Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When the Moon is in the Seventh House

Isn't it amazing how things that we see so readily with our eyes often just are "nothing" when seen thru the eye of the camera!

Anyway, two nights ago the position of Jupiter, Venus and the waxing crescent moon  was painfully obvious in the sky.  All three were stunningly bright and the triangle they formed made them stick out like a sore thumb on the horizon.

Of course, I had to try and  photograph them when Toby and I got home from our walk.  Here's the best of the bunch:  Jupiter to the left of the moon, and Venus down in the lower right corner.

Late Winter Views

"Hooray!" barks Toby.  It finally looks like winter!

Not only did we end up with a few inches of snow, but it has lasted more than one day!  All winter in one week, it seems, but we are enjoying it.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dust Off Your Bookshelves

I started following Seabrooke's blog a couple years ago (and her mother's blogs, too) - lots of great stuff.  So, when a year or two ago she announced she was working on the new Peterson's Field Guide to Moths, I just knew that something good would be coming.

And now, here it is!  That's the author, holding her advanced copy.  The copies for us, the greater unwashed public, are still floating on a barge somewhere out on the Pacific, but soon they will be arriving at a bookstore near you.

For a terrific preview of this newest Peterson's Guide, check out Seabrooke's blog.  If you are like me, you'll soon be placing your order...and maybe even get an autographed copy!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Waking to a World of White

Yesterday we awoke to a dusting of snow.  Today we woke to a world of white.  Not just any old white, but Snowman White!  Yes, it is snowman snow - heavy and wet.  I was sorely tempted to make a snowman, but time wasn't on my side.  I may do one when I get home tonight, though.

Anywho, here's the view out the kitchen window over the sink - the birds were very happy when I went out and filled the feeders.

And here we are looking out the other kitchen window, which looks out over the driveway and toward the main bird feeding station.

Moving around to the door, we see that the snow is clinging to everything.  The trees looked positively lacy.

My deer fences are looking a little worse for wear, though.  I really should've knocked off the snow after I took these photos, but I didn't.  Besides...it'll probably melt off in a day or so, if things turn out like the rest of this winter so far.

I loved how the collected snow on the upper branches of the lilac sheltered the lower branches - they have practically no snow on them at all.  Ah - now the birds' secret is out!

Conifers are built to take the weight of such snow - their branches are pretty darn flexible, which is a plus since a) they keep their needles through the winter and b) they live in snowbelts.  Even so, I still find I feel sorry for them when they are all weighted down under heavy coats of wet snow.

I must say, even the road looked kind of nifty with this snow.  Like I said, it was PERFECT snowman snow - just the right amount of packiness.  Therefore, it was equally perfect for holding the tread patters of passing trucks (and cars).  


 Well, except for sections that were well packed and then stuck to the tires and were lifted completely off the road.  This section is about 8" wide, just to give you an idea of how big it is.  That's a powerful grip.

Unfortunately, as lovely as it all was, it was equally dangerous.  As I was pulling out the driveway to come to work, a neighbor stopped to tell me the road was blocked - less than half a mile from the house.  A head-on collision, apparently.  So, I had to go "around the block", driving two miles to get a half-mile from home, down the rutted, unplowed, dirt roads covered with slick snow and slush.  I hope no one was injured in the accident.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sounds of Spring and Beyond

Have I mentioned before that it never fails:  don't take the camera out, and you will find all sorts of stuff to photograph!  This morning it was a dusting of snow in the early sunlight with just a touch of fog - very ethereal.  And then...and then!  Then there was the VERY interesting "track" in the snow - a tussle of birds.  I could see wing, feet and tail prints, the overall pattern forming a sweeping circle.  Did a raptor come swooping down and swipe a house sparrow or a starling?  No idea...sure wish I had gotten a photo of it.  >sigh<

So, instead, we have some sounds to report (don't need a camera for that).

It begins last week.  It was early evening - the sky still light - and hark!  A lone sandhill crane was kronking as it flew over the withered soybean fields and off to the nearby pond.  Cranes aren't usually solo birds.  Reports are now coming in from all over of the cranes returning...spring is on its way.

A couple nights later, T and I were out for our final walk of the day, well after dark, when up from the flattened grasses along the shoulder of the road we heard a definite chirping sound.  Wrong time of day for it to be a bird, I thought, but perhaps it was an injured bird, hit by a vehicle whizzing by (they go so fast down this road).  I stopped and listened and played the beam of the flashlight across the grasses.  No bird.  The chirping continued, and the grass started to bump.  Out from the edge a short-tailed shrew emerged!  Only one other time have I heard "singing" from a small mammal (possibly another shrew - I never saw it).  I gently put my foot in front of this fellow's face to steer him off the road.  Even though traffic was non-existent at the moment, a car or truck could come zooming by at any moment.  I thought for sure the animal would try to bite my boot, for short-tailed shrews have rather ferocious reputations (and venomous saliva, just in case you didn't know - enough to take down a house cat, according to my college professor), but it just sat there, eventually turning around and wandering back into the grasses.

Yesterday morning, my backyard was alive with nine million bluebird, all vying for a chance to check out the two nest boxes that are still up along the fence (wind storm took out the third).  Okay, perhaps it wasn't quite nine million...perhaps it was only 15 or 20 birds, but it sure seemed like millions!  I'll have to get the rest of my boxes in proper order, make some repairs, then put some posts in the ground and get them up.

Finally, we come to this morning:  a red-winged blackbird was calling from the old oak up the road.  It's flippin' FEBRUARY and the red-wings are coming back through already?!?!  Strange, strange seasons here in southern Michigan (which, by the way, may be getting upwards of 7" of snow tonight).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Another Sunny Monday

Fair weather is hard to come by here in the winter, but Monday dawned another sunny morning, so I decided laundry could wait (it's still waiting) - we were going for an explore.

I grabbed T's harness and my camera, and we hopped in the car for a short drive over to the LefGlen sanctuary.

This is one of those sites about which I have heard so much (like Nan Weston), so I was eager to see what the fuss was all about.  Granted, most of the fuss is apparently caused by the spring wildflowers, which, even though it's been a very mild winter, are not blooming yet - it is, after all, only mid-February.

While I had great expectations for seeing some amazing things, what I did NOT expect to see was a beaver!  This isn't beaver country.  Muskrats, yes, but beavers, no.  So imagine my surprise to find this tiny beaver in the path.  Knowing it was out of place, I gently tucked him into my pocket to relocate him to a more appropriate location.  

LefGlen is a little pocket of woodland that is surrounded by farms.  Big farms.  Well, big in my opinion, but I suppose on the scale of mid-western agriculture they are pretty small.

And the people of Michigan, or at least this part of Michigan, take their deer hunting seriously. Back in the 'dacks, people actually "hunted" for deer - skulking around the woods, following trails.  In Central NY it was common to see tree stands - a few slats nailed to the side of a tree and a very rudimentary (and small) platform maybe 10-15 feet up.  Here, however, the deer blinds are on par with some tree houses and ice fishing shanties I've seen!

A small shed/shack was tucked away in the woods.  A shelter built by Lefty or Glenna as a retreat in the woods?

The snow was simply littered with tracks!  Plenty of fox and squirrel, mouse and rabbit, and of course deer.  I was surprised a bit to discover how many of the tracks were made by cats, though.  As in house cats. 

Along the edge we found a frozen pond - probably an ephemeral pond that stays at least damp most of the year.  The ice was covered with tracks, all converging on the drain pipe.  HM...

As I suspected, on mild days this was a source of open water.  All the tracks lead right here - no doubt the owners of the feet looking for a place to get a drink of water.  Although it was sunny, the day was young enough that the sun's warmth hadn't yet worked its magic here - the water was still frozen.

 We were following the Blue Diamond Trail, which was well-packed by critters and at least one person.  But then the person took a detour off the trail and into the woods.  Soon Toby and I were on our own.  In a couple spots we (that is, I) had to search a bit to find the next trail marker.  We were now high on a ridge.  The presence of a bluebird nest box in the woods gave me pause.  Bluebirds prefer open areas.  And judging by the evidence at the opening, it's not birds who are making use of this shelter.

I was just tickled pink to see American beeches.  And not just beeches, but HEALTHY beeches.  No evidence of the beech scale necrosis that is wiping out the beeches back east.  It is, of course, only a matter of time before the disease gets here, though.  And Michigan has lost all its ashes to the emerald ash borer.  

After we came down the switchbacks off the ridge, we reached a T-intersection.  Which way to go?  We went right, and soon came across this sign.  

The well-worn trail continued, though, so we followed it another hundred feet or so, and saw irrefutable evidence of our trespass:  another deer stand (this one more like the ones back home).  So we turned around and went back the other way.

I love how winter makes evident to our otherwise unseeing eyes all the nests built the previous year.  What is so obvious now is amazingly invisible when the leaves cover the trees and shrubs.

Toby was in seventh heaven on this walk, his nose glued to the ground gathering the scents of dozens of animals.  This log was apparently a major "sign post."  We were here checking it out for a while.

I, on the other hand, need more visible signs of animal activity to appreciate all that is going on in the woods.  For example, something had a good dig going on here.  Deer?  Rover?  The tracks were too jumbled to tell.

The removal of bark on this twig is a little easier to explain - no doubt a small mammal (rodent) removed the bark for the nutrition it would find in the thin inner bark layer.

The trail we were following had now looped back on itself and we were retracing our earlier steps.  While seeing a place from the other direction can make it look completely different, I had hoped to not have to walk down the same path we followed out.  Luck was on our side, for we were doubling back only a short distance when the Pink Diamond Trail split off...it took us down a gentle slope and around the hill we had climbed earlier in the morning.

Evidence on this downed log indicated that this trail was commonly used - plenty of claw marks indicate where small mammals (fox?  cats?  fox squirrels?) have jumped on top before crossing to the other side.

As we rounded the base of the hill, the Pink trail rejoined the Blue trail, and soon we were back at the car.

We had a good two hour jaunt on the trails of LefGlen, and I know I will return this spring to see what flowers call this sanctuary home.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Nothing says love like nature.  Check out this post at the National Association for Interpretation blog.  I found #2 to be fascinating - never heard that one before!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dust Dancing on a Drip

This video was taken last Sunday as Toby and I walked around the block. As I stood there trying to photograph the water droplets, I noticed a spinning and swirling on their surfaces. It was the wind blowing the outer surface of the water, making the tiny bits of dust dance and swirl. (Turn your volume down...unless you want to listen to Toby's commentary.


Yesterday things were blustery and brisk, with "winter storm warnings" all over the radio.  Flakes fell and drifted all day.  I was on a staff trip with co-workers, and we spent a good part of the day standing around outside at other sites (a boy scout camp and the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor).  Even so, there really wasn't much in the way of accumulation.

This morning, however, it was a slightly different story.  The winds blew steadily all night, and are still blustering away.  When T and I went out for our morning walk, there were plenty of drifts, and just enough snow to make things white.

We cut across the field coming home - and found a trail!  Prime suspect:  deer. 

I was drawn to these two bumps in the snow.  They measure 2.5-3" across.  Hm.  Could be they are little push ups made by some subnivian critter...although there is barely enough "nivian" to "sub."  Perhaps the critter is below the ground, and pushed up some dirt, which in turn pushed up the snow.  I didn't want to disturb things, so we left the mystery unsolved.

It looks like someone was whipping up egg whites into a meringue outside the house!

Things are a bit snowier here at work - I'd say we got a good couple of inches.  Oooo.  That gives you an idea of just how snowless our winter has been - we get excited over a whopping two inches!  And the air finally feels cold - it was 10 degrees (F) according to my car when I drove in this morning, and the wind was whipping.  I bet the wind chill was subzero.  Cold at last.  Brrr.  But the sun is out and it is truly lovely out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Recent Frosty Morning

Sunday morning dawned sunny and frosty.  After days of dreary weather, the sunshine beckoned.  I strapped Toby into his harness, grabbed my camera and lenses, and we went out for a long walk.

Our first stop was the unmown yard.   All the tall weeds were crystalline - quite lovely to look at.

And just down the road the starlings were flocked in "their" tree.  This is a wonderful old oak, full of oak apples and lots of holes.  The starlings have moved right in and made each cavity a nest site.  It reminds me of Dr. Seuss's book "Thedwick, the Big Hearted Moose."  I loved that book as a kid.

Toby and I don't do any skiing these days.  A) there's no snow, and b) with his poor coordination and arthritis, it's just not in the cards any more.  Still, that's no reason to let the skijoring harness gather dust!  It is a wonderful rig for walks.  He doesn't get strangled and he can wander about while still attached to me, and both my hands are free!  It's a beautiful thing.

The frosty grasses were just delightful.  I tried applying some of the techniques I picked up at the photography class at work a week previously.

We walked the 2.5 miles (give or take) around our "block."  I was surprised to find so little to photograph along two of the four sides.  I spent a lot of time shooting the frosty grasses and weeds along the first leg, and then shooting the frost and water drops along the third leg.  The other two sides were a bit of a bust.

This bit of flowery board caught my attention.  It was the remains of what I presume was a no trespassing sign.  Apparently they used whatever wood or board was to hand - it looks like the scraps of wallpaper are still clinging to it.  Sort of sad.  What was the board part of originally?

If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I have a fascination with water drops.  I am ever trying to master capturing their images...and the reflections they hold.

By the time we were coming down the third side, the sun had melted much of the frost.  Add to this the heat from Toby's footpads, and his feet left behind dewy tracks in the road.

And even though wild cucumber is pretty common here, I still love it.  I only ever saw it once where I grew up, until a couple years ago when I discovered a vine crawling up a utility pole just down the street from my folks' house.  It's a neat plant, with nifty fruits.

My days are just packed with work.  I have so little time to get out and explore.  I keep telling myself that the next season things will be better, but in truth I fear that it will be some time before I am able to spend as much time wandering as I used to in the Adirondacks.  But hope springs eternal.