A Winter Walk

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.

WBNuthatch12Feb16#5095E2c5x7

Stop #2: Eastern White Pine, the largest, native conifer in the Northeast, and the only one with needles in groups of five

WhitePine14Feb16#5208Ec8x10

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.

RedSquirrelsOwlBox14Feb16#5218E4c5x7

Stop #4: A small creek drainage, in the shadows of an overstory of Sugar Maple and Eastern Hemlock trees.

Ravine14Feb16#5223E2c8x10

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.

Hemlock14Feb16#5229E2c5x7

Stop #6: Young Balsam Fir trees and persistent golden rod stalks with a dusting of snow

BalsamFir14Feb16#5266E2c4x6

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!

RedSquirrelStub14Feb16#5325E2c5x7

Photos by NB Hunter. 14February2016. © All Rights Reserved.

 

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10 thoughts on “A Winter Walk

    • Ha! I think the extreme cold might have slowed everyone down a bit …. or was it the sedative I added to the corn and sunflower mix?! Seriously, the owl box capture was an accident; dumb luck. The box is 15+ feet high in an aspen tree, a few feet to the side of my trail. As I walked under and past the tree, the squirrels did what squirrels often do – freeze in place to avoid detection. I had no idea they were there, but happened to stop and look back, getting several shots off before they panicked and bolted up and away.

    • Yes, I’m pondering my next move. Three choices: abandon the next box idea, dine on squirrel pot pie, or put up more boxes. I’m going with option 3, and borrowing a strategy from the bluebird experts. Will experiment with 2 boxes in close proximity to one another, thinking that an aggressive pair of squirrels will occupy one box and chase other squirrels away from the other.

  1. Squirrels are such opportunists. Glad to have an update on Stubby. One day of below zero temps here in Missouri some years ago, I watched as bluebirds, one after another, piled into one bluebird house in the yard. It was like watching a circus clown car performance.

  2. Thank you for braving the extreme cold to capture this interesting collection of photos, Nick. All so crisp and ❄️ chilly, and winter wonderous.

    Looks like the cold snap is expected to be short in duration. That’s fortunate.

  3. Just reading your description of the morning weather had me shivering. I remember a stretch during our last winter in Utah that dropped to 20º below and stayed there for at least a week. I wouldn’t categorize it as a fond memory. The snowy shots are gorgeous though! Better you than me!

    So glad to hear that Stubby is soldiering on….

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