Driving home from work the other day, I saw my first road-killed skunk of the year. And if this year is anything like the last few, it won’t be the last one I see this season. While April showers do indeed bring May flowers, it’s also true that warm weather in March and early April is a certain sign that skunks will turn up dead in the road in great numbers. » Continue Reading.
To enter the cave, we donned hard hats and descended a vertical drop with the aid of a rope. We crawled on our knees and bellies through a wet, narrow passageway, emerging into a large underground chamber that contained a small lake. By the light of our headlamps, we could make out interesting cave formations ― icicle-like stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling and stalagmites growing up from the floor. In the cool, damp darkness, we heard the slow dripping of water. Our underground adventure left us covered with mud ― our skin and clothes were caked with it. » Continue Reading.
My friend Gordon Russell sent me a letter recently describing a wildlife encounter. He had been following deer tracks along a stone wall when a movement caught his attention. “Almost before its image could travel to my brain,” he wrote, “the white head of a weasel vanished in between the stones.” The animal popped up again, disappeared, and then revealed itself a third time, next to where Gordon was standing.
Gordon looked at the weasel. The weasel looked at Gordon. Gordon squeaked. And then: “my day exploded.” » Continue Reading.
The sun is climbing higher each day and I know that it won’t be long until my honey bees are out seeking nectar and pollen.
From early-blooming red maple trees. Then sugar maples, apple trees, dandelions. From blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. From clover, staghorn sumac, and basswood trees. From milkweed in the abandoned field. From the coneflowers, thyme, and sage in our perennial garden. From asters and goldenrod; jewelweed and Japanese knotweed. For a bee, the warmer seasons are a Mardi Gras parade of nectars.
The European honey bee has been in North America almost as long as the Europeans who brought it. It is a miracle of nature, pollinating plants with abandon, while turning their nectars into one of nature’s most delicious substances. In a good year a hive can produce 60 pounds or more of surplus honey. But mileage may vary, as they say. Much about production, and flavor, depends on weather and location. » Continue Reading.
The bare ground of the trail wound through dead leaves and patchy snow. At a short overhang in the trail, I noticed spiky threads of ice growing up from the soil in crunchy clusters. A careless boot revealed how fragile these formations are; the fine ice threads crumbled readily. This was needle ice, a common sight in the woods this winter.
Curious about the phenomenon, I got in touch with Dr. James R. Carter, a professor emeritus from Illinois State University. Dr. Carter has spent the last ten year observing these ice formations. His photographs and descriptions of different examples of needle ice are available here.
Carter explained that while needle ice somewhat resembles frost, it is a completely different phenomenon. Frost forms when water vapor is deposited onto a growing ice crystal; the water molecules move directly from the gas phase to the solid phase without ever becoming a liquid. Needle ice, on the other hand, forms from liquid water when a process called ice segregation occurs in the soil. » Continue Reading.
At this time of year, many a gardener’s daydreams turn to the springtime promise of sprouting plants. Seed catalogs start arriving in the mail months before the soil will be thawed and drained enough for planting, and we use this downtime to plan for the coming season.
At Green Fire Farm in Peacham, Vermont, Michael Low is also planning, not only for this year’s crops, but for biochar to help those crops grow. He harvests about 50 cords of low-grade wood each year on his 67-acre homestead, and turns the wood into his own version of black gold. Biochar is charcoal used for agricultural purposes. Its advocates laud its potential to retain soil nutrients, sustain moisture levels in both drought and heavy rain conditions, and sequester carbon in the ground. For evidence of biochar’s usefulness, they point to the terra preta of the Amazon region, where biochar-enriched soils have maintained high fertility for thousands of years. » Continue Reading.
On cold winter days, feeding sticks of firewood into my woodstove, I sometimes pause, my eye caught by lichens. Splotchy circles, lacy tendrils. Soft gray, muted gray-green, black. They mottle the bark. When I look out the window next to my desk, I see splashes of lichen on the roof of my workshop, and on the stone walls across the road.
Lichens are virtually everywhere. They live in some of the harshest environments on our planet, from Antarctica to the high Arctic, deserts and high peaks, in forests tropical and temperate. They can grow not only on rock, but in it, between grains and crystals. According to Steve Selva, a lichenologist and professor emeritus at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, there’s even a type that grows on barnacles. Selva has spent four decades studying lichens. He created and still contributes to and maintains the school’s extensive lichen collection. » Continue Reading.
The Boke of St. Albans, a 15th century sportsman’s handbook, decreed that only a nobleman could hunt with a falcon, but a mere yeoman might settle for a goshawk. These days it is the very wildness and willfulness of the goshawk that bestows a badge of courage on those who would train one.
“In the talons there was death,” wrote T. H. White, who chronicled his naive attempt to “man” one of these “murderous” raptors in The Goshawk. “He would slay a rabbit in his grip by merely crushing its skull.” » Continue Reading.
In the photo, the mountain lion lies on its side on the shoulder of a Connecticut parkway. Tail lights shine in the distance. A Connecticut state trooper snapped the photo after a motorist had struck and killed the animal on a June night in 2011.
Wildlife biologists quickly confirmed this mountain lion was the one photographed days before in front of an elementary school in Greenwich, Connecticut, about 40 miles west. (School was cancelled.) Within months, DNA evidence revealed that this animal was the same one seen in the backyard of a retired game warden in Lake George the previous December, and tracked in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2009 and 2010.
DNA testing also showed that the mountain lion came from the Black Hills of South Dakota, the nation’s eastern-most confirmed breeding population. This young male had walked an astonishing 1,500 miles. » Continue Reading.
Last night, the floodlights were on at my favorite skating lake. Several children wearing plastic skates and shiny helmets were gliding on the ice, shepherded by young parents. A father pulled a Nordic-looking sled with upturned runners, his bundled-up cargo insisting, “More!” each time he stopped. They were enjoying one of winter’s greatest gifts: the smooth, frozen surfaces of our northern lakes and ponds.
The gift is ephemeral. Some winters, our skates never leave the basement. Other years, the snow holds off and there’s black ice before Christmas. We skate as much as we can, knowing our days of clear ice are numbered. As winter progresses, rain may turn the surface to water — but the temperature plummets again and the resurfaced plane draws us back. » Continue Reading.
I’m an enthusiastic, if laid-back, bird watcher. One of the things I love most about spring and summer is the effortlessness with which I encounter a wide variety of birds. Sitting in my backyard, I’ll catch sight of an indigo bunting in the apple tree or watch a pair of phoebes flying to and from their nest. On an afternoon hike, I might spot a Baltimore oriole or hear the sweet sounds of a wood thrush.
Not so in winter, when the cold curtails my outdoor activities and so many birds have departed for warmer climes. The dearth of birds and walks leaves me feeling doubly deprived, and I count the days until red-winged blackbirds will again greet me on my morning stroll.
But January is far too early to dream of spring, so I’ve decided to put thoughts of seasonal songbirds out of my mind and focus on some of our region’s year-round residents – owls. » Continue Reading.
During a mild winter in our northern forests, there are those of us who cheer our lower heating bills and those who scan the forecast, hoping for cold and snow. In a classic El Niño year like this one, when we often get unseasonably mild weather well into February, there are winners and losers in the natural world, too.
El Niño refers to a natural warming of Pacific waters. This phenomenon occurs every three to seven years, when prevailing trade winds, which drive the direction and force of ocean currents, slow down. As a result, cold water from the depths doesn’t get mixed with surface water, the ocean’s surface temperature rises, and global weather patterns can be altered. This year’s strong El Niño is being complemented by a low pressure system in the far north – called the Arctic oscillation – that’s keeping polar air trapped around the North Pole. » Continue Reading.
“Caw! Caw!” Every spring we hear it. And my wife says, “that’s My Crow.” It’s apparently the bird’s name. She capitalizes it in her tone. I think she hasn’t bestowed a more formal name because she doesn’t know whether it’s a male or female.
My Crow is likely part of an extended family of crows that lives in our area. We think they nest in the tall pines on our south neighbor’s woodlot, but they forage over our woods and fields as well.
“How do you know it’s your crow?” I ask. “I can tell by the sound of its voice,” she says. “It’s different. Raspier. It makes a sort of throaty chuckle the other crows don’t make.” » Continue Reading.
I have been a Forest Ranger for over 15 years and have spent all of it in either the Catskills or the Adirondack Mountains. Rangers respond to just about every emergency you can think of and probably a few you haven’t thought of. Many of the incidents are true accidents, a slip on the trail causing a broken leg, a dislocated elbow, a fall causing a concussion etc. Accidents can and do happen all the time in the backcountry. As a responsible outdoor enthusiast you need to be prepared for the “what if” scenarios. That means following a few cardinal rules. » Continue Reading.
If you’re a hunter who’s ever ordered something from a sporting goods company, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve been so inundated with catalogs over the past four months. God help you if you save your seed catalogs, too.
If you take a moment to flip through your now complete seasonal collection, you might find yourself wondering why during archery season in October the companies were trying to sell you the latest and greatest camo patterns that would make you invisible to deer, but then, during rifle season in November, the same companies tried to sell you glowing blaze orange suits – but don’t worry, deer can’t see those colors anyway. » Continue Reading.