Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Squirrels, Redpolls and Record Warmth

The past few days I have been seeing squirrels chasing each other. I remember seeing that happen in January in past years. Maybe they wait to mate during a warmer spell, and we didn't really get much warm weather in January this year. Talking of warm weather, the temperature reached 54F today! This broke the previous record high for this day of 53F in 1876.

Yesterday, I saw redpolls at our birdfeeder. This is the first time I've ever seen (or at least noticed) this bird. So I was pretty excited! They weren't there today, so they must have just been passing through.

On Sunday and today, we saw a robin sitting in a tree near our house in the afternoon! This one must have decided not to migrate, or decided to come back a few weeks early.

We didn't manage to get any pictures of the robin, the redpolls, or the chasing squirrels. They were all too fast for us!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cardinals are singing!

I heard many cardinals singing today. It was fun to hear them! A friend said that she has always observed cardinal's singing on sunny days. Today was certainly sunny. I am curious if birds at this time of year tend to sing more on sunny days. I have been noting when I hear chickadees, and the two times I've paid attention, they were singing on a sunny day. So let me know if what you observe confirms or rejects this hypothesis of birds preferring to sing on sunny days.

Around the end of February or beginning of March, the phenology calendars start getting a lot denser. So even if spring isn't right around the corner, a lot of animal and plant activity is! We didn't get a January thaw like Aldo Leopold talks about in his Sand County Almanac, but we are getting a February thaw. A friend said that he was in his car to Watertown and saw huge numbers of hawks, presumably getting ready to hunt all those rodents that have been hiding under the snow!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Snow Fleas (Collembola)

According to EEK (Environmental Education for kids):
On a warm, sunny winter day, take a look at the base of a tree where the snow may have melted down to expose some leaves, or where the snow is shallow or hollowed out just a bit. There you'll find a sprinkling of what looks like "pepper" or "ashes" on the surface of the snow. Each speck you see is a snow flea. Once you find them, watch closely and see what they're up to.

It was a warm, sunny winter day today, so we decided to go and look for snow fleas. We looked around many, many trees, and were rewarded by three snow fleas that we found around the base of one tree! We tried to take a picture, but our camera wasn't good enough to capture the image of such a small thing.

Here is some more interesting stuff about snow fleas from the EEK website:

Snow fleas are actually tiny insects which come out on warm, sunny days to eat decayed plant material or sap oozing from the tree. They hop around acting like fleas and that's where they get their name, snow "fleas." They're not fleas though, but actually an arthropod called Collembola (kol-LEM-bo-la) or commonly called springtails which measure about 1/8 inch (2mm) long.

These are not just winter critters. You can find them any time of year in the forest living in the leaf litter stuck to the underside of leaves or on the surface of the soil, chomping on bits of rotting vegetation. They also live on the surface of ponds. You'd have to look very closely to see them here because they blend in well and are so tiny.
More neat stuff about snow-fleas from Wikipedia:

Research at Queen's University indicated that the anti-freeze-like protein that allows snow fleas to operate in sub-zero environments may be useful for storing transplant organs and for producing better ice cream.[1] By preventing the formation of ice crystals in tissues, organs could be stored at lower temperatures, increasing their lifespan outside a living body. Unlike proteins with similar functions in other species, the protein found in snow fleas breaks down easily at higher temperatures.[2]

We had fun seeing such a tiny critter moving in the snow today. We saw that anti-freeze in action!