It’s high time I post another phenology update. In all honesty, all the work we’re doing to get the house painted and sorting through drawers and closets to weed out what won’t get moved, I’ve not had a lot of time to just get outside and see what’s going on.
After months of only seeing groups of does, we’re finally starting to see the bucks seeking them out. Here are a couple of them caught on the trail cam. Mike said he saw another 5×5 buck not far from the camera the other night. We’ll find out in a few more days if he was captured on the cam or not.
A neighbor mentioned seeing two young bucks locking antlers on a hillside near his house last week. The rut is on from the looks of things.
And, while on a walk with Rhad at the end of October, I noticed what looked like elk tracks, but maybe they could be from a large buck instead. Maybe that was the first one to come calling on the girls around here.
One thing I have been able to notice more of late is the temperature, simply because it needs to be warm enough to paint. I’m glad we’re getting down to the tail end of it because each week in October and November has been a bit cooler and provided fewer hours to get out there to work. The most dramatic difference was in late October and early November when each week was noticeably colder overall. The shift from fall to winter.
The chipmunks aren’t out anymore even when the temperatures rise into the upper 50s and low 60s. I think the last one I saw was right around Halloween. I know I wrote that down somewhere, but can’t seem to relocate it. I watched one almost frantically gather as many seeds as possible from the ground below the feeder and scuttle them off to his den beneath the storage shed. With them heading to semi-hibernate (they go into a torpor state and do come out of it occasionally through the winter), we’re guessing the bears aren’t far behind. That finds us testing this theory by adding a bit of more ‘scented’ trash in the dumpster a day or two before pickup.
The tiny Pygmy nuthatches (one is on the right there in the photo) were quite successful nesters this summer and seem to have nearly doubled their numbers to around 12-15. It’s hard to get an accurate count as they seen to never hold still for long. The added numbers have given a boldness I’ve not seen before from them; they actually gang up and chase out squirrels and the Clark’s nutcrackers – the previously undisputed kings of the feeders. Just yesterday, one of the young squirrels noisily scolded them from below after being chased off.
At the feeder, the regulars are:
- Pygmy Nuthatches
- Steller’s Jays
- Clark’s Nutcrackers
- Gray Jays (aka Camp Robbers)
- Mountain Chickadees
- Black-capped Chickadees
Occasional visitors include:
- Hairy Woodpeckers
- Downy Woodpeckers
- Brown Creeper (not at the feeder, but on the tree trunks where the chickadees and nuthatches have stashed seeds)
Noticeably absent are:
- Evening Grosbeaks
- Pine Siskens
- White-breasted Nuthatches
Take some time this week (as I hope to do) and get outside to see what’s happening.
As I write this, we have the first measureable snow fall of 2″ on the deck. Earlier this week we had a couple of dustings of snow. So glad to welcome it back. The days have warmed, though, to give us some delightful days to get out and take some walks.
The leaves on the aspen are almost gone – many stands just have a few leaves hanging on still, and a touch of color still remains in other stands. The below freezing night temperatures took their toll on the color, freezing it out to a dull brown. It did seem that the leaves with more red in them died off first, but I’m not quite sure if that’s fully true or just seems that way.
Above you see three of the many photos taken of my ‘chosen tree’ for this year. It really wasn’t the best to choose lighting-wise as the shadows on it throughout the day gave me only a couple of chances to really capture it lit evenly. But I chose it anyway because it’s my favorite aspen tree on the property. Perfectly framed through the front door, I’ve watched it now for 19 years in all seasons. It just felt appropriate to record its changing this fall.
On Wednesday, I saw a couple of deer walking through our property and it looks like the Trail Cam caught them. A mom and her fawn of the year, I believe. Both were fully into their winter coats. Mike and I talked about this – wondering where the others had gone. Maybe a poacher in the neighborhood? We haven’t heard many single shots fired – sometimes we hear someone doing target practice, but that’s it. Or a mountain lion has moved in? Or perhaps more of us are outside getting those last outside chores done before winter drives us inside more.
Also on Wednesday, while on the phone, I saw a LARGE raptor of some sort try to nab an Abert’s Squirrel, the black ones with tufts of fur on their ears, from the tree right next to the house, giving me a great view of its solidly steel grey back and tail with the wavy bands on it. It missed the squirrel (shown above – a youngster just starting to get his ‘tufts’) who stayed silent and pretty much in place in the tree for a good half hour. After scouring through the bird books and online, I’m leaning toward thinking it could have been a Northern Harrier simply because of the size and the length of the tail (it was at least 2 ft from head to tip of tail if not a bit more). If not, perhaps a Northern Goshhawk. I sure wish I had gotten a look at the rest of it. One of my goals for birding is to get better at all those hawks and such. If you have an idea of what it was, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes out for it.
At the bird feeder, well, on the deck, a chipmunk is still gathering food like crazy and hauling all it can back to its home beneath the shed we have outside under the deck. I don’t often see it in the morning until the air has warmed, so am wondering if it slips into torpor overnight already. If it hasn’t, it will soon as the temperatures are slowly dropping. Good for winter, but we still need a few more warm days to finish painting the outside of the house.
That’s all for now – head outside and enjoy the changes happening & stay curious about it all!
I’m going to enter yesterday as the peak of color for the aspen here on our property. It’s really sort of a subjective thing – we read in the paper this morning that they thought it was at 40%. I heartily disagree with that one.
So how do I define the peak of color? Most of the aspen are in full color, with a few left yet to turn – some stands may still be green – but the first ones to turn are now losing leaves, some have lost them all.
It’s when you can feel the fullness of fall.
Yesterday, Mike took the little cheapo camera with him as they traveled up Gold Camp Road to do some surveying work. All of these were just drive-by shots, but show where things are. We’ll be heading out this weekend occasionally to a few spots for some more photos.
And with that bit of inspiration (thanks, Honey!) – get outside! Stay curious.
The aspen are changing rapidly now – once they get a tinge of yellow, they slide into all yellow within a day or two. Sometimes they almost seem to changing by the hour. The peak turning is maybe a day or two away, but it’ll be this week. Other wet years we’ve also had a ‘late’ turning – so it’s still within the norm. The aspen were simply getting all they could out of the late moisture.
Fun little photo project you can do. Just pick a tree you can photograph from the same spot each day. Take one shot a day – ideally around the same time each day. My tree for this year is really starting to change now.
Here’s how last year’s project turned out:
Fall has finally blown in. Lots of wind this week – mostly 10-25 mph with a few gusts up higher. It’s dry, too, with the humidity often in the single digits. The temps are down and we had our first light frost this week on Tuesday. All of this wrapped into a sign of fall. Now the aspen are turning in earnest and most have reached the ‘lemon-lime’ stage – some more on the lime side, and others on the lemon. Maybe 10-20% are fully in the yellow stage. I’m amazed at how quickly they’re turning. The peak of the aspen will be a bit later than in the past few years, and I expect that to probably show up some time next week.
The wild geraniums and other groundcover are also turning and the grasses are finally curing out. All this extra rain has kept the deer from taking a look at the garden. They’ve nibbled some on the horseradish and day lilies, but not much else.
That wind has also blown off all – or at least a whole bunch of the shed pine needles – useful for a couple of years for the tree, then it lets them go. While helping Taylor up the stairs the other day, I noticed the letter A formed courtesy of the nearby Ponderosa trees.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels are still seen daily – frantically filling their cheeks with whatever seeds they find. Though it’s now been a couple of days since I’ve seen the last hummingbird at the nasturtiums in the window boxes. Our neighbor may still be seeing them, though – she’s got the ‘popular’ feeder and usually sees them a bit longer than we do – so I’ll need to ask her.
Next week is supposed to have those warm and dry fall days and cool to chilly nights – perfect weather to help the aspen finish up turning to gold.
I checked the trail cam today (Fridays are the day I try to get to that) and here’s a sampling: deer, fox and surprisingly again, a raccoon. First raccoon of the year, I think. There were quite a few cats on there as well – still all ones we know where they live – so no feral ones to worry about.
The other morning while out with the dogs, I heard a whirring sound – some bird of some sort, but I never could find it. Definitely a unique sound. Only heard it once, though, as we first went down into the dog yard. Guess that one might stay a mystery.
Take some time to get outside and see what’s going on!
Have a great weekend and stay curious!
Generally, on most years, the aspen here in Colorado usually reach their peak around the last full week in September. I don’t think they’ll be even close to that this year. With as cool and wet as it’s been, I think the aspen are taking advantage of the ability to still grow and store energy. At least that’s my best guess. We aren’t even at 1% turned yet. And hearing from others around the state, they’re seeing the same.
I do recall in other wet years (not as wet as this summer, though!) that the leaves haven’t been much to write home about. They sort of turn, then just shrivel up and fall off. Here’s one that I found on our property last week that looks like it might be taking that route to winter:
As for other bits of phenology:
- Hummingbirds (pretty much only the females and maybe a few juvenile males) still zing through the air around here. At least a small handful are seen daily. Still waiting for the last day to see them.
- The deer are about half way done with shedding their summer coats.
- Very few flowers still in bloom, but if found, usually they’re asters or a lingering hare bell.
- We still have some band-tailed pigeons around, but many of the summer birds have left already.
- We’re still seeing chipmunks and ground squirrels around, though their population is down significantly since a few of the neighbor cats have been here – thank goodness. The rodents were getting a bit thick – all the moisture kept their food supply up, giving them the ability to reproduce at a rather alarming rate.
- The kinnikinnik is as lush and healthy as I’ve seen it in a long time – still growing with all the moisture around. Most berries are bright red at this point, but a few can still be found with a tinge of green on them still.
We have a new bird that showed up last week at the feeders. The bright yellow bill caught my attention as did the stripes on the head. Turns out to be a White-crowned Sparrow. We usually don’t see many sparrows here, so this one has been rather unusual.
Reading up on them, they normally hang out by willows – none of which we have on the property, but just over the ridge in almost any direction is a creek full of them. Perhaps the spring snows has brought him to the feeders. Another source said they often crowd out Juncos from their nesting spots – and we have lots of juncos and places for them to nest.
The other day while cleaning up the bird feeder leavings from the ground below the deck, I came back from hauling yet another bushel full to the dumpster to find nearly 30 Juncos milling about in the freshly exposed dirt. We have lots of Juncos – many will stay and nest here under the juniper bushes or brush piles we have yet to dispose of. I’ve been watching them pair up and chase each other. And picking up trash that blew in from the renters next door in our valley, I had the chance to sit quietly and watch a pair check out the appropriateness of a juniper bush down there. A piece of trash was in there, so I quietly moved in, removed the piece and stepped back. They hardly even moved.
And, for the past few months, Mike and I (and the dogs) would hear an odd screeching noise. Just once. In various places in the house. Not a critter in the house, because there wasn’t any pitter patter of tiny feet on the other side of a wall or ceiling. It came at all times of the day and night. We debated what it might be – a bat? We listened to all sorts of bat sounds on the internet and that wasn’t it.
Then I checked the owl sounds. That was it. Which one, we’re not sure, but it was an alarm call. Only once – so just enough time for you to get ready to really pay attention again. Of course, now that we’ve identified the odd sound, we’ve not heard it again. It’s not surprising to hear an owl who’s found a good food source. The rabbits, birds and now chipmunks that are out and about would be just right for an owl. I’ve checked around the property for pellets, and found none…yet.
The Woodpeckers are drumming away each morning and pairs have been seen going from one tree to the other, checking it out, doing some test drills. And on that walk to pick up trash, I noticed a tree that’s not doing well. Turns out to be absolutely filled with neat, tidy rows of holes – sapsucker holes. I imagine we’ll lose that one this year, but will continue to watch for the sapsuckers on it.
Also saw the first robins back – splashing in a puddle in the driveway left by one of the spring snows. There were three of them. Hard to get photos of them as this batch isn’t habituated to humans. They’re skittish and spook even when standing far back from the front door where I took this photo with a zoom lens (photo’s also cropped). As soon as I lowered the lens, they bolted. sigh.
I love spring snows simply because they’re sort of magical – like this morning – you wake to a world covered in an inch of white and by afternoon, it’s soaked into the soil. Each inch like this leaves behind it a touch more green. It reminds me of some sort of mixed media effect that only shows after the initial application has disappeared.
We saw a bull elk not far from the house the other day, already starting to show the nubs of this year’s antlers. Mike is stopped some mornings to let the herd of 300-400 cross the road in front of him. It actually happened twice last week. They were on one of the old ranches in the area as we headed to dinner one night – many of them are starting to look a bit scruffy as they begin to shed their winter coats. The deer around here are doing the same.
I need to get out and check on the first plants around here again – after living here for nearly 20 years, I’ve found where the first flowers are usually found, which aspen trees send out their catkins first, etc. I really need to add in a map of the area with the locations on it to add to the phenology notebook.
Get outside to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods.
I’m finding more time on Mondays or Tuesdays to write up the Weekly Phenology Summary, so – at least for now – this is when they’ll be.
This morning is a bit chilly, with an occasional snow shower moving through. Down in Colorado Springs, though, they’ve already got a couple of inches on the ground. Upslope. That’s when the storms come in on the plains and back up against the mountains. In this area, if that happens up in the Monument area, along the Palmer Divide, it might make it over to us. But if it has to make it up Ute Pass, it may not. So far, it’s not looking like this storm will make it here.
And we are dry again. So far this winter we’ve only had 19″ of snow – and a few dustings that weren’t included in the total. Last week we had a couple of warm days in the upper 50′s, which melted most of the snow pack we had. Only deep in the trees does some remain. And, of course, in their infinite wisdom, the forest service has nearly clearcut things so there are few trees to help hold in the snow. They’re getting ready to start on a section near us. We’ll see how this ‘experiment’ works out.
Last night while talking about it, Mike pulled up the Snotel sites. Snotel sites were put up in the 70′s if I remember correctly to monitor the snowpack. That helps the cities, who own the water rights, to manage it better. It doesn’t look all that good for us this summer. This is a screenshot of the forecast for how they think we’ll look on June 1.
In fact, we’re right on track to basically match 2002, the year of the Hayman fire, started by a forest service gal in an attempt to get a reward – an unintended consequence of rewarding workers for spotting and helping to put out fires. The fires that year started in late March. Single digit humidity was the norm. You know, below 5% humidity, you can drink all the water you want and never really get fully hydrated.
So – it’s time to purge and organize. That’s a main goal here in February for us. Going through things, packing up some to evacuate or just flat out take down to the storage unit we’ve already got. Minimizing the amount of work to do in the likely event we do have to evacuate. Going through that the first time is hard because you don’t know what to expect. But after that, you know exactly what’s important to you and what you can let go of. And, we’ll start whiddling back on our water usage. We’ve never had our well run dry (knock wood), but I don’t want to find out what the limit for it is. Being on a well, we actually use very little water because most of it goes right back down into the ground again. People in the city, though, are going to face pretty serious rationing, and soon, I would guess.
This week I’ve been changing the location of the trail cam – and picked up a coyote. It didn’t pick up the fox, though, that was nearby that morning when Mike left for work. I normally don’ t put it out in this spot in the winter due to the snow pushing the animals in other directions, but the path that goes through here holds promise for some traffic with no snow to speak of.
Last week when Mike was working in the field, they saw some wild turkeys and a nice buck – still hanging onto his antlers. And a herd of about 75-100 elk – many of the bulls still with antlers as well, but none of the large racks, so perhaps those are being shed first?
Have a good week and take notes on what all you see. Building a phenology notebook really is a rewarding project. I’ll be sharing more soon about mine. Just still pulling bits and pieces together.
I apologize for the tardiness of this report – all I can really share right now is that lots is happening behind the scenes. Lots of typical creative struggles happening on a daily basis, but knowing they’re typical helps to blast through them. I’m still a few months away before I can really share anything. If posts start getting random, know it’s just that I’m still jamming from one project to the next as fast as possible and a slowly as it requires.
But onto the phenology…
While the flock of Gray-capped Rosy-finches returned on Sunday long enough for Mike to also see them, this little guy – common as can be – has stolen my heart again by being the first one to announce spring with just two little notes. I first heard them on January 8th – and again most all day on the 12th and many days since then. The 8th was a warm day and I thought maybe that prompted the song, but I’ve also heard it when it was well below freezing. I have no idea of how normal it was to hear the first call on the 8th as black-capped chickadees have only been hanging around for a couple of years now. And I think this is the first year we have two males working to define territory and attract a mate.
If you look at the phenology page, you can see that the very first signs of spring are starting now.
Our neighbor, Deb told me yesterday that she has been seeing a pair of foxes cavorting around – and the dens I know of from years past have had more footprints around them, so mating season for the fox is likely just around the corner. We typically see the fox pups around the dens in early to mid May which is when they’re around 4-5 weeks old. Working backwards from there, and adding in the ~7.5 week gestation period, that puts the mating season at the end of January to the first part of February. I’m really hoping they choose to use the den right down below our house where I should be able to watch the pups from the deck, and can swing around to the road to get photos. The other known den is just off of our property under some large boulders that give 5 or more entrance/exits from the den. It hasn’t been used in years, though, due to the neighbor dogs who wander down there. When one of those dogs was a puppy, we saved it from being a snack for the fox kits. A fox was ‘playing with her’ and leading her down that way when we noticed and intervened.
I actually expected to see a pair of foxes set up house near here last year. It seems the cycle of wildlife shifts and changes in a pretty obvious pattern. Right now we have lots of squirrels, chipmunks & ground squirrels and a ton of rabbits. With that much food, some predator moves in. A neighbor a few roads over, though, says they’re seeing a lot of coyotes and hearing them regularly. So maybe that’s kept the foxes denning up elsewhere.
After our somewhat of a cold snap a week or so ago, things have really warmed up. I know the cold can be hard on some people, but I miss the -40° F week or two we used to get. The reason for that is simple – it kills bugs. In particular, it kills the bark beetles. Climate change? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is just a result of cities with acres of bluegrass lawns that really don’t belong here in the west – and cloud seeding done by so many cities to try and bring a bit more water to their watershed and ski resorts to their slopes. Or perhaps this is all part of a larger cycle we don’t have enough years of data to really see yet. Whatever it is, we are in a serious drought right now – more serious than I think most people realize. It’s going to be a mighty interesting summer if we don’t get snow – but I still hold out hope that March and April will bring us the deep snows. And if not, then we’ll spend the summer ready to evacuate.
I’m working on the setup of my physical phenology notebook – and am debating breaking it up into two parts – I’ll share here as soon as I get them far enough along to share.
For now, I’ll leave you with the trail cam captures from this past week…
“‘May all your hours be sunny’ is another way of saying ‘May you perish in the drought.’”
~Edwin Way Teale from his book, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm
It’s dry. This last week we’ve seen humidity some days in the single digits. It’s warm. Most days lately reach well into the 50s. I cannot stress enough how much I despise brown winters. As the sun rises lower into the sky each day, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to be outside and facing south. Blinds are pulled. On the days we’ve had clouds, the blinds are open and my eyes relax.
The volunteer pansies are still blooming in the window box beside the window where I sit. Blooms freeze overnight, but invariably by afternoon, more appear. I probably need to give them a bit of water along with the rest of the garden that’s been neglected for too long.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a regular morning flock of about 20-30 Evening Grosbeaks show up on a daily basis. That number has at least doubled. While outside this morning, the sound of them cracking open the black oil sunflower seeds and letting the shells drop to the ground sounded almost like rain. The Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches are definitely getting comfortable with us. While filling the bird bath with water this morning, one of the Mountain Chickadees kept flying in, landing, and flying off, just inches from me. The Pygmy Nuthatches almost need to be brushed off before I can fill the feeders at times. All of them, though, ascend in a group to the safety of the tree near the feeders at the first audible ‘quark’ from a Raven.
We also had a visit from a lone Red-Winged Blackbird. Normally they don’t come over the ridge that separates our road from the next one which has a stream. I haven’t really checked the stream water level recently, but I imagine it’s down. Perhaps he just joined the Grosbeaks to see where they went. He did visit the birdbath as well. Kind of unusual for them to still be hanging around up here at the end of November (photo taken the 27th through double paned windows, so not the greatest, but enough to ID and document).
In my last Friday Phenology report I mentioned about how the Evening Grosebeaks eat the spruce worms. Between the Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Nuthatches, I’ve noticed when it gets warm (and the feeders have been drained for the day), they move to the trees and mainly work on the branch tips. Mainly spruces and firs – the ones that were absolutely covered in spruce moths this last summer. An infected tree usually will have a few tips that grow curled in the spring.
But the Blue Spruce next to the house has many branch tips that look like this:
So do the Douglas Fir trees:
Obviously they are finding food there. It will be interesting to see how those branches grow next spring. I image without the needles, if we do get the week or two of deep freeze in January or February, those brand buds may not have the protection they need to make it through.
The trail cam this week was fairly active – showing the deer are still in rut.
Get out there and learn and explore. Watch your world and look into the things you find interesting. You don’t want to end up not knowing enough like this. It’s just amazing how the deer cross our road in about the same spot all the time without a deer crossing sign!