Nature Notes from February 2023

Nature Notes from February 2023

Feb 2 — Below freezing temperatures this past week. Looking out on the lake, I see patterns, lines, and paths in the ice, part white, part black. I fantasize; are the lines where the beaver swam? 

Feb 4 — We’ve had a couple of days of sunshine  and cold, now somewhat overcast, the lake  surface frozen solid.  

Feb 5 — Sunny and it’s warmed up some. I went outside and I saw something red in the brush, down at the northwest corner of the lake, and walked down to see what it was. It turned out to be a bit of plastic trash. Then I saw something moving in the brush quite near me, and saw something feathery, like maybe an injured bird. The next thing I knew, a hawk flew up with the remains of its prey, leaving a pile of feathers in the dry leaves. Soon I heard the cry of birds in the direction it flew — the alarm cries when they want to drive a hawk out of their territory. 

Returning past the boathouse, at the lake’s edge there is much evidence of small growth and saplings being chewed. I drew closer and saw movement in the ground — a hole almost covered with roots, reddish-brown spikes of fur. I was three feet away, didn’t want to scare what was  undoubtedly beaver. 

Feb 6 — I thought I heard robins several weeks ago. A Sister from the Cottage confirmed: “Yes,  they’ve been back!” Today I both heard and saw  them. Green shoots of hyacinths are an inch up in the Peace Garden.  

Feb 8 — While I was sitting in the Maria Center lounge a resident who usually doesn’t come down much, but is very sociable, began conversation about the state of the world and upsetting news on TV, as well as her own weakened condition. I felt moved to divert her attention to the ancient sycamore tree growing outside our entrance, and the countless seed balls all over it. I went out and found some on the ground, and brought one in, as well as a piece of the beautiful multicolored bark. We went to the table and took the fuzzy brown seed ball apart only to find there was no seed inside (it’s usually the size of a large pea). I felt it was a small but valuable diversion from the TV news of war and disaster.

Feb 11 — Today, it’s sunny and bright with hardly any wind. I heard sandhill cranes but couldn’t see them for a while; then six came into view flying northwest. It’s early for them. 

I wondered if the beaver was active and waited to see. Finally, a head emerged swimming. It went to shore by a large rusty pipe; I saw and could hear it chewing some vegetation quite a while. My book says it only eats plants.  

Feb 12 — It’s a bright sunny mid-afternoon: several dozen geese are on the lake. After a while, the beaver appeared, swimming back and forth under the pier to the rain garden exit. For a while it was eating vegetation by the shore. It “ducked” under the surface and came up at another place. I could hear it eating.  

Feb 15 — It’s not cold this morning but very windy. A white bird, perhaps an osprey, is flying over the lake, once in a while it dives to the ice or  water.  

Feb 17 — Snowflakes are floating down with intermittent sunshine. I needed to get outdoors, so I dressed in my down jacket, went out into the brisk cold, and warmed up. The sunshine was so good. By the pier, the waves glittered.  

Feb 19 — From the fourth floor window, it looks like paths and patterns of light and dark are rushing across the lake surface. A bird soared over the lake. Then more, at one point five. Then one again.  

Feb 24 — Late afternoon and it’s cool with some sun. All the ice has melted. Sandhill cranes can be heard across the lake. White gulls careen over the water. A pair of geese move along the south shore of the lake. A pair of robins are doing their mating ritual. I hear doves cooing. More spring bulbs are sprouting, iris, narcissus, daffodils. Hyacinths are about to bloom.  

Feb 25 — I saw more evidence of beaver activity, and heard sudden splashing, but no sight of beaver. From the sounds of it, sandhill cranes  have returned to their place south of the lake.  

Feb 26 — 6 p.m. the sun is ready to set almost due west. Three white gull-like birds have been flying constantly over the water, sometimes diving, and catching. The lake is smooth. Sometimes I hear or see a roiling of water, but no animal is in sight. Finally, I briefly saw the small head of a muskrat or beaver.  

Sandhill cranes are trumpeting across the lake. Lots of small birds are flying north. I wonder if the great blue heron will be back.  

In the book I referred to last month, Beaverland,  by Leila Philip, I learned about artificially built beaver dams - BDAs- beaver dam analogues being built to help manage and cleanse the water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. These artificial dams cost millions of dollars to build and maintain, compared to the natural work and resulting benefit of beaver dams. I’m not quite finished with the book yet.  

Everyday two major events happen, sunrise and sunset. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and vital to our existence. As we hurtle through space, we are too often oblivious to the miracles of life.