Tuesday, January 2, 2024

First Walks of 2024

We rise early, well before sunrise. It helps to go to bed early. Fortunately the New Year's Eve celebratory fireworks in the neighborhood ended relatively early so that we and our 12-year old dog Henna could drift off to sleep. Henna is not a fan of loud noises.

As we do every morning, we rang in the New Year before dawn. After savoring a cup of coffee sitting by the wood stove, I bundled up and headed out with Henna, a headlamp clamped to my head. Our first walk is aways in the morning darkness. Henna sniffs around for overnight animal movements. I glance at the sky--darn, still cloudy. The ground is still snow-free and soft, it feels more like March than January.

By mid-morning on New Year's Day we were walking the wide flats at Seapoint Beach in Kittery, Maine. The tide was just coming in, a dozen or so others were there, many with dogs running happily after tennis balls and greeting each other. The calm ocean water shimmered under the brilliant winter sun. A few sea ducks far offshore dove below the surface of the ice-cold sea. I marvel at the circulatory system and anatomy of ducks and geese that allow them to thrive in the cold water, while we require many layers of clothing in winter even on land.

On this clear, crisp first day of 2024, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such natural beauty. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as quickly as they arrived, after the last fruit was plucked.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is my favorite native shrub, its beautiful red berries brighten an otherwise late fall landscape and the bounty of juicy berries serve as a mid-winter food for birds. 

The bright red berries of our winterberry in September.

Winterberry is typically dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Only the female plants produce the bright red berries; each berry sports a small black dot. The greenish-white flowers are so inconspicuous that I often miss noting their blooms in early summer. The berries are the show-stopper, especially in early fall when the red berries are surrounded by the dark green, finely-toothed leaves or in winter set against a snowy landscape.

December winterberries.

Lots of rain last fall and into early winter has kept water levels high in local streams and rivers. Despite the high water, wetlands have frozen solid due to the recent stretch of very cold temperatures. Yesterday we explored one such ice-covered local beaver pond. We heard what sounded like a flock of crows cawing from the woods above, only to realize it was the clang of our microspike-clad footsteps.

We walked around an unoccupied beaver lodge, something only possible in mid-winter. An intact skeleton of a cormorant lay among the beaver-chewed, sun-bleached lodge sticks. Our dogs Kodi and Henna sniffed about but didn't detect anything breathing inside the lodge.

As the wetland narrowed upstream, we stepped around shrubs, sedge hummocks, and uprooted trees. A few bluebirds and chickadees flitted around us. A thicket of winterberry was stripped bare of its fruits. At the base was a tell-tale sign that a flock of birds had devoured the berries: winterberry scat. Birds have an efficient digestive system and some can process a fleshy fruit with small seeds--such as a winterberry--in less than an hour. 

A pile of bird scat (aka poop) below a thicket of winterberry. 
The contents are entirely winterberry skins and seeds.

Winterberry is a favorite addition to holiday wreaths. A local farm has started a small plantation of winterberry shrubs as a commercial source of these beautiful berries. I clipped a few twigs from our bush in December (before the bird banquet) and added them to our wreath. Just today a few bluebirds picked off all the winterberries. Happy to oblige them this sustenance on a cold winter day.

Our wreath before the bluebirds ate the winterberries.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Robin Song

Drab morning under a gray sky; a cold, southeast breeze chills my face. A robin sings its cheery spring song, another robin chuckles, while a third one sounds an alarm call from the woods.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Crows on Morning Foray

Six crows fly east across the field, while a more raucous group of eight circle Bald Hill, land on the tallest pines, then fall silent. A light wind carries no foul odors.

Phoebe arrived in our yard today.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Light Rain

Light rain and mid-40s overnight; one spring peeper on the road--dead. Sweet fragrance of fresh wood chips, the remnants of Asplundh's clearing of the powerline along our road yesterday. Woodcock continue to rule the predawn songscape.

Monday, January 11, 2021

A Sliver Moon

Cold and calm before daybreak. The moon is an orange sliver visible just above the treeline. Four pairs of eyes shine back at us from the Mitchell's lower field, a small herd of deer that survived 2020.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Three Bluebirds in a Row

The mixed flock of birds at our feeders includes three bluebirds sitting in a row. Their brilliant blue feathers brighten an otherwise dull, gray day. A gray squirrel drinks from the heated dog bowl bird bath.

First Walks of 2024

We rise early, well before sunrise. It helps to go to bed early. Fortunately the New Year's Eve celebratory fireworks in the neighborhoo...