Thursday, February 24, 2011

Etch-a-Sketch in Snow

Sometimes it's hard to see grasses - even prairie grasses - as particularly important to wildlife. About 2 weeks ago, though, we got 9" of snow. I didn't get outside until a day or two later, but meanwhile the weather had stayed quite cold, preserving the telltale white blanket nicely.

I saw all kinds of tracks as I walked: coyote tracks, pheasant tracks, cat tracks, dog tracks, rabbit tracks. The photo above is of "tweety bird" tracks - sparrows? cardinals? goldfinch? - and it shows how carefully the bird(s) were hunting around the clumps of grass sticking up through the snow. If you look carefully, you can even see the wingprints of a bird as it was taking off, in the foreground, just left of center. The tracks create a record that even I, a rank novice at reading tracks, could understand. Sort of an Etch-a-Sketch in snow!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Exploring the Aftermath of the Storm

Pristine snow just doesn't seem to happen in our yard. Two German shepherds take that on as their special project.

After two days of short or nonexistent walks, Becker and Blue were raring to go this morning. So I bundled up - even digging out a wool scarf to try to protect my face a bit - and off we went. I plodded. Becker alertly trotted. Blue galloped and twirled and raced and tossed his muzzle in the snow and begged Becker to play and galloped and twirled some more.

I think Blue would have been happy to stay out there all day.

In the Cedar Grove, it was interesting to see how each tuft of grass had created its own snowdrift, leaving the field looking rather like a collection of sand dunes seen from the sky.

Shortly after we entered the Back 5, I started to noticed the arcs in the snow, inscribed by the grasses and other plants as the wind moved them ceaselessly back and forth. There were long, gentle arcs from the tall grasses; short, fine arcs from the short grasses; complex parallel arcs from forbs; and occasionally there were combinations of all of the above.

Seeds remaining on the sideoats grama and other short grasses stood out boldly against the white.

I flushed a meadowlark sheltering in a bunch of grass. It was cold enough that he waited until I was about 5' away before he lost his nerve. If I'd known he was there, I wouldn't have disturbed him. The dogs flushed two more as we walked, and all of them let us get much closer than they normally would have.

Along the far edge of the Back 5, the western most point of our property, the drifts were deep enough that I couldn't see our mowed path anymore. I shortcut through the unmowed grasses to avoid them, the snow coming up midcalf. The drifts were easily 2-3' deep. According to the gauge on our back deck, we only received 3" of snow, but those grasses managed to catch the snow blowing off the wheat field to our west. The farmer's loss is my land's gain.

A flock of snow geese flew overhead - the first I've seen this year.

And watching the 3rd meadowlark, after the dogs had flushed it from its resting place, I managed to give myself a brief case of snow blindness. I guess that's what you'd call it. For a while I saw orange streaks across my vision...that faded to peach...and eventually to yellow. Finally I didn't notice them at all. By then I was back inside the house, immensely thankful for modern technology and the gentle warmth of central heating.