The Wonder Tour

When my friend JVP and I made a lunch plan for today, I offered to take her to some of my more recent stalking sites, those places I’ve been frequenting of late because of the wildlife sightings. She liked that plan and I fear announced to the world (or at least one or two others) that we were going on an adventure and our finds would be many.

But . . . yesterday’s River Otter turned out to be only slushier ice today.

And the fairground fox was nowhere to be seen, though we did get to chat with Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair. Yes, the foxes have again taken up residence within the infield directly across from the Grandstand. I’ve yet to see the kits, and had hoped that today would be the day, but my day will come. For JVP’s sake, I was disappointed that she didn’t even get to see an adult. Our time spent with Roy, however, made it worthwhile and he shared stories and photos of last year’s fox families.

It seemed that I was striking out on the promised tour and it appeared I wasn’t alone.

But the views of Fryeburg Harbor, its fields flooded from the sudden snowmelt, with the backdrop of the White Mountains, was a treat to enjoy on this bluebird day.

And speaking of birds, we went to one area to see Kildeer, but only saw gulls . . . until we realized that American Kestrels were also part of the picture. Finally, things were picking up.

As we wound our way through the harbor, following the Old Course of the Saco River, we did catch a few glimpses of Wood Ducks, so I was feeling better about our wildlife sightings.

Once again, however, where last week I spent a while admiring a Great Blue Heron, we didn’t see anything of interest.

Until, that is, we noticed movement in the great beyond and realized a pair of Hooded Mergansers were swimming about.

I continued to strike out when I tried to show her the Sandhill Cranes, a pair I’d come to count on during my almost daily visits. Just yesterday another friend said she’d spied them in the field they’d been frequenting.

No cranes to speak of, but we did spy a pair of Canada Geese.

And a pair of Mallards in the flooded field.

Dabbling as they do.

And then, where the cranes had been previously, I spied what I thought was a lump of mud and snow, but JVP’s sight was keener and she said newborn calf. And she was correct.

As we watched, sweet nothings were whispered and no matter what we saw or didn’t see, our tour was worth a wonder and thankfully I didn’t have to reimburse JVP for the admission price.

My Eagle Eyes

From my first sighting this morning I had a feeling that today’s views were going to be amazing. I just didn’t know at the time how amazing.

It all began when this Bald Eagle gave me a backward glance as I drove west. He posed as usual on his favorite hangout and I knew that he was patiently awaiting his turn to dine on some recent roadkill. In the meantime, the crows had a feast.

What I didn’t expect was to see a second Hermit Thrush this week, but so it was as I snowshoed through a land trust property with a couple of other people. I have them to thank for they spied the bird first.

And then we stood silent and watched. And dreamed of its enchanting song to come.

Finding my way beside water a few hours later, it was a pair of Common Goldeneye ducks, his eyes even reflected below, that made me pause next.

Despite a couple of branches slightly obstructing my view, her eye of gold stood out vividly as well. What exactly is it that’s common about them? Their presence I suppose, but still I’m thrilled each time we meet.

Nearby, I almost missed Donald and Daffy, but he hollered for attention, while she stood by on one leg.

Why do birds stand on one leg? And how do they do it? The why I think I can answer–to keep the other leg warm. Unlike some avian species, ducks don’t have hairy sweatpants and so by tucking one leg up under a wing, they can retain some heat. That was important for today while the temperature was in the 40˚s, with a breeze, it was overcast and felt rather raw.

As for my second question, how do they do it? Stand still on one leg without toppling over, that is. I don’t know, but do wonder if it has to do with the feet located toward the center of the body so its weight can be evenly distributed–maybe it turns the one foot a wee bit to insure stability. And perhaps the splayed foot also helps assist what for me would be an awkward position.

Perhaps. And perhaps she looked at me as if to say I was daffy.

And he smiled in agreement.

The next great sight was not a bird, nor was it caged in. And it wasn’t an original find for me because some friends met me at a location where they’d spied it yesterday. But in yesterday’s warm sun, the Red Fox let her four kits frolic about. We watched for a while today, but apparently she’d told the kits to stay in. Her choice for a den sight was remarkable and we learned she’d chosen the same fair spot last year.

At last I began my journey homeward, but first I had to stop by a spot I’ve been frequenting often of late, for it’s where the Sandhill Cranes have been dining. At the moment there are only two, but by last fall they numbered at least eighteen. Will the same come true this year? Only time will tell.

And then, another bird called out and when I realized what it was all I could think of is “Here Comes the Judge” for so its feathers and stance reminded me of a robed magistrate.

This scavenging creature has no feathers on its head in order to keep bits of carrion (dead meat) from adhering to the skin as they would to feathers.

Yes, these were Turkey Vultures. Where there was one, I soon realized there were two. Actually, on a tree behind these two were two more. I wonder if I missed any.

If I had eyes as big and bright as the Wood Ducks that swam quickly through a brook nearby, I’m sure I wouldn’t miss anything, including food in the water below as well as those above who might think of me as food.

Like this guy! As with so many of my finds today, I’m not sure how I happened upon him, but I did. I guess it was that I tried to look for the anomaly in nature. What shape or color stands out from the surroundings?

As I watched, the Bald Eagle changed its orientation. And then it flew and I was sure that that would be the end of our time spent together.

But it landed on a branch above and continued to look about. I swear it even looked at me and I gave thanks for the opportunity to begin and end the day with such a noble bird in two different locations.

I knew I’d been honored to share a few moments with friends as well as notice those things that deviated from the norm. My eagle eyes certainly felt keen today.

Cheap Seats

Setting: A backyard in western Maine on what some might consider a bleak spring day, e.g. a snowy April 8th.

(Cock-eyed bird feeders indicative of ground thawing—really)

Act I, Scene i: I must wonder when “In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.” This one, however, marched on, soon to leave, not once uttering, “Nevermore.”

Act II, Scene i: (enter stage left), And then said one Junco to another, “Junco, Junco, wherefore art thou Junco?” (exit center stage only when sliding snow falls from the roof and lands on the ground with a smack, thus startling all)

Act II, Scene ii: (enter stage right) Where there’s a Junco these days, so is there a Song Sparrow, its conical beak ever ready to crack open a seed. (exit stage left after chasing the Juncos around)

Act II, Scene iii: (enter stage left, right and center) Not to be left out of the gang, Black-capped Chickadees flew in and out at a much quicker pace, grasping a seed and taking it to a Lilac branch to break it open. (exit stage left and then fly in and out, over and over again.)

Act II, Scene iiii: (enter stage right) Making noise as he arrived, a Downy Woodpecker showed off his preference for suet over seed. (exit stage left, with undulating flight)

Intermission: All goes silent as the lights go up in the theatre and in flies a Barred Owl. (finally)

As often happens during Intermission, the owl looked about at the offering of treats. 

He checked the cupcakes and cookies on sale to the left. 

And then he turned his focus to the right, where the drinks were on tap. 

He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel to his liking.

Despite all the choices, or maybe because of them, he had to stretch out one leg . . . 

and scratch an itch. 

Eventually he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. 

But still, he couldn’t make up his mind and so he looked some more. 

And swiveled his neck around. 

By the time intermission ended, he hadn’t made up his mind and so he moved off without munching any of the specialty items. 

Act III Scene i: (enter stage left, right, and center) The large flock of Juncos flew in, flew out, and flew in again. (exit the same way came in, dispersing in every direction)

Act III, Scene ii: (enter stage left) From the shrubs we hear the song first and then Mr. Cardinal flies to the Lilac. (quickly exit stage right)

Act III, Scene iii: (enter stage left) Mrs. Cardinal arrives only after her guy has flown off. She shows her determination to dine on some morsels of corn.

Act III, Scene iv: (stay on stage, move to the right, then turn sharp left) Showing her determination, she lets nothing stop her. 

Act III, Scene v: (center stage) With a kernel of corn in her beak, she shows off her success. (exit stage right as she searches for her Mr.)

Act IV, Scene i: (enter stage left, right and center) A repeat performance of the Juncos and Song Sparrows (exit every which way when the snow once again flies off the roof)

Act V, Scene i: (enter stage right) With its own flash of color an American Robin pays a brief visit to the stage (exit stage left)

Act V, Scene ii: (enter stage left) With its breast not quite as vibrant, a Red-breasted Nuthatch ponders the possibilities. 

Act V, Scene iii: (center stage) And a decision was made, a morsel of suet consumed. (exit stage right)

Act V, Scene iv: (enter stage right) Waiting until almost the end of the performance, a pair of Tufted Titmice flew in, grabbed a quick bite, and flew off again in the direction from whence they’d come. (exit stage right)

Act VI, Scene i: (enter stage right) Outlasting his Junco relatives, the Song Sparrow continued to eat . . .

Act VI, Scene ii: (center stage) and eat evermore, whether a caged bird or not. (exit stage right)

Act VII, Scene i: (enter stage right) And then a Hermit Thrush sat upon the Quaking Aspen sapling to mark the final act.

Act VII, Scene ii: (center stage) Its upturned bill will soon provide us with the most beautiful, yet hauntingly exquisite song; clear, musical phrases will blend brilliantly as ethereal, harmonious tones. Spring really has arrived in western Maine. (exit stage left)

Grand Finale: (center stage) Spring arrives in its own rendition each year. And the Barred Owl watches.

We watched as well, thankful for the cheap seats that turned out to be the best seats.

Duck, Duck, Porky Bear!

Our mission today, which we chose to accept, was to revisit a Porcupine den and check on the activity there and if time allowed, find a certain Red Pine tree in the forest. We knew the location of the den for we’ve visited it several times in the past three or four months, but had only a vague idea of where the Red Pine grew tall.

The Porcupine’s entry hole was just as we’d remembered it, but it was the scene about that had changed since our last visit. Hemlock boughs decorated the still snow-covered forest floor in great quantity.

And so we looked up–at two trees now mere skeletons of their former selves. All that was left–backbones and ribs. The meat and flesh had been almost completely nipped off. But, it still made us smile for the Porcupine had done what Porcupines do. And except for our occasional visits, it seemed they’d not been interrupted by human interference.

The other thing Porcupines do is scat. Prolifically. Below their tree of choice. And by their dens. Of course, I needed to document such. This presentation offered a delightful contrast, subtle though it may have been, of the prickly rodent’s scat and a Hemlock cone. Sometimes the color is so similar, and as you can see the size is as well, that it’s difficult to tell them apart. But, if we are what we eat, then their similarities make perfect sense.

After admiring the Hemlocks, we returned to the hole and noticed a few quills. You may need your detective eyes to locate them. I’ll leave it at that (Faith and Sara–good luck).

And then we moved out to the edge of the brook to check on another entrance to the same den. It didn’t appear to have been used recently, but that got us wondering about the melting snow. Having said that, we could see the pathway created to the upper right of the tunnel was worn, but any scats we found there were quite dried out and deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecognizable.

Just above the tunnel, however, a new discovery–another Porcupine tree. This one a Beech sapling–most of it denuded of bark and even a few twigs. Our questions continued. Was the upper part of this seven or eight foot tree dined upon when the snow was deep? And the lower part as the snow melted? Or had the Porcupine recently climbed up? How in the world can such a large animal climb such a small tree without snapping the trunk in half? I could practically wrap my thumb and pointer finger around it. Ah, but they do. Another amazing feat by one with grippers for feet.

Leaving the Porcupine area behind, we moved along beside the brook and paid our respects to the Itt family. Cousin Itt and his cousins stood clustered together eagerly awaiting the sun that was to come.

Our slow motion then found us beside a stump upon which Pixie Cup lichens grew. Pixie Cups or Goblet lichens are members of the Cladonia group. This find made us realize that as the snow pack dwindles we have so much to learn or relearn. Thank goodness it’s a slow melt and we have time. 😉

Our time today next involved a magic trick. One of us poked the blisters on the trunk of a Balsam Fir.

With a glob of resin attached to the broken twig, she tossed it into the water. Then we stood and watched . . . as the oil dispersed, changed shape and colors, and the tiny piece of twig moved about like a water fairy’s motorboat.

The essential oil within the sticky tree goo propelled the twig and created a map that could have been the United States.

As we watched, some of the oil broke away and feathered out in the movement of the water . . . but in a fashion we didn’t understand for it seemed to only float so far and then circled back.

As I said, we watched for a while, and where the little twig settled, we began to notice another shape emerging . . . a duck. Some people look at clouds, but we were fascinated by a substance that has antiseptic properties to seal cuts and protect them from infection, lessens the pain of burns if smeared gently onto skin, and serves as nature’s gasoline when one wants to start a fire. Oh, and reacts in water by creating fascinating rainbows while propelling objects.

At last we pulled away for I had a time crunch, but we still wanted to reach the Red Pine. To get there, we passed a Turkey kill site we’d discovered in January. The feathers remained and reminded us of the day we’d spent trying to solve the mystery of the Turkey’s demise. If nothing else, we came up with a good story that day.

From the feathers, we journeyed on, reaching the edge of a wetland that stretched away from the brook. My time was running out, but we gave ourselves six more minutes (why not five, you ask? Why not?) and scanned the tree tops in search of one Red Pine. And then . . . we spied it.

We weren’t the first, for a Winter Firefly moved out from under the bark as we admired its colors and jigsaw presentation–of the bark that is. We admired the insect as well, but that bark. Oh my.

And then our real “Oh my!” exclamations began for we had found what we sought. Bear claw marks on the bark! They are much more subtle on Red Pines than American Beech, but as we circled the tree we kept seeing them.

The thing about the Red Pine is that the flaky bark must make it difficult to climb, but then again, we couldn’t tell how high Ursus americanus had gone. Mind you, we didn’t look at any other trees in the forest, and as I sit and think about this one now, I can’t wait to return (I’ve a feeling my guy will want to be in tow for the next expedition) because this morning I’d forgotten that Black Bears use lone Red Pines as communication poles–turning their heads and biting into the tree while rubbing their backs against it to leave a scent (Think date night invitation). Usually, some hair is left behind in the sap. We did located old Pileated Woodpecker holes filled with sap, but no hair. Yet.

Our journey out was more of a bee-line because our six minutes took longer and I was a wee bit late to an interview, but my hostess was gracious when I explained that a Red Pine had held me up! And then on my way home I stopped by some more open water and much to my delight, a pair of Wood Ducks struck just the right pose.

And now I’m torn. Which duck do I prefer? The Balsam Fir Duck or the male Wood Duck? Such decisions to have to make at the end of the day.

Duck, duck, porky bear! They were each special in their own way.

A Buck for Two Hearts Mondate

Our journey today found us along the coast of Maine once again despite the small craft warning. It’s just wind, we figured, though we did make sure to bring along extra layers, hats, and gloves.

Biddeford Pool was our overall destination, but really the tide was out and wind so strong by the pool, that we decided to check out a few other locations in the area.

We actually drove by the pathway to the next location twice before a small sign caught our attention. To reach Maine Audubon’s East Point Sanctuary one must follow the narrow path.

Being a bird sanctuary, we weren’t surprised to be greeted by one–but really, an American Robin? We chuckled at the offering.

And then moved on to admire the view–the rocky coast of Maine.

And upon the rocks, bursts of sunshine in the form of lichen.

And in the water, waves crashing over the rocks.

Likely, it was waves of a similar or even more forceful nature that dislodged a couple of lobster pots and dropped them upon the pathway. At least, we wanted to believe their presence was of a natural cause.

The sanctuary is located at the mouth of the Saco River, and we realized we’d never actually viewed it from this vantage point before.

Nor were we familiar with Wood Island lighthouse, which was built in 1806 and manned until 1986 to guide mariners into Winter Harbor and the Saco River.

Nearby, a bell cast in England in 1872 that tolled for at the lighthouse for many years as part of the navigation system, was on display in a park.

But our eyes cued in to what was more in our range and we began to notice the birds on the rocks, in the water and air.

And suddenly, like magic, for perhaps that’s what binoculars do, my guy became a birder-in-the-making. Oh, don’t tell him because I know he’ll deny it. But he did notice subtle details of the diving ducks.

The Common Eiders were the most abundant in our view.

The breeding males stood out with their white and black featheration. (Is that a word?) It was the sloping forehead and beak of this diving duck that caught my guy’s notice.

For me, it was the greenish sides of the neck that I found most intriguing.

And then there was the she–rather drab in contrast to her he, but also featuring that sloping forehead and some black barring among the brown feathers.

In today’s wind, her feathers were aflutter, but I’m sure her he found the sight all the more alluring.

Swimming beside or among the Eiders were several White-winged Scoters, whose name stymied us for the white on the wings was barely visible as they swam. Note also the comma-shaped patch by its eye, known as a Viking horn.

It wasn’t quite as easy to move about for those who took to the air and most often it seemed like the gulls flew backwards in the wind.

Occasionally, they landed on the rocks below us so we could take a closer look.

The majority that we spied today were Herring Gulls, their suits of white and gray adorned by those black and white wingtips. (I really wanted this to be a Yellow-legged Gull, but what I want and reality don’t always match.)

At last we reached the turn-around point where we stood for a bit and admired the view.

And then we followed the pathway back along the edge–of the land and the sea.

It was as we headed out that we saw a wooly bear caterpillar and knew winter must be near. Based on the Farmer’s Almanac: “According to folklore, if the caterpillar’s orange band is narrow, the winter will be snowy; conversely, a wide band means a mild winter. And fuzzier-than-normal woolly bear caterpillars are said to mean that winter will be very cold.”

Wait, it’s spring. Here’s the scoop: The larva emerged from the egg last fall and overwintered in its caterpillar form, when it literally froze solid. To do that, first its heart stopped beating and then its guts, blood and entire body froze by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. And yes, despite today’s cold wind, it is spring and this one had thawed.

As we left, the Robins were there to say goodbye and we did wonder if the Wooly Bear would be on the menu.

In the meantime, however, a worm met its unexpected demise.

We had one more place to explore before heading northwest–to Fortune Rocks Beach, which was just down the road from the sanctuary and on the other side of the road from Biddeford Pool.

Maybe we should have noted the lack of people as a foreshadowing of the wind’s strength.

And certainly, the backspray of each wave should have spoken to us.

But . . . we ignored all the clues and tramped on. As usual, I followed my guy’s tracks. Can you interpret them? What’s that little loop-de-loop all about in the midst?

The further we walked, the more intense the wind became and eventually we felt as if we were walking in a sandstorm on a desert–a rather frozen desert.

And so we headed toward the shore in hopes that the retention walls and houses would block the brisker than brisk gusts. Truth be told, they nearly knocked us off our feet.

The beauty of walking closer to the shore–a few pieces of seaglass like this one that found its way into my pocket.

And then I found a fifty cent piece–tails up.

Right after that, I spied a heart-shaped stone, and that also ended up you know where.

And then . . . and then, my guy found a fifty cent piece, his heads up.

And he found a heart as well, which I also snatched.

So, a few birds, a caterpillar and a worm, lots of wind, Biddeford Pool, sand and waves on the fly, Fortune Rocks, and $.50 + $.50 = $1.00. I’ll give you a buck for a couple of hearts on this Mondate.

Happy April Fools Day!

Birds of a Feather

My intention was to check the condition of several vernal pools as I tramped into the woods today. Only a few years ago I was taking photographs of wood frogs on this very date, but I knew that would not be today’s focus.

As I approached the first and saw that it was still snow covered, though the northeast side displayed the pastel bluish hue of slushy ice, I began to wonder what would draw my attention.

And then I looked down by my snowshoes and suspected I’d found the answer. That answer, however, brought other questions to mind. To whom did the feathers belong? What had happened? Were there others? How did they get there? And when?

Beside the pool and just below a hemlock, I found another. The hemlock’s needles provided perspective for they were only about a half inch in length.

As I moved onto the pool, my eyes cued in to a feather here and a feather there and occasionally a cluster in the mix.

While most were slate gray, I began to note some with tints of brown on the outer fringe.

There were even a few that I thought might be tail feathers, but really my bird knowledge needs to increase greatly. Again, however, with their orientation beside the beech leaf, it was obvious that the bird of choice was not big.

With so many feathers on display, as minute as they were, I wondered who had dined. Or rather, who had snacked for it hardly seemed like a full-fledged meal (pun alert) had been consumed. I found the tracks and then scat of one of the neighborhood deer and knew it was intent on the hemlocks beside the pool and small birds were not on its menu.

In the melted water by the scat were a a couple of feathers of lighter colors. And then it occurred to me. All had been plucked.

Finding no other evidence of tracks other than deer and turkeys, my mind began to gaze skyward for I considered a bird of prey as the predator. The pool is surrounded by a mixed forest of beech, maples, oaks, hemlocks and pines. Several would have been fine candidates for a feeding tree.

And so I began to wonder if there was more evidence somewhere near the pool. With that in mind, I climbed out of it, and still here and there tiny clumps or individual presentations caught my attention.

With that knowledge, I made a plan. I began on the northern edge looking south and then turned around and walked out, scanning the ground and trees, both at eye level and above, looking for evidence.

I’d walk out as far from the pool as I found evidence, also checking every tree well on the way. Do you see the bits of gray?

Any feathers were more scattered the further from the pool I went, but still they were present. And if you’ve noticed, all were atop any other ground debris. That was significant.

At the point where I saw the last of the feathers, I’d turn around and approach the pool again at an angle, thus zigzagging in and out as I circled it. The furthest away that I got was about 15 snowshoe lengths.

By the time I reached the southerly shore I realized that there were no feathers. That also proved to be significant.

While I was searching, or perhaps because, I found other things of interest like the jelly ear fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae.

It’s one of my favorites this time of year and I love its rubbery and gelatinous feel.

But I digress. And so back to my bird. I didn’t encounter feathers again until about half way back on the westerly side. That lead me to make some conclusions that may be totally wrong, but I’ll put myself out on limb (oh geesh, another one) with my findings: 1. The perpetrator had dined from high up in one of the trees on the north side and I suspected a pine or oak. 2. And if it had dined from above, then the predator was a larger bird 3. The meal was rather recent for all of the feathers were on top of the surface, rather than having sunk into the snow or appearing from under any other debris. 4. I suspected the victim was a Dark-eyed Junco. While the Juncos were everywhere in the fall, once the snow fell in early November, we didn’t see them for a couple of months. And then in mid-January a few found our feeders. This week, the flock has increased substantially as they migrate north and I counted twenty on the ground and in the trees by our home, which isn’t far from the pool.

I never did make it to the other vernal pools today, for so taken was I with trying to figure out the mystery of the feathers. Another thing about Juncos is that though many we see are slate gray, females may be a bit buffy on top of their head, back, and wings.

The other thing about Juncos is their countershadowing coloration.

Looking at the bird from the ground, it tends to blend in with the sky, especially on this gray day. And if you were to look down on the bird from above, it would blend in with the ground. That is, unless of course, you have snow on the ground as we have had for quite a while. It’s beginning to melt, especially in this afternoon’s rain and fog, but it does make the wee birds an easy target for the bigger ones.

Yesterday I saw a big one, but not in my backyard. Well, in a way I guess it was for I saw it near our camp. And I should have recognized it for I spent all last summer watching an immature and adult in the very location but it’s coloration threw me off.

When I first spied it, I thought it was an eagle or an owl. But the closer I got (mind you, I wasn’t as close as this may seem given that it’s a telephoto lens on a Canon Powershot), the more the white spots on those wings confused me. So, I settled for a hawk–either an immature Broad-winged, Red-shouldered or Red-tailed. But . . . . for once I did what I should always do–and reached out to those who know more than me.

Thank you to Alan and Linda Seamans and the Stanton Bird Club for they all agreed that it was a sub-adult Bald Eagle. Notice the mask. According to the Cornell allaboutbirds site, which I visited at least a hundred times yesterday: “Third year birds [Bald Eagles] have a mostly white belly, with some brown mottling, a brown chest, and a broad brown mask on the face.” Said my friend Alan, who is also a Maine Master Naturalist, “The huge schnozz is being noted by all, much too big in proportion for a red-tailed.”

Thank you also to the birds who continue to teach me about their life stories every day. I don’t always interpret what I see correctly and I admit I may be wrong about thinking the feathers belonged to a Junco, but I do enjoy the journey. Birds of a feather, they keep me wondering.

March Madness

To my guy and our sons, March Madness means only one thing: NCAA basketball.

To folks at the grocery store it seems to mean something else: a disdain for snow.

To me, while there was a time when I admit thinking that March was indeed the longest month, despite the fact that others like January, May, July, and August also have thirty-one days, I’ve changed my tune over the years. Perhaps it was a move north so many moons ago as I sought a land where more snow blanketed the earth that helped me transition. What I do know is that it’s a month of constant change as we move from winter to spring and while I never want to see the snow melt, I equally enjoy all the hints of what is to come that slowly join the display.

That display began on the first day of March when the frigid morning temperature created a mosaic of color and form on the window behind our bed. Feathery fern fronds and dragonfly wings danced across the glass as the morning light added subtle hues to the frosty collage.

Outdoors, the female Cardinal showed off her brilliant colors in the late afternoon sun.

Even in snowstorms, the male Pileated’s excavation work never ceased.

I did, however, spy a chickadee upon a lilac who looked at the snow as if to say, “Enough is enough.”

And a Junco who seemed to admire either its reflection or the prospect of plenty of thistle seeds.

Over the course of the month, we welcomed various nocturnal visitors including this member of the marsupial family.

Other nighttime visitors were masked bandits, indeed.

One nocturnal visitor surprised me one day by napping in a hemlock tree.

But, as the month progressed, I discovered we had not one, but two, porcupines living under the barn who made the transition from hemlock to seeds as their seasonal diet changed.

Even if we didn’t see them at night, we knew by the scat they left behind that they had emerged to dine.

And every day–the red and gray squirrels made their own quick work of the bird seed.

Of course, the birds also enjoyed such offerings.

Even if their feathers were astray as they began to molt despite, or because of, the weather conditions.

Some cracked me up with their stances at the suet feeder like this Red-breasted Nuthatch who appeared to casually step up to the bar and place his order.

March also brought the turkeys back, though I don’t know why they’d ignored us for the previous two months.

The Toms’ featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps, called caruncles, changed colors with their moods.

That wasn’t the only thing about them to notice and I began to pay attention to their feet for like Ruffed Grouse, they seemed to have “snowshoes” and “treeshoes” that helped them stay atop snow and stable in their treetop roosts.

As the month advanced, others like this House Finch, returned to the north country and brightened my days.

And though he’s not singing yet, the Song Sparrow also made a come back and invited others of his species to join him.

The bird seed became an important supply for all forms of life and the deer cleared their own path from the hemlock grove to the feeders.

And then one day, spring dawned!

Still we had snow, but that didn’t stop the woodchuck from crossing the deck during a storm.

I chuckled when I watched him head to the familiar corner of the barn, that same corner that the porcupines emerge from and retreat to each night and morning. Oh, and the raccoons and opossum also know it. I’m just waiting for the skunks–I’ve smelled them, but have yet to see one.

Some days I spent near water where I was delighted to find exoskeletons such as this upon the snow.

The exoskeleton had belonged to the larval stage of a winter stonefly such as this one that crossed the snow as they do.

Other insects didn’t fare so well in the weather and behind plexiglass they remained in frozen form.

Within the last few days, as the month winds down, I’ve noted areas beside trees with southerly orientations where the snow has melted and the wintergreens grow.

And though I’ve seen Robins all winter, their flock numbers have increased significantly this past week.

But still we have plenty of snow as this Tom Turkey well knew this afternoon while he marched forward with a spirit of hope in each step.

I hope you can find some spring in your steps as this month gives way to the next and enjoy the wonder of it all. For me, March Madness is really March Gladness.