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.