Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring Continues

In another three or four weeks we should start to see bluebirds in Newcomb. They are already nesting and laying eggs along the Champlain Valley, but here in the Central Adirondacks things are usually a few weeks behind.

So, in preparation for the arrival of our bright blue thrushes, I was out cleaning and soaping up the ceilings of the nestboxes on the bluebird trail put up by High Peaks Audubon on the High Peaks Golf Course here in town. We have eleven boxes on the golf course and every year at least two have bluebirds in residence. Last year we lost all the babies just before they were due to one knows why. Other nestbox users we get are wrens (nestbox full of twigs), chickadees (nest of moss - very sweet), red squirrels (box packed with grasses - have removed two nests already this last week), and wasps (ugh). We found several wasp nests from last year in the boxes and scraped them out with a spatula. This is where the soap comes into play: supposedly wasps will not build nests in boxes where soap has been applied to the ceiling. So, armed with my bar of Ivory, I set out to soap the boxes on Friday. All went well...until I ran into the nest that already had a wasp checking it out. I immediately left the box and went to soap it's companion box, giving the weapon-laden insect a chance to vamous. When I returned the wasp was gone and I applied the soap with gusto. We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, Saturday morning while Toby and I were on our walk, I saw my first mockingbird of the season. I never hear them up here like I used to the four and a half years I worked in NJ - there the mockers were like fleas on a dog - very common. Up here, though, I think they are more of a novelty, at least in our town. The lone forsythia bush at the end of my street was putting out some yellow blossoms on its lower branches, a sure sign of spring.

But the best sighting of the day came late in the afternoon while I was wrestling the wrototiller across the lawn (in theory tilling it up for more veggie beds). In my peripheral vision I saw Toby dash down the side of the yard toward the back fence. I looked up to see what had caught his attention just in time to see what looked like a white hankie being dragged across the grass and through the fence: an ermine! This was the first all-white weasel I have seen! Now I can't say for certain if it was indeed an ermine (short-tailed weasel) or if it was a long-tailed weasel: it was moving too fast for me to see the tail. And if it hadn't been still in it's white winter coat, I never would've seen it at all! I'm hoping it takes up residence near the yard because when the snow melted I saw the depredations of last summer's bumper crop of rodents: a vast number of vole tunnels all over the lawn (and chew marks on several shrubs and apple tree branches). So the weasel is welcome to hunt there whenever it wants. It can even bring it's friends and relatives; the more the merrier!

Snow is in the forecast for this week, and rain. We need the rain, but I can live without the snow. All this balmy summer-like weather has put me in the mood for gardening, and one can't really put in one's veggies when there is snow on the ground.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Images from an Earth Day Walk

We have had some amazing weather. Most of the month has been sunny, and we've been hitting temps in the 70s and 80s! Eighties in April in the Adirondacks - there's just something wrong with that. Still, our snow is melting away like butter near a fire, and gardens are begging to be planted! Beware the temptations of an early warm spring!!!

I headed out this morning on the Sucker Brook trail to see what was happening. This was the first time I've been out without snowshoes, and while it is passable, about 50% of the time I was walking on the ridge of snow packed by a winter's worth of snowshoeing. It was kind of like traversing a lumpy and potentially slick balance beam.

Vole tunnels are apparent all over the trails, no doubt the end result of a very high rodent summer! (Sadly, the photo came out too dark to use.)

I found a couple spots where ruffed grouse left their calling cards. We don't often get animal scats on our trails here (why we don't is a mystery), so I get very excited when I do find scats. Most folks are turned off by scats, but they really are a great indicator of what animals are out there, and what they are eating!

Beavers have also been busy, leaving fresh chews really close to the trail and just a stone's throw from the water. I've been enjoying evenings of Beaver-Watching at the other end of town where we have our pump house (the water source for the suburbs of Newcomb). It's right on the Hudson River and the beavers have been very active the last few weeks.

And the water is high! We are not at our highest flood stage, but it is still impressive, especially seeing the massive rolls of water as Rich Lake rushes over boulders on its way into Belden Pond. The trail isn't underwater yet, but I would guess that with just a little more melting there are going to be areas where submersion is likely.

While I was checking out trail conditions, I was also looking and listening for wildlife. The only critters I saw were a red squirrel (no surprise there) and a tiny orange butterfly that flitted around constantly and refused to allow me to get a good look for ID purposes. Two pileated woodpeckers were doing their "dueling banjos" imitation. One found a great tree - it sounded like a jackhammer whacking away and it made quite an echo. I also heard a black-backed woodpecker tapping quietly on a tree. Winter wrens were singing away, as well as some mystery birds that I was unable to ID. Some wood ducks reported in, and I may have heard a belted kingfisher, but if it was, it must've had a sore throat because it didn't quite have the ratchety rattle down. And a lone broadwing hawk circled overhead.

red-banded polypore; witch hobble leaves and flower bud
Catkins are out on pussywillows, aspens and alders. Maples are turning red way up high - possibly blooming. Coltsfoot is in bloom, and in gardens Daphne, violas, daffodils, and crocus are blooming away. The leaf and flower buds on with hobble are tight, but if this warm weather keeps up, they will open up soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Tribute to Bats

If you aren't up on the latest bat news, the hibernating bats in New York State are having a rough go of it. Last year Al Hicks, a biologist with the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC), discovered many dead bats in our state's hibernacula. Many of the bats, dead and sick, had a white fungus around their muzzles and some had the fungus elsewhere on their bodies as well. He called the occurrance White-nose Syndrome, and it as been seen again this year. Up to 95% of the bats in some caves have been found dead.

For many folks the big concern is that Indiana bats, Myotis sodalis, a federally endangered species, hibernate in some of NY's caves. NY is home to the fourth largest winter hibernaculum of Indianas. This could be problematic. But in addition to this, what concerns me is seeing 95% of the little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) dead. Admittedly, little browns (and big browns, Eptesicus fuscus) are relatively common, but if 95% of each winter population dies off, then what does this mean for the overall population?

The looming question is, of course, what is killing off the bats? No one seems to know. Yet. The fungus may be a symptom, or possibly a secondary "infection." Whatever it is, it is causing the bats to rouse prematurely from hibernation. They are going out in search of food before food is available (few insects flying around in February), and as a result, the bats are starving to death.

Spelunkers are being asked to stay out of known bat caves until answers are found.


Today, while making the rounds at work, I discovered this icicle hanging from the back roof:

To me it looks just like a bat hanging upside down from the eves. Couldn't resist capturing it "on film" and sharing it with nature and bat lovers out there in cyberspace.
I will post any further news I hear about the bats.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wild and Woolly

We hit a high of 53*F yesterday! And the weather was wild. It was the kind of day where if you didn't like the weather, you just waited about five minutes and it changed. Rain, sun, rain, wind, sun, rain, sun, showers, sun, pouring, sun...and then snow during the wee hours.

While on our walk yesterday evening, Toby and I came across our first major insect of the year:

a woolly bear!

It was sitting, chilled, on the stone platform of the mountain ID display at the scenic overlook in town. As I held it in my hand, it warmed up enough to move around and explore. I figured the warmth of the day had brought it out, thinking maybe it was spring, but I also knew that the temp was dropping below freezing in a few hours and this critter might end its life there on the slab of rock. So, I took it home and left it in my hat in the car overnight. Brought it to work this morning, snapped a couple photos, and turned it loose in a sunny spot on the back deck. I figured there it would have an option of finding some place to rest until spring finally got going...or it would become food for some lucky bird at the feeders.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Could it be?

Heard a cardinal this morning - second time in three days. Sadly, he wasn't singing on my street, but hearing him on the next street is incentive to walk the dog in that direction.

Yesterday's springtime bird was a robin - this time a few houses down from me. And last Friday I heard a tree sparrow singing away in the yard. The juncos have returned, too, but bluejays are once more conspicuous by their absence.

The rain that fell overnight melted a lot of snow (well, it melted the new snow that fell yesterday), and this morning it actually felt like spring! (46*F when I got to work.) I waaay over-dressed for our morning walk (turtle neck, wool sweater and duster) and had to completely change when I got home. This is a good sign. I'm waiting to see the first dandelion in bloom along the south end of the house, but I imagine I will have to wait a bit longer - there may be no snow there, but the rest of the yard still has 30+ inches of the stuff.

We had a barred owl checking out the rodent selection at the bird feeders here at work yesterday afternoon. He was all fluffed up and looked very sleepy (eyes at half mast). We'll have to keep an eye peeled for him again today.

Come on, Spring!!! We are ready for you!!!