I Sleep with the Windows Open

It was my turn to write the newspaper article this week. Here’s what I submitted:

I Sleep with the Windows Open
by Jennifer Schlick

After my brother was born, dad and the neighbors transformed the attic into a bedroom for my sister and me. Tongue and groove knotty pine boards on walls and ceiling created an atmosphere of rustic log cabin. The men also created a built-in table that served as both desk and vanity, a big double closet, and even a little sewing nook with built-in cabinet storage and a top big enough for laying out and cutting the fabric. Twin beds were placed on either side of the south-facing window, each with its own reading lamp. It’s a sweet space that I use to this day. I’m typing this article at a computer I’ve set up on that built-in desk.

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Katydid: “Katydid! Katydid!”

Being just under the roof, the temperature of the room varies widely with the season and the weather. The heat of a summer night can be mitigated by a window fan placed in the north window, blowing out, pulling cool night air past the beds. It works brilliantly on all but the hottest and most humid nights. The cold of winter can be managed by leaving the door at the bottom of the stairs open and opening a floor vent that allows heat to rise from the 1st floor furnace. But I like it cold and I like wearing sweaters, so I rarely resort to these measures. In fact, I only close the windows when an unruly wind blows the rain in, or when the winter temperatures are truly frigid.

I realized recently what an intimate relationship I have with nature in my neighborhood as a result of those open windows, an intimacy that goes beyond an awareness of seasons and weather brought to me by variations in temperature and humidity. That realization started with a scritchy-scratchy noise outside the south window, just under the roof. It didn’t take me long to decide it must be a bat. The next day, when it was light enough to see, little “chocolate sprinkles” attached to the screen added evidence to support my guess. Guano. I was pretty sure. It was months before I finally saw the dark silhouette of a bat in flight swooping from under the roof just after hearing the scritchy-scratchy noise.

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This is not the Screech Owl I heard outside my window. At least it is doubtful this is the very one.

One morning, awake and procrastinating the start of my day, the sound of bat’s return coincided with the whinny of an Eastern Screech Owl, and that got me thinking about the soundscape outside my window. I began a mental list of the dusk-night-dawn animals I know are out there because I’ve heard them. In spring my lullabye might be the high clear peeps of Spring Peepers and the elegant trill of American Toads. In summer I fall asleep to the chirp of crickets and katydids calling out their own names. There are times of year when I don’t need to set an alarm because the dawn chorus coincides exactly with the time I wish to awaken. Robins, phoebes, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, crows, and others sing me awake, or a Red Squirrel might chatter in the boundary line of spruces. The soundscape might include the non-animal conversation of winds, sometimes gentle and sometimes aggressive, rain or hail on the roof, long low rumbles of distant thunder, sudden explosions of nearby thunder, or a muffled snowy quiet.

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American Robin: “Cheer-up! Cherio!”

Odors come through the windows, too: that fresh air smell that doesn’t have a name, the smell of rain that does (petrichor). A skunk went through the neighborhood more than once over the years. And let’s not forget that humans are a part of nature: the smoke from summer campfires tells tales of friendly gatherings and is often accompanied by guitar music, songs and laughter. The winter fireplace smoke is quiet and feels warm and cozy.

When I’m outside during the day, I favor my sense of sight and neglect my other senses to a certain extent. When I’m in my room, sight takes a back seat, but isn’t totally useless. I awoke at 1:00 a.m. a fews days ago thinking I had overslept. A glorious full moon was flooding my room with light. And I love to put sleep aside and don my glasses during a thunderstorm so I can get glimpses of lightning bolts.

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Full Moon

I work at an organization whose mission is to connect people with nature. To that end, we often implore you to get outside. Today, I invite you to connect with your backyard by sleeping with your windows open.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon Community Nature Center. ACNC is located one-quarter mile east of Route 60 on Riverside Road between Jamestown, New York and Warren Pennsylvania. Visit auduboncnc.org or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.

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Salamander Migration

On a rainy spring night with temperatures sufficiently warm and ice melted from the ponds and ground we go to The Pool. We hope we have picked the right night and will be able to meet up with our old friends. We are not disappointed.

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Spotted Salamander

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Jefferson / Blue-Spotted Complex

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Leopard Frog

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Wood Frog (not sure why he appears blue-ish here!)

This was only my second time using this camera (Sony DSC-RX100) at night. (The first time was in a snowy blizzard, and this time in the rain…) I tried using it without the flash, lighting each critter with a new, powerful MagLite flashlight I bought just for the occasion. I need to practice more to get better focus and to get the light just right, but I’m not displeased with the exposures.

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Stress Relieving Walk

I’ve been putting all my brain power into a big fundraiser for the Nature Center where I work. On Thursday afternoon, just an hour before we had to drive down to set everything up, I took a much needed nature break. Here’s some of what I saw.

Staghorn Sumac:
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I love Staghorn Sumac. Much of it is more brilliantly colored than this one at this time of year, but I didn’t find any fiery ones on my walk. This deciduous shrub produces fuzzy red berries on the female plants which persist all winter and provide food for birds, and can be used to make tea. It spreads like crazy from the root system, so you often see big patches of the stuff that are tall in the middle and shorter as you move out from the center. Click here for lots more info from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Red Maple against a background of Red Pine:
IMG_6989 Maple and Pine
After checking the forest service website (which you can visit by clicking here), I’ve decided Red Maple is the Superlative Tree. Consider these quotes:

  • one of the most abundant and widespread trees in eastern North America
  • the greatest continuous range along the Atlantic Coast of any tree

I’m fond of Red Maple in all seasons. The spring “flowers” are very interesting.

The Red Pines in the background are not native to our area. They were planted when the Jamestown Audubon Society first got the property – a vast goldenrod field – in order to provide wildlife shelter. If you pay close attention to our Red Pines, you will notice they are always growing in straight lines! If that’s not a clue that they were planted by humans, I don’t know what is. Read more about Red Pines by clicking here.

White-tailed Doe:
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This little lady was nibbling away in one of our bird banding net lanes. I took several shots through the brush and while she noticed me, she did not seem concerned with my presence. So, in order to get a better shot, I sneaked down the “steps” and into the net lane with her. She let me snap the above shot, then turned up her tail:

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White-tailed deer are very common in our region. And this is the season of the rut. The males’ antlers are quite impressive at this time of year. After mating they will shed them and I will search for the shed antlers and probably not find any, if past experience is any indicator… (sad face) Read more about White-tailed deer by clicking here.

Swamp Rose:
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I wish we could eliminate some of the non-native Multiflora Rose that grows like crazy at the Nature Center and replace it with native Swamp Rose. It’s a much prettier, if less prolific plant. Its blooms in spring are showy and pink, and in fall the hips are big and the leaves so colorful. You can learn more at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website by clicking here.

Some Leaves on the Surface of the Pond:
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Those little round ones are Frogbit, an non-native that we discovered in our waterways at the Nature Center back in 2006. It has since spread to all the ponds. It makes really pretty little flowers, which is why it was brought here from Europe – to decorate backyard ponds. But it sure makes thick mats, which isn’t good for native wildlife… It doesn’t look bad in this photo, but boy can it grow fast! Read more about it by clicking here.

Even more Swamp Rose because it’s so pretty at this time of year:
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And the Big Sugar Maple; I just can’t resist a photo every time I pass it:
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This great, old sugar maple was on the property when Jamestown Audubon Society acquired it. It is a massive tree and I have a hard time walking past it without snapping a few photos. I worry about our sugar maples in this era of global climate change. You can read about sugar maples in general by clicking here. And you can read about the effects of climate change on sugar maples by clicking here.


The auction was a great success. Many thanks to all the volunteers, donors, guests, and to the venue staff for making it so much fun.

And many thanks to Mother Nature for the stress relieving break she gave me while in preparation for it all!

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Christmas Bird Count

This is the 115th year that people all over the continent count birds contributing to one of the largest, longest running data sets in the world that is collected by Citizen Scientists.  If you’ve never heard of it, I strongly recommend that you click over to the Audubon website that gives the history and importance of this effort.

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I joined a team this morning down at Audubon.

Spatterdock Pond

Temps were in the high 30s. Walking was challenging. The slowly thawing foot of snow covered with a quarter inch of ice was noisy and difficult. I have to wonder how many birds we scared away as we crunch-crunch-crunched along the trails.

Christmas Bird Count - Audubon Nature Center

We didn’t see anything rare. But it was fun when we got to the tower to see over 200 Mallards from the tower.

Christmas Bird Count - Hugh Wood Tower

Don and Scott would continue on through the afternoon, then join other teams for a potluck dinner during which all the numbers would be tallied. One of these years, I’ll make it for the entire day!

Around Spatterdock Pond

One month ago today I leaned over to pick up my dog and toss her into the back seat of the car. Snap! My back went out! It’s been quite a month of doctor, chiropractor, and physical therapy appointments and exercises. I’m not fully recovered yet, but getting close! Today I walked one mile around Spatterdock Pond and felt real good about it! Of course my back is tired now, but hey… we’re getting there… Slow but sure!

Dogwood Skeletons
This is a color photo.

Ice and Reflections
Ponds were just starting to freeze.

Rushes and Reflections
Rushes were bent close to the water. And the sun started to come out just as I came near the end of the walk.

Pond Colors
The color in this pond stopped me in my tracks!

Sugar Maple
I can’t seem to walk by this tree without snapping a picture.

Happy December!