In the snow belt, a calm winter day with sunshine and blue skies is precious. When an opportunity like this arrives, temperature is rarely limiting. However, yesterday was different: it was minus 29 degrees (F) at dawn. Trees were cracking and popping, resonating through the deep freeze like gun shots.Even my rugged outdoor hound, my walking companion, wanted no part of it; his feet were icing up. Not to be denied, I walked later in the day – after the temperature had risen 30 degrees, all the way up to zero!
My winter trail walk went something like this, beginning and ending with a photo from the backyard feeders:
Stop #1: White-breasted Nuthatch, about to dart away with a sunflower seed.
Stop #2: Eastern White Pine, the largest, native conifer in the Northeast, and the only one with needles in groups of five
Stop #3: In October, 2014, I heard a Screech Owl in a nearby woodlot. A month later a Screech Owl ended up in the furnace ducts, by way of the chimney (subsequently captured and released). I love owls and installed two nest boxes in September, 2015, to support the local population. I wasn’t terribly optimistic though, hoping for owls but expecting squirrels. Do screech owls eat red squirrels? if so, the pantry is fully stocked.
Stop #4: A small creek drainage, in the shadows of an overstory of Sugar Maple and Eastern Hemlock trees.
Stop #5: Hemlock branches laden with fresh, powdery snow; Eastern Hemlock is in big trouble, threatened by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), a tiny, sap-sucking, insect pest introduced from Asia. One environmental factor that limits the distribution and impact of the adelgids is severe cold; in this case, minus 25 or 30 degrees is beneficial.
Stop #6: Young Balsam Fir trees and persistent golden rod stalks with a dusting of snow
Stop #7: Stubby, the tail-less, three-legged red squirrel, in fading sunlight; Stubby is a bit undersized, but continues to hold his own at the feeders and beat the odds!
Photos by NB Hunter. 14February2016. © All Rights Reserved.