February 2014

Kent was buffeted by several polar vortices this month, plunging temperatures to the single digits for long stretches. Snow was abundant, with storms arriving one after the other leaving more than two feet of snow. February usually feels unchanging in Kent; this year that was especially true as the world seemed frozen in time. The skies, however, did become lighter and days became longer, with earlier sunrises and later sunsets. Fading twilights lingered a few minutes more. The noon sun was higher in the sky, and by the first week of the month it had already moved a third of the way from its December low to its June apex.

2/1     Whew, temperatures rose above freezing for a balmy start to a new month. Snow lingered, providing a canvas for nature’s drama and art. The impression of the wing tips from a bird became a painting.

Photo of the impression made by a bird's wingtip in snow with a leaf in the impression
Wingtip sculpture – Photo: Beth Herr

2/2     Happy Groundhog and Super Bowl Day! Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow this bright and sunny day, and, no surprise, prognosticates six more weeks of winter.

2/5     Snow started in the wee dark hours of the morning surprising Kent with 5+ inches of the white stuff. All day it fell, sometimes ice, sometimes freezing rain, sometimes big snowflakes. 13 inches of snow. The entire New York section of Interstate 84 was closed, trains were slowed, flights were canceled along with most community events. Shoveling out took hours, but the skiing was wonderful at Fahnestock.

Photo of two unusual impressions in the snow apparently left by a goose
What happened here? Hope someone didn’t have a bad day – Photo: Beth Herr

2/11     Milder temperatures, a "February thaw," warmed the snow. Hilltops and tree skirts melted. It was easy walking for the Canada geese who munched on the first sight of green.

Geese tracks in the snow
Guess where the geese have been – Photo: Beth Herr

2/12     More news of the spring bird migration beginning – the local Waterman Bird Club observers spotted a male red-breasted merganser in a small lead with a few common mergansers. Scores of hawks have been seen, while the number of eagles feeding along the Hudson has reached record highs.

2/13     Thunder snows! A howling snowstorm tonight included lighting and booming thunder. It left a foot of snow and ice coating to boot. Twenty-three turkeys were able to walk on top of the snow crust cruising to the neighborhood bird feeders.

Turkeys in the snow
It’s not easy for turkeys to earn a living in the snow – Photo: Beth Herr

2/14     The snowy winter has brought some unusual visitors to our suet feeder along with the usual "crowd" (nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers). Recently, we have had a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a Carolina wren, and a ruby-crowned kinglet come for suet. The sapsuckers typically entertain us by tapping on the metal "posted " signs in our neighborhood in the springtime and we are not accustomed to seeing them in winter. The Cornell website does state that they sometimes come to feeders for suet. Our region seems to be close to the northern edge of their winter range, so perhaps the boundaries are shifting. This is documented to be the case with the Carolina wren, and may also be true for the tiny, active kinglets.  — Anne Balant-Campbell

2/14     Full Hunger Moon

2/15     The Valentine’s Hike for Nature Lovers at Fred Dill Wildlife Sanctuary was canceled. While one person had been strong enough to trudge a track, the snow was so deep that any other hikers would have had to post-hole their way down the trail.

2/17     Three inches of snow; the plow piles are six feet high. Three degrees below zero doesn’t stop the spring song of the cardinal: "Cheer, cheer, cheer."

2/18     The snow is so deep, deer are yarding up – they gather together in a concentrated network of trails and beds in places protected from the wind. The grass they eat in warm weather is now scarce, so they nibble evergreen needles and the few tree buds they can reach while staying alert for branch tips dropped by heavy snow.

Mice and voles are happy with the snow crust; owls and hawks really can’t get to them. They have a roof over their kingdom for a while.

“The mouse is a sober citizen who knows that grass grows in order that mice may store it as underground haystacks, and that snow falls in order that mice may build subways from stack to stack: supply, demand, and transport all neatly organized. To the mouse, snow means freedom from want and fear.”  — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

2/19     Rain!!

2/20     One of the attributes of late winter is the sudden change of weather. As bitter cold and wet as it was yesterday, today was bright, sunny, and a bit warmer.

2/20     I’ve been waiting to hear that the red-winged blackbirds have returned. In Kent that day is usually around the fifteenth of this month but it has been so cold. And then in the Hudson River Almanac this news from Palisades: “‘I drove into Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory this sunny morning with the windows down as it seemed like a good day for red-winged blackbirds to arrive. They did not disappoint. I spotted one in the highest branch of a sapling near the marsh and could hear its territorial song as I drove by.’  — Linda Pistolesi”

2/22     I led a ski tour of the Cranberry Mountain MUA on this mild day. Clear blue skies and temps above 40 made for a beautiful day (perfect for making maple syrup). Under a copse of crab apple trees the deer beds were abundant and a flock of robins cheerily ate the winter-seasoned berries.

2/23     Potholes emerge after the freeze-thaw cycle. The same phenomenon cleaves granite mountains – the ice melts into crevices and then expands while refreezing generating a force powerful enough to shatter stone.

2/24     The birds fluff up their feathers to obtain extra insulation while waiting near the bird feeders. Shivering is their primary means of increasing heat.

2/28     Mr. Opossum was prowling around the bird feeder last night despite the cold. Raccoons should become active soon as mating season begins.

In March, watch for:

  • The Winter Crown, the last snowfall of the season
  • Tunnels from mice and voles when the snow begins to melt
  • Mourning cloak butterflies on the first mild days
  • Bird song in the morning
  • Daylight Saving Time and spring!

Programs in March:

  • Amphibian Hunt at Clearpool, Sunday, March 23, 10am

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