Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent of Winter: wow, that came on fast!

Almost overnight this year, we went from nearly summer-like weather to ice, heavy snow and sub-freezing temperatures! Charlie has both the pellet and corn stoves going each day, and Maggie and Kali have been cuddling next to each other to catch those heat rays. Nighttime lows have often been into the teens. Surprisingly, the unheated greenhouse, although mostly empty, still has seedling petunias surviving in a pot. The midday sunshine is heating the black garbage bags that are filled with pine needles (used like straw in my little dog's tiny poop-pee yard), and in turn they seem to be providing enough night heat to keep those tiny petunias green. It is staying warm enough during the days to keep the Allegheny flowing freely past our house, and finally the ducks and geese are beginning to show their faces.

We have had a lot of Mallards these past few weeks. Mixed in with one flock was a Northern Pintail which stayed for only a day or two before likely moving on. The Canada Geese are back in numbers, and I am trying to learn how to distinguish them from the new Cackling Geese. The Cackling Goose was considered to be a subspecies of the Canada Goose, but in 2004, the American Ornithologist's Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature split them into two species: the small-bodied Branta hutchinsii is now the Cackling Goose, while the large-bodied Canada Goose is still Branta canadensis. Although they are referred to by body size, this is a most unreliable means of identification. To further complicate matters, both species are divided into subspecies. Several of the more prominent features are head shape, bill size and the form of the white chin-strap. For comprehensive discussion and photos, you can find detailed information at these websites:

Several Cackling Geese have been reported in Pennsylvania this fall, as listed on the PaBirds email list. So when you see a flock of Canadas, don't just shrug them off as I have been doing--check every individual.

Back to the snow: I was hoping to go skiing or snowshoeing today, but over the past few days our 15 inches of snow has receded to a few inches and bare patches. That tends to make for rather poor glide on skis and renders snowshoes unnecessary. With the prediction of freezing rain today, it seems like a good one to sit in the sunroom with binoculars on my lap, watching for waterfowl. Maybe our resident Greylag goose will come 'round for a handout of corn. (I just looked and yes, he's back and guarding his cache of cracked corn from the Canada Geese and Mallards!) And it's a good day to mull some thoughts and post them.

Did everyone get the gardens put to bed for winter? I was in the process, but the sudden turn in the weather stalled activities till spring. I still have carrots and cabbage in the vegetable beds, blanketed under the snow and ready for me to harvest when I am ready for them. I may let the carrots remain all winter and see how sweet they are by spring. An old farmer once told me that the frozen ground sweetens them, so now I should find out if he was right.

In keeping with the holiday season, the winterberry hollies are festooned with their bright orange-red berries. It is probably a good time to hike the Muddy Creek Holly Trail near Cambridge Springs, PA, on the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. This trail is a delight year-round, full of surprises each time I visit. (Although the next few weeks are not good times except on Sundays, when the hunters and their prey have a day of rest.)

I have some suggestions for your Christmas shopping list. In our family, we used to go all out, spending lots of cash on big-ticket items and going broke. We have cut back tremendously in recent years, and I like to include donations in my giving in place of some of the wasteful spending. A few of the organizations I've donated to in the past and currently include:

+Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center
+Presque Isle Audubon Society
+any of a number of animal rescue organizations such as Because You Care, your local Humane Society, and the national animal welfare groups
And of course the veterans' organizations who support both local and national causes, including the scouting programs, Angel Trees in the local community, gift packages for service personnel overseas, and local support for veterans' homes and rides to and from doctors' appointments.

The birds are congregating outside. It's time to wrap this up and clutch the binoculars (by the way, a great gift for the nature lovers on your list are binocs, cameras, field guides and memberships in wildlife, botanical and conservation groups), and sit by the window and watch the best show of the season.

No comments: