Yellow larches bring splendor to the distant landscape of early winter

Yellow larches bring splendor to the distant landscape of early winter

 

The dab of snow that came last week was gone after two days, and the leafless brown landscape has lost its last hints of summer. Personally, I’d rather the snow held off until the middle of December but I’m still enjoying all the late autumn colors, especially at sunset.

There was a glowing white halo around the moon Wednesday night. Grandpa used to say that it meant rain or snow within a day or two. The snow came Thursday night while I was sleeping. It was no longer coming down when I got up before sunup, but the ground was covered with an inch of white. The landscape had completely changed while I was asleep. Winter again.

Other than the green pines and cedar trees, there is little to be seen of the color green, yet there are many colors that stand out against a brown background. The several rows of yellow larches provide color that stands out against the brown. The thirty-foot-tall trees are hardly noticed in the summer when their needles are green, but the larch is one of the conifers that drops its needles in the winter. Before they fall they turn a lovely shade of dark yellow that is visible two miles away.

 

A new muskrat house seemed to rise up overnight

A new muskrat house seemed to rise up overnight

In the dark water of the marsh pond, framed in beige and brown cattail, a new muskrat house has appeared. The grayish, grassy dome structure has an entry on the underside leading to a dark warm place for the muskrats to spend the long winter. The muskrat house is a good example of how even a new house can complement the surroundings.

My attention is drawn to the bright red and orange berries of a bittersweet vine that climbed high into the branches of a small tree. From a distance, it looked like the branches of the tree had berries. Now that the tree has lost its leaves, pretty bittersweet berries have no place to hide.

old_bridge

An abandoned metal bridge in the woods brings back ghosts from days gone by

The old, rusty bridge that crosses the river hasn’t been used for years—all summer it is hidden by the leaves of several large soft maple trees. Many more of these hundred-year-old bridges have disappeared in the past few decades. There are very few of them left to remind us of those long ago days when many would cross the river in horse and buggy.

The Canada geese were on the move early Friday morning. I counted ten big V-shaped flocks heading south just after sunup. Lots of clamoring from the excited geese who know they’re finally on their way to a warmer place—and happy to be going there together.

 

The downy woodpecker sits still when a Cooper's hawk is near

The downy woodpecker sits still when a Cooper’s hawk is near

The little downy woodpecker clung motionless to the tree trunk, all that moved were his ever-searching eyes. He’s not moving because there is a hawk in the area and he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He may not have seen the hawk but he trusts the behavior of the other birds in the area. When the alarm goes out, every bird reacts instinctively and takes cover. It’s a bad time to be out flying around when there is a hungry Cooper’s hawk about. Wild song birds spend most of their waking hours searching for food while constantly on the alert for danger. If they don’t find something to eat they will perish. If they don’t pay attention to the natural world around them, they will perish. The little birds watch out for each other.

Last week’s wind and rain brought down all the pretty yellow apple leaves, exposing all the red apples with no place to hide. Guess I hadn’t realized how many were left on the branches until after the leaves were all gone. It’s been fun to watch the apple tree evolve through the seasons this year. In early May, the tree’s branches were covered with lovely pink and white blossoms, then the tiny green leaves and little green apples. I like to see apples in late November, and I’m sure the deer like them too.

 

Big perch for a morning red-tailed hawk

Big perch for a morning red-tailed hawk

November red-tailed hawks stick out like sore thumbs against the gray-brown landscape. Now they are easy to spot because, like the apples, there are no leaves to hide them as they perch high in the trees. It’s the adult red-tails that have white breast feathers that can be seen from so far off, especially when the hawk is sitting with his breast towards the bright sun. I counted 23 of these hawks while driving to and from Viroqua yesterday. Their bright, white breast feathers that give them away. My eyes are always wondering across the landscape, anything that’s white jumps right out at me. So, if you want to spot a hawk, just let your eyes focus on that patch of white up in the trees. It may not be just another Walmart bag. One of the hawks I saw was perching high on the top of an old wooden silo. He had his breast to the morning sun and seemed to be enjoying the new day.

The beautiful tall sumac is another example of color jumping right out of the gray landscape. The long slender orange and yellow leaves have all fallen off and now there is nowhere for the large, blood-red seed heads to hide. Looks like a good crop of sumac berries for the winter birds this year.

Naturally Yours,

Dan