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.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

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.

Beaver Caper

Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.

Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.

Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .

But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.

Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉

We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.

First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.

And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.

Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .

I saw mini ice discs in their final form.

And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.

Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.

The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.

Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.

The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.

First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.

Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.

Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.

We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?

We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.

As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.

But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.

The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?

Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.

And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.

And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.

Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?

For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.

We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.

Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.

Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.

Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.

At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.

From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.

In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.

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.