Author Archives: elizabeth

A Moment

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Helleborus spp. (Winter or Lenten rose)

Here in the northern hemisphere, it is the official first day of spring.

It is the day of the vernal equinox, that moment when the sun shines directly on the equator, when one season ends and a new one begins. That moment occurs today at 6:45 pm EDT.

For me, it is still winter. The thermometer agrees; it is exactly 32°F at this moment while I enjoy my hot morning tea and cozy warm sweater on this last winter morning.

It has been a good winter. I have had plenty of snow and cold and good birds and completed projects. And there might even be some more snow today. I love winter.

Like most people, I also love spring. I appreciate and need the revitalization of colors and plant growth, the arrival of summer birds, the warm sunny breezes on my face, and the energy that comes with the season. But I also feel a sense of apprehension. Winter is sometimes called fierce, and summer described as unrelenting. I find that spring has a force of urgency and determination that can be intimidating. It will push its way in without hesitation.

So I will savor every last moment of winter today. Then, this evening, and not a moment before, I will welcome spring with open arms.

Happy Spring!

~Elizabeth

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Red Red Robin…

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American robin, Leesburg, NJ. 2015 by E. Thompson.

When I was a child in Philly, watching birds in the teeny back yard with my mom, seeing a robin meant that spring was upon us. We would sing that old ditty about the red, red robin that comes bob, bob, bobbin along…

We did not see robins in winter.

The American robin (Turdus migratorius), is migratory, hence its name. Migratorius means “to go”. The robins of our backyards in summer are not the same robins we see in winter- if you see any in winter.

Robins form large flocks in winter, and they may or may not be in your area. I happen to live in an area of southern NJ where huge flocks of robins spend their winter. But I only see them pass over in great numbers in the morning and again at dusk; they don’t visit my garden. In spring they will move north for their summer nesting areas, and my summer robins will return from the south.

We just had another snow storm and it was a big one- about 7 inches of snow. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I love snow. And while I know that many of you are, no, I’m not tired of it yet. Seriously, I wouldn’t mind if winter stayed for another three months. I am however getting a bit tired of the laces on my boots.

Anyway, this snowstorm, and the ice storm and the snow of last week, provided endless opportunities for photographs. I am sure you all have awesome pics of this winter wonderland. So, I will not bore you with yet more wintry, snowy pictures…except for this wintry, snowy photo of a robin.

I have had huge unexpected flocks of robins hanging all about my house and yard during and after this storm. They have been lined up along the roof edge, with synchronized bobbing, drinking from dripping icicles. And they have been covering the Juniper shrubs like Christmas tree ornaments, devouring the berries and flinging the snow with their busy wings.

Robins prefer to eat worms and other things in the soil, but when they find themselves in an area of deep snow, they will resort to berries.

I don’t know if these are the wintering robins that usually remain aloof and overhead, or early migrants that signal the arrival of spring. Either way, despite anyone’s wishes, or the behavior of the robins, spring will not arrive until March 21st.

Are you seeing robins in your yard?

~Elizabeth

Confetti Snow

Confetti Snow, E. Thompson

Confetti Snow, E. Thompson

Snowflakes that fell the previous night, strewn about my garden like confetti, are starting
to dissipate in the touch of the early morning sun.

“…isn’t it a wonderful morning? The world looks like something God had just imagined for his own pleasure, doesn’t it? Those trees look as if I could blow them away with a breath-pouf!   I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts, aren’t you?…”

~Anne (Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery)

Cold Chickadees

Poecile carolinensis © Errol Taskin

When it’s this cold I think about the birds often. Well, I pretty much think about birds all the time, no matter what the weather. When it’s bitter cold or windy and stormy, I worry about them.

I remember reading something about how a chickadee, having spent overnight in extreme cold, has only enough caloric resources left to find food within two hours in the morning or it will not survive. I find that worrisome.

Just yesterday when I was thinking and worrying about cold little birds, a friend of mine posted a photo of a chickadee on a snowy tree branch. It’s a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis). A tiny little bird, a chickadee weighs about as much as two nickels.

My friend has been thinking about birds, too. I don’t know if she is worrying, but she does put out food for them. She got herself new binoculars and watches birds from her office window. Her office is on an elevated level of a barn-like building facing into the woods, in eastern Pennsylvania. She is basically sitting up in the tree canopy. How cool is that?

I am delighted that she is finding pleasure in seeing birds.

What I found out about chickadees is that they will consume 30-60% of their own weight per day in high fat food, like seeds and insect eggs, (during the day their body temperature is a warm 108°F), and on a cold night they will go into a state of regulated hypothermia- actually lowering their temp by 20 degrees, tuck into a small hole in a tree and shiver all night, using up the excess body fat to sustain them. Lowering their body temperature, which slows their metabolism, leaves enough energy to get them through to breakfast, if it all works just right.

Can you imagine spending the night out in the cold with a temperature of about 75°F, shivering the entire time, and then racing out at daybreak to find food?

Another study shows that whether the small birds fed at feeders or foraged on their own had no effect on their body weight and loss in an average weather. But, when temps drop below 10°F, supplemental food like sunflower seeds at feeders made a significant difference in their survival.

So, I hope you will consider putting out some high-fat seeds for the chickadees and other tiny little birds as we go into another deep cold spell this week. And I hope you will have the pleasure of seeing a chickadee.

~Elizabeth

Cold & Icy

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Ice on spirea. (Elizabeth Thompson)

Baby, it’s cooold outside. I’ve had that song stuck in my head all morning. But at least it bumped the other song that had been stuck in my head since last Friday.

At 6am the thermometer reads 0°F. That is way below normal for this region.

There is so much beauty in winter. I love winter. I hear a lot of grumbling from people that are sick of snow and tired of cold. I don’t like being cold, but I love the cold. And snow and ice and frost of all sorts are just so beautiful.

The photo above is ice formation on a spirea shrub. I happened to spot it late last night when I took the dog out for a very quick walk.

I hope you are finding and enjoying some beauty in this winter season.

~Elizabeth

RBWO

RBWb Feb 16RBWO- that is the Four-Letter Alpha Code for red-bellied woodpecker. The Alpha Code list is developed by the American Ornithologists’ Union. It is based on the English (common) names of 2,078 birds.

There is also a Six-Letter Alpha Code list based on the scientific names of the birds. So, for this bird, Melanerpes carolinus, the code is MELCAR.

I am often asked why this bird is named red-bellied, when rarely does anyone see a red belly. As you can see in this photo, the so-called red belly is actually more of an orangey wash of color. It is definitely not easy to see if you are just casually observing the bird. This particular male also has a bit of color on his breast.

Males have the red cap that extends to the beak, while females and immature birds only have red at the base of the neck and a tiny patch by the bill.

This puffed up male was enjoying the fragments of black walnut meat stuck in the shells that the squirrels had discarded. I am so glad he could find a nice meal in my yard.

One more thing to add to my “like” list about my black walnut tree.

~Elizabeth

Snow Moon

IMG_0595Did you know that full moons have names? Most people have probably heard of the Harvest Moon of September. Various cultures throughout history have given names to the monthly moons. Probably the most well known are the names given by the Algonquin Native American tribes.

The full moon of February is called the Snow Moon, for obvious reasons.

Sometimes the name Snow Moon was given to the moon of January. In that case, February’s full moon would be named the Hunger Moon, because hunting had become so challenging.

Coming up in March is the Worm Moon; the ground starts to thaw and earthworms will “show their heads again”. I love it.

You can read more at MoonConnection.com.

~Elizabeth