February 2016

“Down there in the wooded hollow full of cedars I hear a great outcry of bluejays, and yonder is one of the snipes that are always flying and ducking around Saint Joseph’s hill. In all this I am reassured by the sweet constant melody of my red cardinals, who sing their less worldly tunes with no regard for any other sound on earth. And now the jays have stopped. Their tribulation rarely lasts very long.”

When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature, by Thomas Merton

2/1     This past week we’ve had two red foxes in our yard every day. The larger of the two, probably the male, has gorgeous long black front legs. They stay for hours, just sitting on a stone wall or running around playing. Our crows and ravens scream as loud as they can, either from annoyance, or from just being crows and ravens. We have seen these foxes many times before but they’ve never stayed in the yard for hours at a time.  — Diane Anderson, East Fishkill

2/1     Another mild almost 60° day; it was a strange beginning to February. But the longer daylight, later sunset and blooming snowdrops also spoke of spring.

Photo of blooming snowdrop plants
Spring’s right around the corner, right? Photo: Beth Herr

2/2     We got a few shots of the fisher again along with a one of a bobcat on the ice checking out a beaver lodge.  — John Foley

Trail cam photo of a fisher (Martes pennanti) crossin a wooden foot-bridge
Just passing through. Photo: John Foley

Trail cam photo of a bobcat (Lynx rufus) at the edge of a frozen lake
Who says there’s no nightlife in Kent? Photo: John Foley

2/2     Groundhog day and the little critter didn’t see his shadow, predicting an early spring. That fits with the day, so spring-like – sunny, blue skies; woodpeckers drumming; cardinals singing, “Cheer, cheer!”

2/3     Torrential rain fell in sheets all day. If it had been below freezing, it would have been a blizzard. While it was okay to miss the ice and snow, it was also the kind of rain that could make salamanders and frogs come out of torpor. What effects do these wild swings in temperature have on insects in diapause?

2/4     It was cloudy all day as the gloom lingered but a red-eyelid sunset ended the day.

2/5     Without any media hype, a passing cold front left Kent covered in a blanket of soft snow. Nature used a knife to paint this winter scene: spreading snow like icing on a black and white cookie, slicing the cloud/sun edge, striking blue shadows across the snow. By the end of the day, the ground was melting through. A brief but magical transformation.

Photo of snowy woods with snow blown on sides of trunks
Sometimes snow goes sideways, not just down. Photo: Beth Herr

2/8     Hiking through three inches of snow it was fun to follow the tracks of wildlife out and about after the storm. There was evidence of foxes marking their territories (it’s mating season for vixens), last night’s coyote bed and a midnight snack for some bird of prey. Only spots of blood and bits of fur dot the snow.

Photo of animal tracks in inch-deep snow
People aren’t alone in making paths to where they want to go. Photo: Beth Herr

2/10     Another two inches of early morning snow blanketed the ground and decorated the blueberry shrubs as if for a holiday.

Photo of snow-covered high blueberry bushes
They also serve who only stand and wait. Photo: Beth Herr

2/11     The winds howled, trees swayed to and fro, clouds raced across the sky, and scarf-wrapped faces turned away from the north and its biting wind.

2/12     Walked the trail around Lake Gleneida in the bitter, freezing wind, but it was well worth bundling up. There was a symphony of ice as the wind played with the crystals. At the north end of the lake, waves of frozen chunks were rolling, and the small pieces sounded like wind chimes tinkling in summer. Along the west side the solid apron of ice changed the music to pings and rings as the ice was rocked and rolled. At the south end the ice-music stopped and only the wind sang a howling tune.

2/13     Bitter cold, no tinkling of ice on the lake today. Thin, gauzy clouds raced across the sky.

2/14     Many temperature records were broken today. In South Salem we were below zero and wind chills were even lower. These two red-shouldered hawks took roost in a tree about 50 yards from my studio window. I hand-held their capture through a window pane and screen. One said to the other, “What the heck are we doing out here in this subzero weather?” The second one replied, “Just puff up your feathers and you won’t feel the cold.” Not sure this was working since in about two minutes both took off for a warmer, more hospitable place.  — Charles Daviat

Photo of two red-shouldered hawks in a tree, all fluffed up against the intense cold
Just puff up your feathers and you won’t feel the cold. Photo: Charles Daviat

2/14     Today’s Valentine’s Day Hike for Nature Lovers was canceled due to dangerous temperatures. Bitter cold – minus 12° – no tinkling of ice on the lake today. Only a few minutes outside made nose-tips and fingers burn. The trees cracked and popped, otherwise the silence was deafening. Even birds were quiet and lying low.

2/15     Ice topped with tufts of ice crystals – this morning it looked as if children had been having a pillow fight on top of the dark gray ice covering the pond beyond my deck. When I went outside to inspect the white tufts, I discovered that they were clumps of ice crystals, including spicules and fine webs of ice – a fringe benefit of the zero-degree weather.  — Phyllis Marsteller

2/15     Snow at day’s end made for slippery evening travels. I couldn’t get up the driveway. Walking along the forest path, crunching through lingering snow that looks peppered, I spied snow fleas. Hundreds of thousands of small springtails littered the snow. Stopping to watch, I could see that they were hopping and flipping and having an end-of-winter party.

Photo of small patch of thin snow covered with tiny snow fleas
Just getting together for a (very) small party. Photo: Beth Herr

2/16     Yesterday snow. The day before bitter cold. And today buckets of water flooded Kent. Endless curtains of rain pelted the roof and melted all the snow. Fog swirled off the frozen lakes. Winds whipped the trees but it came from the southeast and brought drastic change. It was 52° and so mild compared to -10° just one day ago! Though warm, it was not a good day to venture from the dry lair.

2/17     Carolina wren and cardinal calling – courting is beginning!  — Whangtown Road

2/19     Exploring Kent’s Town Center in preparation for the upcoming walk, it was clear that wildlife loves the storm water abatement pond next to the library. Tracks of coyote and fox, bobcat and mouse crisscrossed the damp areas by the open water. Clearly a magnet for active winter animals, this seep is an important water source, unfrozen despite the low temps.

The forest surrounding the Kent Town Center is wild and lovely. Beautiful glacial deposits, large oaks and maples and an expansive woodland is a town treasure.

Photo of four-foot diameter boulder on top of a much larger slab of rock
We’ve been together for a long time. Photo: Beth Herr

2/20     Since the new pasture fence was installed at the Stony Kill Environmental Center, all of the bluebird boxes that were on the old posts were temporarily removed. As I walked the trail that circumnavigates the west pastures to other bluebird houses, I saw a scenario that repeated three times. A male and female bluebird would land near a nesting box; the female would then move to the post supporting the box; then the male bluebird would go inside as if to check out the accommodations; the female would wait patiently until the male came out, usually about six seconds; then off they would fly to the next set of boxes. I don’t know if these were the same two birds checking all the available boxes, but I saw drama play out three times.

2/20     One of the two beehives in the west pasture was buzzing, with lots of honey bees swarming the entrance to the hive that faces due east. There had to be a couple hundred bees enjoying the warm sunshine. A few were flying off, but most stayed right at the entrance, maybe cleaning house? The second hive was completely silent and not one bee was seen.  — Andra Sramek

Photo of a row of five beehives in snowy setting
In the off-season we stay inside and keep warm. Photo: Ralph Szur

2/20     The temperature reached 63° today tying the record high for the date.  — National Weather Service

2/20     Just seven days ago, it was seventy degrees colder. What wild swings of weather and what is that doing to plants and insects?

2/20     Great walk in the woods near the library. Beth Herr led a hike, identifying trees and moss and other natural stuff. I liked the yellow-bellied sapsucker evidence. The dogs liked the deer-poop part.  — Mary Schrieber

Photo of hikers inspecting lichen on rock.
Learning from the experts. Photo: Ralph Szur

2/20     Twenty-two Kent neighbors enjoyed exploring their land at the Kent Town Center. Hikers found mosses and lichens, acorns and hickory nuts and looked for matching twigs in a tree-identification game. While there was no snow for animal tracks, everyone was happy to find nature so quiet and beautiful in place that is everyone’s backyard.

2/24     Heavy rain most of the day made the streams gush and sing. Only bits of white snow remain, and the brown carpet of leaves returns. The air is clean and fresh; can spring be far behind?

2/25     There were five red-winged blackbirds and five grackles at my feeder this morning. And one of our raven pair was gathering nest materials and offering it to his mate. She seemed disinterested but he seemed optimistic.

Photo of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) in bloom
We can tell: spring really is coming. Photo: Doris Balant

2/28     Feeding from the large circle on the ground scattered with seed were the usual suspects: up to 30 mourning doves and juncos and 12 blue jays, more or less. We also scatter sunflower seeds in our Christmas tree, now on the ground. This is a great staging and hiding place for the birds. At the feeder regularly are three or four titmice, house finches, goldfinches, chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches. We also see one Carolina wren, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers that come one at a time and a song sparrow that began coming in January. This is the only sparrow we have seen all winter, except for one house sparrow that must have briefly lost his way from some city! Except for the four pine siskins here for a couple of days in early December, we saw no “winter birds,” for example, redpolls, crossbills.  — Doris Balant

2/28     Too cool! My resident skunk was scampering about the yard in daylight, a first for me! As I sat there, it appeared. Sniffing the ground and following a scent, it passed by me! It’s almost spring, so I wasn’t concerned.

Everyone knows that skunks out in the daylight are rabid, right? Wrong!! This is the myth that gets innocent, healthy skunks killed every year. Skunks are nocturnal so it is assumed that they wouldn’t like light of any kind. Technically, they are crepuscular, which means they come out about dusk and dawn. If there were just one thing that I could tell the whole world about skunks it is that this myth is wrong. The majority of skunks seen in the daylight are hungry mothers. During baby season their feeding habits are reversed. At nighttime, the den is more prone to predation than during the day, so the mother stays in at night to protect her litter.  — Rena Marie

Photo of a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Yes, it’s early to be out, but I had to stay home all last night with the kids.
Photo: birdphotos.com via wikimedia

2/29     This morning a pair of pileated woodpeckers in the oak outside our kitchen door had a noisy argument or unsubtle Leap Year Day courtship. A couple of crows joined the birds at breakfast. Since this non-winter is almost over, yesterday we planted greens, spinach and radishes in the hoop house. Our seed order is going out tomorrow.  — Doris Balant

In March

  • Gaze at the full Sap Moon on March 22
  • Listen for spring peepers, wood frogs and red-winged blackbirds calling in the wetlands
  • Watch for the furry toes of the pussy willows to peek out from under their bud scales
  • Witness the red maple flowers making the hillsides blush and the warm green-gold of the willows
  • Look on the ground for the first worm castings as the wigglers squirm through ice-free soil
  • Watch for the first flights of the butterflies that have overwintered under tree bark – the mourning cloak and the Compton’s tortoiseshell
  • Look along roadsides for the sunny faces of the first coltsfoot flowers

Photo of ice forming between sedge and moss clumps
Geometry in nature. 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 December 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

There is time to capture a winning image in the four coming seasons. The deadline for submitting images for the contest is October 31, 2016.