Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Make Way for Ducks

Sunday, March 13th, 2016


We’ve been seeing wood ducks regularly all week, but we hadn’t seen any mallards until this morning.  Migratory fowl are always interesting, and welcome, but we didn’t realize there was going to be trouble.  I blame it on the female mallard.  She hopped up on an old cherry tree, half submerged along one side of the pond, and started letting it all hang out. She was primping, preening, and working those duck breasts big time.


I should start at the beginning.  Today was a very typical rainy spring day. One you might say it was a perfect day for ducks.  After .33” of rain, on top of sodden ground, the pond was slowly taking on a light brown stain as silty water flowed in from the sandstone falls further upstream.  The ducks had begun arriving early , apparently not aware of the change in clocks last night.  We hadn’t seen more than 4 at a time this year, but this morning, we had at least 3 pair of wood ducks, floating, paddling, dabbling, and then grazing on the far side of the pond dam.  And then a pair of mallards arrived.


The hen quickly perched herself on the cherry branch, and started putting it on—or taking it off, as the case may be. Its hard to tell with ducks.  Either way, she put on show for the lads, stretching, and contorting, doing a Daisy Duck dance for the drakes.  The wood ducks all pointed themselves towards that end of the pond and started paddling over to the perch.  A wood duck hen made a small commotion at the opposite end of the branch, but a drake pushed her out of the way.


Another wood duck drake swam around the corner while the first one perched himself on the same branch, and started edging sideways closer towards the larger mallard hen.  Several curious female wood ducks floated around, apparently curious.  At this point, I should point out that while there are significant aesthetic differences between the two species, the plumbing is relatively compatible.   It turns out that duck crossbreeding is a recognized problem, at least from the point of view of the wildlife managers.


One particular drake was having none of it. He sped across the pond and, in his own duckish way, Donald made it clear to the other males that he had first dibs (dabs?) on Daisy.


With an open beak, some stretching of the neck, and a beady eyed staredown, the mallard called fowl, and the smaller woodies retreated.


This left the mallard couple alone together on the preferred perch.  The drake stood half in the water, not looking at the hen, but perhaps communicating his feelings.  The 3 pair of wood ducks continued to hover around in the water, approaching several times, and then retreating after a gesture from the mallard male.


Perhaps the mallards were embarrassed, or maybe this just isn’t a completely comfortable spot for ducks who prefer avoiding trees. Once the female had finished drying and combing her feathers, they took off, leaving the pond to the wood ducks.

Everybody Loves a Beaver Pond

Monday, November 23rd, 2015


We didn’t realize how much natural activity a beaver pond attracts until we set up an automated game camera alongside the beaver dam. Besides the beavers and bobcats, we captured a variety of birds and beasts.


The wood ducks have been especially enthusiastic visitors, paddling around the deep water behind the dam, and dabbling around the shallow water along the face of the dam.  The blue heron has appeared multiple times, mostly hunting on the downstream side of the dam, but sometimes alongside the dam and at least once, jumping into the pond in water up to his waist.


During the day, squirrels and chipmunks use the damn as a bridge to an opposite shore that otherwise is inconvenient or impossible for them to visit.


We’ve seen a lot of raccoons on the game cam, or more likely, a lot shots of the same one. He regularly crossed the first dam multiple times a night, and it didn’t take him long to find the new dam.

Bobcats and Beavers

Saturday, November 7th, 2015


After a couple of fruitless attempts at catching our busy beavers with the game camera, Kirk and I about fell over when we swapped memory cards, checked the previous nights images, and found that a bobcat had strolled past the breach we’d made in the left side of the dam.


The game camera did not get any shots of the beavers repairing the dam (see the breach visible just above the bobcat in the shots above), but when the bobcat returned 5 hours later, the breach had mostly been repaired.


What’s especially interesting about the second series of bobcat shots is that it also captured the beaver. Note the white dot in the dark water just to the left of the tall upright branch above. That’s the infrared light of the game camera reflecting off the eye of a beaver swimming towards the bobcat.


16 seconds after the bobcat walks away from the game camera’s field of view, the swimming beaver reaches the shore where the bobcat had been standing. In the shots below, you can see the beaver’s eyes swimming back to the right.


An hour later, a raccoon made the first of two appearances, but we didn’t see any more evidence of beaver or bobcat.


Springing Into Summer

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Trillium Blossom

It isn’t so much that we had a long winter—it just arrived late, and stayed that way.  Winter didn’t really have much impact until the end of January, when a sudden drop to zero (Fahrenheit) created the most incredible hoar frost before finally freezing over our creek and pond.  Although we had some shirtsleeve days in March, we still had a frost in late April.

Spring Beauties

Over the last two weeks, a short spring has been pushed out the seasonal door by an impetuous summer, bringing temperatures in the mid-80s.  What was still an almost bare forest 2 weeks ago, with just the hint of arboreal color through flower and bud has now fully leafed out, with only the black locust yet to be heard from.


The first tiger swallowtail appeared on May 1, and suddenly colorful butterflies are everywhere. The family of squirrel pups in the hollow log outside my office has left the nest, and the phoebes are feeding their squalling chicks in the muddy nest on the face of our porch.

Warm Days for Cold Blooded Beasts

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

It seems like every reptile and amphibian in the valley has been out this weekend, and most of them spend their evenings singing at the top of their lungs.

I took my iPad and a microphone out to the edge of the swamp last night and recorded the frogs singing (click to hear it–you wont’ want to miss this).  Peaking at over 85 decibels, it was pretty impressive, with the peepers making most of the noise, and some wood frogs, and maybe leopard frogs mixed in.  I went back to the swamp this afternoon to see if I could get some pictures, but all the action was on the other side of the road, in a flooded cornfield, which was full of American toads (above), singing an entirely different song, with a bit of mating mixed in.

Gartner Snake

Much quieter than the amphibians, the snakes were also out in force this weekend.  Elizabeth and I each saw a couple gartner snakes.  I ran into the little fellow above just below our waterfall, and he didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to get away, so we decided to do a photoshoot.

2012: Another Year of Weather

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

This final week of January, much of the country has experienced all 4 seasons, with snow immediately followed by a warm spike. A record high temperature in Northern Virginia was accompanied by flood warnings, and a winter tornado watch.  A 40 degree overnight temperature plunge should quickly restore the snow that was snarling commutes the day before yesterday. All this meteorological drama reminds me that this is the time of year when I blog about how extreme the weather has been since our return from England.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms.” Unlike last year’s record-setting tornado activity, that form of violent weather was below average this year.  2012 did start with some unusual winter tornado activity, but after a severe spring outbreak, the country experienced a record-setting stretch of days without a tornado fatality (a record that came to an end today). It was the warmest year on record in the contiguous United States, with Cleveland, Akron and Columbus (presumably Heiser Hollow), and Washington Dulles all experiencing their hottest years ever.

Elizabeth and I were in Japan when the June 2012 Derecho blew from Chicago to Delaware, taking out my parents’ power at the cabin, and several quick hours and 325 miles downwind, blowing all the furniture off our Northern Virginia deck, making Kirk’s the-parents-are-away party especially memorable.  A violent and deadly complex of thunderstorms that knocked out power to millions of homes, most people were not familiar with derechos, although it turns out that the most severe storm in my memory, which caused several fatalities in Cleveland during the 1969 4th of July celebration, was also a derecho. I stayed in Japan during a period that was so hot that the government asked salarymen to leave their neckties at home.  Elizabeth returned to a powerless house with a backyard full of branches and a freezer full of garbage.

Although much of America experienced droughts this year, and it was a record setting year for wildfire damage, after last year’s record rainfall, the relatively normal rainfall in Ohio and Virginia was welcome. But it was stinking hot, with both house and cabin experiencing record heat waves. Then the hurricane season started, with 2012 tying 2011 as the third most destructive year


Hurricane Sandy, nicknamed ‘Frankenstorm’ because it started as a hurricane and then merged with a nor’easter, impacted 29 states. Its $60+ billion in damage made it the #2 most destructive storm after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina (the most costly natural disaster in US history). Although the eye went relatively close to our new Northern Virginia townhouse, encouraging most DC area residents to stay home, the damage here was relatively light.  NYC was hit with record-setting storm surges, knocking out power in some areas for weeks. Hunkered down in his college dorm in Long Island, Kirk experienced his 2nd week-long weather-related power outage. (A little poetry in honor of Sandy.) Recovery from Sandy was hampered by an early November Nor’easter that dumped snow on an area where thousands were homeless.

Last year, the weather ran hot & cold, but more of the former than the latter.