Walk in the Woods

Yesterday was gray.  Fifty degrees.  Rain fell.  Throughout the course of the day, temperatures fell, too.  Forty.  Thirty.  Twenty.  And into the teens.

Snow Sculptures and ShadowsToday 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!

Tiny Hike

What will it look like in MayNine 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.

Pileated Has Been Here Bark Beetle Gallery Holes - horizontal rows

Time slips away as I practice taking pictures of nothing in particular with my new lens.

Cocoon on Cherry Bark Yellow Birch Bark Leaf Cocoon 1

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.

This hike:

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.)

LASSes Ski

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:

Lass' Flat

Thank goodness for cell phones and tow trucks…

Sad Lass

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?

Better Than A Book…

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:

    Grouse Track

  • rabbit
  • squirrel
  • mouse
  • mole
  • shrew
  • deer
  • fox
  • mink
  • grouse
  • great blue heron
  • crow

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.

Nice Winter Walk

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.

Dave's Farm

Even here, there are choices.

Invitation?   Country Road

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:

Exploring the Beaver's Domain   Going to Pieces

I think a muskrat must have crossed the dam here at my feet…

Muskrat Tracks Perhaps

Today I was intrigued by shadows in the snow…  I could have taken hundreds more like these:

Winter Shadows

Roadside Sculpture

Sometimes a “hike” doesn’t have to be a hike at all… It can just be a stroll down country roads…

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk Range MapThere 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.

Bird Quiz - by Dave Cooney

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.

Learn More:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hope you’ve had a love-filled day.

Well, as you are probably figuring out, I just can’t stop creating blogs.  As I learn more about the platform, and I explore what others are doing with it, I just keep getting more and more ideas.

Animals of Western New YorkMy latest one is geared at the folks who help us lead thousands of school children on field trips at the Center…  It’s called “Animals of Western New York”.  It might also be helpful to students and teachers in our region.

I plan to feature animals that our visitors are most likely to see when walking our trails in April-May-June – our heaviest fieldtrip season.  I will try to include a few relevant facts (the ones kids seem to ask the most about), as well as some tips for walk leaders on activities and lessons they can do related to each animal.

Give it a look, and let me know what you think:


Flying Squirrels

Here’s an unusual photo by Dave Bonta:
Flying Squirrel by Dave Bonta
It’s unusual because Flying Squirrels are generally nocturnal… in fact they are the only nocturnal squirrel here in Western New York.

The ranges of two species of Flying Squirrel overlap  in the northeast USA.  The Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomus sabrinus) is slightly larger than the Southern Flying Squirrel (G. volans).  If you sandwich the Eastern Chipmunk between them, you have our 3 smallest squirrels in order of size with the Southern Flying Squirrel being the smallest.

Both species are omnivorous.  Both will build twig-leaf nests, though they prefer tree cavities.  Neither hibernates, and neither truly flies.  Glides are achieved through the aid of the patagium, a fold of skin that stretches from wrist to ankle and is supported by a bit of cartiledge that extends the skin slightly beyond the foot.  This skin essentially turns the squirrel into a kite that can glide great distances compared to its body size.  The average glide of a Northern Squirrel is 66 feet, and that of the Southern 20-30 feet.

Based on where Dave lives and the apparent size of the squirrel in his picture above, I would guess it is the southern species, though I can’t be sure.  Here’s one from Sue in northern Ontario that I would guess is the northern species:
Flying Squirrel by Sue Nature Photonutt

If we could tickle their bellies, we would find the hairs on the Southern to be all white, while those on the northern are darker at the base and light at the tips.

Flying Squirrel Range MapNorthern
Total Length
:  10-12  inches
Tail Length:  4-6 inches
Weight: 2.5-4.5 ounces
Average Lifespan:  3-4 years

Total Length
: 9-10 inches
Tail Length:  3-4.5 inches
Weight:  2-3 ounces
Average Lifespan:  5 years

That’s the end of my squirrel series… Hope you enjoyed it!  Should I give you a quiz now?