Monday, February 23, 2009

Tapping Time

Overnight temperature 20F. Daytime temperature 40F. Sunny. No wind. Conditions are right so our neighbors down the road have tapped their sugar maples. They do it the traditional way with spiles (spouts) and buckets, rather than the newer way with a network of rubber tubing snaking through the woods from trees to sugar house. The tubes are surely more efficient but somehow lessen the wonder of turning sap to syrup.

It takes 40 gallons to make 1 gallon of syrup. We use several gallons of syrup a year in granola, on pancakes, for cookies. So, here's wishing that our neighbor Mr. Nichols and our friends have a good sap year. Our pantry is ready for the 2009 batch.

As we were thinking sweet thoughts about blueberry pancakes with delicate amber syrup, another spring sighting caught our eye. Two turkey vultures soared overhead, their distinct two-toned black and gray wings, v-shaped (dihedral) wing form, and rocking flight. Turkey vultures, like the robins in our crabapple, seem to be staying longer and arriving earlier, some probably spending the winter.

Turkey vultures are big, as big as eagles. Interestingly they are more closely related to storks than to "Old World" vultures (the ones you see on Nature tearing into a wildebeest carcass on the African savanna). Back here in the New World (someone needs to change those names), our turkey vultures are searching and smelling for road kill and other dead things; yes, they can smell pretty well which is unusual in birds. I'm not sure I needed to know this, but like their stork relatives, turkey vultures squirt liquid feces onto their legs, which evaporates and cools the bird.

Back to sweeter thoughts. Winter returned overnight (although not sweet it looks pretty). The juncos, chickadees, goldfinches, and nuthatches are busy at the feeders this morning. Two red squirrels briefly sit side by side beneath the feeders. And now a gray and red squirrel are sitting together. But that lasts less than ten seconds. Three grays are commanding the feeders. The red squirrel tries to dart back in, but these gray squirrels are looking like couch potatoes, not ready to budge for their fiesty cousin.

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