February – March 2017

2/1     There are signs of spring, to my regret because they are too early yet to enjoy. We have learned over the centuries not to count on the early signs as the longed-for return of spring.

This morning a Carolina wren, which comes occasionally to the feeder, was giving a very spring-like call in the woods. Just when we get a little tired of winter, we can look forward to soon hearing those mating calls.  — Doris Ballant

2/1     It was a perfect tracking snow and on the Croton Point beach I found the paired tracks of a river otter. Everywhere I walked this morning there was a “cat’s cradle” of coyote tracks punctuated periodically by patches of grass and gravel torn up by the coyotes – mousing? A harrier, a kestrel and the local red-tailed hawks provided the air show.  — Christopher Letts

2/1     Three inches of snow greeted skiers this morning. White highlighted the tree branches and forest floor. It also delineated the ice-covered half of Dean Pond. Big, heavy snowflakes fell for short periods, and the sun peeked out from dark clouds. The blustery wind and snow were deceiving as temp rose to the 40s.

2/2     A merlin was sitting atop my feeder this morning. I overheard a comment about the Groundhog Day winter prediction from my son, ” How could we get six more weeks of what we haven’t had?!”  — Doris Ballant.

2/8     The air temperature reached 62° F, tying the record high for the date.  — National Weather Service

2/9     The feeder attracted the first red-winged blackbirds, all ten of them. And now we’re hearing mating calls, tentative at first: white-throated sparrows, bluebirds, woodpeckers drumming. The barred owls have started conversing or is it a domestic dispute?

So warm yesterday, then today, heavy snow created a winter wonderland for all.

Photo of snow filling the woods
But it was warm yesterday. Photo: Beth Herr

2/10     Opportunities have been few this winter in the Mid-Hudson valley for snowshoeing. Today had possibilities so I put on my Red Feathers and went out into the powder on the woodland floor. Bird tracks were common along the forest edge. The largest were wild turkey and crow and the smallest were juncos and sparrows. I was looking for coyotes, known from these woods and commonly heard at night, but could only find fox. They were probably red fox. The tracks were nearly in a line, small triangular foot pads, with faint claw marks. Gray fox tracks are smaller on average with four toes and claws, although sometimes their semi-retractable claws do not show. The gait suggested a fox in no hurry, daintily stepping its way through six inches of powdery snow.  — Tom Lake

2/10     And now for special effect, to the ice barrel add a blizzard (we had 12 inches of snow yesterday) and some moonlight.  — Tore Heskestead

Night photo of candle in snow with warm, inviting house in the background
And some moonlight. Photo: Tore Heskestead

2/11     The tidewater Wappinger Creek was frozen today and several dead fish were floating just under the near-clear ice. An immature bald eagle was strutting and stomping on the ice, focused on the fish underneath and frustrated by its inability to reach them.  — John Devitt

2/11     With snow-cover a few days old, there much evidence of nighttime drama written in tracks and scrapes. Came upon a kill site where a leg tells the story of predator and prey.

Photo of the lower portion of a gnawed-off deer's leg and hoof sitting on the snow
We can only imagine. Photo: Beth Herr

2/12     Kent was dusted with snow while much of the rest of the northeast got a blizzard

2/14     Snowy Night

Night falls on snowy white ground with nice hot chocolate for me.
The deer are walking by and snow is blowing through the air.
The deer must be hungry and cold
And should go home and be warm like me.
— Ryan Danahy,
    (Third Grade Lakeview Elementary, Mahopac)

2/19     The air temperature reached 66° F today, establishing a new record high for the date.  — National Weather Service

2/22     I heard a loud “birdstrike” on the window near my feeder. When I looked out, I spied a merlin sitting on the ground, his wings partly spread. I’m guessing he was chasing his lunch too fast when he crashed into the window. No sign of the designated meal, and he took off, apparently uninjured. This is the third sighting of a/the merlin at this feeder.

2/22     The woodcock are back! The dogs were barking in the field before first light but the “timber doodles” did not care. They were preening and fluttering over our field. If they do as they did last year, they will have chicks in May.  — Anne Allbright Smith

2/23     Heard killdeer when cycling up in Lagrange

2/23     The air temperature reached 73° F today, establishing a new record high for the date.  — National Weather Service

2/23     Driving south on Route 22 toward Patterson early this morning, I saw a big animal running through the farm pastures. As it got closer I realized that it was a large coyote loping along at a leisurely pace. What a beautiful sight.  — Dann Kenefick

2/24     There are so many flocks of noisy migrating birds this morning! Zoe and I heard some of them coming, and we stood for a long time watching several groups go by. (Zephyr watched and listened with polite but cautious interest, from the doorway.) They seem to be following Horse Pound Brook. One flock after another, they are flying back north. Spring is coming.  — Deer Hollow Court

2/25     This is the third day in a row with extraordinarily high temperatures. Woodpeckers drum unseen with a regular pattern. They’re probably hairy or red-bellied since the drumming did not have the irregularity of sapsucker drumming. A red eft emerged from under a rock right by the house. Note the mud on its snout in the photo. Having discovered the birdseed always available on our back patio, a ’possum comes pretty regularly after dark. Winter aconite is up!

Spring peepers! Near the stream at the intersection of Shrade and Whangtown in the afternoon and, towards evening, a couple even started up near the little pond in our pasture.  — Anne and Bruce Campbell

Photo of a red-spotted newt
Is it spring already? That winter sure seemed short. Photo: Anne Balant Campbell

2/25     Even humans are acting strangely – I saw a man out doing yard work in shorts and flip-flops.

2/26     Lake Carmel has open water this morning, much to the delight of three ruddy ducks and a merganser. The first grackles were at the feeder today.

2/28     We heard bluebirds doing spring calls. This evening, I heard a few peepers again at the intersection of Whangtown and Shrade Road, but the ones on our property were not calling.  — Anne and Bruce Campbell

2/28     Spring

The Pleiades their influence now give,
And that seemed as dead afresh doth live.
The croaking frogs, whom nipping winter kil’d,
Like birds now chirp and hop about the field.
The Nightingale, the black-bird and the Thrush
Now tune their layes, on sprayes of every bush.
— Anne Bradstreet
    (1612-1672, Excerpt from The Andover Manuscript)

3/2     The trifecta of stunning early arrivals (earlier spring peepers and wood frogs) was completed today when I saw my first garter snake of the season. I hope it did okay as air temperatures fell below freezing tonight.  — Peter Cutul, Fort Montgomery

3/5     If a black vulture would be a “life bird” for you, the Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park is the place to go. There were two back vultures (Coragyps atratus) in a zoo enclosure today. Sprinkled all about the enclosure and along the hillside were no fewer than 24 black vultures “in the wild.” Nearby in soon-to-bloom forsythia bushes, we estimated there were 30 American tree sparrows, collectively singing loudly, individually singing sweetly (“tseet – teelwit”). These sparrows were wintering in the park, biding their time until getting the message to head north to their breeding range in the scrub and willow thickets of the Canadian Arctic.  — Audrey Pless, T.R. Jackson, Tom Lake, Bear Mountain State Park

3/6     We just happened to look out our window and there he was. I sneaked out on the deck and got this image. He nests close to Seven Hills Lake by my neighbors’ lot and we often spot him surveying the area.  — George Baum

Photo of a puffed-up hawk perched in on a pine bough
Just keeping an eye on things and staying warm. Photo: George Baum

3/8     I passed by the great blue heron rookery today and discovered that herons were there already. This is about two weeks earlier than last year and the earliest that I can recall in past seasons. I counted 26 nests – some may have fallen – down from 28-30 last year. Six or seven looked occupied with one or two birds each. There was a lot of coming and going with sticks and nest maintenance activity.  — Rick Stafford, Bedford

Ed. note: This rookery is relatively easy to observe from the road, it’s on Route 121 just north of Bedford.

3/9     I found my way to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge today, a first-time visit. It was warm and sunny but I needed my jacket for the fierce March wind. Almost immediately, above the wind, I heard an eastern meadowlark singing. Then I heard and saw several more during my walk along the Red Loop trail. An American kestrel was perched on a nest box and another was perched in a nearby tree.  — Tom Andersen

3/10     Heavy snow (6 inches) combined with strong west-northwest wind dropped the windchill to near zero. [Nighttime air temperature would average 14° F over the next three days.]  — Tom Lake

3/10     While I had hoped the forecast would be a mirage, alas, it has turned into the 5 inches or so of snow outside. While the roads are very good right now, the temperatures are supposed to start plunging this afternoon which means that it might well get really icy by tonight.  — Ed Durkee.

3/10     Our neighborhood fox was out this morning after last night’s snowfall. The last time we saw him he was sunbathing and taking it easy. This time he was out looking for breakfast in the snow. Watching him go deliberately from place to place it was clear he knows where voles live. Lots of listening and sniffing and then a sudden pounce followed by furious digging in the snow. But, alas, no success. After about fifteen minutes, he walked, without rushing, very deliberately and directly off into the woods, presumably headed to a place where the hunt might be more successful.  — Dave Ehnebuske.

Photo of a red fox in snow
No time for fun today. This is serious business. Photo: Dave Ehnebuske

3/10     Light snowfall over night and through the morning covered the ground but not the macadam, though a total of four inches accumulated. The ground has warmed, I’ll bet this snow will melt quickly. Fine by me, I was enjoying the tease of spring.

Photo of late-winter stream mostly covered by snow
Even the snow says spring is coming. Photo: Dod Chahroudi

3/13     Sunrise was chilly at 8° F. Cold, polar air and high pressure (30.05 inHg) brought deep blue skies. Flocks of robins bobbed on lawns, cardinals sang spring songs, the blackbirds were noisy in the wetlands. Sunset was golden as temps warmed to freezing. Only a silvery haze at twilight and falling pressure (29.10) presaged the blizzard barreling our way.

Blizzards are rather fun! Or at least fascinating. The wind created snow-gaps around the house, the way it does around trees. So now the dogs can run around on bare ground, surrounded by a wall of snow that looks like sedimentary rock. I’ll bet you could write a poem or story about it.

Two feet of snow in Kent!

3/14     Well, we’re still snowed in with no plow in sight. I called the snow plow guy and he is working as fast as he can to get everyone plowed out, but there is just too much snow for the plows to handle. So most everyone needs to be cleared out with front-end loaders, us included. There is a 5-foot tall, 6-foot wide snow drift at the end of our driveway that a plow cannot get through. There are drifts in the rest of our 900-foot driveway that are hip deep. I really can’t even walk through it to get out to the road. I tried this morning without success. Even our 4×4 pickup got stuck. So we wait. And wait. And wait.  — John Askildsen

3/15     Woodcock in Central Park! In total, I counted 13 different birds! More than I’ve seen all together in my birding life in Central Park!.  — Thomas Schuchaskie

Photo of four woodcocks huddled in snow in NYC's Central Park
Tonight we dance at dusk in Central Park!. Photo: Thomas Schuchaskie

3/20     Unless you’re a botanist you’ve probably never heard of marcescence. Well, it’s a fancy, somewhat unpronounceable word to describe deciduous trees that keep their leaves normally shed in the fall. Here’s an example below from a recent walkabout. You might ask yourself, as I did, why this happens – or doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s just the exception that proves the rule: Fall is when leaves fall? Apparently, no one really knows the reason for marcescence but some experts speculate that keeping dead leaves is a defensive measure to deter hungry deer from a meal of soft twigs and buds. Who knew trees were so smart? The snow persists yet everywhere there are signs of spring: alder and birch catkins lengthen and dance like chenille fringe from every twig, fuzzy gray paws poke out from under willow buds; titmice and cardinal, blackbirds and robin fill the air with song.  — Charles Daviat

Photo of an American beech twig in winter with attached dry leaves
A winter beech can be lovely. Photo: Charles Daviat

3/28     Son Michael was looking for ring-neck ducks on the lake when he spotted what he thought was a beaver crossing the lake and then hauling out on a log. Using an 800mm lens he videoed the critter. The screen on his camera is very small so he did not realize that he had filmed an otter rather than a beaver until he got home and viewed the video on a full-sized screen. I hope there will be some baby otters later in the spring.  — Gordon Douglas

3/28     Steady rain yesterday and last night provided the moisture amphibians need to migrate to breeding ponds. This morning there lay on the road dead, six spring peepers, two wood frogs, and one yellow-spotted salamanders.  — Judy Kelley Moberg

3/28     I found a naturally born one-eyed female wood frog hopping her way down through leaf litter to a vernal pool.  — John Foley

Photo from front of a one-eyed wood frog
Here’s lookin’ at you. Photo: John Foley

Photo from side of one-eyed wood frog
Hey, where’d you go? Photo: John Foley

3/29     The birds seem to read the calendar. The number of junkos checking the ground under the feeder is diminishing while red finches are showing up in increasing numbers. No sign of robins yet, but the bluebirds showed up and will hopefully nest nearby. The birds are very active, chasing each other and checking out the birdhouses. The 4 to 5-foot mounds of snow along our driveway and deck are down to 1-2 feet, while a few sections of the yard are now exposed. On our street spring seems to be a week behind the rest of Kent. Grape hyacinths are poking up in the few spots that are clear of snow, but the surest sign of spring is that Gurney has delivered my plants!  — George Baum

3/31     The longing for spring has finally been rewarded with those first tentative shoots and greening buds. Lilac buds have been waiting since last fall to begin a new season of bloom. Not tentative at all are the birds. The woods are full of their courting calls. Every day we see Hitchcock-like flocks of 50 or more – blackbirds, cowbirds, red-wings and a few rusty blackbirds – roosting in the tall trees, swooping down on the feeders every few minutes. Turkey vultures cruise overhead, fox sparrows, robins and the first phoebes call. Sightings of red-tailed and a red-shouldered hawks are now common. Notably absent all winter were pine siskins and redpolls. Larger critters showing themselves include deer, ’possum and fox. And ground hogs are already trying to get into gardens.

Photo of lilac buds
Ready for April! Photo: Doris Ballant

In April

  • Listen for the return of songbirds with news songs everyday
  • Look for the first woodland wildflowers
  • See the Full Grass Moon rise in the east on April 11
  • Watch for chipmunks, opossum, and skunks to emerge