Mid Winter Memories

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Frozen rain drops on White Pine needles

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A curious White-breasted Nuthatch

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Female cardinal

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Chickadee

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Red Squirrel with piebald coloration (leucism)

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Farmland whitetails foraging in a storm

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A dairy farm at first light

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Snowy Owl gliding toward a late morning perch

Photos by NB Hunter (January, 2018). © All Rights Reserved.

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Nuthatches!

Moving up, down, sideways and rarely lingering, nuthatches are feeder favorites. Our largest nuthatch, the White-breasted, is a daily visitor, foraging on suet as well as grain. Oftentimes one will dart in and grab a sunflower seed, then fly to a nearby oak tree. There, it can lodge the seed in a bark fissure and “hatch the nut” with sharp blows to the shell from its powerful bill.

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The tiny Red-breasted Nuthatch is special. With a more northern distribution and preference for coniferous forests, it is less common at the feeders than the White-breasted. Several years ago there was one, and it disappeared mid winter; last year there were none. We might have a pair this year and I’m taking every opportunity to document their presence. Love this tiny, colorful bundle of energy!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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