Sunday, January 26, 2014

An Exploration of the Nature Preserve's Evergreens

Over the last 14 years we've planted many evergreens in the nature preserve's reforestation fields. Most of these native species create important year-round habitat for birds and other wildlife. 
Our White Spruce Trees are loaded with pine cones this winter.
White Spruce has blue-green needles which are fairly sharp and about 3/4 " long
Spruce cones are very popular with crossbills
Norway Spruce are not native but many birds find them to be useful habitat
Norway Spruce have drooping branchlets and needles that appear dark green
Balsam Fir has relatively soft,  fairly long needles which are light-colored beneath
Eastern Hemlock is the most common naturally occurring evergreen in our region
The Eastern Hemlock has very small cones - only 5/8 " to 1" long
The underside of the Eastern Hemlock's needles are whitish
Hemlocks are favored trees of owls like this Barred Owl
The White Cedar (Arbor Vitae) has flat, branching - almost fern-like leaves
White Cedar produces very small and brittle bell-like cones
Young Red Cedars grow in an old meadow
Red Cedar has needle-like leaves - It is a Juniper and is not related to White Cedar
Dwarf Juniper appears flat and pillow-like in our old meadows
The  sharp 3-sided needles of this Juniper are whitish on the top 
Non-native Scotch Pine can have very orange bark - particularly on its branches
The needles of the Scotch Pine grow in bundles of 2 and appear twisted
The pine cones of the Scotch Pine are up to 2.5" long
The cones of the Pitch Pine are up to 3" long - they can remain on the tree for years
Pitch Pine needles come in bundles of 3
The remains of a hornets nest still hang in this Pitch Pine
The Red Pine
The cones of a Red Pine are up to 2.5 inches long - Needles are in pairs
White Pines offer some protection from the elements for wildlife
Recently used beds of White-tailed Deer found beneath the White Pines
White Pine needles come in bundles of 5
The Porcupine favors feeding on needles from Hemlock and White Pine
The Tamarack sheds its needles in the fall
Tamarack branches can be covered with small cones

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Robins in Winter and Some Other Random Winter Bird Life

This morning at the nature preserve I was greeted with a flock of over 100 American Robins. They were for the most part working their way through a grove of European Buckthorn Trees and stripping branches of their dark berries. People always seem to be surprised by the fact that Robins will spend the winter this far north, but it's no new phenomenon. A look back at our own region's Christmas Bird Count records reveals that at least a few Robins were found on virtually ever count going back for its entire 40 year history. "But aren't Robins supposed to be eating earth worms? How could they obtain them when the ground is frozen?" These are perennial questions. Robins switch to eating primarily fruit in the winter. If their is a mid-winter thaw, they may just try their luck hunting for worms again, but they are well suited to continue an all fruit diet for an extended period of time.
Robins and starlings are often seen feeding on berries together 

Over 250 American Crows crowded the preserve's feeding stations
White-throated Sparrows are fairy numerous this winter
This Red-breasted Nuthatch is seen everyday at one feeder area in the pines
Pitch Pines in one of the reforestation fields
Female Northern Cardinal
Unlike last winter, this winter the tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets are common
Song Sparrows are being seen at feeders and at the beaver pond area
On average one predatory Sharp-shinned Hawk is seen each day

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Streams Become a Gallery of Ice

Last week the weather provided us with a roller-coaster ride of temperatures and conditions. From 50 degrees F. to below zero and then back up to near 50 by the end of the week. The effect on the nature preserve's streams were to first swell them with snow melt and rain and then to freeze them nearly solid - only to once again melt them completely. During the deep freeze, the streams, which were already running high, swelled even further out of their banks as they transformed into ice. Though the ice was bulging, the levels of the running water dropped substantially and thus created caverns and other very interesting ice structures. Frozen waterfalls are always a favorite.

Some places along the stream banks also resembled frozen waterfalls 
This waterfall beneath an old beaver dam was still flowing in a big way

In some places the stream was running over a foot below the surface ice layer

Constellations of star-like ice crystals formed on the surface of the frozen stream

Unusual looking ice structures connected the stream to stream-side vegetation

In some places the stream appeared to be frozen solid

In some streams cloud-like formations of crystals formed between layers of ice