Winter Goes with the Floe

Temperatures are rising, and I’m watching a break-up.

Warm(ish) weather has reached our lake, melting and fracturing its icy cover. Ice floes of all shapes and sizes meander by. Some floes rival a sculptor’s art. Others carry creatures at rest, floating like innertubes on a lazy river.

They all send a most welcome signal.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Winter Wonders

What does wildlife think of winter?

I don’t picture wildlife muttering silently about insufferable snow and icy wind. Instinct and biology play key roles in keeping creatures warm and fed. But animals are intelligent, too. Do they think about the seasonal discomfort?

That’s what I’m wondering as I sit by my fireplace, snug in my home and shielded from the cold and snow.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Welcome to the All-Night Deer Diner

Deer are beautiful creatures.

Except when they’re munching on our hemlocks and arborvitae. I understand their need—when snow blankets the ground, our area’s abundant acorns are buried. I don’t really welcome the two-a.m. snackers. But I do admire their winter-survival tenacity.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Wasp Watching

You’re filming what?

A wasp nest, I repeated. The one over the sliding glass door.

We went outside for a look. Bert’s look said, you’re nuts.

I didn’t notice the nest until early August, when a wasp walking up the glass caught my eye. I grabbed a ladder and was mesmerized.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Undercover Larva

The fluffball was on the move. And it carried a big stick.

I immediately recognized the fluff as a debris-carrying lacewing larva. These insects wear impressive camouflage. Sometimes I’ll see plant material, bits of lichen, or spider silk. Or dead insects; carcasses the larva piled on its back after sucking out the victims’ guts. But never had I seen a larva sporting such an outsized element of disguise.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Brad Smith.

Farewell to a Favorite Tree

Our broken, branchless beech finally fell.

The tree was about fifty-five years old* when we bought our home in 2004. On our well-wooded property, it didn’t command any particular notice. Then in 2015, Pileated Woodpeckers chose it for their nest. That was quite a show, which I filmed. But the poor tree! The woodpeckers removed about five gallons of wood to dig a cavity some 19” deep.

That’s when the tree’s trouble—to my eventual great delight—began.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

A Snag, a Storm, and a Surprise

Two white-rimmed ears caught my eye.

Something was inside a cavity in our old, broken tree. That snag had a history of sheltering woodland creatures. But the tree was in terrible condition. It was well-rotted.  And the trunk that snapped years earlier was letting that day’s downpour reach inside.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

The All-You-Can-Eat Squirrely Buffet

Squirrels are such messy eaters!

They toss their food trash everywhere. In fall, it’s discarded acorn caps and broken shells. These days, they’re dropping bud and leaflet leftovers. It’s raining half-chewed twigs and seed clusters, too.

Yesterday, I saw squirrels scarfing down samaras, the maple seeds we call helicopters or whirligigs. The seeds aren’t quite ready to drop from the trees. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at our walkways. Squirrels seem to drop three clusters for every one they eat.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Joanna Brichetto.

Deer Crossings

Deer were gathered at the ice’s edge.

Deer cross our lake in all seasons, moving back and forth from an island opposite our home. They swim until ice covers the water, and then they travel on foot.  I often see them at dusk, lined up like kids headed for recess.  But on this day, it was one p.m., an odd time to see deer in the open.

Two deer started the crossing. They walked for ten or fifteen seconds and then switched to a sprint. Another deer followed suit. My spotting scope was trained on that third deer when he abruptly halted. He slipped and skidded before coming to a full stop. I looked up from the scope for a wider view and saw what had spooked him.

The leaders had fallen through the ice.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

When a Woodpecker Proves You Wrong

Why was the woodpecker pounding such a puny branch?

The Hairy Woodpecker could only be seeking food. The branch was too tiny to surround a roost cavity.

I could see why a woodpecker might choose this red oak to forage. It has several branch stubs: jagged wounds where fungi can enter. Many wood-boring insects prefer laying eggs on decayed and damaged trees. The hatchling larvae can easily chew their way inside, where depending on species, they may overwinter.

But this particular branch? It’s so skinny—maybe four inches in diameter—it must have been frozen to its core in yesterday’s 14-degree weather. Wouldn’t an insect mom want an egg-laying site with more mass? A trunk or a thick limb that would retain warmth to help her babies survive a Michigan winter. I was sure the woodpecker wouldn’t find food in this branch.

He pounded and chiseled. It took him just six minutes to prove me wrong.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.