Discovering Nature

Category: Ponds & Streams (page 1 of 3)

Summer Falls

This is a 3/4 mile walk along a gorge, but that short span includes something like a 600 foot rise in elevation. We climbed a lot of stairs, then walked down the other side on a more gradual trail. It was an absolutely lovely day.

Chipmunks or deer?

“What would you say?” I asked my daughter on our way out of the woods. “Was this walk mostly about chipmunks or deer?”

“Chipmunks, probably,” she answered.

But three deer, resting and grazing, were the first things we saw — after the monarch mudskipping in the parking lot. Later, we heard the snorty scream of a deer warning call, followed by some banging sounds, and then a young buck running through the woods across the creek from us. Could he have been clashing antlers with another deer? Or did he get stuck in a tight spot somewhere? Strange. We back tracked to see if we could get another look at him, and though we did see him we didn’t get any pics. Still another young deer bid us goodbye as we left the woods, too. They were surely out and about.

The chipmunks were definitely impossible to ignore, however! They scampered everywhere and chirped till the woods rang with it, warning everyone that we were intruding. The little guy pictured in the log was close enough to his safety zone to indulge his curiosity about us somewhat before disappearing inside.

The other story, for me, was the busyness and color of the woods. It shows up especially in the stream/bridge pictures. It’s difficult to find a single area of the scene that isn’t already brimfull of other outlines. It reminds me of those art class exercises where you are instructed to fill every space with a different pattern.

Not a ton of color this fall — mostly yellows and rust colors. It’s been dry. But it’s enough to tint the sunlight, giving it a beautiful burnished glow before it hits the ground.

Virescent Green Bee

virescent green bee

This brilliant green fellow landed just as I was photographing this aster.  I learned his name here. He’s just another example of how you can live in the same place for years and years before noticing something common and very beautiful. He adds a new dimension to the already rich fall colors.

Fall Marsh

Spring Thaw

robin

It was in the 60’s, the snow was melting, and the sun was out. We decided to head out and see what the woods looked like on such a welcome spring day.

A stop at the vernal pool didn’t seem like it would be too promising. But despite the ice…

ice

…I saw the first tadpole of the year.

tadpole

There’s something incongruous about the stealth of such a plump fellow darting along in his underwater world. I was glad to see him.

He wasn’t the only one enjoying the water. A big snapping turtle was floating on the pond, bleary-eyed. There were many ducks around the area, and I wondered if they realized he was there. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near him if I was a duck.

snapper

We took our dog Lucy. She had a blast, of course.

luce

We certainly appreciated her supervision playing in the stream. Where would we be without someone to catch every splash?

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But I felt an unexpected sadness, remembering how our old dog, Katie, who died over a year ago, used to love coming here too. I remembered how we had to leave her at home toward the end because she was so unwell, and she’d stand at the back window and watch us drive away. Memories are a part of these familiar places. Rest in peace, Katie.

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We needed the warmth and sun, and we saw a number of other people out and about in the woods too. All of us are ready for the snow to be gone — even though it means the season of mud begins. It was good to be out and feel the balminess and promise of spring.

pond

Adirondack Album

We visited the Adirondacks in July. Here is just a sampling of the beauties we enjoyed.

Tanglewood

Sometimes, even the tail end of wildlife can be pretty cute…

goslings

…but then, goslings are cute from all angles.

gosling

geese

Other things, close-to-the-ground, may require a certain perspective to be seen as “cute.” At the least, they’re indisputably well adapted.

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We saw any number of butterflies, including this tiny specimen — which I believe to be an American Copper.

american copper

american copper2

We were not only the observers at the Nature Center we visited today, however. Sometimes, we were the observed.

swallow

I think this is a young tree swallow. It didn’t take off the way I’d expect an adult to. It just observed us keenly.

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This young oriole was one of a pair of males. They appeared to be getting along equably, then suddenly the mature one chased the immature one off across the field.

oriole

I enjoyed the red-winged blackbirds around the pond.

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They seem common enough, yet I find them very pleasing to the eye.

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rwb4

One of the first things we saw was a bluebird — our state bird. On our walk we saw any number of chipmunks in the woods, and witnessed a drama between a blue jay and several great crested flycatchers darting and screaming at him until they finally chased him away. We also saw some downy woodpeckers, and lots of evidence of woodpecker carving in the trees. The prize was a sighting of a red-eyed vireo — a bird often heard but rarely seen. It sang right over our heads for a while, pausing only to smash a caterpillar to pulp at one point.

We heard several birds we never saw: oven birds, chestnut-sided warblers, a prairie warbler, a house wren, a common yellowthroat, a cardinal. A few months ago, a robin sighting would have been a highly prized assurance of spring; today we saw many robins without a second thought. A yellow warbler posed nicely for pictures (which I’ve posted in the preceding post).

Fortunately we got by without seeing a timber rattler. They’re common, but snake sightings in general (especially poisonous ones) are so far an aspect of nature study that has failed to win me over.

Tanglewood, the preserve we visited today, was a bit of a drive for us. It’s a nicely situated place with lots of walking trails and a mixture of meadow, pond and woodland. The grounds are well-kept both outside, and inside the nature center. They have a few captive raptors (a broad-winged hawk, a red-tail, a barred owl and a great horned owl), a possum, and a few other small rodents, birds, and reptiles. They also have an active honeybee colony — very neat to see. The exhibits are much nicer than our local nature center, which is choked with dusty taxidermy specimens, only a few of which are native species. It’s a hodge-podge, really, like someone’s attic full of collected natural artifacts. But at Tanglewood the exhibits are thoughtfully organized and effective as an educational experience.

Pond Walk

My dad took the girls and me for a walk around a different pond yesterday. These are some of the sights.

Pearl crescent butterfly

Pearl crescent butterfly

Supposedly the underside of the hind wing has a crescent, though I confess I have a hard time seeing it.

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There were LOTS of polliwogs — enough that we ended up taking some home in a goldfish bowl to observe.

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The Wog Whisperer -- my younger daughter

The Wog Whisperer — my younger daughter

This photo shows an adult frog chilling on the bottom while the younger generation swarms over it.

This photo shows an adult frog chilling on the bottom while the younger generation swarms over it.

Feeling watched?

Feeling watched?

 

The fields around the pond were filled with red-winged blackbirds and bobolinks. The bobolinks sang a two-note song, then a long string of gibberish that sounded exactly like R2-D2.

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I haven’t tried to identify these caterpillars yet.

caterpillars

Near the car, Older Daughter spotted this tiny moth — and I do mean tiny!

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When we got home we identified it as an eight-spotted forester moth.

eightspotted

The day was complete when we pulled into the driveway at home to find some great crested flycatchers. They’ve been around the yard for the last couple of days but they’re hard to get a good look at till they’re on their way out. My youngest spotted this one.

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Celebrating Seeing

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My daughters and I watched this pileated woodpecker in our back yard as we were eating lunch the other day. She captivated us for several minutes.

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No sooner had she flown away than a rabbit appeared, gathering up mouthfuls of grass and leaf litter and hopping behind some trees to pad her nest. Now we know where to look for baby rabbits.

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On the whole, this raised awareness of the creatures living all around us is the biggest plus of nature study. Who needs television if you have a window? Who needs computer games if you have eyes? The interest is simply there; all that’s needed is a very little effort to cultivate awareness.

It’s not always easy to be aware, though. Sometimes it brings sorrow. This year I notice several different areas around where bulldozers have cleared space for some kind of development, and every one of them will have an impact on birds or other creatures that lived in those spaces. Where will they go? And how much more space do humans need to take over, mow down, dig up?

Even something like Habitat for Humanity (which recently produced a house on an empty lot nearby) gives me pause these days. It sounds so positive. And it is positive to give someone an opportunity to help build their own home. But why take up new space to do it? Why not redesign an existing building standing empty? Every city has more than enough houses already, more than enough retail buildings and factory spaces. Why not use and re-use these spaces, rather than relentlessly sprawling outward like some seeping toxic spill?

Oh well… enough of the lament. Suffice it to say that I wish we gave more thought such matters before mowing down the bushes and trees to construct new buildings. Awareness — the ability simply to pay attention to what’s around you, wherever you are — is where an environmental ethic begins.  Not legislation or speech-making. Opened eyes.

Speaking of which, I have seen many interesting sights of late that I haven’t recorded here, and what follows will be a long column of wonders.

Starting with an oven bird! I’ve heard these leaf-like thrushes many times calling from the forest floor, but never have I been fortunate enough to actually see one till this past weekend, on an early morning walk.

ovenbird

ovenbird3

He was having a territorial squabble with another one nearby. The woods were full of them! Here, he’s standing on the ruin of an old nesting box.

At a nearby pond, we’ve seen the first of the green herons…

green heron

green heron2

We’ve seen geese nesting…

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…and geese newly hatched.

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As I stood watching, I noticed movement from one grass tussock to the next. Meadow mice were darting like lightning from hole to hole, right out in the marsh. They’re the color of dust, but otherwise they remind me a lot of hamsters.

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Water snakes abounded. None of them looked big enough to eat a mouse, but the frogs and wogs must be on the run.

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I think this tiny butterfly is a silvery blue. Its wings are only about a centimeter wide. The meadow was studded with them; I also saw one bright orange butterfly too elusive to photograph.

silvery blue

The chipmunks are coming out of hiding — well, they’re awake. Some are still hiding.

Find that chipmunk

Find that chipmunk

Others look like woodland mariners sailing deadwood ships.

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Happily, my daughter and I saw our first rose-breasted grosbeaks the other morning!

Mr Grosbeak

Mr Grosbeak

 

Mrs Grosbeak

Mrs Grosbeak

There were other birds chorusing all around, including song sparrows…

song sparrow2

…and yellow warblers.

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yellow2

yellow

It’s not every day that you get tracked by police while bird watching, but it happened the morning we saw these warblers. My daughter turned around, gasped, and said, “A police car!” We saw an officer circling our parked car and hurried back, fearing we’d broken some parking rule. “Oh, I was going to have her track you,” he greeted us, emerging from behind the car with a large police dog. Turns out he just saw our car and decided to take the opportunity to do some training!

There are several nests we’ve been keeping an eye on. We were thrilled to discover a red-tailed hawk nest in a spot we pass often, but it’s not terribly photographable. Still, as the nestlings grow and begin flappercizing, maybe we’ll get some better views (and pictures).

hawk nest

The other day, we were looking at a red-winged blackbird atop this snag when we noticed a tree swallow in a nest cavity beneath him.

swallow

Last but not least, the chickadees must have a few nestlings in this nest box outside our front window, because the parent birds have been active, flying to and fro and apparently feeding young.

ch

It’s a great time of year for being outside. Here in the northeast the sense of release from the grip of winter seems so strong and so welcome.

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fern

Even our domestic animals like to get out and smell the flowers!

Whisper

Whisper

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