Once a year I go to the Susquehannock Lodge near the Denton Hill Trail System to meet up with old friends and meet new ones… and hopefully to ski. (Last Year)

My favorite thing is when we carpool up to the Ranger Station (yellow pushpin) and ski down to the lodge (pink pushpin) on trails that go behind (south) the Denton Hill State Park slopes.

This year, the trails were a bit fast for me, so I (and 5 others) opted for hiking. We chose the trails on the north side of Route 6. They were lovely! And perhaps because no motorized vehicles are allowed on that side of the road, we saw sooooo many signs of wildlife.

The first 14 below were all tracks in the snow.  Number 15 we saw no tracks, but there was no mistaking what it was!  And the rest are bird sightings (or hearings?  listenings?  whatever you call it when you hear them!):

  1. fox
  2. mouse
  3. squirrel
  4. deer
  5. coyote
  6. weasel
  7. grouse
  8. turkey
  9. shrew
  10. bobcat
  11. bear
  12. chipmunk
  13. raccoon
  14. skunk
  15. porcupine quills
  16. chickadee
  17. white-breasted nuthatch
  18. downy woodpecker
  19. another woodpecker (drumming)
  20. crow

I forgot my camera on this lovely weekend. But here are a few shots Nina took:

The following day we hiked a tiny bit on the Ranger Station side of Route 6.  We added rabbit tracks to our list, also tufted titmouse and blue jay.  And Tony saw a mammal running low to the ground… but it disappeared before he could get a good look. The weasel perhaps?

Top Ten

Three Jars of Currant Jelly on the Floor in the SunAfter reading Seabrooke’s post about her most popular posts for 2009, I decided to check my WordPress stats, just for the heck of it…

Here are the top ten searches that drove people to my blog over the 365 days ending today (January 16, 2010).  The number in parentheses is the number of searches.

  1. currant jelly (642)
  2. dragonfly eggs (523)
  3. dragonfly sex (206)
  4. poison sumac (181)
  5. edible wild berries (176)
  6. little snakes (160)
  7. wildflower identification (143)
  8. porcupine scat (122)
  9. what eats milkweed (115)
  10. musclewood (107)

White Pine

White PineI was going to write about the White Pine… But I don’t have to.  Please click –>here to read Marcia Bonta’s wonderful piece about this historically important and beautiful tree!

UPDATE (1/16/2010):  Trying to catch up on blog reading, I ran across another post about White Pine, this one by Seabrooke Lecki.  Click –> here!

Irrationally Happy

After a fun-filled day of leading walks through the woods with small children, the Audubon education staff headed for the Igloo in Frewsburg for ice cream cones. It was a perfect June day; the walks had gone well; the ice cream flavors were sublime. I looked over at our college intern who had a rapturous look on her face and said, “Karen?” And she responded, “I am irrationally happy right now.”

Irrationally happy. I so loved that phrase that it has become one of my own.

Irrationally happy. I get that way a lot at this time of year. There is something about temperatures in the upper teens and low twenties combined with fresh white powder that makes me irrationally happy.

My SkisI can’t remember exactly when I bought my first cross country skis… perhaps the winter after graduating from high school. I learned how to ski with my friend Sue and one of our practice sites was Audubon. Sue still has her wooden skis that must be prepped each time with the right color wax, depending on the temperature – blue wax for my favorite conditions. When my sister moved to Florida, I sold my wooden skis and began using her waxless skis… saves me a little time when all I can spare is an hour at lunchtime!

I usually start at the kiosk near the parking lot and follow the yellow signs. To warm up, I ski fast and steady until I get out to the far side of Spatterdock Pond. Eastern HemlockThen, I like to stop in the Hemlock woods. For the first minute or so, all I hear is the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. Once my heart rate normalizes, the sounds of nature wash over and refresh me. Wind through the needles. Snow falling from boughs in a soft whoosh that then plops onto the trail. Foraging chickadees and nuthatches: chick-a-dee-dee-dee and that nasal ent-ent-ent.

After this brief rest, I ski more slowly, taking it all in, breathing in the peacefulness of the forest, letting the stresses and irritations that have built up fall away. MouseSometimes I scare up a couple of deer who bound off to safety… they should have known they were in no danger from me. I cannot resist stopping to decipher animal tracks and signs in the snow – mouse, squirrel, fox, coyote. Or I might attempt to take pictures of things I find… a winter caddisfly, wingless wasp, cutworm, or spider crawling slowly over the snow.

I reach the big mowed field with the intent of skiing fast, practicing long strides, but the delicate winter weeds stop me in my tracks and I marvel that even without color they are beautiful and deserve to be photographed. The round, dark seed heads of Black-eyed Susan. The “baskets” of Queen Anne’s Lace. The empty, dried Milkweed pods that have already released their fluffy contents.

Black-eyed Susan Queen Anne's Lace

I return to my desk energized. Hopefully no one minds that my 1-hour lunch break has turned into an hour and 15 or 20… Truth is, the afternoons almost always turn out to be twice as productive as the mornings after a good ski.

Not everyone enjoys winter. In fact, most of the people I meet seem to grumble about it. As for me… it makes me irrationally happy.

Winter Weeds

The first chapter of Donald Stokes’ Nature in Winter is entitled “Winter Weeds”. The chapter is full of beautifully drawn, minimalistic images of what our wildflowers look like in winter. Someday, I hope to be able to draw like that. In the meantime, I have my camera. And, after I took the goldenrod and burdock pictures the other day during the snow, I finally got the concept for how I could recreate those types of images!

Repeating those two…

I love how you can see both ball and bunch galls in this little stand. (Hmm… I guess I’ve never written about bunch galls… that’s odd.)

I can’t think of burdock without thinking of Ryan’s Birthday Party.

And here are some new ones…

Queen Anne's Lace
Queen Anne’s Lace
I have rather an obsession with this flower.

Black-eyed Susan
Black-eyed Susan
I love this flower in late summer and fall… It ain’t bad in winter, either!… here’s a closeup:

Black-eyed Susan

Annual New Year’s Day Tromp

Brrr...I love waking up late on New Year’s Day with thoughts of where I should take the dog for a romp. Usually Emily joins me, but she was off at a friend’s and so I headed out into a snowy, blowing day without her.

I’m not sure she was very happy with me.  Sorry, Em.

As is often the case with a winter walk, the low temperature combined with wind made me feel very cold in the beginning, but as I walked, it didn’t take long for me to warm up.  I headed down into a protected ravine at the bottom of which runs a creek.  There are hemlocks and yellow birch all along the way… beautiful.

Stonefly Nymph (or exuvia?)On the bark of one of the yellow birch trees, I found gypsy moth eggs… and also a gorgeous Stonefly nymph.  I couldn’t really tell if it was a dead nymph, or if the back had cracked open to allow the adult to fly free… Here’s another picture I took a while back of a living stonefly nymph we found in the creek at Allegany State Park:

Stonefly Larva

I played around a bit with slow shutterspeeds to try to capture the essence of the wind. The orange-brown leaves on the Ironwood tree were dancing up a storm…

Ironwood in the Wind

Even though I have billions of pictures of Witch Hazel, I can never resist another.

Witch Hazel

Emily finally arrived home shortly after I did. We may go out later this afternoon or evening and see how our cross country skis are working after a long summer in the garage…

Happy New Year, everyone!