Tuesday, March 8, 2016

First Woodcock of Spring 2016

While walking with Kodi and Henna on a woodland trail in Durham, NH today I looked to my left at a clump of alder growing in a wet swale. Something on the ground among the dead leaves and twigs caught my eye. I had to stop and stare, for there sitting tight to the ground was a well-camouflaged woodcock. I tried to get a little closer for a photo before it flushed.

Can you find the woodcock in this photo?
Now is the time to get out just before dawn or just after sunset to listen for the peenting of male woodcock. More than the return of robins (since many robins spend the winter here), the return of the woodcock is a sure sign of spring. So too were the arrival of red-winged blackbirds last week and the swelling of aspen buds.

These weeks of late winter and early spring are one of my favorite times to be outside. So many sounds and rich smells and emergence of life.

Here is the woodcock, in a very murky zoomed in iPhone photo. Is it where you thought it was?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Winter Returns

On Thursday afternoon my mom and I sat outside enjoying the unusually warm winter temperature of nearly 60 F. Of note, also, was the lack of snow in the yard.
What a difference a day makes. We were expecting a bit of snow Friday morning, about 3-5 inches forecasted for our area. But the snow kept falling all day and by late afternoon we had 10 inches.
The clouds cleared as we shoveled and snowplowed the fresh snow, creating a lovely winter scene. The setting sun lit the snow-covered tree tops.
Winter is back -- whoopee!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Favorite Two Hours

My favorite two hours of the day are 5:00 to 7:00 o'clock in the morning, especially in winter. Every day I wake up a little before 5 a.m. to New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR). After the weather report, I get dressed appropriately and trundle downstairs to make coffee or start the fire in the wood stove. While we enjoy our first cup of hot coffee and read and listen to the news of the day, Kodi and Henna wait patiently curled up on the sofa. Around about 6 a.m. we venture outside for our daily walk down Bald Hill Road in the dark with headlamps, bundled up against the brisk winter morning.

The early morning walks loosen up my muscles and jiggle the little gray cells. Cold mornings are especially refreshing. And we see and hear things that most people miss by sleeping in or just stirring in their homes at these hours. (Although we do note the same people that pass us each weekday morning in the dark on their way to work).

Just this morning we had a new sighting in the stonewall that parallels Bald Hill Road: a white weasel. We first noticed the shine from its tiny, round eyes poking out from the stonewall. In the early morning light we could see its sleek, all-white body (we could not see the tail, which is black-tipped). Only once before have we seen a weasel along our walks -- that was a brown weasel in summer; it too was peeking out from a stonewall. Both weasels found in this area -- the ermine and the long-tailed weasel -- turn white in winter and are difficult to tell apart. It is fine with me to know simply that it was one of these two, incredibly handsome weasels.

On clear mornings this week, as we walked south on Bald Hill Road, we looked skyward at the alignment of stars and planets. Venus and Jupiter were shining bright, bracketing the more subtle light of Saturn and Mars. Mercury was there somewhere in the southeast, but too low on the horizon for us to see. On these pre-dawn walks we witness first light on the eastern horizon, sometimes colorful in shades of pink and blue, sometimes gray and somber. Always, we welcome a new day.

We see fresh tracks of coyote, fox, and fisher where they've crossed the road. Sometimes in the distance a great horned owl hoots or a pair of barred owls call back and forth. Sometimes we hear coyotes yelping.

As the dark sky recedes and dawn emerges we arrive back home, remarking on the beauty of the day, especially when we've caught sight of a white weasel.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fresh Snowfall

Mid-January and only the second bit of snowfall of the season today. The forecast was for freezing rain, yet surprisingly and happily we got a few inches of wet, fluffy snow that fell as large flakes.
Kodi and Henna plunged their noses into the snow, sensing the smells and movements of subnivean voles.
Winter in New England is not winter without snow, so we relish every fresh snowfall, before it melts or turns crusty.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Dad

Dana Paul Eugene Snyder

April 29, 1922 - November 18, 2015

My Dad was a mammalogist by training and profession and a natural farmer and engineer. I inherited his love of the outdoors and gardening and his common sense (I hope). I wish I also got his knack for engineering. My brother Tod got that.

Dad met Mom at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg, where they both worked. She worked in the Director's office, he was a fresh graduate from the University of Michigan where he did his dissertation on the field study of small mammals, his favorite of which was the eastern chipmunk.

If you are familiar with natural history museums, you know that they have rooms filled with drawers of animal skins, bones, skulls, and such. My Mom says that one day she went down to the "bone room" and asked my Dad if he wanted to go to a party. He agreed. They were the only couple to show up, so the hosts and the two of them played bridge and stayed up until the wee hours. Later, my Mom's uncle Bob said, "Are you going to marry a mouse doctor?" That she did.

We grew up in a 1760s-era old saltbox, one that my parents bought soon after moving to Amherst, Massachusetts. My Mom was likely not as enthusiastic as my Dad about the purchase; she was caring for my older brother and sister, who were less than 3 years old then, but they've been in the house nearly 60 years. Over the years Dad took pride in restoring the house to its original architecture. As kids we arrived home from school to the chore of scraping mortar off old bricks that Dad had salvaged to rebuild the central chimney and fireplaces. There wasn't much heat in the house and I recall at least one spell when the pipes froze. My sister said that is when Dad stopped shaving for good.
There was land with the saltbox and my parents acquired some more in subsequent years. We were always outside growing up: sledding on the mountain, catching fireflies, wandering in the fields and woods, raising animals, building roads in dirt piles for our toy trucks, camping. One of my Dad's greatest loves was working on his farmland. For many years, even into his nineties, he would ride his tractor, wield a chainsaw, or just walk the land with my mother.

He instilled in me a love of open space and the importance of protecting land and taught me my first bird songs when I was very young as we listened to warblers move through the yard in spring. In the 1970s he co-led the Amherst Growth Study Committee, an effort to restrict overdevelopment in Amherst and to protect the Lawrence Swamp, the aquifer for the town's drinking water. He was sued by a developer, but stuck to it, and helped build awareness for future land conservation. To that end, my parents were among the first to conserve their land through the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Program.

Besides his family and his farm, Dad loved bluebirds, homemade clam chowder, contra dancing, driving, watching the Red Sox, wolves, and ice cream with chocolate sauce (especially made by my Mom). Dad slipped peacefully away in his own bed on the farm that he loved, with his family near, and after enjoying a bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce the night before. He had a good life.