February 2015

Photo of the sun setting over the hills of Kent

Pink, blue, gray and cold. Photo: Beth Herr

February started and ended with snow and was one of the coldest months in memory. Kent residents had to contend with ice and cancellations, but were rewarded with beautiful snowy scenes and colorful sunsets.

2/2     About four years ago, some local bluebirds began to winter over here, some of them hiding in the woodpile to take shelter from the wind. But a half dozen formed a roost group. At dusk, they pile into a nest box if a woodpecker has not already claimed it. The huddle they form enables them to collectively share warmth. They insulate themselves from the extreme cold by puffing up their feathers and inflating air sacs. This helps these warm-blooded animals conserve energy.  — Tom McDowell

2/3     After shoveling off fifteen inches of snow, I was surprised by a mole sitting on the snow, apparently sunning itself. The mole didn’t seem alarmed, and since it wasn’t particularly warm (20°), its dark fur was lush and fluffed up. After a long minute or two, the mole scrambled into a nearby whiskey barrel planter through a missing slat. From the sound of things, it already had a network of tunnels in there.  — Emily S. Plishner

2/3     We have neck-high drifts in the back of the house. The driveway had to be plowed twice today. We got 8 inches and light drifts with the first snowfall and then at 1am it started again. We got an inch an hour. Between Bud with the snowblower and Kristina and me with my trusty shovel, we managed to get up to the chicken house. They got the royal treatment – warm oatmeal. And they gave us 13 eggs. We had a couple of terrific plops in the snow trying to get our legs up high enough to get a solid footing through drifts at least 15-18 inches deep and in some places up to our necks. With the wind howling around us and it was like we were three sheets in the wind. Ha!  — Betty Behr

2/4     The Full Hunger Moon shines on this frigid night, highlighting the silence and the harshness of winter. Many creatures are going hungry in this weather.

Photo of a snow-covered old, broken tree trunk still standing

I was here through many winters. Photo: Beth Herr

2/5     We now have drifts over my waist and everything is white, windblown, smooth and beautiful. Some snow still clings to the trees. We have a white crown sparrow or two at our busy feeders. I keep running out of feed and peanut butter. With a light crust of ice and a gale-force wind, today’s temperature is minus 16°.  — Betty Behr

2/7     Eagle Fest, at Croton Point Park on the Hudson, was a testament to the healthy return of bald eagles to our area. I lost count of our bald eagle sightings. Twenty-four was one number I heard but I know we saw far more. Five miles upriver at Verplanck the number was more than 30; a little father upriver at China Pier, it was more than 50. Altogether there were more than 100 eagles on Haverstraw Bay. The best bird of the day was at Croton Point, where an adult bald eagle was feasting on a gizzard shad. My optics allowed me to get close enough to capture the identifier on the bird’s blue leg band: U62.  — Matthew Willis

2/7     Among the birds other than eagles seen during the Eagle Fest were seven redhead ducks (six drakes), canvasbacks, red-breasted merganser (uncommon on the Hudson), ruddy ducks, black ducks, American wigeon, common raven, great horned owl, northern harrier (3), peregrine falcon and horned lark (about 15).  — Larry Trachtenberg

2/14     And on the Hudson River in Beacon: It was the bottom of the afternoon ebb tide, following several days of persistently high northwest winds. All we could see, in all directions, was ice. Where was the river? We walked 300 feet offshore looking before we finally heard murmurs and felt a slight lift that may have been ice shifting in the shallow water. With no open water to measure, a blowout tide was practically invisible. We saw dozens of nervous gulls in the air but not one on the ice; an immature bald eagle was perched close by in an open canopy oak, a common sign this winter.  — Tom Lake

2/15     Today usually marks the return of the red-winged blackbirds. The “concharee” of the newly arrived males should be heard in the swamps and along the Hudson in the tidal grasses. It’s unlikely we will hear that sound any time soon. It was minus 4° this morning, the cold locking down the atmosphere.

2/16     It should be maple sugar season now. But no sap is moving today or any time soon.

2/17 A dusting of snow overnight added another two inches to the white blanket on Kent. And while the sun looked warm by mid-day, and sank away an hour later than last month, it added little warmth to the air. And yet, even 20° without the wind was welcome.

2/18     Take heart – even though the thermometer has been shivering, the winter-drab goldfinches clustered around the hanging feeders were beginning to show hints of their feathered golden glory of the breeding season. It was faint, but it was there.  — Robin Fox

2/19     Half sunny, half cloudy and grey, with frigid winds whipping up snow and seeds. Brrr. The temperature at daybreak was 18° and it never climbed higher despite that sun. For the third time weather forecasters predicted “the coldest temps of the season so far,” making this a record-breaking winter. Tonight winter’s grip tightens – 7°!

From NOAA: “The week’s record-breaking cold is courtesy of a plume of not just Arctic, but Siberian air that has been trudging across the North Pole and into North America. The Weather Prediction Center cautions of continued, dangerous cold on Friday morning, courtesy of the polar vortex. There are indications that this could be some of the coldest weather since the mid-1990s for parts of the Southeast U.S., Mid-Atlantic, and central Appalachians,” it wrote in a morning forecast update. “An eddy of the polar vortex will add to the potency of the surface cold front, thus creating a deep layer of bitterly cold air.” Contrast this warning with the above-average temperatures in the West, where record highs are falling. On the North Slope of Alaska, temperatures were running an astonishing 40 degrees above average on Thursday morning. Time to move to Alaska?

2/20     The sun set on this cold day like a liquid gold medallion hung on the deep blue nape of the sky. Later, a slender crescent moon, waxing toward the Full Sap Moon, was kissed by very close Venus adding sparkle to the evening.

2/21     Five more inches of snow added more padding to the white blanket on Kent. Despite the snow, the sun warmed the day. Cardinals and titmice were singing spring songs, the sound of dripping water could be heard (snowmelt!), and willow trees yellowed. It was a warm and wonderful 42°. Surely the sap is flowing, too.

2/22     My bees were flying last Sunday when we finally broke freezing with bright sunshine!  — Steve Walkley

2/22     This morning along Day Road I saw a (cold) chipmunk. Some warm day soon there will be chipmunk mating chases ensuring a bumper crop of chippies next summer!  — John Dummerston

2/22     Sunny, and so mild; 40° felt downright balmy. The cardinals were singing their spring “cheer,” the titmice “peter-peter,” and the added treat – the sound of dripping water from snowmelt was the perfect reminder spring is coming.

Photo of cattail (Typha latifolia) in snow

Guess which way the wind blows. Photo: Beth Herr

2/23     What a difference a day makes! Below 0° again this morning as Old Man Winter persists.

2/24     Even with sub-zero temperatures and several feet of snow on the ground, it is possible to find signs, such as pussy willows, that spring really is around the corner. What we call pussy willows are, in fact, the soft, silvery hairs that insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud. A willow catkin consists of all male or all female flowers. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen (or in female flowers, the ovules) of the flowers deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the willow flowers – the stamens and pistils – emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats.  — Mary Holland

2/24     I captured these snowy apparitions in the late afternoon light. It was a perfect photographic moment: a fresh new luminescent coating covering previous mounds and warm waning light filtering through the woods, backlighting the snow and casting long, sharp shadows. And a magical transformational moment too, as these shapes took on new identities – no longer snow piles on a rock wall, but specters draped in flowing sheets, half-hidden faces, wraith-like spindly arms and legs. The fun of photography, for me, is letting the eyes take over without letting the brain get in the way (by naming familiar things). Or, more simply put, just seeing things that aren’t there.  — Charles Daviat

Late afternoon photo of snow drifted against a rock wall

Specters draped in flowing sheets. Photo: Charles Daviat

2/26     If you look out the window, winter still appears to be with us. But if you listen, you’ll hear the birds just now starting their spring songs. The sugar bushes are running and mornings and evenings aren’t all that dark anymore.  — Jeff Green

2/27     By this time of the month Kent’s wetlands are usually filled with the sound “concharee.” I thought it was too cold, but then read this, “While snowshoeing today at Scenic Hudson’s Vosburgh Swamp Natural Area, I couldn’t believe that I saw my first flock of red-winged blackbirds despite an air temperature of 10°.” So they are nearby!  — Steven Young

2/27     The rock ledge behind the Kent Town Hall was melted out by the warm, reflected sun. A large flock of robins was taking advantage of the open ground. They tossed leaves, bobbed on the ground and talked to each other with great excitement.

2/28     There was a patch of open water in the Croton River, about the size of a handball court. A few buffleheads and common mergansers ghosted over the steaming water, wraiths in a mist. There were no geese, no gulls. Had I ever been here in any season, in any year, when there were no gulls or geese?  — Christopher Letts

2/28     My motion-sensor camera caught a good view of a bobcat at Muscoot Farm in the daytime!  — Paul Lewis

Photo of a bobcat crossing the snow

“I’m getting tired of the snow.” Photo: Paul Lewis

In March

  • Listen for the drip-drip-drip of maple sap near broken branches
  • Look for worm castings, little balls of soil on the ground
  • Watch for pussy willows, red maple blush, swelling and lengthening catkins on alders and birches
  • Don’t miss the Full Sap Moon on March 5
  • Watch for mourning cloak butterflies on warmer days
  • See skunk cabbage flowers melting their way through snow
  • Sniff the air for the smell of skunks
  • Look for opossums on the roadways

Kent Nature Almanac Photo Competition

Photo of lone leafless tree in a misty, snow-covered landscape

A lone sentinel guards a misty landscape. Photo: Beth Herr

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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