Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back to My Home Woods and Waterways

Oh what a joy to be back on my home turf again, especially on such a beautiful day! The sun was warm, but the snow-covered ice of the quiet bays of the river was still solidly frozen, allowing for easy exploring. My friend Sue and I strapped on our snowshoes and crunched through the Potter Point woods to the Hudson River, stopping every few yards or so to examine whatever treasures lay around us. There were critter tracks everywhere in the crusty snow: fox, coyote, fisher, squirrel (all the usual suspects), and today we found scads of turkey tracks where hemlock cones and birch fruits littered the ground.

For years I have noticed the tiny fleur-de-lis-shaped scales of the birch fruits scattered about on the snow and assumed they were hemlock seeds, since I always find them where hemlocks grow. Sue set me straight today, pulling apart one of the birch fruits to prove her point.

Everywhere we looked we found something of interest. I thought these small shelf fungi were as pretty as Japanese fans.

While Sue was taking her time exploring some nook of the river bank, I moved alone through a stand of tall hemlocks and just stood and listened. At first all was motionless and silent. Then I began to notice -- now here! now there! -- flitting shapes in the tops of the trees, and I heard the peek! peek! peek! of a flock of chickadees dashing about in the branches above. Such dear little birds! I do believe they come to check us out.

We wanted to check out the otter den I found last week, so we made our way toward the marsh behind Three Pine Island, with a detour to see what was left of the snapping turtle I'd found on the bank a couple of weeks ago. Carrion-eaters have picked away at the flesh they could access outside the shell, revealing the bones that give the snapper its serrated tail, almost like that of a stegosaurus.

Then we noticed another carcass out on the ice of the bay. Here's all that was left of what was once a deer. (We later found other pieces of flesh and hair that coyotes had carried back into the woods.)

I wonder if all the ruckus around the deer carcass caused the otter clan to move somewhere else? The den I found last week was just across the bay from the feasting site, and today we could find no sign of any recent otter activity, neither near the den entrance nor along the stream nor anywhere else in the marsh or the woods. But we did find these fresh raccoon tracks. The weather got so warm this past week, I'll bet the raccoons woke up and left their winter bedchambers to go get a snack. Or is it time for them to go looking for love?

Was I disappointed the otters had gone? Well, sure. I'd hoped to be able to see them in action someday. But there's always plenty to delight me out here along the river. This marshy area near the otters' den just teems with Black Tupelo trees, which are beautiful in every season. Today I noticed a few fruits still clung to the branches. I'm surprised the turkeys haven't gobbled them up by now.

Winterberry thrives in this marsh, as well. Their bright berries have lost just a bit of their color, so they now look more orange than red, but they sure looked splendid today against that blue, blue sky.


Pablo said...

Nice post. You should consider submitting it to the next Festival of the Trees.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Welcome home. And thanks for another virtual walk along your favorite river! You always have such great finds.

I'm taking next week off, so perhaps I will pay you a visit and we can go snowshoeing to some of your favorite haunts.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your comment, Pablo. It gave me a chance to check out your interesting blog about the Missouri Ozarks. Isn't it amazing how this blogging connects us all over the country and the world? Regarding the Festival of the Trees, I've heard about such festivals and roundups and see the invitations to contribute on the Nature Blog Network site, but I have no idea how I would go about submitting a blog post. The NBN doesn't give you directions on what to do.

Hi Ellen, good to hear from you. And yes it is great to be back home to my favorite river. I can't wait to explore its banks with you. Anytime.