Monday, March 31, 2014

Winter just won't go

Not January.  This is March 31, 2014
Lest you doubt that this is the winter that never ends, I bring you this morning’s photo.  The forecast of 1.5-2” of rain turned into 4 inches of rain, followed by considerable sleet and then snow,  along with strong and biting winds.  Sunday afternoon was as thoroughly a miserable day as I can remember.

I have standing water everywhere today. The temperature has gone above freezing and is now rocketing towards 60 degrees, which is quite a change from even six hours ago. The lane past the cabin is deeply rutted and still slushy.  I certainly hope that yesterday’s storm was winter’s dying breath, but the way the season has gone so far, I’m can’t be sure that’s the case, regardless of the date.

Saturday, the feeder birds knew something was up. They fed voraciously, emptying my feeders as though it was mid-February.  Deer were out at midday, grazing on the dead grass.  It was pretty obvious they were fueling up in anticipation of not being able to feed on Sunday.  And as is usual, the animals were right. Perhaps they sensed the changing pressure or perhaps it was just the dampness in the air. But they knew Sunday was going to be bad, and they took advantage of Saturday to fill their bellies.

I was hoping to spend some outdoor time this weekend doing outside spring clean-up, but by Friday I knew that was unlikely.  So spring clean-up will have to wait, as the new season is in no hurry to displace Old Man Winter.

Friday, March 28, 2014

In a Quandry

These shovels were my constant companions this winter.  But now I’d love to put them away for next 9 months or so.  But do I dare?  I just don’t know.  At the moment (which means for the next several days) it looks safe. But April can produce snowy surprises.  Still, I’d love to put them to rest and get them off my front porch.

Maybe I’d better wait a while longer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring grinds to a halt!

From the depths of March, I bring you January, direct from the winter that never ends.

About once a week this month, I’ve said this must be the last coldest day, only to be proven wrong again and again. Snow in late March is not too unusual here, but snow and wind and temperatures in the teens are. I am beginning to long for slightly warmer temperatures.  Normal temperatures would be nice.

On a rare day without wind, virtually the only sign of spring I feel is that the sun’s strength is greater than it was in January.  On windy days, even that makes no difference. Today is one of those days.

The dogs didn’t get much of a walk this morning.  Even layered in flannel pajamas with jeans pulled on top, a sweater and my almost-heaviest coat, the wind found its way to chill my bones.  We will walk another day, preferably a warmer one. Maybe one where spring is more than a promise that feels far in the future.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Off and On the Mountain

March is playing games again.  Warm weather, cold weather.  Rain, snow, ice.  Let’s see how many different kinds of weather can be found in a single month.

Some days I think mud season has begun. The next day I’m slipping on more ice.  Down off the mountain, the weather is more spring-like. There, the snow is gone, even the patches.  Up by my cabin, I still have patches of snow and ice.  Overnight the temperature drops below freezing, if not always by much.  Heading down off the mountain is a bit like visiting a different season, even though “off the mountain” is only a mile or so away.  This is the time of year, though, where the weather difference between the mountain and the cultivated valley is pronounced.

I usually feel a bit overdressed when I’m off the mountain. Not overdressed in the sense of wearing fancy dress, but overdressed in the sense of a heavier coat, hat and gloves when the valley folks are wearing only lighter jackets and if running between buildings, perhaps not even wearing a jacket if it’s sunny and the wind is calm.  For me, that’s not yet an option up on the mountain.  If I rush out without a jacket or a hat, I’m soon back inside looking for that.  It’s not quite that warm here yet, not even in the sun.  Maybe next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Waiting for spring

The ice on this snowmaking pond is still strong enough to hold a pair of Canada geese, but that won’t last long.  A sure sign of spring is that these paired geese have already staked a claim for the pond.  For reasons unknown to me as a human, this pond is the gold standard for nesting Canada geese on Roundtop. This is the pond they all fight over, and the losing geese then make do with a nest site on one of the other ponds atop the mountain.

The geese that win the fight to nest here do so in the exact same spot each year on the north side of the pond.  I’ve lived here long enough now to be certain that it’s no longer the original pair of geese who nest here.  But since the nest site is in the same spot as it was 20 years ago, I’m pretty sure this pair contains at least one individual who was hatched there.

Each year a few other pairs of geese attempt to own the pond, and they are eventually driven off. Sometimes a single goose attaches itself to the nesting pair, and I’ve always assumed this was a youngster that was hatched the previous year.  A nearby, smaller pond offers the second-best goose nest.  Two rocks, one leaning against the other offer a safe spot with good protection from poor weather.  Geese always nest under those two rocks.  I suspect it’s only the pond’s smaller size that drops it from the top of the favored goose site.

A third pond is much bigger but offers little cover or trees along the edge.  It’s also the newest pond and didn’t exist until about 8 years ago.  Still, if I was a goose I’d like all that extra room and that would be the location I would favor.  But I’m not a goose, so there’s no accounting for why the top geese prefer this smaller pond.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A March snow

I’m still not quite used to daylight time again. I keep thinking I can take a photo in the morning before work to use on the blog only to find it’s still too dark for that.  And those longer evenings don’t seem nearly long enough when there are animals to feed first.  However, today a bit of new snow helped the morning look brighter than it really was.

I didn’t get much new snow—the storm was worse to my south—but it was enough to make the roads slick again, especially as I was driving off the mountain.  Once down in the valley the roads were fine.  At least once a week since March began I think that “today” will be the last coldest day of the winter, only to be proven wrong a day or so later.  Winter is losing its grip, as a cold night is now followed by a day or so of warmer temperatures, but just when I think it’s gone, it makes another comeback.

Early migration is underway. I had a dozen tundra swans fly over the cabin this weekend. Yesterday I saw a flock of 32 ring-billed gulls heading north. Believe it or not this is a nearly rare occurrence. Even with all the ponds here on the mountain, I can easily go a year or more without finding any gulls for me year list. I also watched a brown creeper poking around the folds at the base of my largest beech tree.  That’s another first for this year for me.  Those little birds are always around but I don’t see them very often.  They are very secretive little things.

The groundhogs are out, too, though the ones that dig big holes on the ski slopes in summer are still underground. Off the slopes where the snow is largely melted is where I've seen them.  The ponds have a bit of open water, though still not much. The season is changing but there's a long way to go before winter's last gasp.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Today the geese move north

Sparrow studies the chickens intently
Today the Canada geese are moving north.  In the early morning I’ve already seen a dozen or more large flocks of them, filling the sky, heading over the mountains on their flight north.  This is the second day of a true warm-up, a sure sign winter is easing and enough to move the waterfowl out of their wintering grounds.  Actually, the 11th of March is late for this movement. Often, the last week of February is when I see flocks aflight in this area.  This year, of course, waterfowl were then still held to the south by snow and ice and the tight grip of winter.

It’s not just Canada geese on the move today.  At 2:45 a.m., on one of my overnight trips outside for the puppies, a small flock of snow geese honked and flew overhead.  Against the overcast sky, their bright white feathers looked as though they were illuminated from within.  They coursed over the forest, perhaps a few tree-heights above the tree tops.

Snow geese are among the earliest of the migrants to move north.  They hurry to reach their breeding grounds. This year I wonder how their late flight will impact that.  The flight this year is a good two weeks later than usual.  Will this impact breeding success?   If fall comes early, will the year’s new geese be ready for the stress of migration?

I have yet to see the tundra swans whistling their way north. Perhaps I will before the day is over. Perhaps they are already gone.  Spring is underway.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What's coming next?

Though the temperature doesn’t show much improvement over mid-winter, the increasing minutes of daylight and the stronger sun angle tell me spring is approaching.  And it’s not just me:  rabbit tracks are suddenly appearing around my forest, the bluebirds are active again, and though I haven’t seen one up on the mountain, down off the hill I saw a very large groundhog yesterday.  Finally, after taking the winter off, the hens are beginning, just beginning, to lay again.

Sooner or later the temperature will catch up.

Later on in the spring it will be fun to observe what, if any, differences this cold and extended winter produces in the forest.  Will the trees leaf out later than they have over the past several years? Will it be a good warbler year because the warbler/insect cycle will be in sync again for the first time in a while? Will the winter weather alter when the bloodroot makes its one-day blooming appearance? There will be lots to keep an eye on this year, and I’m going to enjoy it all!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Never enough time

Winter weather and two puppies sure take up a lot of time, which accounts for fewer blog postings lately.  Winter is supposed to loosen its grip here over the next few days, and I hope the puppy situation calms soon, but if not at least the weather should improve.

It’s funny how I see some snow and ice melting even though the temperature remains below freezing.  It has been sunny, even though cold, and the March sunshine is stronger than that in January.  As long as the sun is out on days that still don’t climb much above the 20’s, a bit of melting occurs.  As with most things, that is both good and bad news.  It’s cheering to see some melting, however the result is that once the sun goes down everything re-freezes quickly and in some places I end up with even more ice than before.  Tomorrow the temperature will actually rise above freezing during the day and then the melting will start in earnest.  I’m ready for a bit of that.

On the puppy front, it’s about what you might expect.  Most nights I get up twice to the sound of their whining and we all make a quick trip outside for a potty break. Skye is smarter than Sparrow, but she is the braver of the two.  She is always the first to attempt something new, like stairs.  He learns new commands at the speed of light and catches on by the second or third try.  Learning commands for her is a work in progress, little baby steps, or should I say puppy steps, at a time?