Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter Birding

My friend Karin and I bundled against the cold January temperature to bird along Marginal Way in York, Maine, a popular birding area and guaranteed spot to see Harlequin ducks and other wintering birds. Marginal Way is a public, one-mile paved narrow path that hugs the rocky shoreline. On the landward side the trail is lined with fruit-bearing shrubs, some non-native, but all provide barrier to the high-end summer homes that over look the trail and the vast ocean beyond.
In winter, harlequin ducks feed among the crashing waves, as do rafts of common eiders and other sea ducks. The harlequin is a small sea duck that winters on the coast of Maine and breeds in fast flowing mountain streams in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. Its plumage is exquisite -- white patches and bands contrast with a blue gray body and chestnut sides. Click here to see a photo.

In contrast, the common eider is a big, bulky sea duck. The male eider stands out in the crowd of eiders with its black and white body, green nape (neck), and sloping head with a pale green bill. The females are reddish brown with black barring. Click here for a photo of an eider pair from Massachusetts Audubon.

As the incoming tide covered beaches and sand bars, a flock of 25 purple sandpipers landed on the rocks at the edge of the surf. They hopped up to the top of the rock and rested in the sun, as waves crashed below their perch. The purple sandpiper is a plump, more slate-gray than purple, shorebird with a slightly curving bill and yellow legs and feet (click here for photo). They breed in the arctic and are one of the few sandpipers that winters this far north.

Black scoters, with jet-black plumage and bright orange knob on the bill, swam among the eiders and harlequins. A pair of red-breasted mergansers floated by, their bills tucked into their backs. Four beautiful long-tailed ducks, in their winter whites, swam farther off-shore. White-winged and surf scoters remained even farther off-shore, visible only with a spotting scope. All the sea ducks were in their breeding plumage, already pairing up and chasing away unwanted male competition. We saw a lone common loon, still in its rather dull winter plumage.

As we drove south along the shore, we watched a small flock of buffleheads play in the water. Males chasing females, all diving and splashing. Not far away two male and one female common goldeneye were calmly swimming and diving. We ended our birding at the Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick. Great cormorants roost off the north end of the island. Fewer people visit in winter, but in summer this place is bustling with tourists.


We scanned the water at Nubble Light, taking in the last views of wintering sea ducks under a clear winter's day. I continue my tradition of visiting the coast in winter and avoiding it in summer. The reverse of most people, and that is the idea.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Winds

It is hard to convey in a still photo the movement, sound, and feel of a bracing winter wind. A northwest wind has blown all day. As the large, orange full moon set this morning just after 6:00 am, the wind was already whipped into a frenzy.

Heavy rain earlier this week, followed by cold temperatures, has frozen the snow; the wind swept away any remaining dusting. Wind gusts, 20 miles per hour or more, rush through the tall white pines with a roar. Skinny pole-sized red maples clang their tops together. Bird calls are carried swiftly away. Twice today the mixed flock of birds at the feeders flushed in unison, perhaps by a gust of wind. Later a Cooper's hawk caused another quick departure; it missed catching a bird as it flew or was blown too quickly past the harried songbirds.

Tonight we are heading toward the zero degree Fahrenheit range with bitter (not bracing!) wind chills, similar to two weeks ago as chronicled here. Atop Mt. Washington at the moment it is - 21 F and 60 mph winds (-64 F with wind chill), where they proudly proclaim the spot as "home to the world's worst weather." In 1934, the fastest wind ever recorded on Earth was reported from there -- a gust of 231 mph. But wait, a new report has reportedly toppled that record. This may be as traumatic as the Old Man of the Mountain falling off the mountain. Apparently a new record wind gust was recorded in 1996 on Barrow Island, Alaska during Typhoon Olivia. The new record is 253 mph. Of course a careful review of the instruments used and their calibrations is underway!

Well, now the winds swirling around outside my window seem more like a gentle, warm breeze. Still, I think I'll stay inside where it is calm.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fading Cabbages

Rotting cabbage is not a pleasant smell. Actually it stinks, especially a field full of them during a January thaw. Even the deer and the crows avoid the decaying crop.

One of several setbacks of the 2009 farm season was the loss of the fall cabbage crop at Brookfield Farm, the CSA that leases some of our land at Winterberry Farm. The crop went in about on time, but growing conditions never encouraged the cabbage heads to enlarge and firm up. A soft, small cabbage head in November is not worthy of harvest.



Fall cabbages are normally hardy and good for winter storage. But once they lose their luster, the isothiocynates emerge and break down into smelly sulfur compounds. This also occurs if you overcook cabbage. This goes for all the members of the cruciferous family (or if you prefer the brassicas) -- such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale.

Often the foods that have a bit of smell, are often the ones that are best for you. Apparently these isothiocynates are good for us, helping ward off various forms of cancer and cleansing toxins from the body. The key to enjoying the brassicas is to eat them raw or cooked for a short time. I like some sliced raw red cabbage in a green salad. Green and red cabbage sauteed briefly with some salt and pepper and a fresh green chili with a squirt of lemon juice is nice. My mom made us some green cabbage cole slaw this week. She grated half a cabbage, added a smidgen of grated onion, and enough mayonnaise for flavor and some cream to spruce it up. Her cabbage was from the store!

Just so I don't leave you with the thought of rotting cabbages, here is a more pleasant image. After several days of warm weather and rain the ground is bare but frozen here in western Massachusetts. As I skipped quickly past the cabbage field I caught sight of many birds feeding on seeds, fruits, and insects -- dozens of juncos, a handful of white-throated sparrows, eight cedar waxwings, a few robins, and one lone golden-crowned kinglet. A prettier bird you will not see in the middle of winter than a little kinglet.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Century of Changes

I am visiting my parents for a few days at Winterberry Farm, their home of 53 years and the place where I grew up. I have written about it often during the past year, including here, here, and here, and many times in between. The saltbox was built circa 1764, going on 245 years old. The last half century has likely been the greatest period of change for the house and associated outbuildings. My parents kept many of the historic features, but by sweat and tears they continue to restore, enhance, and improve their home.

The earliest photo that we have of the house is circa 1900. The Jewetts lived here then.


Notice the wood shingles on the roof, the two chimneys, the catalpa sapling in the center, and what we think is a chestnut tree behind the shed.

Here is the house in October 1957, the year my parents bought the place. My older brother and sister are checking out the yard. My other brother and I were not yet on the scene! Note the size of the catalpa - my how it grew in 50+ years. The roofs are now metal, the wood shingles are gone. The two chimneys remain. My father says that the chestnut tree was now just a fallen log and stump, likely it had succumbed to chestnut blight.

In 1969, we raised the house to pour a full basement. Once the house was lowered again, we started restoring the central chimney and four fireplaces. I remember scraping salvaged bricks after school. The photo above shows the house in 1978, after all these changes.

In the 1990s and into the 2000s Dad continued to work on the house, replacing the siding and windows on most of the house.

Then in 2002 it was on to the barn and the sheds.....continuing up to the present. It is looking lovely. The inside work continues as well, really never ending in an old house. But this house will stand another 245 years or more. I think the Jewetts would be impressed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Face for the Day

With the political establishment in disarray and world affairs muddling on, here is a face to brighten any mood.


This is Angel, our friend Beth's new 8-week old Rottweiler puppy. She arrived weighing 10 pounds. Congratulations Beth!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Snow Day II

More snow today -- another four inches.
The woods and wetland behind our house are very snowy.
Superb for snowshoeing.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Snowing

Our view this morning,
after eight inches of fresh snow and counting


Goldfinches mob the Nyjer seed feeder, chickadees and titmice dart in and out to snatch black oil sunflower seeds, and a tree sparrow (the first of the season) set up camp on the lower rung of the sunflower seed tube feeder. Juncos help themselves to sunflower seeds tossed to the ground by other birds, sharing the space with three mourning doves.

The tree sparrow is distinctive with its rufous crown and eye-line and small dark spot on its breast. For every seed that the sparrow cracks and eats, it spills another ten on the ground. It is either a slob or quite picky about which seeds are good to eat. Meanwhile, the goldfinches are eating machines, efficiently consuming every nyjer seed.

The fresh snow will provide great animal tracking. We will be out tomorrow at first light to see who wandered through our yard in the night.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Earthquake and Eclipse

We remain fixated on images from the devastation in Haiti. These events sharpen the reality that many of us are born into good fortune. Others are not so lucky. Struggling with poverty at this scale is far removed from our personal experiences. Sure, the hard work of individuals might create a better future, but if the system is broken, as in Haiti, that struggle seems almost insurmountable. I think we will all watch in the days, weeks, months, and years to come to see if Haiti can now break free of the past and forge a better future.

While this earthquake and its aftermath was unfolding, another natural phenomenon occurred last week. This one -- an annular solar eclipse -- went largely unnoticed here. Partly because the earthquake "eclipsed" all other news, and because the solar eclipse was only visible in Africa and Asia on January 15th. Also, the astronomical event left no death and destruction on earth.

Our nephew, Sid Ramachandran, sent these photos that he took of the eclipse from Pondicherry in southern India.



Photos © Sid Ramachandran

An annular solar eclipse occurs during a new moon, when the moon and the sun are in line, as seen from earth. During the eclipse, the moon appears smaller compared to the sun, leaving a bright ring (or annulus) of sun surrounding the moon. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is farther from the earth in its orbit, and thus appears smaller relative to the sun. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, and therefore appears larger, and "totally" obscures the sun.

Somewhere over the Indian Ocean the January 15th solar eclipse reached its longest "annularity" at 11 minutes and 8 seconds. Future generations will have to wait more than 1,000 years, until December 23, 3043, to see one this long again. See the NASA Eclipse website for more. Here is the schedule from NASA for more eclipses in 2010:

The next is a lunar eclipse. These occur at full moon, when the moon passes behind the earth and all the suns rays are blocked by the earth from striking the moon.

One week - two different natural events. One of beauty. One of sorrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fox Fragrance

"Do you smell the skunk odor," said Phil. At first I thought I smelled coffee -- ever notice how some ground coffee smells just a hint like skunk spray? Then I thought he meant he or his dog Teak had been sprayed by a skunk. Then I sniffed the air, and realized it was a red fox that only moments before marked its territory just where we were standing.

Red fox breed here in mid-January to late-February. Fox communicate through a mix of vocalizations and scent-marking throughout the year. During courtship, right about now, their urine takes on a mildly "skunky" smell. It sure gets your attention, so must make a fox mate perk up. Once mated the female will set-up a maternity den, where she will give birth to 1-10 pups in about 8 weeks.

Yesterday, as I walked through an old gravel pit I watched a gorgeous red fox scurry across the open land. Four deer also skipped across the snow and headed to dense softwood cover along the edges. Fox thrive in this mix of open land, shrub thickets, sand banks and jumbled boulders, edged by woods. The sand and gravel excavation perhaps messed up the scenic landscape, but the wildlife seem plentiful.

Reverting gravel pit, Lee, New Hampshire

The red fox is the most widely distributed carnivore in the world. The species is thought to be native to North America, but perhaps only as far south as Quebec and Ontario historically. Around 1750, the British introduced the European red fox because they tired of hunting the tree-loving native gray fox. Now it is thought that the reds from Canada and the reds from Britain are the same species, Vulpes vulpes.

Both the red fox and the eastern coyote are adaptable in their choice of habitat and food. Research shows that the larger coyote might out-compete red fox, and therefore influence fox survival and distribution. The red fox seems to be holding its own. A red fox is able to hear low-frequency sounds, such as meadow voles scurrying under the snow. With its keen hearing and taste for a variety of small mammals, birds, insects, and fruits, the red fox will likely continue to thrive.

Look and smell for fox -- 'tis the season.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tips

Tips are pouring in (well, maybe dribbling, but still terrific) for contacting a real human when needing customer support. Several people suggested hitting "0," even though that is not one of the options. Might need to keep hitting "0" every time you are greeted with a new prompt. Try it. Apparently another trick might be to say something into the phone that is not requested -- try that too.

Another friend, Dale, provided the following link for gethuman.com. This is cool. It provides tips for reaching humans at all sorts of companies, including average wait times. Looking at the list, VerizonWireless is not bad at 5.1 minutes, beating out T-mobile and AT&T. The whole thing though is crazy if you think about it. There are 6+ billion people on earth and we have to go through these convoluted steps to reach a human!

Regarding my fall that bruised my elbow and ego -- tips are arriving for that too. Relatives offer the useful tip to be careful and avoid frozen rivers. Friends Dale and Lisa offered an equally useful list of gear to bring along on my outings. These include 4-point crampons, Yaktrax, and Kahtoola microspikes. I was thinking that my beaver-chewed walking stick would suffice.

Since I am on the topic of "Tips." Here are are few of my own that I recently discovered, with the help of others:

Readability: go to this link and enhance readability of web pages

Snipping Tool: On your start menu, go to "Programs," then "Accessories. Find "snipping tool," Right click and choose "add to quick launch." Any time you want to capture and save a part of a screen or document, select the snipping tool. With this tool you can also use a pen or highlighter on the clipped document, which can then be saved as a jpg. Here is an example:


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Week Later

A week ago today I fell hard on my right arm, which I described here. My elbow and forearm are better and changing colors by the day. Currently it looks like one of those beautiful purple sunsets - a mix of beige, green, and purple. I sufficiently worried my in-laws in India. Today I resumed my yoga and some weight-lifting, so all is fine.

Given my injury and somewhat monotonous weather -- cold, no fresh snow -- I've been encountering few interesting things on my walks to blog about. Instead, I've been catching up on indoor activities. A dozen boxes of 35 mm slides rest on one of our closet shelves. As technology zooms along, what does one do with all these photos? Is it worth getting at least some scanned into digital format? Until recently I could drop off slides at a local camera shop for this conversion. Now most of those shops have shuttered, put out of business by changing technologies and internet-based shopping for digital cameras.

Someone recommended ScanMyPhotos.com. Do I trust sending original 35 mm photos by mail to a place in Irvine, California? They in turn may ship my order somewhere else. After more calling about, I found a relatively local business (Rivers Photo and Digital) that will scan for $1.25 per slide. That seems okay. I will try them and report back on my experience.

My other chore was to set up an online account for my VerizonWireless prepaid mobile phone. I switched from a $35 plus taxes per month plan, which I barely used, to the prepaid plan. If you just need a cell phone for emergencies (like falling hard on your elbow), this seems like the way to go. So, I've called the VerizonWireless 1-800 number three times and each time I eventually get a human to help me, but I have no idea how I finally reached a human. I can not replicate it.

These 800 numbers are exceedingly frustrating, forcing you to click through endless, circular menus, without a clear way to reach a human. Always amazing how communications companies are terrible at communicating! There must be a secret code. Maybe just hitting a certain number of keys finally sends you to some nice person, like Mary in Tucson, who I finally reached. Mary answered all my questions, set up my account, and we talked about the weather -- 70F in Tucson, 25F here. That might explain her good mood.

Now I am ready for more outdoor winter adventures!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Zero Degrees

At 5:00 am this morning the thermometer read -0.1 degree Fahrenheit. Our coldest morning of the year. So cold that the dogs lift their paws when they step on the snow. It got me thinking about our relatives in places far and near, wondering who was cold and who was warm. Here is my assessment based on Weather Underground at 8:30 am Eastern Standard Time, listed in order from warmest to coldest:

Pondicherry, India 80 F
Bangalore, India 78 F
Hayward, California 42 F
Regina, Saskatchewan 10 F
Mansfield, Massachusetts 8 F
Amherst, Massachusetts 8 F
Chicago, Illinois 5 F
Charlotte, Vermont 3 F
Newmarket, NH 1 F
Geneva, Illinois -5 F

Illinois is the coldest spot in the U.S. this morning, while Southern India is lovely this time of year.

Of course everywhere except in the United States and Belize, the Celsius scale is used, not Fahrenheit. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was in his mid-twenties when he invented his temperature scale and the first precise mercury thermometer. This after his parents died accidentally from eating poisonous mushrooms; he was 16 at the time. Fahrenheit was an inventor and chemist, who died at age 50 in 1736.

Mister (or Dr) Anders Celsius came along with his temperature scale just a bit later. As a Swedish Astronomer he spent much of his time studying the Aurora Borealis. Some time before his death in 1744, at age 42, he developed the "centigrade" scale, which means "consisting of or divided into 100 degrees. The International Conference on Weights and Measures renamed it the Celsius scale in 1948, in honor of the Swede.

The freezing point (32 F) and the boiling point (212 F) are separated by 180 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. On the Celsius scale, the separation of the two reference temperatures is 100 degrees. The two scales converge at -40 degrees. If you can figure out how that can happen then you can easily make the conversion between Celsius and Fahrenheit using the following formulas:

Temp Celcius = (Temp F - 32) x 5/9

Temp Fahrenheit = (Temp C x 9/5) + 32 [OR C x 1.8 + 32] : thanks to correction from Srini!

Or maybe we should all just use Celsius. To follow that thought -- our temperature at 5 am was -16 C and my brother had -20 C. Brrrrr, that is cold. I think the weather forecasters and ski resorts forced us to keep the Fahrenheit, otherwise people might be discouraged from heading out to the slopes. On the other hand, 40 C in India sounds a lot better than 104 F, although either way it is hot. Which is really the point, it is all relative.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Falling on Friday

A gentle snow started falling by late morning; about the time Bella and I set off on our daily walk. We returned to one of our favorite nearby haunts -- an old, closed town road that leads through state-owned conservation lands full of wildlife sign.

We are almost always alone on these weekday walks. Work, weather, wind, or other distractions keep most people away. The solitude allows for introspection and for wandering wherever we please.

Pointy-toed deer tracks crisscross the trail and lead around every Eastern red cedar. The trees misshapen by repeated heavy winter browsing by the deer. Canine tracks, large and small, follow their prey. Bounding snowshoe hare crossed our path well-before we arrived. The hare population appears healthy given the density of tracks beneath the thick white pine and young hardwoods. Bella found many a round brown pellet, where the hare paused to browse some twigs.

We discovered several ruffed grouse roost sites, by seeing the droppings not the bird. The first site was beneath a stand of young quaking aspens, the favorite winter food of grouse. They perch in the tree eating mainly the male flower buds and leaf buds. According to a Maryland Cooperative Extension fact sheet, grouse may leave as many as 75 chalk-colored, cylindrical slightly curved droppings, each about one inch in length, in a pile beneath their roost.

Today we discovered this large pile of grouse droppings,
beneath a thicket of young white pines.



By coincidence, the current email issue of Northern Woodlands arrived in my inbox today, which includes a nice story about ruffed grouse in winter. Read the article to learn about grouse tricks to stay warm and safe in winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Elbow

This week I suffered a contusion to my elbow. Bella and I were merrily walking on the frozen Lamprey River, following the worn tracks of snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. As I stepped on the river bank to get back up on the woodland trail, I went down suddenly and hard. Beneath the dusting of fluffy snow was a sheet of very hard ice.

Upon reflection, after I nearly passed out twice and visited Urgent Care to ensure no fractures, I think I jammed my elbow into the river bank. My wrist was fine. My forearm and elbow hurt a lot, as I used my left hand to drive the stick shift Subaru to the clinic. No one arrived at the Urgent Care desk for several minutes......as I moaned a bit about my pain and the state of health care (insurance). After spending two hours in Urgent Care --less than 5 minutes with a doctor -- I left with no fractures and a splint and sling to heal the contusion to the elbow. The nurses were excellent. I still wonder if the radiologist, who I never met nor was given a name, was sitting somewhere in Asia reading the electronic images of the six x-rays of my forearm and elbow.

I was offered an injection for pain relief and given two prescriptions for pain medication. I took none of it. As I recovered from the initial shock of the blunt trauma, I realized the pain was not that bad. On a scale of 1-10, I initially told the nurse my pain was 6.5. But then I felt foolish. I could never be tortured. I would say anything within seconds...... Not that anyone should be tortured (except maybe Dick Cheney).

For 24 hours I followed instructions -- used the sling and kept the arm wrapped in the half splint. The morning after, my arm still hurt when I tried my exercises. I suddenly realized how strong my Mom is at 87, when I was forcing her to do her post-hip surgery exercises last spring. Sorry Mom -- I think I was too hard on you.

By the second day -- today, I was feeling pretty good. I had shed the sling and splint (supposed to be on for a week). I will take a few more days before resuming yoga and weight lifting. I take my trek pole on my walks in the woods and for now I am staying clear of frozen rivers with steep banks. Today we followed more gentle terrain.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Biodiversity

A flurry of research, writing, and planning to know and conserve the biological diversity or biodiversity of New Hampshire occurred in the late 1990s. This activity culminated in several publications about New Hampshire's Living Legacy: The Biodiversity of the Granite State.



My role included defining biodiversity and urging public and private landowners to care enough to conserve biologically diverse places.

Surprisingly, or not, the forestry community dismissed the concerns and perceived the efforts as a threat to their livelihood. I saw it as a way to diversify the values and uses of forested lands. You see, the forest industry was dying in northern New England -- lands long-owned by paper companies were sold to investors or broken into smaller parcels. Paper and wood products could be made more cheaply overseas. The forestry community saw biodiversity advocates as a threat, not as an ally in a changing world.

Biodiversity can be defined in words. At its most basic it is all living things. New Hampshire's Living Legacy: The Biodiversity of the Granite State -- the book -- explains it in much more detail. You can read the brochure version here. I thought a visual interpretation might reach more people, so we made the video. In 1998, this meant a videocassette. Technology has long since moved on and no one has a VCR anymore (except my Dad!). Just this week I received the link to New Hampshire's Living Legacy: The Biodiversity of the Granite State - the DVD. Thanks to University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension for making the conversion. You too can view it here.

In the age of YouTube, the video at 22 minutes or so, now seems slow and dated. You'll need a cup of tea and some down time to view it to the end. You can pause, but not advance, the video. If anyone watches it, I would appreciate feedback. The moose are my favorite characters in biodiversity, the movie.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Old Trees

By 1830, fifty percent of New Hampshire was cleared for crops, sheep pasture, farmsteads, and other uses. A few pockets of woods were left as a source of fuel. Large, old trees were mostly gone, especially from southern New Hampshire (and the rest of central and southern New England). One hundred years later, most farms were abandoned -- too rocky here; more fertile soil to the west, the railroad, the Erie Canal, the California Gold Rush, and the Civil War drew people elsewhere.

Trees, especially white pine, grew back into the abandoned farm fields. Then the pine were cut. Finally, by 1940, the forests that we see today started to reforest the region. Most trees in the woods are less than 100 years old. On Saturday we revisited a large white pine atop Bald Hill, one that has reached 100+ years. In the early 1900s, Bald Hill was clear of trees, except for one -- this big old bull pine. We walk around its large trunk, gaze up at its massive branches, and marvel at a tree that lives longer than a human lifespan.


Surprisingly, centuries old trees remain in other places not far from here. The oldest black gum tree in the United States, at 680 years, lives in a swamp in Northwood, New Hampshire. Yet, these aged trees are just saplings compared to the giant sequoias and bristlecone pines growing in the West. General Sherman, a 2,500-year old giant sequoia, is 109 feet in girth and nearly 275 feet tall. Sherman's commander, General Grant, is a shade smaller at 107 feet across and 268 feet high.

And then there is the "Chicago Stump," a 3,200 year-old sequoia that was cut down for the 1893 World's Fair, to show people that such big old trees really do exist(ed!). The massive, brittle sequoias shatter when felled, with 50 percent of the wood rendered useless except as matchsticks. The felling of these giants launched the crusade to protect the remaining groves and led to the creation of Sequoia National Park.

Michael P. Cohen writes a fascinating tale here of "WPN-114," a 5,000 year old bristlecone pine also known as Prometheus. In 1964, the year Congress passed the Wilderness Act, Donald Currey, a young geography graduate student studying the Little Ice Age, used an increment borer to age the old bristlecone. The equipment broke or got stuck or did not work for some reason. Currey really wanted to know the age of the tree so he got permission from the Forest Service to cut the tree. Prometheus became a statistic ("WPN-114") to some and a martyr to others, its life ended at 5,000 years.

Old does not necessarily mean big. Recently, researchers discovered a 13,000 year old Palmer oak in southern California. That oak has 70 stems and stands only a few feet tall. Perhaps technically more of a shrub than a tree.

We visit the old bull pine atop Bald Hill a few times each year. Although still relatively young, the pine stands tall and strong and will likely live well beyond our lifetimes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mallard-Sized Snowfall

This weekend we shoveled new snow each day from the driveway and along the paths to the front porch, compost bin, and shed. The light, fluffy snow fell in batches, as predicted. I did not measure the overall depth, though here is one measure of the weekend's accumulation -- a mallard-sized amount. Read yesterday's blog to learn about these still life ducks.

January 1, 2010 12:47 pm

January 3, 2010 12:58 pm

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Six Decoys

Bella and I walked the Sweet Trail on New Year's Day. The wetland is frozen solid again. More people were out, walking the trail and wandering onto the snow-covered ice. Fisher, deer, fox, mice, raccoon, and squirrels were meandering too. As we approached the first big wetland with the heron nests, an odd sight --something that I had noticed on Tuesday -- remained.

Waterfowl hunting season continues until January 11th in this area. Just as we returned to the small parking lot five guys in camouflage carrying shotguns were returning to their cars. Another trail leads from here down to the shores of Great Bay, where many ducks and geese congregate in winter. The hunters had returned empty-handed, outsmarted by the ducks that stayed far out in the center of the Bay.

As to the curious sighting back at the frozen wetland. Six wooden duck decoys sit on the ice, as if hunters had left in a hurry, or realized that any sensible duck would not land on ice. There was no open water in sight. Maybe they placed the decoys during the very brief thaw last weekend and then the wetland froze solid, leaving the decoys frozen in place until the next thaw. These scaup and mallard are likely to overwinter.

Scaup, or "bluebills"





A male mallard.
A large bird checked out this fellow,
leaving behind an impression of its wings in the snow.
The mallard was the most colorful of the flock.



Friday, January 1, 2010

A Quiet New Year's Morning

This is the quietest morning of the year. No commuters driving to work, New Year revelers are sound asleep, and our neighbor's homes are still dark, except for a sprinkling of Christmas lights. As we stepped out into the darkness before first light, we woke or startled a barred owl. We heard a loud screech followed by a few notes of "who-who-who-whoooo." The initial screech sounded more mammalian than bird. The ending though clinched it as a barred owl. I found the following website -- barred owl vocalizations -- trying to find a match for the sound we heard. If you click on that link and scroll down to "whistle-screech-female" then click on one of the calls -- that is what we heard this first day of 2010.

The full moon still lingered high on the western horizon as we walked in the dark. Despite a cloud cover, the bright moon shone through, before finally setting behind thicker clouds. A pinch of snow was falling, an inch accumulated overnight. More is on the way, in batches of a few inches now and then throughout the weekend. A good start to the New Year, with no rain in sight.

Peace in 2010