Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's Not to Love About Squirrels? Well . . . .

I just learned that today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day.  WHAT?!!  I wonder who came up with that one!  Well, it was the National Wildlife Federation, and you can read what they have to say about it here.

Luckily, I've never suffered the kind of damage squirrels can wreak in an attic, so I'm better able to appreciate squirrels for their entertainment value (when they're not nipping off my Flowering Dogwood buds).  It's hard not to admire their resourcefulness, even if they do manage to hog more than their share of seed from the supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeder.  And yeah, they are cute and fluffy.

Sometimes they are even brave, like this squirrel challenging a Cooper's Hawk for its Mourning Dove meal.

And they do have that dear appealing way of pleading with us for food, like this poor pitiful rain-soaked mama squirrel begging at our back door.

We have a lot of squirrels around our yard, as well as a family of feral cats, which we feed on our back porch.  Cats and squirrels often interact, sometimes even playfully.  In honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here's a sequence of photos of one of those not-so-playful but nevertheless amusing interactions.

Feral kitten arrives at the feeding station to find squirrel got there first.

Squirrel continues to feed despite baleful stares from kitten.

Whoa!  When kitten tried to approach the bowl, squirrel wheeled around and charged at kitten, driving it away.

But not too far.  A stand-off ensued.

"Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa!  You can't scare me, " squirrel seems to be saying to kitten.  I wonder if squirrel would be so bold toward kitten's mom or dad.

I guess little kitten would not be a willing participant in National Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Cure for the Blues

Are you turning blue from the cold?  Do you have the wintertime blues?  Well, the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs has a cure for that, with their imaginative exhibition planned for the evening of January 24, featuring all kinds of works from all kinds of creative people -- artists, writers, photographers, musicians, performance artists, creators of works of any genre relating to the word "blue," however understood.  It should be a great party, with fascinating art works, good music and food, and will serve a great cause, as well.  The show is free, but a collection will be taken up to support Code Blue, the shelter in downtown Saratoga Springs that provides the homeless a warm place to spend these coldest winter nights.

Believe me, I was really flattered when I received a direct invitation to contribute one of my photos! Blue?  Oh yes, I have lots of photos that fall within that category.  This one I call "Blue Birches" is what I chose to submit to the gallery today and which will be in the show a week from Saturday.

Before I settled on  "Blue Birches,"though,  I had a wonderful time going through my photo files to find ones that might fit the "blue" category, enjoying not only the photographs but also the memories of so many beautiful places I have been and sights I have seen.  Since I had all these photos gathered together, it was easy to post them here on my blog and share them with all my readers.  Perhaps you might enjoy revisiting them, too.  (They are even more enjoyable if you click to enlarge them!)

October dawn on Elk Lake in the Adirondacks

A Bufflehead pair on the first day of spring, Lake George

Departing storm clouds over Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks

A campfire glows on the shore of Pyramid Lake.  I hear the loons' haunting calls every time I look at this photo.

Dawn mist rises from Pyramid Lake in October

A brilliant Venus shines from both the sky and the water at Pyramid Lake.

Narrow-leaved Gentians glow like Japanese lanterns when lit by the sun.

No flower on earth is bluer than the beautiful Fringed Gentian.

The Chicory flower is certainly blue, while the iridescent wings of this tiny hoverfly contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cold Weather Friends

I can tell it's cold outside each day by just a glance at my frosty window panes.  But what the heck, I've got the clothes to keep me warm, and even better, I've got good friends who wouldn't dream of letting a below-zero morning keep them indoors -- especially when the wind is still and a bright sun coaxes that temperature up into the teens as the day goes on.   Perfect for an easy walk with Evelyn and Bonnie around the North Creek Ski Bowl this past Wednesday afternoon.

The historic North Creek Ski Bowl was one of the first ski areas in the country to offer a ride-up, ski-down experience back in the 1930s, and today a chair-lift still carries skiers to the top of the town slopes, where they can access the many ski trails of the Gore Mountain ski resort on the far side of the mountain.  On this weekday, the Ski Bowl chair-lift was not operating, but we could still walk the series of trails that make the Ski Bowl an attractive destinations for hikers and snowshoers as well as downhill skiers.

Evelyn's uncle, Carl Schaefer, was the man who first introduced a tow system to these slopes back in 1935, so it was appropriate that Evelyn should lead us along a series of trails that in some areas wound through wooded sections, where we would often pause to study the many animal trails that crisscrossed the snow.

At other times, the trail opened up to reveal splendid views of the mountains across the valley.  We could also enjoy that expanse of radiant sky, of a blue we only get to see in the coldest days of winter.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Two Winter Walks

At last, the wind has stopped roaring.  Cold, I don't mind, I can bundle against it, except when the wind pushes that cold right down to the marrow of my bones.  But the past two days have been perfect for winter walks, with quiet winds both days and today some new fresh snow.  I was really eager to get out.

Yesterday, I climbed the powerline road that parallels Spier Falls Road at Moreau, a nice wide road that leads up onto the mountainside that rises above the Hudson River.  With only a couple of inches of soft snow over a frozen base, I didn't need snowshoes,  but microspikes were a big help to keep me from slipping when the slope grew steep.

Up here on the exposed mountainside, those roaring winds that rattled my windows last week had carved many sinuous ripples and waves in the snow.

Thinking of that bitter cold and ravaging wind, I was glad to see that the little mouse who made these tracks has a cozy  home under this rock.

When the powerline road reached the point where a stream tumbles down the mountain, I left the road to scramble up the frozen watercourse, climbing higher and higher until I reached a rocky ridge where tiny springs constantly water the boulders, creating spectacular castles of ice.

So beautiful up here!  Well worth the climb.  Witnessing such beauty is enough to make me bless the cold.

And today was a day to bless the snow, a new soft snow gently misting down, turning the woods at Moreau Lake State Park into another scene of quiet beauty.

There was not another soul on the vast expanse of snowy ice that covered the lake.  Following a week of sub-zero cold, the lake is solidly frozen now, so I could walk directly across it, avoiding only those places where streams flow in and weaken the ice.

On a day so dim that all nature's colors were muted, this patch of tawny Phragmites appeared almost vivid against the subtler grays and drab greens of the forested mountain.

The hot-pink twigs of Striped Maple saplings certainly added a dash of color to the winter woods.

After an hour or so on the frozen lake, I was glad to approach the south end of the lake and smell the wood smoke that promised a place of cozy warmth here in the warming hut.

Cozy and warm, indeed!  The once-roaring fire had settled down to a mass of glowing embers,  still releasing plenty of heat.   Since November of 2014, this charming cabin has offered the park's winter visitors a warm place to retreat from the cold while resting up for further adventures on the frozen lake or in the snowy woods.

Old Stoneworks Update

On December 30 I posted a blog entry about finding some old stone foundations in the woods along the Hudson River, parallel to the Spier Falls Dam at Moreau.  In the meantime, I came across some old photos taken during the construction of the dam, and one in particular seems to offer a solution to the mystery of what those old stoneworks might have been.

Here are my photos of the stoneworks as they currently appear.

And here is a photo taken during the construction of the dam (1900-1903), showing tall derricks rising from both banks of the river, no doubt having been constructed atop strong foundations made of stone.   This old photo was taken from just about the same location as where I found the old stone structures, on the Saratoga County side of the Hudson.

One of these days I will explore the woods on the Warren County side of the river and see if I can find corresponding foundations over there.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Frozen River

According to the thermometer, today was the coldest day yet this year:  12-below when I came down to breakfast.  But the wind that had roared for the past two days was quiet at last, allowing me to venture out for a brief walk along the Hudson this afternoon, after the temperature had edged up into the teens.

I parked at the boat-launch site below the Spier Falls Dam, and I was surprised to see the river completely frozen over from shore to shore.  Usually, the strong current here keeps the river at least partly open despite the coldest temperatures.

Right near the boat launch, a lively stream empties into the river, and here the current was swift enough to keep parts of the stream open water, while along the edges, beautiful patterns of ice and frost had formed.

This looked as if someone had thrown down a handful of stars.

This arching band of frost resembled a diamond tiara.

Usually, I detest the alien invasive Oriental Bittersweet so much I refuse to photograph it, despite the beauty of its berries.  But today a late gleam of low sun lit up its red fruit, adding a dash of color to an otherwise drab scene, and I grudgingly allowed that it did look rather pretty.

I might have taken more photos of the frost formations along the stream, but my camera stopped working because of the cold, despite keeping it stuffed inside my mittens along with hand warmers.  And I think my shutter-button finger was starting to suffer frostbite, due to searing pain that didn't stop, even after I tucked the finger back into my mitten.  But I'm glad I got outdoors today, having cowered at home for too long.  And tomorrow should be even more inviting than today.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Visitor

Just as I was observing how we didn't get many interesting birds at our inner-city birdfeeders these days, this little brown fellow flitted in today and went to work on the suet.  "Oh look," I cried, "a wren!" But what's a wren doing here in winter?  A quick check of my bird book confirmed my ID of this bird as a Carolina Wren (Thryosorus ludovicianus) and informed me that this species has been wintering farther and farther north in recent decades.

Isn't it curious that a wren with the name Carolina would winter this far north, while the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) migrates south for the winter?   Actually, a distribution map in one of my bird guides shows the Winter Wren occasionally wintering over in some areas of New York State, although not this far north.  But there'd be no mistaking that wee little bird for this big guy (relatively speaking) with his broad white eyebrow, rusty-brown plain breast, and white chin.

I hope he ate enough of that suet to make it through the bitter cold that has settled upon us now, and I also hope he might stay around through the summer, when we might hear his cheerful "teakettle, teakettle, teakettle" ringing through the shrub thicket around my back yard.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Very Ice Day for a Walk on the Lake

It's snowing like mad on Saturday night, and by Sunday we should have rain.  Ugh!  But Saturday morning was cold and dry, so cold that Moreau Lake had frozen solid overnight with an ice so clear and smooth, we might have thought it was still open water when my friend Sue and I met there to walk the shore.

Although the "Thin Ice" signs were posted on the beach, we could see by the depths of the visible cracks that we could probably walk on the ice if we stayed close to shore.  But it did give a slightly scary sensation to walk on ice so clear and slick we felt we were walking on water.

The colorful beauty of the underwater pebbles was amplified by the crystalline ice.

We could see all the way to the bottom, where we could clearly spy Spotted Newts either resting on the sand or wriggling away to hide under patches of submerged leaves.

Sue was the one who spotted this colorful golden rock with the lovely arabesque traceries, situated so beautifully next to the russet oak leaf and accompanied by a gilded water bug.  Were these patterns on the rock part of its mineral structure, or were they formed by snails meandering across its surface? I doubt that we'll ever know.

One of the great treasures sometimes offered up by such crystalline ice is the presence of many layers of silvery bubbles captured perfectly in the ice, which Sue is here trying to capture with her camera.

Don't they look like stacks of silvery coins?  They were surely a treasure to us!

We also found other patches of bubbles so fine they looked like those in a glass of champagne.

In one spot, we found those tiny bubbles had collected in distinctive ribbon-like bands.  We found it hard to imagine how this particular formation occurred.

When we reached the place on the shore where a brook tumbles down the mountain, we left the lake to climb up the banks of this small watercourse, delighting in the many ways that rushing water and freezing temperatures can create icy sculptures of shimmering beauty.

It amazes us that a brook so alive with dancing and splashing water can somehow disappear into the earth before it reaches the lake, but that's exactly what happens to this little watercourse once it reaches more level ground.

As we followed the dry creek bed, however, we surmised that water had filled these banks just a few days ago, leaving behind the evidence in numerous ice formations, some glassy and globular, others as brittle and delicate as blown crystal.