Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Break in the Weather

We had a few hours of clear blue sky this week between days that were soggy and gray, and lucky for me, my friend Sue had that day off from work to come play with me outdoors.  When we got to Moreau Lake on Friday morning, that sky was radiantly blue from horizon to horizon, and the ice-free lake was filled with noisy throngs of ducks and geese.  What a day to take a walk all around the lake!

We took our time wandering the wooded western shore, puzzling over big trenches some animal had plowed among the dry leaves of the forest floor (a big dog, to judge from the dirty pawprints leading into and out of the  mess it made).  By the time we passed the swimming beach and crossed the bridge to approach the back bay,  a rumpled blanket of clouds had begun to move in from the west, eventually to cover the sky completely.

But even though we had lost our sunshine, the day continued pleasant and calm, without a breath of wind to disturb the perfect reflection of mountains and trees in the still-open sections of quiet water. Sue calls this her Mt. Fuji, and I know exactly what she means.

That neutral gray sky proved to be great for viewing a trio of Bald Eagles high, high up in the air.  According to Sue (who can see far better than I can), the trio consisted of one adult and two juveniles, with the juveniles whirling about as if they were playing tag, she said.  I had to take her word for that.  I could barely see three tiny indeterminate specks, which I struggled to differentiate from the other black specks that constantly float across my disintegrating vision.  But I shared her elation, nevertheless, at having a three-eagle day.

It was also a many-hundreds-of-geese kind of day, with honking hordes sending up a great clamor from time to time and then inexplicably falling silent once more.  And then, here came a solitary Bufflehead drake, a speck of white against the dark water, trailing a wake, not making a sound.

There remained enough snow along the shore to capture the trails of animals who had passed this way.  The small size of these prints and the shoreline habitat suggested immediately that these tracks were laid down by a muskrat making its way from its den to the water.

My guess was immediately confirmed when the creature's trail reached the once-slushy frozen surface of the bay, which captured the tracks of the muskrat's skinny tail as well as those of its dainty feet.

Parts of the bay were covered with a milky-colored opaque ice, which displayed numerous branching "spiders" of darkly transparent ice, so clear that they looked as if they were filled with open water instead of the glass-clear ice that filled those branching arms.  The solidity of this clear ice became even more evident when we could see the track of a waddling goose move directly across the dark ice.

My friend Ed Miller has told me that these ice spiders are caused by snow weighing down the ice cover and causing water to flow up through weak spots in the ice.  I'm not completely satisfied with this explanation, especially when we've had so little snow covering the surface of the ice.  At any rate, there were certainly a lot of these ice formations all over the back bay's ice.

We found a few other mysterious events on our walk this day, including small poplars completely stripped of their bark by some unknown creature that left no tracks (mice? birds?),  and also this pretty little cocoon or egg case attached to a Shadblow twig.  I'm assuming the maker was some kind of insect, but the vessel was so cunningly made, I could imagine some tiny fairyland potter turning it out on her miniature potting wheel.

It also seemed there was magic at work behind the various ice formations we found along the shore.  Of course, we know that all these intricate structures can easily be explained by the laws of physics, but nevertheless, we still found their beauty enchanting.


The Furry Gnome said...

I don't think I've ever seen that pattern of 'spiders' in the ice. I'll have to watch for it. Nice ice pictures too.

threecollie said...

How wonderful to find such wonder in winter. I too have never seen anything like those ice spiders. Very cool

Cynthia said...

I've always enjoyed your blog but now that I'm away fir the winter it is a precious touchstone to "home". Thanks Jackie

catharus said...

Never seen anything like those ice spiders! Fascinating!