Yesterday was gray. Fifty degrees. Rain fell. Throughout the course of the day, temperatures fell, too. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. And into the teens.
Today is Saturday. The last day of February. It is cold. Eye-stinging cold. Nostril-freezing cold. I can tell by the wells around the bases of the trees that the snow is deep, but my feet do not break through the hard-packed, icy layer covered with crystalline powder.
My camera is at home on the kitchen table. Just as well. My pace will be faster, which will warm me up quicker.
I decide to walk to the top of the hill in hopes that the vantage point will give me views of the treetops and I might spot where a Great Horned Owl is nesting. Great-horned Owls are the first birds to nest in our area and can be found sitting eggs as early as late January. They incubate for about a month, so I suppose it is possible I could find a nest with babies…
Suddenly there is a lot of caw-caw-cawing… Crows are everywhere, all heading for the same tree. Are they harassing someone? Sure enough, I see a lighter-colored bird take off from that tree, chased by more crows. It’s too far away to tell what variety of raptor the crows are pestering… I decide to believe it is my Great-horned Owl.
On the way back to the car I stop several times to listen. I hear chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and goldfinches. Both the chickadees and cardinals are singing “love” songs! They don’t mind the cold!
Nine A.M. Six inches of fresh powder… I wonder if I will need my snow shoes. But no, someone was here before the powder and packed me a nice base.
“They” are predicting 24-hours of lake effect snow starting later this afternoon. A few early-arriving clouds are practicing off and on, ocassionally allowing sunlight through to add a sparkle to the snow.
The wind is in a particularly creative mood. She lifts great puffs of snow from the branches of the trees and directs the sparkling crystals in swirling dances through the sunlit air. She coaxes a great black cherry bow to play against the strings of a nearby hemlock. She adds percussion – the shushing rustle of a branch full of dry beech leaves, the clacky rattle of a single leaf on another branch. Birds join in… A blue jay’s loud jeer-jeer-jeer, the high-pitched, quiet teet-teet-teet from a small flock of exploring chickadees, a nuthatch’s nasal pnnt-pnnt-pnnt.
Not many animal tracks… a squirrel, a mouse, a deer. Holes in trees capture my attention. Pileated. Bark Beetles. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
Time slips away as I practice taking pictures of nothing in particular with my new lens.
I long for a heavier pack – one filled with tent, sleeping gear, food – so that I might set up camp and stay in the woods tonight.
Access Point #4 to the Finger Lakes Trail is along ASP 3 inside Allegany State Park. It’s a little confusing because the pulloff for parking is on one side of a creek, and the entrance to the southbound section is on the other.
A little ways in, I crossed a snowmobile trail. I saw few sleds which is curious, since it was such a gorgeous winter day.
I posted more pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferschlick/tags/tinyhike/
(Cross-posted at http://jenhikes.wordpress.com.)
Not all plans materialize. This week, the LASSes were supposed to rent the new cabin at the Girl Scout Camp for 2 or 3 nights, and spend the days skiing and/or snow shoeing…
Didn’t happen. But two of us managed to sneak away for a 5-mile cross country ski at Allegany State Park. We got a slightly later start than we had hoped, due to a flat on Concetta’s brand new van:
Thank goodness for cell phones and tow trucks…
We skiied the Sweetwater and Christian Hollow loops at the Art Roscoe ski area at Allegany State Park. The trails were well-travelled and kind of fast… But we managed not to kill ourselves. I didn’t lug my big camera around the trails this time, but persuaded a stranger to take our picture at the trailhead, at least:
We had a great time. Hey, LASSes, we have nothing else on our calendars until May… Unless… Any suggestions?
It has become our tradition at Audubon to hold Day Camp Reunion on Presidents’ Day each winter. We invite all the kids who attended Summer Camp to return for a day of “camp” in the winter. I had the 3rd and 4th grade group.
Mostly, they just want to play. And mostly, I just let them. It takes so little to amuse them. A pile of snow in the driveway provides a good half hour of fun. They call it “Butt Sliding” and “Belly Sliding.” It doesn’t take much elevation to enjoy the pull of gravity.
Their favorite was frozen water. A recent thaw which resulted in flooding, followed by some good cold temperatures made for a plethora of skating rinks.
Not all of the rinks were sturdy, and that seemed to delight all the more.
Each time we stopped our hike to play, I scouted around for tracks and signs of wildlife. They especially loved learning about the Subnivean Layer!
Here’s a partial list of tracks we saw:
great blue heron
At one point when I was showing the differences between a squirrel track, a mouse track and a chipmunk track, one of the boys in my group said, “Jennifer, you’re better than a book.”
How’s that for the ultimate job reference?
For more Day Camp Reunion pictures, click here.
Just a few shots from down on the farm…
I hadn’t been outside with my camera in a long time. I debated where I should hike, thinking about many alternatives. In the end, I just took a nice winter walk along country roads.
Even here, there are choices.
I opted for plowed, yet freshly dusted with sparkly powder.
At the bottom of that hill is a marshy beaver pond. The dogs were braver than the people when it came to exploring:
I think a muskrat must have crossed the dam here at my feet…
Today I was intrigued by shadows in the snow… I could have taken hundreds more like these:
Sometimes a “hike” doesn’t have to be a hike at all… It can just be a stroll down country roads…
There are several birds for whom we ARE south when it comes to winter migration destinations. Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) are one of them. They breed in the Arctic and winter pretty much throughout the US except for the far southeast.
Don’t kick yourself if you were checking your field guide for Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk or even Turkey Vulture: the Cornell All-About-Birds site listed below notes them under “similar species”. It doesn’t make life easy that this species could appear in several different color morphs. Check the “Photo at TrekNature” link below for a different color pattern.)
It might have been easier perhaps if we could have gotten a good closeup look at its legs. The name “rough-legged” comes from the fact that it has feathers all the way down to the toes. Since there are only three American hawks with that distinction (this, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Golden Eagle), it would have narrowed the field.
Thanks to Dave Cooney, who snapped this picture at Audubon (southwestern New York State) on Sunday and emailed it to me. Thanks to those of you who participated in the bird quiz. I’m declaring the race to ID a tie – won by “BW” and “Clare”. (BWs answer was held for approval until this morning, so Clare may have thought she was first!) Congratulations.