Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A Winter's day at SpruceHaven (Tracks in the Snow)

5 January 2016

     Yesterday we had our first real winter's day of the season and when I started my walk at SpruceHaven it was quite glorious - bright sunshine to cast long shadows on the snow, hardly a breath of wind and a temperature of minus 17°C. It made me feel sorry for those people who live in climates where they never experience the exhilaration of a pristine winter's day. I was dressed warmly and it was a pleasant experience to meander at will in the stillness and serenity of fresh snow. I have tackled birding at 44°C in Ethiopia and I can assure you that it is far more difficult, and I suspect more dangerous, to be out in those conditions, than well dressed at the temperature yesterday.
     As I left the area around the house, having parked my car in the driveway, the following scene greeted me, instantly reinforcing my pleasure at being out and about.

     What the picture does not reveal, of course, is the sound of American Goldfinches Spinus tristis and Black-capped Chickadees Parus atricapillus welcoming me to their world.
     I had decided that this would be a day to examine tracks in the snow so I turned around to see my own footprints - Homo sapiens might as well be the first.

     I have always promised myself that I would one day undertake a serious study of imprints left by animals, but never have found the time to do it, or something else has gotten in the way, so my level of proficiency is still rudimentary. The joy in seeing them and trying to figure out what has happened is not diminished, however.

     Here you see the long shadow caused by the bright sunshine in a cloudless winter sky.

     What animal left the following tracks? A fox perhaps? A hungry coyote looking for a meal?

     The most common bird yesterday was American Goldfinch. Conservatively there were sixty of them, feeding not only on the well-provisioned feeders at the house, but also on the various seed heads in the wildlife corridors created by Dave, Jamie and Sandy. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of these plantings and the beneficial impact they have for wildlife - and not only birds, so many other organisms benefit from the rich habitat created by careful selection of native species.

     Here you see rodent tracks, much like tunnels without a top, formed as the animals scurry from one patch of cover to another. These impressions in the snow are probably created by microtus voles.

     What stories do these tracks tell? I have tried to come up with an answer but have not succeeded. In life there should be a few mysteries, however. Every question does not have to have an answer.

     Here are more rodent runways; they meandered and crisscrossed the margins of dense vegetation everywhere.

     Other tracks with stories to tell to the experienced observer...

     Although there was little wind while I was walking, there perhaps had been earlier, and the snow in places had a kind of shingled look. The picture does not really do it justice. An accomplished artist with an eye for the interplay between light and shadow, form and contour would really be able to capture this splendidly.

    The following images of the wildlife corridors capture the diversity of their vegetative structure and composition. I cannot adequately express my appreciation for the job our stewards of nature have done in forming this buffer zone to traverse through the agricultural fields and connect the different habitats of the SpruceHaven sanctuary. They remind me so much of the ancient hedgerows of Britain, rich in wildlife, providing food and shelter; now so frequently lost to the relentless imposition of industrial farming. Here they are being restored.

     In these final pictures of rodent tunnels you can clearly see where the end of the tunnel connects with the vole's underground burrow.

     As I approached the house on my return from the woodlot, I saw this Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens with a peanut in its bill, obviously taken from the feeder near the front door, looking for a place to cache it for consumption at a later date. Unfortunately the top of the head is foreshortened a little, but I thought the picture interesting enough to include anyway.

     Sprucehaven, SpruceHaven - a haven indeed, a haven for all its diversity of creatures, but a haven for me too. What a joy to explore all its wonders.


  1. Hi David. Oh the opportunity to follow tracks in the snow! If only - how are you with tracks in muddy fields?

    I could certainly manage a day or two of minus 17°C, especially coupled with those clear blue skies.

    Fortunately we do have lots of hedgerows left in England. It is what is grown (or not grown) in the adjacent fields which causes major problems for our wild birds.

  2. Lovely images!
    Unfortunately here rarely snows!

  3. Hello David,

    Hello David ,
    Oh snow , as I am !!!! It's so good to be in those areas white where more noise passes .
    Nice picture
    If one day you come back to France, make a sign, we will go to Teich with Noushka

  4. That's an amazing drop in temperature, David! We just had that one brief frost on 1st January and the temperature is back up again - it was at 8°c today. I'd love to have some frozen ground and crisp snow right now. The mud everywhere I go birdwatching is a darned nuisance. Lucky you!

    Save that Downy Woodpecker for me, please! A gorgeous bird!

    1. That's one species I can just about guarantee for you Richard. In fact I'll get you a dozen!

  5. This was a wonderful post David (you probably know that I'd rather read about the snow than be in it since you've 'visited' me virtually in Florida!) But it really is wonderful to look at... you are, of course, right about being able to dress for cold better than for extreme heat... I'll take somewhere in the moderate veering toward warm range! ...

    I initially felt sorry for those voles and other teeny tiny rodents scurrying through the cold snow -- maybe it is easier for them just because they are so light -- they might just kind of glide over it.

    Thank you for sharing, especially during this kind of weather I am unlikely to ever experience. Three things I love about blogging are learning about nature, photography and travel; the beautiful pictures; and the virtual experience of a life not lived! Thanks for providing all three joys in this one lovely post.

    1. And thank you so much, Sallie for a thoughtful, detailed comment.

  6. Dearest David,
    Oh such a walk through 'virgin' snow is the best one can have!
    From my childhood years I do recall how we walked the 2 km to Church for midnight Mass, quit an adventure by having to lift your legs up and out of the layer of snow.
    Still in my 20s I did once walk with my late husband and miniature (!) Dachshund Mauzie over 20 km on 2nd Christmas Day, through virgin snow through the woods and along meadows. Poor Mauzie, I had to carry her the final kilometers, she went to hyper the first stretch, going left and right! But yes, this is such a calm and healthy feeling, provided you're dressed well, especially your feet.
    Hugs and many more joyful moments in your region.

  7. The snow has arrived here too. We often see tracks in the snow too, usually foxes or squirrels............

  8. Beautiful sunny brisk winter day here too!

  9. David my Life Long Learning series is on the Gardens of England and Europe. Totally just for fun, and to make some use of the 1000's of pictures we've taken on our travels.

  10. Interesting observations of tracks in the snow !!
    Great photos !!

  11. A wonderful series, David, nowadays I think snow isn't pleasant, but indeed it was great to be the first to put your footprints in the virgin snow. Walking the dog, hearing the silence and to know that when returning home the stove burns and the coffee is ready! Gr Jan W

    1. Your comment about the coffee has got me thinking, Jan. I am not at home, of course, so it won't be on the stove, but a thermos in the car seems like a great idea!

  12. Delicious all the snow, beautiful photos David.
    Nice how you've brought all the tracks into view.
    The woodpecker is a beauty, your picture of it too ;-))
    Greetings Tinie

  13. Hello David, Real winter wow. So nice to see. Here it is rain, rain and rain.
    But winter is not over yet. The tracks in the snow is always nice to find out what animals passed by.

  14. Hi David,
    a very inspiring blog with these tracks in the snow :-)
    You at least have snow. Here in the Netherlands the winter but I have not seen snow! Beautiful also the American goldfinch, but you woodpecker is really beautiful!

  15. Hi David,
    wonderful footprints in the snow and a wonderful Winter landscape.
    I wish you all the Best for the New Year 2016 !
    Best regards, Synnöve

  16. Muy lindas fotografías. Saludos.