As winter fades to a memory and spring arrives in fits and starts there’s always something interesting to be seen in the natural world:
Day 1 – Last week’s snow has been melting rapidly, but there’s still quite a bit on some north-facing slopes and shaded spots. Two recently arrived male robins were disputing ownership of a territory containing a large snowy area. There were certainly no worms or other ground-dwelling things to eat; until their battle, both birds had been fluttering along the trunks of nearby trees – apparently gleaning something edible, but I couldn’t determine what that was.
Day 2 – HP spoke of a small spotted fawn that he’s occasionally seen at his place and which he believes must have been born in January. If he’s correct, and I think he is, the question of how the fawn survived below zero temperatures and 18-24 inches of snow begs for an answer – as does how the doe found sufficient nutritious food to produce enough milk to feed the fawn. The fawn’s survival isn’t assured in spite of the warmer weather since most of the easily available browse has already been devoured by hungry deer.
Day 3 – It’s not unusual to see migrating common loons on the river, but it was exciting to find two of them swimming together. Many years ago, on a day in early May, a friend and I counted 104 common loons on a large lake in the area. It was hard to get a good count of the birds since some were repeatedly diving and resurfacing; 104 was our most accurate count – Wow!
Day 4 – Walked to an old hill farm in the Big Woods and wondered about the hard life the folks who lived there must have lived. The house would certainly have had a beautiful view across a large valley and distant hills. But the poor soils and steep fields couldn’t have provided much of a living before the farm was abandoned during World War I. Some of the fields were subsequently planted with Norway spruce, a European species that does well here, others were allowed to grow up to pioneer tree species like bigtooth aspen and red maple.
Day 5 – Spring’s here, but some winter birds still haven’t departed for their breeding grounds in the north. This winter large numbers of pine siskins came south to spend the winter in northcentral Pennsylvania. I saw them on the elk range, and feeding on black birch seed in the Big Woods, and a substantial flock paid daily visits to our feeders. Now, almost all of the siskins have departed, but we still see an occasional siskin near the house.
Day 6 – The male red-winged blackbirds arrived in the last few weeks and, now that the wetlands have thawed, are busy staking out their territories in the cattails. Their red epaulets seem to glow even on a morning of April showers.
Day 7 – Mitigation wetlands are constructed to replace wetlands that have been altered or destroyed elsewhere. On an afternoon of heavy rain, in a nearby mitigation wetland, stood a great egret - a closer look revealed there was not just one egret, but also another hidden among some cattails.
It's not unusual to see great egrets in northcentral Pennsylvania in the summer, but this was by far the earliest I've ever seen them here.