December 2016

Aerial photo of snow geese on a pond partially covered with ice
A popular Pawling eatery (if you’re a snow goose). Photo: Michael Douglas

A freeze-thaw month, December was thick with ice the first week, followed by rain, snow, ice again. Reports of astounding numbers of snow geese were noted throughout the region, and bald eagle sightings in Carmel were common.

12/1     We have an orphaned coyote at the Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park. Jasper the coyote will be three years old next spring. He was part of an orphaned litter that became too acculturated to people and could not be released back into the wild. When I look at this male coyote, it is not difficult to see the “wolf” in him.  — Ed McGowan

12/1     We have seen so many ducks on our pond. Hopefully there will be many more to come. Over 200 mallards flew out from the middle of thousands of snow geese today. Between the geese honking and ducks quacking it’s quite noisy around here.  — Gordon Douglas

12/1     I collected seeds from the flower heads of buttonbush. Usually at this time of year I plant them in pots, and the following spring they germinate. They are covered in butterflies and honeybees when in bloom, and are a beautiful wetland plant. If you feel adventurous, or just plain defiant, pick some seed buttons and toss them around the edges of streams and wetlands.  — Bill Hesbach

12/3     Stiff winds from the north today. As I walked along the Nichols Road Causeway, I could see a raft of diving ducks bobbing at the end of Little Fill and in the lee of the mountain. Alas, without binoculars they were too far away to confirm, but the squeals and whistles suggested common mergansers. I watched with surprise when, as if on cue, all two hundred ducks dove underwater. I waited 10, 11, 12 seconds. Then after 20 seconds all the ducks popped up. They splashed and squealed. Either they were fighting over fish or discussing their next move, but whatever they were up to, they were quite vocal and fun to watch. For almost an hour, as I crisscrossed the roadway, they repeatedly disappeared and then popped back up. They swept Horsepound Brook from one shore to the other, mindless of the strong winds and whitecaps.

Photo looking across a winter lake with queen Anne's lace in foreground
Though winter daylight hours are few, the light can be exceptional. Photo: Beth Herr

12/3     It was a cool night on Lake Gleneida for the Annual Tree Lighting and Parade. Over 40 floats and hundreds of folks in Santa hats withstood the cold wind sweeping the lake. It sure felt a lot like Christmas.

12/4     Strong winds from the north and whitecaps today, but nary a bird at Little Fill. Lake Carmel however was filled with waterfowl. Hundreds of common mergansers, hooded mergansers, some ring-neck and ruddy ducks seemed to enjoy the sunlight. The smaller birds hung in the bays, but the mergansers braved the wind gusts in the open water. Lake Carmel is a good place to look at birds…from your car! It is easy to circumnavigate the lake, with convenient pull-outs for getting a better view. The water-birds will likely stay until ice closes in.

12/6     The snow in the morning melted away, but more fell at night making for interesting animal tracking. Evidenced in the snow were the scattered feathers of a bird that likely became someone’s meal, the scratching of turkeys, the paws of a raccoon, and the death of a deer.

Photo of scattered feathers and animal tracks on snow
Good luck or bad? Viewpoints differ. Photo: Beth Herr

12/8     An unlikely pair! But last night as I drove up my driveway I saw a skunk being followed by a fox. The skunk seemed in no particular hurry, and the fox just seemed curious. But not as curious as I was! Not wanting to interfere I turned the car off and waited in silence and darkness for a minute, but when I started up again they were still meandering up the driveway. We continued this way all the way to the top. At one point the fox went over and sniffed the rump of the skunk – a dangerous move! I thought there’d be trouble, but apparently the skunk didn’t feel threatened enough to take action. The fox was equally unconcerned and went across the driveway to mark the snow on the other side. The unlikely duo continued up the hill, across the front yard, and down the back bank. A mysterious pair providing some interesting wildlife viewing!

12/11     Not all color was lost this December day. Though gray and dull brown dominated, bright green mosses and ferns freshened the landscape, followed by brilliant yellow jelly fungus.

Photo of brigh orange jelly fungus (Tremella sp.) on pine log
Golden ear? Witches’ butter? Let’s just enjoy looking at it. Photo: Beth Herr

12/14     Tonight’s sunset and moonrise were a subtle winter wonder. What a lightshow. The view from Arts on the Lake was the best in town.

Photo looking across partially frozen Lake Carmel at sunset
Day’s end at Lake Carmel. Photo: Beth Herr

12/10     The polar air moves in, so out come the gloves, scarves, and thermal underwear. Dean Pond is iced over, as is Lake Carmel and White Pond. At night, the ice pings and cracks.

Photo at sunset looking across Dean Pond covered with skim ice
Skim ice on Dean Pond. Photo: Beth Herr

12/11     Snow at day’s end put down a blanket of white. All was gray, somber and very quiet. Skim ice rimmed the ponds.

12/15     A brutal north wind gusting to 45 miles per hour had the windchill at 10° below zero. The north basin of the West Branch Reservoir was capped over in frothy white and a large raft of common mergansers – estimated at 500 birds – were bobbing in the wind. On the fringe of the raft I spotted at least one hen canvasback and several hooded mergansers. Overhead, three formations of snow geese in their V’s – as many as 600 birds – were passing quickly in the stiff tailwind.  — Tom Lake

12/15     This was a week when many thousands of snow geese, in a spectacular display, lit up the sky as they migrated south in advance of an arctic front.

12/16     Eight inches of snow meant happy skiing for some, snow shoveling for others. The snow ended with freezing rain creating a glaze-crust icing.

12/16     It was 14° this morning. Nice to know the winter solstice is only a week away, and the days will begin to get longer.

12/17     Middle-of-the-night cross-country skiing is this: Quiet stillness of the hemlock forest on a snowy night, the only sound is that of my skis breaking tracks in fresh, crusty snow through the forest as the cold drizzle of freezing rain steams off.  — Bill Volckmann

12/17     We looked outside on a frigid day and saw a pair of tiny, slate-gray meadow voles searching for food, grooming themselves, and sunning in the (dim) sunlight. I had never realized that voles do not hibernate but are active all year – a pretty remarkable ability for such little creatures. It seemed like they were using chipmunk burrows; with the explosion in chipmunk populations around here in recent years, I wonder if there has been a resulting growth in the number of voles.  — Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick

12/20     Reindeer sighting in the snow!

Photo of rustic wood
You look a little cool there, Rudolph. Stiff, too. Photo: Beth Herr

12/30     I’m enjoying watching behavior around the bird feeder. For instance, two squirrels interact daily at my feeder. One always feeds in the center of the seeds around the feeder pole, but keeps the other on the outer edge. I’m pretty sure they are ways the same two. The masses have arrived: doves, often 35-40, as many juncos, also blue jays. Regulars are red-bellied and downy woodpecker, but not a single hairy has appeared. Turkeys visited early in the month, a little flock of bluebirds, a Carolina wren, and the best: a merlin under my feeder with remnants of a bird!  — Doris Ballant

The winning images from the 2016 Kent Nature Almanac Photo Competition were displayed as Art at the Kent Library during December. The images highlight the beauty of nature in the town of Kent. They were chosen for artistic merit but also for evoking the joy of taking a closer look. The exhibit moved for January to Arts on the Lake.

In January

  • Gray squirrels are very active: it’s mating season
  • Both permanent resident and winter “visitant” birds remain active
  • Full Snow Moon on January 12
  • Birch seeds fall and darken the snow
  • Bald eagles arrive as more bodies of water to our north freeze over.
  • Mammal tracks mark the snow
  • Owls call at night; it’s active nest season
  • Stoneflies hatch and dot the snow near streams