December 2014

12/1     What a warm start to the month. How mild 60° feels after temperatures below freezing.

12/3     Thick fog blanketed Kent this morning. Grays and whites persisted on the gloomy landscape. The low ceiling lifted after sunset giving the waxing moon silvery pillows of clouds to float it through the night.

12/4     Above freezing at sunset, but never reaching 40° during the day, today was chilly despite the sun. Brisk winds from the northwest brought out the mittens. Dressed in bright orange, we hiked the trails at Cranberry Mountain. By the path we came upon a big ball of fluff amid the tangles of a multiflora rose bush. A close inspection routed a furry creature from its warm snuggery. A gray mouse ricocheted to the leaves below. Left behind was its still-warm mound constructed of plant fibers atop a robin’s nest. Home to little robin nestlings just six months ago, it is now a substantial winter dwelling for a mouse.

Photo of a mouse’s winter home constructed on top of an old robin’s nest in multiflora rose bush
A warm home in the roses. Photo: Beth Herr

12/5     I put my kayak in at the Patterson Environmental Park and headed south on the West Branch. The water was high from previous rains and almost no snow or ice was left from our pre-Thanksgiving cold snap. I was greeted almost immediately by five or six bluebirds – a pleasant sight and sound in the otherwise hazy sunshiny afternoon.

As I neared Pine Island, I saw what I thought was a muskrat tooling along upstream. It hauled out on a root ball and as I rounded it, I was surprised to see that it was actually a mink. It leaped onto another root ball and disappeared into a hole. I made coaxing sounds which usually work on these curious creatures, but not on this individual. Not unhappily, I continued south, accompanied by a number of downy and hairy woodpeckers. As the sun settled behind Pine Island the backlit trees showed dark and handsome profiles.  — Diana Lee

12/6     It started to rain in the early morning hours and continued all day; fog, clouds, snow were the only light of day. Almost one inch of precipitation fell. Now the ground is sodden, the streams are full, puddles line the roadways.

12/7     Sun and blue skies brought color back to the landscape. A brisk wind and plunging temps kept walkers bundled and mittened. By six in the evening, the winter-clear atmosphere upped the wattage of the brilliant, full Long Night Moon. Moon shadows striped the forest floor, and moon beams glistened on the forming ice.

12/9     Icy precipitation started in the early morning hours, bringing down trees on the Taconic Parkway and making early commuting hazardous. It warmed, then rained and poured all day, more than 2 inches of water in the gauge, and puddles on every roadway. The wind howled day and night with gusts up to 40 mph. It could have been snow, and if so, it would have been a blizzard.

12/10     Perhaps the Almanac readers might like this delightful downy woodpecker who visits our suet feeder.  — George Baum

Photo of a downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) at a suet feeder
Dinnertime for a downy woodpecker. Photo: George Baum

12/12     Beautiful sunny day with warm gold sunset.

12/15     Sunny day and temps up in the forties. The wintry blast has moderated.

12/16     Gloomy, foggy day, all was gray. It lingered, and though mild, made for two somber December days. This is a month of many different types of weather.

12/17     This is the last week of shrinking daylight. A week from today, days start getting longer. Slowly. I need more daylight.

12/18     Snow and ice encrust Kent. Only two inches, the frozen glaze highlighted form and feature. The spruce branches became bottle brushes of ice. And littered upon the snow were hundreds of spruce tips nibbled by squirrels high atop the trees. Tree-top feeding provides them salt and some nourishment and keeps their incisors sharp.

Photo of spruce branches with each needle frosted by ice
Snow covers Kent’s spruce trees. Photo: Beth Herr

Photo of spruce branch-tips bitten off by squirrels
Squirrels provide tree-top pruning. Photo: Beth Herr

12/19     Ice lingered with the cold; nature is cloaked in holiday sparkle.

Photo of a beech leaf clinging to its branch despite an icy coating
Holding tight despite a frosty coating. Photo: Beth Herr

12/21     A gloomy winter solstice was brightened only by the light snow that sifted over Kent last night leaving everything sugarcoated. The sun has not shown its face for days; it’s time for some light therapy. Tonight is the longest night of the year. For two more days, the sunrise and sunset timing hovers, then, finally, the daylight begins its advance toward spring!

12/22     Somber and gray on this first day of winter. The barometer was high most of the day so the clouds briefly lifted allowing a quick look at heavenly blue and a glimmer of sun. By day’s end, pressure dropped and low, heavy clouds closed the curtains. Lucky the ones who can curl up near holiday lights, watch the birds at the feeders, and ponder what the new year can bring. Others are in the traffic on Routes 6 and 52, standing in lines, players in the frenzy of last-minute holiday shopping.

12/23     Rain, gray, rain again. Subdued weather for humans, terrific weather for hundreds of waterfowl enjoying open water on Lake Carmel, Lake Gleneida, and other big open waters. Ruddy ducks, hooded and common mergansers, buffleheads and some golden eyes are enjoying a longer stay in Kent.

12/24     I came upon a tree that had been scaled by woodpeckers; they had chipped away the little pieces of bark in search of insects and completely disrobed the trunk.

Photo of tree trunk that has been stripped bare by woodpeckers searching for bugs
Bet they got every bug in there! Photo: Beth Herr

12/26     We were sitting close to Seven Hills Lake on sunny December 26, when a flock of six bluebirds descended on the few berries left on a bittersweet vine near us. A double treat in nearly mid-winter.  — George and Kaye Baum

12/28     A gloomy stretch of days finally ended and luminous sunsets were like Hudson River School paintings. Thomas Cole would have been enchanted.

12/29     The ravens on the trestle near my house are courting. The male brings gifts of twigs and branches, the pair grooms and clicks bills. They have elaborate courtship display with high flying acrobatics and pair flying.  — Judy Kelley-Moberg

12/31     I had heard a rumor of a “rare” wild animal in Nimham Mountain State Forest. The object of uniqueness was allegedly living close to the blue trail south of the pond. With no great expectations I set out to explore potential rocky denning sites in that vicinity. Bushwacking across some glacial ridges, I came across a tumbled scree of fractured bedrock. Hand scrambling upward I discovered direct evidence of the elusive quarry. Under a two-ton tilted slab of granite, my eye settled on the droppings. It was a bobcat’s latrine. Piles of scat lay nearby to a vertical plunge hole descending under massive slabs of rock. Although there was no kill site, the scat, some almost black and very fresh, indicated a diet of organ meat. I can’t wait for a good tracking snow to revisit and discover the den.  — Ralph Szur

Photo of very dark colored bobcat scat
I know who lives nearby. Do you? Photo: Ralph Szur

In January

  • Watch for the full Wolf Moon on January 5
  • Enjoy the antics of squirrels courting; males scurry round the trees chasing each other
  • Listen for the calls of courting owls
  • Be alert for tracks of otter, coyote, bobcat, turkey, and deer, which are active all winter
  • Watch for snow fleas and stone flies atop snow crusts
  • Note the colors of stars on clear nights
  • Look for flying honeybees if there is a January thaw
  • Watch for male raccoons roaming their home ranges looking for interested females

Are you taking pictures of wildlife on your property with a trail camera? Wild Suburbia is interested in your photographs and sightings. To participate as local citizen scientist, go to www.wildsuburbiaproject.com.

Photo of lone leafless tree in a misty, snow-covered landscape
A lone sentinel guards a misty landscape. Photo: Beth Herr

Kent Nature Almanac Photo Competition

Grab your camera and capture the nature of Kent. Send your best images to enter a juried photo competition. The winning photos will be exhibited at the Kent Public Library for the month of June and will be included in the Kent Nature Almanac. Beautiful scenery is easy to find in our town. Abundant biodiversity awaits in Kent’s lakes, cliffs, forests and backyards. Focus your camera and capture the beauty.

A maximum of three submissions per photographer will be considered for the show. They will be judged on artistic merit and how they express an aspect of nature in Kent. Explain where and why you took the photos. Recommended photo size: 1920 x 2400 pixels or larger.

Send to: herrszur@comcast.net

The deadline for submitting images for the contest is May 15, 2015.

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