Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Early Sign of Spring

Winter in these parts is pretty mild compared to the seventeen years I lived in Maine, where the standing joke was: "We have two seasons in the State of Maine - winter, and last winter!" But even so, winter is still winter, and yesterday, I saw an early - way too early, I think - sign that spring is coming.

It was during my nine mile half marathon training run. As we ran up Libbie, a tiny splash of color in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street caught my eye. I stopped and bent over to look at it. Yep, it was single frail little crocus, a light purple color, in bloom by the road. A crocus? On January 28? Way too early, even for here. But it is a sign that spring, which usually starts here in late February, is coming.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Am I?

See if you can figure out what I saw last weekend on my short hike near Back Bay.

Let's eliminate the entire plant kingdom and more than a million animal species right off the bat. I have feathers.

Unlike many of you humans (and most of my feathered friends), I mate for life.

As an adult, I weigh about 7 to 10 pounds (3.2 to 4.5 kg).

I nest in colonies, way up in northern Greenland, Canada, and Alaska - above the timber line.

For the winter, I migrate thousands of miles - with no map or GPS or compass - to areas where I can survive and get enough to eat (including Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, USA).

I am usually white as snow with black wingtips, although I have a bluish color phase as well.

One of my close relatives is named after a very large North American country.

I fear eagles but little else as an adult, other than you humans that hunt me. But my chicks lead a perilous life to reach adulthood. Arctic foxes and skuas are deadly enemies of my young.

You might confuse me with a similar large migratory bird that is also white, but this species has a longer neck.

OK, enough clues - time to guess. Scroll down....

I am a snow goose!

On my hike last weekend, I came across a marsh with several hundred snow geese (and some Canada geese and ducks). Several hundred more arrived while I was there. The sight and wild sound of so many creatures so close was amazing!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Am I?

What was it I saw on my hike yesterday?
As my name implies, I have no hair.
But on the other hand, that is kind of a misleading clue, because nothing that is related to me has hair. Only mammals do, and I am no mammal.
But on the other hand, it is a great clue, because now you have part of my name, or should.
No, I am not an eagle or even a bird.
I don't eat things. In fact, I use the amazing chemical process of photosynthesis to make food.
I have no feet, I have no legs, but I do have knees.
I have needles, but I don't sew.
My wood is amazingly resistant to rot if you humans make something out of it.
You would be miserable standing around in swamp water all day, but I love it.
In the summer, you might think that I am a kind of pine tree, with my evergreen look. But evergreen is fleeting. This time of year, I am naked as an oak.
Figure it out?

Scroll down....

I am a bald cypress:
Bald cypress knees:

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Lucky Wildlife Sighting on Friday the 13th

The animal stepped slowly from the brush onto the side of the gravel road that I was walking along during a return from an hour and a half hike in Back Bay Wildlife Refuge. The creature was about 100 feet away as the day rapidly headed towards twilight. It did not appear to see me as I stopped in my tracks. "What is that?" I thought. "Maybe a feral hog?" I reached down to start up my camera and looked down to start zooming with the camera while simultaneously starting to raise the camera up. I figured I could get a better look through the zoom and maybe get a photo. At that exact instant, the animal alertly looked towards me, and a split second later, it ran across the road and disappeared into the brush. At that moment, seeing it move, I realized that I had just seen a bobcat, the first I have ever seen in hundreds of hours roaming around the outdoors. I didn't get a photo, but it is an amazing memory all the same.

It was a cool and very windy day. I did not see much wildlife during the first part of my hike, which started about 4PM and ended just after sunset. But later, the bobcat and some other spectacular wildlife sightings more than made up for that. I will write about some of those later, but here are a couple of photos of the sky today over the marsh and Back Bay: