I glanced out the window today, enjoying the view of no snow on the banks of the stream (though it’s snowing pretty hard right now, so perhaps that will change by tomorrow), and noticed a small, dark reddish shape. A skunk cabbage blossom– one of my favorite signs of spring! I grabbed my sketchbook and headed out in the rain, that promptly began mixing with snow, and quickly sketched a few blossoms.
The flower, made up of a spathe (large bract that forms a sheath) that surrounds a spadix (a spike-like fleshy stem that has small flowers along its length) comes up early in the spring, often while there’s still snow on the ground. It produces heat (up to 35 degrees above air temp) and melts its way through the frozen earth and melts the snow around it. I guess that means I can expect to see reddish or yellowish greenish flowers protruding through the snow tomorrow morning, reminding me that spring is here in one of its earliest forms.
Click on the image to see it large enough to read.
Friday was the first day of spring, though with snow on the ground and new snow falling, it looked more like winter. Not even snowdrops, the first of the bulbs to poke through the ground here, are up yet, but the birds are singing their glorious songs of spring and every day the sun shines a bit longer.
I noticed that we didn’t have exactly twelve hours each of day and night on Friday; day was slightly longer. It turns out that that’s because sunrise is counted as the time the top of the sun’s disc first appears on the horizon, whereas sunset is when the trailing edge of the sun disappears below the horizon. That makes “day” slightly longer. In addition, the earth’s atmosphere causes refraction of light, which makes the sun visible to us before it actually rises and for a short time after it actually sets. Here’s a link I found that explained all that clearly and simply:
Equinox: equal day and night, but not quite
In the winter the Goldfinches mob our feeders, devouring nyjer seeds and sunflower hearts, often outnumbering all the other birds on the deck. Sometimes when we look out, we see birds that look like Goldfinches but not quite. When I look more closely I see streaks where Goldfinches have clear breasts and backs, and I see a hint of bright yellow in the wings. Pine Siskins– closely related to Goldfinches but only here in winter, and not every winter at that.
Click on the photo to see it large enough to read more information.
Yesterday I saw a Common Redpoll at our feeders, a bird I’ve been watching for for several weeks now. We haven’t seen them often, but a bit over two years ago we had several here over a period of a few days. People in the Waterman Bird Club have been watching for them, and yesterday several of us all had them visiting our feeders for the first time this year. It must be their week to arrive in Dutchess County.
Redpolls live in the arctic and only migrate south irregularly. They are well adapted for cold weather and even tunnel into the snow to stay warm! The bird yesterday was only here briefly, but when we had our Redpoll visitors two years ago, they stuck around long enough for me to sketch them.
You can click on the images to see them large enough to read the notes.
A chunky, yellow-tinged bird flies in and lands on top of one of the deck posts (we made the deck with eight foot tall posts to hold bird feeders), calling with a loud wik-wik-wik rattle-like sound. He then flies to the suet and stays there, feeding enthusiastically, for a long time, unlike the other large woodpeckers, who feed briefly then fly off to a nearby tree.
This time of year we see Northern Flickers at our feeders pretty much every day. Usually just a male or two show up, but occasionally we see a female. I nearly always stop what I’m doing to watch them– I love these large woodpeckers who have such a commanding presence.
|Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
|Male Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
After watching the
wind whip up the river and a cloudburst obscure the downriver view for a
while, Stephen and I were strolling along the Newburgh waterfront on August 7th, when I stopped
to sketch a friendly duck, who was following people along the sidewalk.
While I was sketching her, Stephen asked me what some birds were down
by the water’s edge. I turned to see two striking black and white birds of a kind I had never seen before perched on rocks on the river’s edge.
The name “Avocet” immediately came to mind, but having never seen an Avocet or even a suspicion of one, I really wasn’t familiar with them. I did a couple of quick sketches,
along with some notes to help with identification, then ran to the car where I keep a
field guide and checked– they were indeed American Avocets! We went back to watch them
for a few more minutes, until they flew off low over the water, headed
down river, in the direction of Beacon or Cold Spring.
The American Avocet is not typically seen this far north along the east coast, so this is considered a rare bird sighting for our area, all the more special for us, as we were out on a dinner date for our anniversary. American Avocet Species Range Map
I settled into my hammock a couple of weeks ago, ready to enjoy a glass of iced tea (with chocolate mint from my garden), a good book, and some peace and quiet. Until I heard a pulsing hum in the distance. With a sigh I tried to ignore what I assumed was some sort of motor noise from a distant neighbor’s yard. The pulsing wasn’t loud, but it was continual and somewhat irritating, since too often I feel inundated by various types of engine noise that drown out the quieter sounds of nature and eliminate silence from my world. It occurred to me that it might be some sort of insect sound, but it seemed so regular in its pulsing that we figured it must be an engine.
The next afternoon the motor noise was louder, and I began to think it might be the 17-year cicadas I had been reading about, but I wondered why I hadn’t seen any in our yard. When I went for a walk around some neighboring roads, though, the humming was much louder in some areas and almost nonexistent in other areas, even along a two-mile loop. And, I began to see a few red-eyed cicadas. It turns out that these periodical cicadas can be very localized and may emerge with great density in some areas and be completely absent in immediately adjoining areas.
Interestingly, once I knew the noise I was hearing was a cicada chorus and not a motor running loudly in the distance, it no longer seemed irritating. Now I wanted to hear it more closely and see more of these red-eyed singers, more fully experiencing this brief and fascinating visitation of long-lived insects.
By yesterday the chorus was dying down and I began seeing dead and dying cicadas on my morning walk, so I brought a few dead insects home to sketch. I also looked them up and found out that there are both 13 and 17 year cicadas, with three species of 17-year cicadas and 4 species of 13-year cicadas. One fact I found particularly fascinating is that all these species have life cycle lengths that are based on prime numbers (13 years and 17 years). I just love the way math shows up in nature cycles and systems and structures!
I am sorry to say good-bye to the cicadas and their song, and I look forward to seeing and hearing their offspring in 2030.
|Click image to enlarge
Interesting links with more information: