Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tales From The Crystal Desert

This winter the nature preserve resembles an Arctic wilderness
Our region of the country has been experienced a prolonged deep freeze.The landscape itself is like an Arctic wilderness, complete with howling winds and blowing snow. I haven't seen any Caribou yet, but I expect to any day now!  Recent blizzards have created plenty of interesting drifts and other icy structures. Of course, the profound cold has presented a great challenge to our wildlife. During this most recent Arctic blast many animals have stayed holed-up in tree cavities and under layers of insulating snow. In fact only a few non-bird species are coming out with any regularity. As we expect, all of the birds have remained active - each trying their best to get enough sustenance to keep their high metabolisms going. Despite the below-zero temperatures, signs of impending spring are on the increase - primarily in the form of woodpecker drumming and cardinal song. I know it's hard to believe, but within the next 2 weeks our blackbird flocks will be returning from the south!
Don't get up on my account! - this is one doe that prefers to stay in bed this morning
A stellar nursery? No, these are elongated crystals forming on top of a frozen stream
As usual, the extreme cold is responsible for creating many fascinating ice sculptures and crystal patterns. Recent strong winds have also produced dunes and some remarkably abstract shapes and forms. Here are a few samples of what is being seen:
Feather-like crystals grow on top of the beaver pond
Portions of the beaver pond looked like a stain-glass representation of a nebula
A close examination of the stream ice reveals long crystals tightly enmeshed
Extremely feathery crystals formed all around the entrance of this small snow cave
More deer waking up from their snow beds
A wind swept reforestation field
Looking more like a sandy beach then any field that we know
The snow was acting just like sand
What doesn't translate well into these pictures is the intense sparkling of the countless ice crystals
Once again, this "desert" landscape was gleaming with countless crystals 
A "crow angel"  records the lift off of a crow from the snow covered surface of a pond 
More amazing wind-created patterns
Solidified turbulence is on display in these drifts that  fold their way around forest trees
Snow behaving more like drapes than drifts
An anomalous shape created by snow and wind - This one resembles a mink swimming in water
This wind/snow sculpture looks like a school of minnows breaking the "water's" surface
Ice pillars appear to hold up the surface ice of a pond that has since been drained off

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Some Interesting Happenings in January

A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk takes refuge in the horse barn
For over 2 weeks in January a juvenile male Sharp-shinned Hawk took refuge in the main horse barn at Spring Farm. Even though he had plenty of opportunities to leave though the main door, he opted instead to remain among the rafters, availing himself of relative warmth, and most importantly, taking advantage of a reliable source of food.  Sharing the living space in the barn were lots of potential prey species including House Sparrows and Pigeons. So really, why would he want to leave? Interestingly, those birds didn't seem to take notice of the Sharp-shin unless he was engaging in a pursuit flight. The sparrows and especially the Pigeons would sometimes even be seen perching quite close to him. They failed to recognize the lion in their midst.
A Carolina Wren frequented the bird feeders though  all of January
Look out! Incoming Titmouse!
An overwintering "Tundrius" Peregrine Falcon in the small village of Clinton
In more raptor news; The Village of Clinton had its very own Peregrine Falcon for over 3 weeks. This overwintering bird was an juvenile Tundrius race of the Peregrine also known as the "Tundra Peregrine". They breed in the far north and  are known to spend the winter further north than the eastern Peregrines we are used to. It was hard to believe that  anything  could interest a Peregrine in Clinton's little "downtown" area, where prey is not that common and very few buildings stand over 4 stories high.
This  immature female Tundra Peregrine  is definitely not one of the Utica falcons
In the cold final days of January, some male cardinals began singing
The female Northern Cardinal is not as showy as her mate, but she's every bit as beautiful
The Swamp White Oaks in the reforestation fields continue to retain their dead leaves

Roots from a not-so-close by Yellow Birch stretch over land and seem to lasso this stump

The decaying body of a long-dead mature tree becomes like a nursery in the swamp - sprouting trees and growing mosses
Trees of 2 species growing together - An American Basswood and an American Beech
An Eastern Hop Hornbeam grows together with an apple tree
The trail camera catches a Gray Fox in the act and on the prowl
The Ermine (Or Short-tailed Weasel) has been leaving footprints everywhere. This one was finally captured by the trail cam
Yesterday a fisher strolled through much of the property and left its large footprints over nearly-half of our trails.
In the woods it's not hard to find Deer beds - Note how the animal's body warmth melted the snow at the center of these beds

A deer kicked up some greens in this place - mostly grass and a few Christmas Ferns
Early in the new year I found one of our festive White Pines holding this balloon - No champagne bottles were found
Another one down from the skies! Natalie is holding up a downed weather balloon!!