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.
This summer, I read an article by John McPhee in the New Yorker magazine about how he organizes his information to write the amazing non-fiction books he writes. He talked about writing from a timeline or by topic, and how when he switched to topic for some of his stories, everything fell neatly into place.
YES! This is what I struggle with. I find writing on topic so very interesting, but timeline story telling is also compelling. This is why I had both the alphabet (topic) and months (timeline) for my scrapbook this year. However, timeline won out, and I removed the few topic pages done and inserted them into the month I scrapped them or when they made sense from a timeline perspective.
And now I sit here trying to sort out a method to document phenology observations from our life to be lived in the Greater Yellowstone Area. But rather than topic, the question becomes by timeline or by location? Or to simply choose one (time usually wins), and create a cross-reference for it. Would I actually keep up with that?
Yes, I could keep it more easily in a spreadsheet on my computer, but as I said yesterday, I see technology as fragile. Books, notebooks, journals are more sturdy. Even with my geyser research, most of it is printed out and filed.
As I gather research on the thermal features (geysers, hot springs, etc.), I keep coming across bits and pieces of phenology from years gone by. And the sad fact is that I am interested in pretty much everything, and as a natural documenting fiend, I want to capture it. A few years back, I started to gather these into a heavily discounted yearly Moleskine Diary.
This example comes from the Field Journal of George Wright (online at Berkley – warning: this link is a potential rabbit trail that might suck you down it for awhile) – his focus was on the tundra swans in Yellowstone area, but I found a few tidbits on the geysers in there as well because he wrote out his observations every day or two – sometimes daily. I also have found notes from my Grandma that include a lot of nature observations from the Teton area – and from their cabin in the Turpin Meadows area. They, too, invite me to include them.
And it all comes back to how to set it up – timeline, or location, or both or simply just a reference from one to the other.
I’m curious. How do you tend to document? Timeline or Topic?
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.
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!
The sun was out and the wind calm – and I had to get outside especially after all the rain. Grabbing my camera, I decided to take a closer look at the kinnikinnick – an evergreen groundcover that’s thriving with all the moisture we’ve had this summer. Very few leaves are damaged compared to years with less moisture.
Kinnikinnick was used as a tobacco by Native Americans in the past, and it’s a food source for birds and other animals. The berries are all fully ripe. I mentioned the other day that a few slightly green ones were still being found – that was last week. This week, I’m only finding perfectly red ones. I’ve heard someone say that the berries make a substitute for coffee, but haven’t ever found that referenced anywhere. The only thing found is that a tea can be used for treating urinary tract infections and works as a laxative. How accurate that is, I’m not sure, and I doubt I’ll be trying it.
Runners are spreading all over the place, but at the end of a few, I noticed this:
Pulling one off, I noticed these were rolled leaves – meaning something was living in there.
The leaves are fairly thick and this was difficult to open. I finally used my pocket knife and tried to be as gentle as possible, not squishing the inhabitants. And this is what I found:
Aphids. Interesting. I’ve noticed some of the Dark-eyed Juncos fussing around some of the kinnikinnick, but didn’t pay that close of attention. Maybe they’ve found this extra protein source. Not all of our patches of kinnikinnick have these, but some of the larger carpets seem to have them the most.
Then I noticed these:
Flower buds. In the fall? Huh.
Maybe the buds normally form in the fall, but I always thought they formed in the spring. Maybe I was wrong and not paying close enough attention. I’ll keep a closer eye on these to see if they develop further – this next week is supposed to dry out a bit more and give us some warm sunny days and cool sunny nights.
Quick update on the aspen leaves turning color: In one day, the aspen all lightened noticeably. The UPS driver out here mentioned it as well – that overnight they seemed to have decided it’s fall. Now to see how quickly they’ll turn.
If you haven’t been outside lately, head out and see what all you find. Look closely. Then look even closer.
Nature is the best teacher there is. 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.
This last weekend we had quite a good cold front move through. That must have been a signal of some sort because the winter flock returned Friday through Sunday. I first noticed the Evening Grosbeaks twittering away in the trees. Then a molting and very sorry-looking Steller’s Jay – I hope to get a shot of him – only a couple of top knot feathers. The Mountain chickadees and a couple of Cassin’s finches showed up on Sunday. The Clark’s Nutcrackers showed up with a couple of youngsters as well.
They all came to the feeder, looking for a meal. When one didn’t come, they headed to the shop wall to pick it clean of moths. So, in the mornings, I’m now giving them a small amount that I know they’ll eat up before the end of the day (want it empty at night to keep the bears from snooping around). There’s plenty of food for them to find, but I also want to let them know we’ll be here this winter, keeping it full for them.
Fun to have them back – as well as a few of the summer birds – a band-tailed pigeon sat on top of the feeder for quite some time this morning.
We also still have hummingbirds around – rufus and broad-tailed mainly – but it seems some may have left for warmer climates already – the cold front likely moving them along. The aspen trees are starting to show lighter leaves and a few yellow branches or spots here and there – mainly on the trees that are stressed for one reason or another.
Still July, but the weather is reminding us that fall is not all that far off. I’m looking forward to the monsoons leaving us in August or September so we can get some of the outside chores done for the year (wood for the winter, painting the house, etc.).
It feels good to be home long enough to get a handle on where things are, phenology-wise. We arrived home from our trip to already be well into the monsoon season – and it’s been a good one so far. Beautiful crisp mornings give way to the warming of the day that builds clouds. They drop rain in the afternoon and evenings, cooling it down into the 50s for a good night’s sleep. If the pattern holds true to years past, the monsoons will let up sometime in August, giving us the warm days (and still cooler nights) where things will start to cure out.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the moths under the shop light each morning – not taking photos of everything, but getting a good sampling of which varieties show up. Usually the wall of the shop is pretty well covered each morning. But the other morning, we had hardly any. At first I thought it was just the rain overnight – and that had an impact, I’m sure, but the lack of them continued even after nights of no rain.
Then the other day while sitting on the deck reading, I found myself noticing a whole heap of birds around – all of them pretty much silent except for some bluebird fledgelings. Even the usual noisy Steller’s Jay was quietly working its way around a tree. I know they’re supposed to be silent while nesting, so maybe that’s at least his or her excuse. I noticed a host of Pygmy Nuthatches, chickadees and a few others including a Cordilleran Flycatcher (formerly known as a Western Flycatcher). The day before I saw a Western Tanager less than a quarter mile up the road from the house. Getting up early the next morning, I noticed the early birds catching the moths on the shop.
What brought in all these birds now? The hatching of the Spruce worm moths (reminder to self: write down that they hatched on week #29 of 2013).
Almost every spruce and fir tree around is full of them – but not quite as full as last year. Watching the birds feasting on them in all various stages has helped to knock down their numbers a bit. I’m sure we’ll still lose a few spruce trees to them, but others might make it through with the help of the birds.
For a couple of years now, I’ve thought about starting a phenology notebook to record all the firsts and lasts reported and seen in person in Yellowstone. However, Yellowstone is vast and it doesn’t make sense to just observe the first reported in the the entire area., While the reports are nice, I’ve been wanting to focus specifically on a few favorite spots we visit often. One of those is Sylvan Lake. It’s a spot packed with family memories and holds a special place in my heart. Last Saturday, Mom and I went in to see if we might catch Morning Geyser (no such luck), but we had a good time together as we often do just heading out to see what we see. She was the one who got me started on all of this ‘observing’ as a kid. On our way back, we stopped at Sylvan Lake.
Look who’s started to bloom! This Glacier lily was found just about ready to burst open along with many others around the picnic area just across the road from Sylvan Lake in Yellowstone yesterday. My sister found some a week ago (I think perhaps in the same area) when she went into the park. Sylvan Lake is free of ice…well, it likely still has a thin layer that forms each night.
We also watched an Osprey soaring high above, looking for a meal, and a butterfly dining on the willow blooms. And on our way back to Cody, we were stopped by four Bighorn Sheep rams who decided to do a bit of practice head butting each other in the middle of the road just down from the Corkscrew Bridge overlook. An impatient visitor “hazed” them off the road slowly, and they soon headed over the railing and down.
A fun day that has me starting on at least the Sylvan Lake location – I’m sure I’ll be adding a few other favorite spots in Yellowstone to explore repeatedly through the years.