residents at this nearby ridge:

I watched some Black-capped Chickadees foraging among old seedheads on our Tulip Tree:

While a couple of noisy White-breasted Nuthatches worked over one of our old apple trees. Those rusty feathers under this bird's tail are one of my favorite things about White-breasted Nuthatches:

What a handsome bird you are, little nuthatch:

I'm hoping for more of these wonderfully sunny days in the wintry months to come, with the sun a bit higher in the sky each day!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

From Brown to White

The landscape becomes so brown in late November. Although it's a mostly quiet and dormant time of the year, there are still plenty of interesting things to see. On November 25, I wandered in our meadow, admiring the wide variety of textures and shades-of-brown on the plentiful dried plant stems remaining after this year's growth. These arching goldenrod seedheads were especially fluffy and pretty:

And I love the mix of puffball seedheads and curly dried leaves on this aster:

Wider views of the undisturbed part of the meadow (the part that wasn't excavated and reseeded afterward) showed interesting patchworks of dried plants:

Red pedicels on Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) shrubs at the edge of the meadow added some color among all the brown:

A few familiar winter-season birds were out and about as well. This Black-capped Chickadee was busy processing a sunflower seed and didn't seem to mind me standing nearby:

And a fluffy White-breasted Nuthatch worked its way along a tree trunk:

Hey, do you have a seed, too?

November 25th and 26th were relatively warm days, and I was surprised to see several moths -- which turned out to be Fall Cankerworm Moths (Alsophila pometaria) -- both during the day and at night under our porch light:

Here's another one of these moths that ended up in our house for a bit:

And after I saw my first wingless female moth earlier in the year, wouldn't you know it, female Fall Cankerworm Moths are wingless as well. (The moths in the above pictures are males.) Since that was the only species of moth I saw on those warm-weather days, I have to assume that this wingless moth on our porch on November 26 is a female of that species. Nature is so interesting and weird!

And speaking of insects, on November 25 I moved a log against our house's foundation and uncovered a pile of hibernating ladybugs; that's a lot of bugs, but given how many ladybugs we find in and around our house on warm days, I'm not particularly surprised to find this big of a group here:

On December 2, we got our first big snowstorm of the season. And it was a big storm, bringing a layer of ice followed by about a foot of thick, clinging snow overnight, and then more snow throughout the day. Most places around here closed that day -- including my work -- so I had some extra time in which to enjoy this transformation of the landscape into a world of white. The hillside across the valley from our house grew massive white structures (with pine trees somewhere underneath):

Here's a view along one edge of our property, with the old and nearly-collapsing shed surrounded by heavy snow:

The snow was so sticky -- and there was so little wind -- that it gained quite a bit of height even on narrow spots, and formed some interesting shapes. I especially like these fancy hats that developed on the Purple Coneflower seedheads:

Several birds were active throughout the snowy day, including this Northern Cardinal who was munching on Pokeweed berries:

Now that we're in December, I expect to see a lot of white landscapes for the next few months. It's definitely winter now!