We Haven’t Missed It!…

Sarah and I walked out to the Vernal Pool today to see if anything has happened yet.  The short story is:  we have not missed the migration of the Spotted Salamanders!

We heard our first Spring Peepers as we walked out.  And when we got to the pool, we did see a couple of of Wood Frogs who jumped in as we approached,the snapping turtle who overwinters in this pool, and quite a few eggs from the Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamanders.

Spring Peeper by Sarah Hatfield

Spring Peeper by Sarah Hatfield

Wood Frog by Tom LeBlanc

Wood Frog by Tom LeBlanc

Snapping Turtle in the Vernal Pool

Snapping Turtle in the Vernal Pool

Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamander

Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamander

We have had warm weather.  And we have had wet weather.  But we have not yet had warm wet weather.  The Spotted Salamander females are said to run when the temperature is 55 and it’s raining…  Maybe this week?

Spotted Salamanders

Spotted Salamanders

Trying to time the migration of spotted salamanders each spring has become an obsession for me.  It just isn’t spring, unless I can (at least try to) go see the salamanders in the vernal pool. Spontaneous Naturalists: be on the ready… It could be this week.

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Springtime Delights

I am known by those who read my blog as WinterWoman. I do love the winter… but I must admit a special affection for spring, too… even when it means the dog must be bathed after every muddy walk. Each day brings a new delight.

Northern CardinalIt seems to start with sounds. A Cardinal sings outside my window in the mornings announcing to other males that this is his territory and to females that he is available. I’ve seen him at my feeders all winter but heard only his little high-pitched chips… Now he is rolling out the whole repertoire. I’m no female cardinal, but let me tell you: I AM impressed!

Skunk CabbageSkunk Cabbage with its high springtime metabolism melts its way through the remaining piles of snow. It is said that a thermometer placed inside the spathe that protects the spadex will read several degrees higher than the air. An unusual fragrance like that of rotting meat attracts early-emerging insects like flies who think they will find food. While investigating the inside of the strange meat-colored hood, the fly unwittingly pollinates this first flower of spring. Eventually, the flowers will be hidden beneath the some of the largest leaves the forest produces. Now, the marshy wet areas of the woods are covered with pointy little shelters that look nothing like flowers, really.

Pussy WillowAlso hard to think of as a proper flower are the Pussy Willows. While all the other branches sport only buds, these shrubs have dioecious fuzzy flowers – that is some flowers are “boys” and others are “girls”.

Skunk Cabbage and Pussy Willows come early, but this is only the beginning. With each week we will see new flowers blooming on the forest floor… Violets, Spring Beauties, Trillium, Hepatica… more species with each passing day.

Mourning CloakOn a warm, windless, sunny day under leafless trees, something catches my eye… a flutter of dark wings edged with cream and a row of blue spots… A Mourning Cloak butterfly who spent the winter, perhaps, behind a flap on the Shagbark Hickory is stretching its wings. It seems to be dancing in the sunlight, as delighted as I to see the changes in the forest day by day.

I like to walk the edges of the ponds in the late afternoons to see if I can find a snake or turtle basking. One afternoon, I sat basking and relaxing on the bench of the boardwalk over Spatterdock Pond when suddenly I was treated to an amusing performance. Two male Muskrat 6muskrats swam back and forth defending invisible boundaries. A flirty little female teased them both by swimming into and out of their territories. Each male would pursue her until she crossed out of his protected space, and then he would turn back. I don’t know which male she chose, whose territory she preferred. It wasn’t long… just a few more weeks, and a walk across Spatterdock Boardwalk provided a chance to see muskrat babies swimming in the cattails.

Red-winged BlackbirdMale Red-winged Blackbirds are dripping from the trees, exercising their voices at top volume: “Conk-la-ree! Conk-la-ree!” I’m handsomer than you; this is my territory. The females will return soon. For now, all their squawking is just practice and posturing.

If you haven’t been out for a springtime walk, do it now! It’ll wake up your senses.

Tundra Swans

Audubon Photography Club Vice President Don Armstrong sent me this picture earlier this month:

On Wednesday, I also had the pleasure of watching flock after flock of them heading north. They were pretty high up in the sky, and weird: I could only see them when I had my polarizing sunglasses on. I tried to snap my own shot, but couldn’t.

Jeff took one of my favorite photos of these gorgeous birds back in 2007:

swans in the mist

We only get to see Tundra Swans in November and March as they are passing through from breeding grounds to wintering grounds and back again. Their call can sound goose like, but they also make a soft cooing sound – so different from the strident honk-hink of the geese – much gentler, and it is this sound I often hear when the flocks are closer to the ground.

Trumpeter Swans look similar to Tundra swans, but their voices are more nasal-honky… and according to Cornell’s range maps, we are not likely to see them here in Western New York.

Cornell lists the Tundra as a species of “least concern” and describes them as being common and possibly increasing. That is good news.  Though I can’t help wonder what will happen to them as the habitat they depend on for breeding succumbs to various threats, including pollution and global warming.

Learn more:

Gentleman Callers

I closed up the rest of my bird boxes today… (oh no – I forgot the ones over by the picnic pavilion!)  And while I was out there, look who I found:

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

And a little further on, this fine fellow told me what a fine birdie-birdie-birdie he is:

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Spring is certainly on its way!

Blue Birds

My day started with one blue bird and ended with another… and I didn’t see either.

According to the Cornell website:

Blue Jays have a wide variety of vocalizations, with an immense “vocabulary.” Blue Jays are also excellent mimics. Captive Blue Jays sometimes learn to imitate human speech and meowing cats. In the wild, they often mimic Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks, and sometimes other species.

Funny Blue Jay - by Tom LeBlanc

Funny Blue Jay - by Tom LeBlanc

I heard about this tendency to mimic other sounds years ago and have, indeed, heard them copying hawks.  This morning, though, I had to laugh at what I heard.

I was walking from my car to the Audubon Center.  I noticed that Don was over at the Maintenance Building.  He unlocked the door and when he pushed it open, the alarm started its high-pitched beep-beep-beep.

Almost immediately, from a tree on the other side of the nature center building, I heard a Blue Jay make the exact same sound.  He even continued to make it after Don punched in the code that silenced the alarm.

Bluebird Dreaming

I really hope I'll see more than one box this year that looks like this! Last year we had no successful bluebird nests!

After spending a good chunk of the day looking at a computer screen and fighting with the networked printer, I decided I had better go out and close up the Bluebird nest boxes.  Folks have seen bluebirds already, so it’s time.

It sure was a lot colder outside than it looked!  The sun shone brightly, but the wind was bitter coming across Big Pond.  It was a pleasant walk though, and the boxes on the big field all ready.

Dear Bluebirds,  The boxes are ready, but stay south a week or two longer till it warms up a bit here, ok?  Love, Jennifer.

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Wanna Go Out for a Cup of Coffee?

“Wanna go out for a cup of coffee?”

“K.”

So I perk a pot and pour it into the thermos.  You scrounge around in the cupboards and refrigerator but all you can find is a hunk of venison summer sausage.  We throw the coffee, the sausage, a bottle of water, and some extra socks and mittens (just in case) into day packs.  And dog biscuits, of course. We pull on our snow pants and boots and slip into our jackets.  Hats.  Mittens.  Let’s go!

While trying to shuffle the vehicles, I get the car stuck in the driveway.  Twice.  Finally, dogs behind the seat and whining with excitement over the anticipated adventure, you throw the truck into gear and we are on our way to Allegany State Park.  Oh wait… we need gas.  We buy a couple of granola bars, too, to supplement the sausage.

On the way to the park, we discuss possible hiking trails… A loop would be nice, but most are so steep and Mo just can’t do steep anymore. We decide to hike out and back on a section of the North Country Trail that starts with a brief steep part, but then levels off.

Alas, we find the snow much deeper than we anticipated and the old dog struggles mightily. Luckily, at the top of the steep part, we hit the snowmobile trail: wide and well-packed, and – at least for now – completely uninhabited by machines.

ASP Walk-2

ASP Walk-11It’s such a pretty day. The fast-moving, variable-thickness clouds paint the wintery scene with ever-changing lighting schemes.

As we walk the easy, level trail, our eyes scan the edges for the perfect log. We opt to drink at the Hemlock Grove Cafe:

ASP Walk-3

After coffee, as long as we’re here, we follow the snowmobile trail to the intersection of Black Snake Mountain trailhead. Someone has skiied here and packed the snow, so we give it a try. Wait, what’s that? I’ve walked this trail a couple of times before and never noticed that…

ASP Walk-5

ASP Walk-6

ASP Walk-7 ASP Walk-10

We continue on, crossing the creek, watching Lolli sniff the weasel tracks… until the level trail hits the steep, and then we turn back. What a pretty trail… Note to self: must come back in May for the wildflowers.

A little more distance on the snowmobile trail, and then we turn back. It seems snowmobilers rise later than we. We dodged none on the first part of our hike, but several on the return.

ASP Walk-12


We parked on the south side of ASP 3 where the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail crosses. We headed south on the FLT/NCT – a short, steep uphill climb to the snowmobile trail where we turned left (east). At the Black Snake Mountain trail, we took a detour up the creek a ways, then back down. We hiked east a little more – probably almost to Science Lake, though we didn’t realize at the time how close we were.