Monday, March 7, 2016

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes Winter 2015-2016

As winter began, I was ready and waiting for a few good snowstorms. I planned to snowshoe, take photos, complain about shoveling, make large quantities of soup, and hang out by the gas heating stove. My plans were dashed! No- show snow. We dodged the Huge snow event of 2016. We managed to get an inch or so here and there. But by now I am not interested. I am thinking in green and not in white. I'm also worried that this winter's roller coaster weather pattern is really confusing our gardens. My daffodils, crocuses, and grape hyacinths broke ground a few weeks ago, along with Hellebores having flower buds, and peonies poking through the soil. They must have been shocked by below zero temps, a warm-up to the fifties, ice, rain, thunderstorms, flooding. I think wildlife is faring better than flowers this winter season.
Without the snow cover, animals can find and get food much easier. Grasses, weeds, seeds, nuts, acorns, and fruits aren't hidden. Just about daily, I see a red squirrel on South Lawn making its way to a pine tree for cones. I have seen evidence of fox and skunks nosing around yards and open space for grubs and worms. They leave behind small circles in the dirt where they have been dining. Without a deep snow pack, it is a lot easier for animals to prowl and move around too. One day out walking by the lake, I noticed fox tracks in the smear of snow on the ice by Round Lake's inlet. I walked along Route 9 and saw that the tracks continued across the lake, not far from shore, until about Silvera's house. Maybe the fox took a turn into the village at this point. Birds are also benefiting from a no snow season, as weed seeds, fruits, nuts, and grasses are available to them as well.
On a walk across the ball field back in January, I noticed a lot of mole hills on the side closer to Goldfoot Road. Under a tree I spotted what looked like a couple of owl pellets, not far from the mole activity. The next day I went back and scooped up the pellets to take home and dissect. Hair and very small bones were sticking out of them. By the size I would think they were from a Great-horned owl. It seems that the Great-horned has staked out the north end of the village and the Barred Owls keep to the south side. This is most likely due to the fact that the G-H Owls will go after the Barreds. When I dissected one of the pellets, I found the incisor/jaw set-up indicating a rodent. Since the mole is not a rodent maybe the owl had eaten a squirrel - there was a headless squirrel on the other side of the field. I haven't had a chance to examine the second pellet but I will up-date you when I do. There are pictures on my blog of the pellets and findings.
Speaking of owls, John Shafts got a great picture of a Barred Owl over in a tree on Washington Avenue. The same day a Red-tailed Hawk dined on a squirrel on the front lawn of Jeff Max's house. At one point the hawk tried to fly off with his dinner but couldn't get lift. Many of us were able to get photos as Red was there for quite some time. I have spotted turkey tracks on the west side of the ball field. If you see a flock in town, please let me know so I can send in a count to DEC.
On February twelfth I counted birds in the village for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The count provides a snapshot of what birds and how many are in a given spot. I did the count as a hike around the village, checking feeders, parks, wooded edges, and trees. For each species of bird, I get to report the most I see at any given moment. A Red-tailed Hawk put in an appearance, soaring down Andrews Avenue. I saw the usual feeder birds, Chickadees, White-breasted nuthatches, Tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals plus a Northern Flicker but unfortunately didn't see the Pileated Wood Pecker or Barred Owl that day. Thanks to Gary and Kate for looking out for them too! In all I counted twenty-one different species. Another hot spot for the bird count was the Round Lake Preserve. A participant counted nineteen species including two Bald Eagles and a Northern Harrier(Marsh Hawk).
Well, stay dry, stay warm and stay well. If we get a late season snow storm I'll be making soup!

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