Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Just Never Know What You're Gonna Find

Every April, usually around Earth Day, we have our annual Spring Clean-up Day, when staff and volunteers, armed with gloves and large trash bags, scour the parking lots, trails and road for trash. Today was the day, and our lone volunteer and I hit the road, eager to find the castoff stuff of passing cars. Amazingly, we found very little!

The big find of the morning (and of course I had no camera, seeing as how I was picking up trash and didn't think I'd need it) was colonies of busy little bees flying in and out of their nests in the ground. They were small fuzzy bees, and their nests were pencil-sized holes centered in small mounds of sand - very much like anthills. I hunkered down next to them to watch, and our volunteer stood nearby taking it all in. I suspected these were some sort of solitary ground dwelling bee, and as such no threat.

When I came back inside, I hopped online to scour the ether for any information I could find to ID these bees. I believe they are miner or digger bees. The best information I could find was at:

Digger/miner bees are solitary, building single cell nests in loose sandy soil that has little vegetation. Several of these bees may be nesting in the same area. They come out on sunny days (like this morning), foraging for pollen and laying their eggs. They are beneficial pollinators, and they are apparently fairly docile (translation: they don't sting unless highly provoked). If you have them in your yard, you want to keep them around for the benefit of your gardens.

I was going to grab the camera after work and snap a couple shots, but it's clouding over now and is supposed to rain. I'll try to get photos the next sunny day we have that I can escape the office for a few moments.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Potentially Excited

Last Saturday as I was leaving work, I noticed a few bat scats on the pavement in front of the building. Could it be? Is it possible?

Not sure if they were last year's left-overs (if possible after the winter's snows and all that shovelling), or new this spring, I decided to wait and see.

Today I noticed there were more! YES! We have bats!! I took the bat detector out, just in case I could pick anything up, but it really is designed to pick up bat echolocation calls, not their relaxed-at-home chatter, so I wasn't disappointed to get no signals. I may have to come back one evening this week and take a listen!

Remember last year we did a baby bat rescue out front (me climbing a ladder with a box in one hand)? This is the same spot. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus). I wish we had the wherewithal to mist-net them and check their condition, but we don't. None-the-less, it is great to have them back in these uncertain bat survival times.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

At Last!

After yesterday's wildflower extravaganza, I headed out on our trails to see if there was any chance something might be open, and right off the deck, there it was: a Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum), aka: Wake-robin (of Thoreau fame), Birthroot, Red Trillium, Stinking Benjamin.

I also found red maple flowers:

Don't they remind you of fireworks?

And, as I gazed across one of the coves, a whirlwind of yellow dust swirled above the marsh. A veritable pollen tornado. Of course I had to go see what had been the source. This is what I found:

This marshy area is full of buttonbush, so immediately I thought that was it, but buttonbush flowers don't look at all like this, and it's not a male buttonbush flower opening first, because the buttonbush flower we all know and love isn't around until mid-summer, and if those are the female form, then the pollen being released now wouldn't do them any good. [inhale] So, I need to figure this one out. It's a woody-stemmed shrubby thing, alternate branching, thick as thieves in the wetland. And, of course, no leaves yet. Sweet Gale? Could be - has catkins over winter which open into golden-brown staminate (male) flowers. I know there's sweet gale (Myrica gale) in this wetland. Yes, I'm going with sweet gale. Unless there are other suggestions...

The wind is blowing like mad out there - felt quite good (despite the falling debris, branches and even trees). And the dragonflies were getting quite a ride from the gusts. Yes, dragonflies - Common Green Darners (bright blue abdomen, green thorax and head) - Anax junius. This is about a month early for our first dragonfly sightings of the year, but there they were, zooming all over the marsh, even a couple in the mating clasp. I tried to get photos, I really did, but they were too fast and too far away for any of my shots to turn out.

The warblers are back, too - many were in the trees, zipping out to nab insects that were taking advantage of the warm air above the marsh. I have yet to master warbler songs (beyond the obvious beer-beer-beer-beer-beez of the black-throated blue and the zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee of the black-throated green).

Tropical Saratoga

Yesterday I spent part of the morning botanizing with Woodswalker down at Skidmore Woods. It was so hot and humid that it felt like we were in the jungle, and yet the trees were still mostly leafless, and last fall's leaves still crunched underfoot. It is, afterall, still April.

But what a treasure, this pocket of woods! The varieties of flowers...stuff I haven't seen for years, and some things I've never almost leaves one speechless.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) - is this a great-looking flower or what?!? I don't know if ginger is considered a primative plant, but the flower sure strikes me as primative. It reminds me of that enormous tropical flower (as in 2+ feet across) that attracts pollinators with a stench of rotting meat. Wild ginger, however, is a small flower, and while I didn't get my nose right down to it, I did not catch any whiffs of decaying flesh. Now, this is not the ginger whose root you find in the grocery stores, but it certainly was used as much by the native peoples. My ethnobotany book has a whole page of medicinal uses and half a page of food uses for it. For me, I think I will just admire the flower: one-of-a-kind.

Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) - here in Newcomb we get red/purple trillium and painted trillium, but not this lovely white one. According to the literature, this flower starts off white and slowly turns pink as it ages. These were blooming in gentle profusion around the woodland floor. A nice treat!

Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum) - rues have such lovely scalloped/lobed leaves that are easily identified, but check out these splendid flowers! Each of those dangly bits are the stamens, the anther being the fat bit at the end. The stamens dangle like so much fringe, reminding me strongly of a belt my mom had in the '70s.

Amercan Beech (Fagus grandifolia) - While our beeches in Newcomb are still clinging to the past, here in Saratoga the new leaves were juuust starting to erupt. How beautiful they are up close, eh?

Shadbush (Amalanchier sp.) - there are so many varieties of shadbush/serviceberry/shadblow (pick your name) that in college we just lumped them all together as Amalanchier sp. - a good collective name. As you can see, the shad is in full bloom down below. I'll give it another couple weeks up here. The names come from folklore: shadbush/shadblow referred to the coincidence that this tree came into bloom as the shad were running (shad are a large fish that lives in the Hudson - it's fisheries are not doing well these days - commercial fishing has overtaxed the native stock and it is in decline); serviceberry refers to a more solemn event - when the tree came into bloom the ground was soft enough to bury those who passed away during the winter.

Insects abounded. While flowers were our main target, some insects joined the photo shoot. I have no idea what this is, but it looks freshly emerged. It had bright red eyes, too. We saw giant bumblebees, assorted flies, and I even picked up my first tick of the season - luckily a wood tick, not a deer tick.
I'll post some more photos from this trip another day - don't want to use up all my good stuff at once!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Creeps into the Woods

A glorious day to be out in the woods! As soon as I did the weather (we are a NWS Cooperative station), I grabbed the camera, my binocs and a radio and went out. Three hours later I returned with the following sightings:

Yes, there is still snow on the trails here, but I would say we are 99% snow free.

Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) has beautiful flourescent pink buds!

And check out the bright pink female flowers of the
speckled alder (Alnus incana)! Who knew nature could have
such colors! The long dangly flowers are also from
speckled alder, but these are the males.

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves are pushing up through last autumn's debris. Unfortunately, they are mostly IN the trail! I fear for their survival as visitors rush down the path, so I put a "fence" of sticks into the ground around them, hopefully enough of an eye-catcher to slow folks down. Maybe when the flowers start to bloom that will be enough to stop eager feet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) has also put in an appearance. Note the two blossom ends on the berry: a single berry is created from two flowers. Nature is full of surprises!
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves are still on the trees from last fall!
And moss-scapes abound! I'm going to save the mosses, however, for another post, after I've had a chance to try to ID some of them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Peepers and Snowflakes

Yesterday Mr. Mike and The Boss-lady both reported hearing wood frogs. I have yet to hear their gentle "quacking" in forest or fen, so last night Toby and I took our two-mile walk down past a small ephemeral pool along the edge of the golf course. I saw some bubbles and ripples of movement, but heard not a whisper of a frog. Disappointed, but not surprised (afterall, I could see my breath and the spitting rain was fat enough that it could almost pass for snow), we continued down to the Hudson, gazed at the water, turned around, and headed back homeward. As we neared the little pool on our second pass, however, an unmistakable amphibian chorus wafted through the air: peep, peep, preeeeeep! Spring Peepers!!! Hardy little souls, braving the near-freezing air to sing for love.

This morning in was snowing in earnest. Big, fat flakes whirling about in furious storm. The mini-blizzard only lasted a very few minutes, but even so, snow is snow. Spring is full of weather contradictions.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Fast Does Spring Move Northward?

Even though Saratoga is really not that far away (under two hours by car, less by crow), when it comes to all things Spring, it might as well be on another planet when compared to Newcomb! I find myself drooling over the colorful blossoms posted almost daily by Woodswalker over at the Saratoga Woods and Waters blog. "When will it be our turn?" she whined, knowing that snow was in the forecast and watching the thermometer plummet.'s the scoop.

Spring moves northward at about 16 miles per day, or about 100 miles per week. This only applies on ground level (say, the Great Plains). Spring moves uphill at about 100 feet per day. [Mountains - that's why we are so far behind!]

So, for example: Take two locales, City A and City B.
* A is 100 miles north of B;
* Plant X blooms in B on 1 April;
* Expect X to bloom in A about 8 April;
* However, if A is 800 feet higher than B, add antoher eight days: X will bloom in A about 16 April.'s a virtue.

In the meantime, we will enjoy our coltsfoot, daffodils and crocii.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It MUST Be Spring Now

Our first butterfly of spring put in an appearance today at our bird feeders: a Compton Tortoise Shell (Nymphalis vau-album).

These attractve brown and orange butterflies overwinter as adults and are often the first butterflies seen when the sun warms the earth in the spring. By June they have reproduced and the next generation takes over. (Photo:

The larvae are light green and sport black spikes, and may be found feeding on their favorite foods: aspens, birches or willows. By July they have pupated and turned into adults, which will flutter about until fall temperatures send them into hibernation. (Photo:

This butterfly is in the family commonly called Brushfooted Butterflies (Nymphalidae), which apparently refers to the fact that the first set of legs are either small or greatly reduced. Why this is thus "brushfooted" I'm not sure, and so far I haven't found out. If anyone out there is a butterfly enthusiast and knows, please share!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Apple Trees

Can tree planting be considered an optimistic activity? I think so. Yesterday I arrived at home to find my five new apple trees had arrived. I was able to get three in the ground before the animals told me it really was time to feed them, so the last two will go in tonight.

Apples, much as we may think they are totally American, actually originated over in the Middle East! Over the centuries they have worked their way around the world, with many many varieties found and lost.

Found and lost? Yes, indeed! These days there are only a handful of apples that are regularly found: red and golden delicious, macintosh, pink lady, etc. The typical grocery store varieties. And these have mostly been bred for size, visual appeal, and staying power on the shelves. Forget taste!

Nope, if you want really good, and interesting apples, you must seek out heritage strains. Apples with names like "Dudley Winter," "Cox's Orange Pippin" and "Dutchess of Oldenburg." There are nurseries out there that strive to save these heirloom strains of apples, and it is well worth finding and patronizing them! I've gotten my heirloom apples from Fedco (in Maine) and St. Lawrence Nurseries (up in Potsdam).

Not only are these ancient apple types interesting, many have good insect and disease resistance, as well as hardiness for cold zones like here in Newcomb!

So, let's hope that planting apple trees means I will be around here long enough to see them produce fruit. Seeing as how four of my five new trees are basically sticks, that means several years. Here's hoping!

Adirondack Almanack

Adirondack Almanack is celebrating its fourth anniversary. If you are an Adirondack fan, check it out over at

This website/blog covers many things Adirondack, from politics and economics to humor and the environment. It's a good source for finding out the latest scoop on what's happening in the North Country. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Little Ray of Sunshine

Ya gotta luv coltsfoot! One of the first flowers of spring, it's stem coated with a furry down, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) looks like a stylized Sun.

Historically, coltsfoot was so important medicinally that its leaf was used in France as a symbol for apothecary shops (in the days when most of the greater unwashed public was illiterate). It was used as a cure for lung ailments, it's smoke inhaled as the cure for asthma (seems counterindicative, doesn't it?). The leaves were also soaked in saltpeter to create very brightly "candles." It was a major ingredient in "British Pipe Tobacco," a trait perhaps learned from the gypsies who were known to use the dried leaves in this fashion. The Scottish highlanders reputedly stuffed their mattresses with the downy seedheads (although you'd need an awful lot of seedheads to get enough fluff to make a mattress of any worth).
A non-native plant, coltsfoot was brought to this country by our ancestors and it has done well, proliferating in waste areas (roadsides) and gardens with poor soil.
And why the name coltsfoot? The answer becomes more obvious later in the season when the leaves appear: they are shaped like a horse's hoof. Perhaps we should try calling it by its alternative name: son before father, a reference to the fact that the flower blooms before the leaves appear.
Coltsfoot is monotypic, meaning there is no other plant in its genus.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thar 'tis

YES! Our first flower of the season! That crocus up in the header (and down below) was just a green sprout yesterday, but today it bloomed. And right near it a purple one and a white one have their buds ready to burst.

And yesterday evening Toby and I saw our first flicker of the season.

Spring, even though it comes every year and is more or less predictable, still leaves us all excited as each "first" of the season comes along: first frog, first flower, first robin, first pussy willows, etc. I suspect this is an ancestral thing, when the people from hundreds, or even thousands of years ago greeted spring as another winter survived and the return of life all around. Sometimes it still feels this way.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Help the Bats!

Okay, bat fans, here's your chance to help New York's bats!

Carl Herzog is one of the DEC's biologists working on the whole White-nose Syndrom problem. I went to a talk he gave last spring about WNS and left my name as a contact should any volunteers be needed to help out with anything batty. Today I received an email from him looking for volunteers. If you are interested, here's what Carl sent me:

Here's a very quick overview of the project:

You probably already know about the White-nose problem for the bats. It affects bats that spend the winter in caves and mines and this study will help us keep track of them. NY also has three other species that fly south for the winter. Unfortunately, these three are the ones that get killed regularly at wind turbine sites. Another goal of this study is to determine if these losses to the migratory bats will have an affect on their populations.

When bats fly, they emit high frequency sounds that we can detect with special equipment. Most of the time we can tell which species made the sound. Our plan is to attach this equipment to the roof of a car and drive pre-planned routes, recording the bat calls we encounter. Each car requires two people, a driver and a navigator/equipment operator. We are looking for volunteers from all across the state to fill these two roles.

Between training, preparation, driving the route, and submitting the data, total time commitment can be as short as 3-4 hours. Some folks will want to do more and we can definitely use the help. The routes take about an hour to drive and will be run shortly after sunset during June. The attached map shows how the routes are distributed.

Requirements to participate and not stringent. A team of two obviously needs at least one licensed driver. Use of the equipment requires some basic knowledge of Windows-based computers: following software installation instructions, saving and copying files, etc. The equipment itself is actually pretty easy to operate and we can teach participants all of the details.
We will supply all of the specialized equipment and software, of course, but we are hoping that most of the volunteers already have access to a laptop computer that can be used. Most any laptop manufactured in the last 5 years will work. If you don't have access to a computer, we can probably match you up with someone who does. We also have a few that we can loan out.

That's probably enough information for now. Do you think you might be able to identify folks who could help out with this?


State Wildlife Grants Biologist

NY State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 BroadwayAlbany, NY 12233
Office: 518-402-8908 Cell: 518-461-4582
fax: 518-402-8925

This is the map of the routes. Is there one near you?

If you are still interested in helping out, you can either contact me or Carl.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Small Mammals 101

One of the great things about working at a nature center is access to The Morgue, which most nature centers have. The VIC is not technically a “nature center,” so sadly we don’t have a morgue, but fortunately for us, the folks next door at the Adirondack Ecological Center (SUNY ESF – Huntington Wildlife Forest) have a great collection and we get to access it. So this morning I zipped over and snagged some photos to help illustrate the vole vs mouse vs mole discussion from Monday.

Here we have your typical mouse: Peromyscus spp. The Deer Mouse (P. maniculatus) and the White-footed Mouse (P. leucopus) are very similar to each other and difficult to tell apart. This one was not identified down to species, but looking at that tail, I'm leaning towards deer mouse. To tell the difference, here is the list of things to look for, according to D.A. Saunder’s book Adirondack Mammals:

* The deer mouse’s fur is very soft and luxuriant, which the white-footed mouse’s is not.
* Deer mouse fur tends towards grey on the upper parts, uniform in color or possibly with a faint darker stripe down the middle; white-footed mouse fur tends to be more of a reddish- or orangish-brown, not grey, with a dark strip along the middle of the back from head to tail.
* The deer mouse’s tail is dark above and white below (bicolored), is longer than the combined length of the animal’s head and body, and has a tuft of white hairs at the tip; the white-footed mouse’s tail is shorter than the head and body length, is pale below but not white, and does not have a white, tufted tip.

Note the large ears, as well as large eyes (or, in this case, eye holes). We’ll leave the jumping mice for another day.

Compare with this vole. This is the Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Voles have large heads, compact bodies, short noses, small ears (“microtus” means small ear), short tail, and smallish eyes.

Here we have a Red-backed Vole (Myodes gapperi); note the color of the fur, compared to the meadow vole. The Adirondack region is also home to the Rock Vole (Microtus chrontorrhinus), and the Woodland Vole (Microtus pinetorum). I don’t have photos of these.

Moving on to moles, this is a specimen of the Hairy-tailed Mole (Parascalops breweri). Things that stand out about moles are the tiny tiny eyes that are covered with fur, no external ear flaps, fur that goes no particular direction (this is a great adaptation for an animal that is scooting around underground all the time – no bad hair days), short legs, and especially the spade-like feet.

The Adirondacks are indeed home to Star-nosed Moles, (Condylura cristata), which are noted for the eleven “tentacles” that sprout from the tip of the nose. These tentacles are believed to detect vibrations or electrical signals of prey under ground or under water. Yes – the star-nosed mole is a very capable swimmer and over 75% of its food comes from an aquatic source. Sadly, I didn’t find a specimen of this creature at the AEC, but if you ever have the chance to see one, it is a must.

Then there are the shrews, which are not rodents. Shrews are in a category all their own: insectivora. The most common shrew is this fellow here – the Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda):
Blarina is a hefty shrew (most shrews tend to be fairly small), most noted for its venomous saliva. Yes, Blarina is a deadly predator, which actively hunts other small mammals, even those larger than itself, savagely biting them and “injecting” them with its toxic spit, which is a neurotoxin that shortly paralyzes the food item, enabling this small predator to haul it off without a struggle. According to D.A. Saunders, this shrew’s poison gland contain enough toxin to do in about 200 mice. This is a serious predator.

In the Adirondacks one can also find Water Shrews (Sorex palustris):

Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus), Smoky Shrews (Sorex fumeus), Long-tailed or Rock Shrews (Sorex dispar), and Pygmy Shrews (Sorex hoyi). I’ll try to get photos of these fellows at a later date and do a blog on shrews. Note that all shrews have the long pointy snouts – a good clue to look for.
So, return another day for Small Mammals 102!!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Newcomb Vole Preserve

Sunday morning we rose to a white world...plenty of snow overnight. By noon, however, it had melted off, so I gathered my planting supplies and headed out to get last eight trees/shrubs in the ground. By 4:30 I was done...and tired! Eight $500 holes are a lot of work, especially when the soil is soaked from all the rain!

The thing that stands out the most in the yard this spring is the VOLE activity. I think every vole in Newcomb took up residence in my yard this winter! I had left all the trimmings from my apple trees and from the cut down honeysuckles neatly stacked in various locations. The voles nailed them all - no bark left on any branch that was tender and tasty. Maybe this spared my other plants, like the lilac, which they nailed last year. The yard is covered with vole tunnels, and a lot of the mulch in the flower beds has been relocated (voles being #1 suspect).

What is a vole? A vole is not a mole (although many folks think they are the same). A vole is a small mammal with a short tail, small ears, and smallish eyes. It is about the same size as a mouse...maybe a bit larger. I knew one person who said "if a mouse is a hamburger, a vole is a quarter-pounder." Or, as I always put it, a quarter-pounder with fleas. Hee hee.

Anyway, the critter many people refer to as the "meadow mouse" is actually a meadow vole! They are very common, and can often be seen scampering across the road. These are the ones who leave the open-topped tunnels all over your yard when the snow melts. They also leave bundles of grass in fields - these are often referred to as nests.

Additionallyk, we have the red-backed vole, which is usually/most often found in the woods. These are lovely small mammals with an orangish-red strip (quite wide) down the back.

A mole is almost entirely fossorial (lives its life underground). It has no external ear flaps, wee-itty-bitty-almost-invisible eyes, and very large, spatulate front feet that are used for digging. These guys leave the humped up mounds of dirt in your yard. Up here we have mostly commonly hairy-tailed moles. I'll have to look it up when I get to work, but I think we also have star-nosed moles in the Adirondacks, but I'm not 100% sure (I haven't seen one in ages).

"They" are calling for more snow by tomorrow: 1-5". is only early April. And even if we get the entire 5", it won't last. That's the great thing about spring: the weather may be lousy, but it won't last.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Planting

I came home after work yesterday to find thirteen trees leaning against the side of the garage: my replacements for the invasive honeysuckles we cut down last fall! These were/are bare root stock, so they needed to be planted ASAP. So, instead of taking the dog out for a long walk, everyone (dog, cat, I) went into the back yard for a couple hours.

After unwrapping the trees (which mostly are sticks with a few roots on one end), I set them in a bucket of water – optimistic that I could get them all planted that evening. In reality, only five made it into their permanent holes; the rest have been heeled in until I have time to dig seven more $500 holes – maybe Saturday morning before I have to leave for the cheese-making workshop.

$500 holes? Yep – you shouldn’t just dig any ol’ hole and stick your tree in and refill it. Oh, no. That would be too easy! No, you have to dig a hole at least two feet across (three would be even better) and one-and-a-half to two feet deep. The sod goes in one pile, the topsoil in a second pile and the subsoil in a third. THEN you put the sod back into the hole, root side upwards: this will provide food for the new tree roots. Then you add the topsoil (and the tree, so its roots are now getting covered). Once the topsoil is in, add two to three gallons of water. Now everything is swimming. This is topped off with the subsoil. By reversing the soil layers, you have put the nutrients down at the base where the roots can access them. If you are really diligent, you will also add compost and such to the top soil, making a really rich food base for the tree. My compost is still iced in, so the trees are going to have to make do with a little peat moss instead. Once everything is in place, you stomp (gently) on the soil (which may be floating, thanks to all that water, if it hasn’t been absorbed yet), packing it in place and forcing out any air holes. This also serves to anchor the tree.

So, what am I using to replace the alien invaders? I have two hawthorns, one nannyberry, two pin cherries, two staghorn sumacs, two red panicled dogwoods, and three serviceberries. All native, all good berry producers for the birds. When they finally get some height to them, they will make a good “hedge,” once more providing a barrier between my land and the neighbor’s (besides the dog fence).

When the dog and I finally got out for our walk, we were graced with the presence of woodcocks! This is the first I’ve heard them this spring, but this is also the latest we’ve been out in a few weeks. With the mild weather we’ve been having, it’s very possible that the woodcocks have been back for a bit.

First, you hear the peent! Next to peepers, it is one of the best audio signs of spring. Then you hear the twittering as the male flies upwards in an ever-climbing spiral, eventually disappearing into the gloom above. When you’ve pretty much lost the bird, it starts its downward plunge, tumbling back to the earth with a popping, squeaking sort of sound. Suddenly the sound ends, and the bird, if you can find it, lands on its patch of ground and begins peent-ing again.

I could’ve stayed and watched for a while, but the dog was not impressed (although if we had gotten really close to the bird, he would’ve become very interested), so we moseyed along back towards home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Signs of Spring

As I stood in the yard Sunday afternoon (30 March), the wind whipping the snow into a horizontal blizzard, I heard a sound that gave me pause. “No,” I thought, “it can’t be! It’s too soon!” The bird making the noise was silhouetted against the sky, so I could not see it well. Taking a chance, I went inside to get my binocs. When I returned, the bird was on the birdfeeders, and the binocs proved my ears were correct: a bluebird! I checked my bird arrival checklist the next morning, and the earliest I have seen bluebirds in Newcomb is 22 April. This is just a bit too early.

The river is finally “up.” We had over half an inch of rain over the weekend and at last this has made the Hudson rise. All the ice is now gone at the pump house, too (and it was still iced in on Saturday), so it now looks more like spring conditions.

Last night the skies had cleared a bit, and soaring overhead were three turkey vultures (the first of the year), followed shortly by a merlin zipping by (another first for ’09).

We still have no wildflowers blooming, nor any frogs singing, but perhaps these will be early firsts this year, too.