Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Eagles Are Here!

The Hudson ran dark and glassy today, providing the perfect background for spotting the snowy-white heads and tails of adult Bald Eagles.  With high hopes that we might do just that, about a dozen folks accompanied Moreau Lake State Park naturalist Gary Hill to the river this frosty-cold morning to search the water, the sky, and the forested banks where these majestic birds can sometimes be seen perching in trees.  Here we are at the boat launch site below Spier Falls Dam, scanning the hillsides downstream.

Here, my friend Sue is searching the river upstream.  We saw no eagles at this particular site, but Sue did point out some Hooded Mergansers paddling close to the opposite shore.

After stopping to search the river at several other places along Spier Falls Road, with no trace of eagles anywhere, we made our final stop at the boat launch site above Spier Falls Dam.  Here, the river was mostly frozen over, although there were still a few patches of open water where eagles could fish.  Also, as a feeding station to attract the eagles, park staffers had placed the carcass of a road-killed deer on the rocky promontory visible on the left side of this photo.  If we were going to see any eagles today, this was the best place to spot them.

Sure enough, sharp-eyed Sue spotted an adult eagle flying along the hillsides upstream, although we promptly lost sight of it as it moved behind trees.  While most of our group continued to search for that elusive eagle upstream, I trained my binoculars across the bay to this clump of trees on the rocks, where I spotted a splotch of white.  Hey, I called, I think we've got another one here!

And there it was, just sitting there calmly in that clump of trees, directly above the deer carcass that had no doubt provided its breakfast.  I wish I could say that this photo was of that eagle, but it's actually one I took of another eagle along the Hudson last year.  Today's eagle took off before I could open my camera, and it flew across the bay to perch on the opposite bank, far out of my camera's focal range but clearly visible to us across the water.  Gary had brought along a spotting scope, so everybody was able to get a good view of this magnificent bird, which provided a nice reward for our standing around in the cold.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back Out to the Woods and Waters

A bright, cold, clear day, and oh, it was wonderful to get under that radiant sky and swing my legs along pine-needled paths and sandy shores at Moreau Lake State Park.  I do love the holidays, a month of feasting and family fun from Thanksgiving to Christmas, except that most of that month is spent indoors and eating far too much food that's not good for me.  So now I'm ready to get back to healthier eating and especially to just go out and play in the woods all day.  Yesterday,  a ferocious wind slapped me back into the house after just a few moments outdoors, but today a calmer air and a kindly sun called me out to wander for hours.

No snow as yet, as these photos show, but ice now covers the back bay of Moreau Lake from shore to shore.  I can hardly wait until the ice is thick enough to walk on, allowing me to reach my favorite haunts around the lake more quickly and directly.  We'll have freezing nights the rest of the week, I've heard, so I'm hoping it won't be long.  Today, the ice was whooping and moaning, a sign of further freezing.

Up close to shore, I could see all the wrinkles and crinkles that form as the water freezes.  It would be amazing to have a time-lapse movie of how these patterns progress.

Part of the fun of winter hiking is trying to recognize plants in their winter attire.  On my way home from Moreau I stopped off at Yaddo to visit some American Bladdernut shrubs that grow by a stream, and was glad to find a few bladders still dangling from the twigs.

A tree had fallen into the stream, and its bark was mottled with a very dark green lichen I don't recall seeing before.

I risked a slip into the stream to get a closer look at that lichen, much darker green than the very common Green Shield Lichen.  I though it was quite beautiful.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Like Father, Like Son

Had a wonderful Christmas with all my children and grandchildren at my daughter's home in Mt. Kisco, with great food and fun and lots of music.  Here's my youngest grandson, Alex (1 year old),  showing off his dance moves.  His daddy, Peter, is a rock-and-roll musician, who has obviously passed on his love for moving to music.  (You might have to click a couple of times in the center of this white space for the video to show up.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Light Shines in the Darkness . . .

Whatever it is that brings light to your life and joy to your heart,
may you find it abundantly.

To all my friends and family and fellow nature enthusiasts, 
I wish you the very happiest of holiday seasons.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
from Jackie Donnelly

Where is Winter?

According to my calendar, today is the second day of winter.  But it sure didn't look or feel very wintry when I walked along the banks of the Hudson River today.  Intermittent sun warmed the already balmy air, and puffy white clouds sailed above the top of West Mountain over on the Warren County side of the river.

With all the rain and warm weather of late, the woods have taken on the look of a mossy green rainforest.

Except for the thin ice that films the back bays of the river,  these rocky promontories look about the same as they would in mid-autumn.

Mountain streams that would normally be dry by now are running as full as in springtime.  This waterfall can be seen from the road that runs over Mount MacGregor.

This tumbling torrent was bounding down a mountainside along Spier Falls Road.

Many different mosses are thriving in the damp woods, where they share the leaf litter with such lichens as this many-tentacled one, a variety I haven't seen before.  I'm sure I've been told the scientific names of these two mosses, one furry, one ferny, but I confess that I have forgotten them.

I do remember the name of this liverwort, though:  Bazzania trilobata.  My photo doesn't show it, but each leaf of this leafy liverwort has three lobes, as its Latin name describes.

There were even some fresh-looking mushrooms in the woods today.  I don't know the name of these little tree fungi, but I thought their winter-white color looked very pretty against the red bark of their fallen limb, backed by the green moss that adorned the log lying behind -- Christmas colors!

I wonder if this sturdy toothed tree fungus will keep its vivid orange throughout the winter.  It certainly stood out as a flash of bright color in the dim woods.

What a pretty clump of Poverty Oat Grass (Danthonia spicata), with blades as curly and colorful as the ribbons on a Christmas package.

As shiny red and green as any holly, Partridgeberry carpets the forest floor with Christmas colors.

I found this cocoon lashed to a Black Tupelo twig and wondered what kind of caterpillar created it.  It was nearly four inches long, so perhaps this is the cocoon of a Cecropia moth, a very big and beautiful moth that, if all goes well, will emerge in the spring.  I'll be keeping my eye on it as the winter progresses.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season!

 Here it is at last, the fourth Sunday of Advent!  I like to keep Advent as a season in its own right, a time not for holiday celebrations before their time, but rather for quietly waiting for Christmas as the darkness deepens outside.  But now that the last Advent candle has been lit, it's time to start bringing some Christmas things down from the attic, including this little shrine to a paddler Santa and his northwoods companions.

A few more creatures have joined the party this year, including several that normally wouldn't be up and about at Christmas time -- the snapping turtle and snake would likely be hibernating (as would the bear and raccoon), the Mallard hen should have flown south, and the Red-eyed Tree Frog would never be found this far north unless it was somebody's pet.  But I couldn't find any toy native frogs this tiny, and besides, we know that Santa is magic, and that his love would be strong enough to keep everybody warm.  (And also to keep the critters from trying to eat one another.)

The weather, too, took a Christmassy turn today, with temperatures plunging down into the teens and single digits.  But oh, what a sapphire sky!  I wrapped up my ears and set off around the shore of Moreau Lake for an afternoon hike.  My approach set off quite a ruckus among the large flock of Canada Geese that had congregated on the open water of the lake.

Although the windswept center of the lake was still wide open, all the sheltered bays were filmed with a thin layer of ice, not strong enough yet to walk on, but glassy enough to make for some lovely reflections.

Close to the shore, where the ice froze clear as crystal, I could see these clusters of tiny bubbles trapped beneath, flattened on top where they pressed against the ice, which rendered them iridescent.

Here are some more.  Aren't they beautiful?  Who need diamonds and pearls, when Nature gifts us with such treasures.

The ice turned the bubbles to diamonds and pearls,  while the sunlight turned the water ripples to ribbons of gold on the underlying sand.

As I strode along on the sunlit shore, I grew warm enough to loosen my coat -- almost warm enough to fool me into thinking these might be blooming flowers, opening their yellow petals to the sun.  But no, I knew better.  These are the bracts of Witch Hazel flowers, what's left after the ribbon-like petals have fallen.

Wouldn't these pretty Witch Hazel bracts make appropriate Christmas decorations, as symbols of life in the dead of winter, the same as evergreens?  No, no, I take that back.  Leave them out in the woods where they belong, to delight us when we happen upon them, these pert little posies "blooming" all winter long.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let There Be Peace

 I woke much too early this morning, startled awake by a terrifying roar overhead, the windows rattling in their sashes, the sound of somebody crying somewhere in the darkness.  Well, lucky for me, it was only a raging wind slamming into my house and not bombs raining death all around me; only the cry of a frightened cat, not that of a child ripped open by errant shrapnel.  I was safe and warm in my bed, and so, no doubt, were all those I loved.  Dear God, may that be so now for all who have suffered through this Iraq War, soldiers and civilians alike.  "Let woe and waste of warfare cease, . . .  Lord, grant thy wayward people peace."  Those are words from a hymn we sing in church, and they ran through my mind all day.

That raging wind dragged a new weather system upon us, with a warm blustery morning merging into a quiet cold afternoon.  By the time I walked in Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa this afternoon, the pond lay as still as glass, and I was grateful for the sense of peace this landscape evoked in me.

 Soaring pines towered over my head, lifting my spirits along with my gaze.  Although there were many clouds, bright spots of blue showed through.

 Eons of pine needles cushioned the path, so I walked along without making a sound, embraced by silence.  Perhaps we will soon have snow, with colder weather moving in, and these pretty Wintergreen plants will endure the winter under the snow, emerging in spring as fresh and green as they look today, their berries still plump and bright.  I find their resilience reassuring, when I think of all those who have been wounded by war.

I know there's a large school of goldfish living in Woods Hollow Pond, but I'm always startled to see them, bright orange flashes among the green of reflected pines.  They probably got here by somebody dumping an unwanted few from a fishbowl, and over the years their population has soared.

I wonder what kind of havoc they are wreaking upon the pond's ecosystem, since this is not a native species.  Dumping them in here probably seemed like a good idea at the time, to the ill-informed person who introduced them.  Just like invading Iraq was some ill-informed people's idea of a good decision, nine years and hundreds of thousands of deaths ago.  Ah well, at least these goldfish are beautiful, and they haven't drained our nation's treasury nor poured our nation's children down the terrible black hole of war.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . EASTER!

OK, we've had some morning frosts, a wee bit of snow, a little thin ice at the edge of ponds.  But then, today, the temperature climbed to close to 50 degrees.  This Dandelion and Galinsoga on a downtown sidewalk are acting like winter has already come and gone and it's time to bloom again.  A fly has reawakened, too.

Not exactly the Easter Bunny, but another creature better adapted to warmer weather than what winters are supposed to be around here.  I've heard that opossums are better suited to more southerly climes, which is why the ears of our local inhabitants are almost always frost-damaged.  Poor things!  They surely must be enjoying this unseasonably warm weather.  This one is certainly enjoying the food we put out for feral cats.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Icy Delights

A sparkling day, clear and fresh and cold as the tumbling stream that runs through the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton.  That's where I took my walk today, seeking a landscape that matched the beauty of this crystalline day.

We've had little snow so far, but the nights are now cold enough for ice to form along the stream, where droplets splash on overhanging boughs.

Not even diamonds are more beautiful than the crystal spears that dangle over the rushing water.

 Bubbles collect along the banks, and there they freeze into brittle plates of froth.

As winter approaches, it always amazes me to see the bare buds of Hobblebush, leaves and flowers already formed, protected against the coming season's icy blasts by no more than the merest fuzz.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Small Treasures Along a Wintry Trail

Outdoors at last!  And what a pretty day for hiking!  Household duties and holiday preparations have kept me indoors all week, but today's bright blue sky and crisp cold air was too tempting to resist any longer.  Besides, I'd arranged to have my friend Sue meet me for a walk at Bog Meadow Nature Trail this morning, so that's where we went, longjohns underneath, boots on our feet, cameras and binoculars in our bags.

In flower season, I travel this wooded wetland trail quite often,  seeking the wide variety of native plants that grow here.  I've made a mental map of where some of the most interesting species grow, so I can look for them in every season and try to recognize them at every stage.  This abundant patch of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain is always easy to find, since it's marked off with wooden stakes to prevent the trail maintenance folks from mowing it down.  The beautiful evergreen leaves are now buried under the snow, but its spent flower stalks still hold their heads high.

Since most of the flowers and leaves are now withered and faded, any spots of pretty color stand out against the browns and grays of the landscape, such as this patch of rich green lichen adorned with a little cluster of coppery fungus.

The trunk of this tree was almost completely covered with a dusty pale-green lichenous growth, spotted with patches of rosy pink.  Its subtle colors reminded me of old-fashioned faded wallpaper.

 The rich-red pedicels of Panicled Dogwood certainly stood out from the rest of the underbrush.

But nothing is more vividly red than beautiful Winterberry, so striking against the blue sky and water.

Deep-blue ice has newly formed in the little trailside streams, creating patterns of needles and stars.

How reassuring to see these protruding shoots of Skunk Cabbage,  reminding us of the promise of spring, just as the new-formed ice announces the arrival of winter.

We hiked to this marsh with the hope of observing waterfowl, but found its surface completely covered with ice, no open water even around the edges.   So, no waterfowl.  We did see Goldfinches, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Chickadees feeding among grapevine-festooned trees, one Red-tailed Hawk sailing in circles over the marsh, and Sue kept hearing what she thought was the cry of a Flicker, although she allowed as it could have been the Hairy Woodpecker she did manage to lay her eyes on.

Anyone know what kind of bird made this mud-daubed nest in the crotch of a Poison Sumac?   I suppose the young birds would long have fledged before the grapes ripened, but I imagine the large leaves of the grapevine twining among the sumac branches would have provided great cover.

We were able to recognize the shrub as a Poison Sumac because of the clusters of white berries that still dangled from some of the branches.  This variety of sumac, despised by humans but extremely valuable to wild birds,  is not that common this far north, but we do find it now and then in swampy areas such as this.

All along the trail we found the fluffy seed heads of Virgin's Bower, a native clematis that bears clusters of small white flowers in summer.  I love how the sunlight glinted on the silken filaments surrounding the curvaceous wiry structures that remain.