Yesterday I participated in Vermont’s annual Bald Eagle survey, as I have for several years now. My route is the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I drive along the river, stopping at several spots to watch carefully, and watch less carefully as I drive from point to point. I did see one eagle, in Williston, and otherwise had a day of it watching a beautiful river that gets forgotten or taken for granted or often just not thought about.
The day was warm, relatively, just above freezing. In some past years I have done the survey with temperatures below zero. There was no ice at all yesterday, although there was fresh snow in the hills. The water was high and powered over the dams and ledges, less tame than last year. Here is my most recent portrait of the river.
Yesterday I participated in the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I have surveyed this route several years now. While I did not see even one eagle, I did get to see the river in winter.
Last year the day was warm and there was much less ice. Yesterday I started with single-digit temperatures. By the time I was finished in the early afternoon the temperature was considering hitting 20, but had not yet decided.
Here is my portrait of the Winooski River for January 2022.
Here is a photo looking west just after sunset a few days ago. Here are a few things you cannot see:
It had just snowed. There were a few inches on the ground–not fluffy or soft but malleable enough to walk through. No crust, no ice. It had fallen off the trees but the fields were covered.
It was cold. A breeze blew. The line of short trees, oaks and ashes and buckthorn, blocked the wind coming from the south. On the south side of that hedge, pull your collar up and your hat down.
Jupiter hung in the sky. When I took this photo I intended to capture it between the lower layers of clouds. The bright dot contrasted with the dark clouds. I called it stunning.
I was smacking a lollipop, a strawberry Dum-Dum. That thing was tasty. That thing did me right. Flavors are powerful and we do not always have them to help remember a scene. I had one for this scene.
I was walking the dogs. Usually my wife does this. I go with her at times, and of course if she is not around the task falls to me. I took them out solo on this day. But just after I captured this image, she came around the row of spruces and joined us. Even after many years of marriage it makes me smile to see her. Every time.
I was wearing boots. I love the basic boots I can slip on and wander outside. The condition of the fields is so varied that I often am reminded how great they are. Whether there is snow or standing water or mud or rain or burrs or ticks, they protect and serve.
I headed back to the house after this. It got dark. We settled in for the night. The solstice was about to arrive. Now it has. We are headed to longer days. These are the days of hope in the year. I find it harder to cling to that hope these days. An afternoon like this, however, certainly helps.
The day has turned out to be a fine one. The temperature is up to 52 degrees. The sun shines, with only a light wind. Things are thawing so it smells like spring. Red-Winged Blackbirds are singing. Geese by the hundreds fly overhead. And are those daffodils teasing the sky?
Yesterday it was winter. The morning saw a dusting of snow and the air never rose above freezing. A cold wind blew. That light snow made the roads and the hills and the piles of snow look fresh and new. Today, however the grime has begun to show.
When snow melts it leaves behind what it held. Maybe those snowflakes formed around specks of dust way up in the atmosphere. And maybe some dirt from the drive was added with each shovelful that got tossed onto the edge of the lawn. And the snowplow dug up some gravel too. All those bits get left behind when the snow starts to melt. To be frank, this time of year things get ugly.
Soon all the snow will fully melt, and the grit collected in the piles will settle into grass and onto the road and eventually we won’t see it at all. But right now it is contrasted with the white ice crystals and, man, it looks a mess. Snow is just so beautiful when it falls and when it gathers, like yesterday morning. But now? Ugh. Don’t make snow cones with that.
Spring is almost here. I mean, you could say it is here but winter still has a say in the matter. There is a back and forth with the season right now, and there will be for some weeks yet. I still would welcome snow, but I also won’t mind when those dirty piles disappear. Steam rises from sugarhouses today–a sign of the shoulder season. It needs to be freezing at night and warm during the day. That we have. I’ll take the syrup, so I guess I will take the season that goes with it.
We knew weather was on the way. We changed some plans, moved some things around. We did things differently to account for possible interruption to our normal schedules. We were going to get snow, and freezing rain, and sleet, and wind. It would come at the optimum time for a snow day. Maybe, if the weather gods graced us with good fortune, we would have two snow days. In a row. We went to bed Wednesday night ready for an early morning call.
The call came at the usual time, but the online list had not included our regional schools. Maybe they hadn’t updated the list? The recorded call was to let us know that school would be held, but the hills would be closed. When the roads get slick, they close the hills to school buses. So anyone who lives on the several steep roads in town has to find another way to school. The call also said that inexperienced drivers should get a ride with someone more experienced, or take the bus. I was confused. School will be held, despite road conditions bad enough that school buses will not go up and down the hills, so take the bus if you can, unless you live where the roads are the worst, then we want you to drive.
Anyway, we all got to school and to work and we drove and rode the bus and it all worked out. There was only a little complaining around here. It snowed on and off all day. Several inches accumulated, along with sleet and freezing rain. And that night we got the call that school would be closed the next day. So we got our snow day after all.
It was a good call. One can often argue that we should have had a snow day, or that we should not have had a snow day, but this was not one of those days. We definitely were glad to be staying off the roads. I mean, we walked on some of those roads and the snow was deep. Plus, there was ice from the freezing rain and sleet beneath that deep snow. It was slick and sloppy.
And it snowed all day. It fell and fell and piled up. After dark, ready to head to bed, I reached my hand out the window to see if snow was still falling. After two days of precipitation it had finally stopped. The storm was awesome, in both the historic and contemporary meanings of that word. By Saturday, we were up to our knees in snow. The high school parking lot had literal mountains of snow once they cleared it and piled it up. Snow banks were tall, making it hard to see in places. It was a big old dump of snow.
And then the sun came out to make it all look pretty. Winter wonderland and all that. Saturday has turned out to be what they call a bluebird day. Blue skies and bright white snow. Bust out the sunglasses. We need to enjoy it. These days, it just doesn’t last. I am sure it will rain at some point and cause flooding, as is the pattern. But that is in the future. Today, let’s go make some snow angels.
Of the four birdhouses sitting on posts at the edge of the field, only two were in good shape. One had a busted roof with a hornet nest under it. One had fallen off and had gotten buried in the snow. Another was loose but at least it still stood. It took care of some of that today.
These birdhouses have been around a while. The only thing I have had to do in the past was to clean them out each spring. They do get used. Two of them had old bluebird nests in them this time. They are made up largely of white pine needles. The other day, as in the past, I dumped the old nests in the field.
Unfortunately, one of them had a dead bluebird in it. It was odd. It was perfectly preserved. Maybe it had not been there long. Maybe it had gotten frozen. I found a spot for it under the white pines. That seemed fitting.
I removed the busted house from its post. That one is sitting on the porch. I am not sure I can easily repair it. I might just replace it. The fallen one I remounted and reattached. I tightened the loose one. The one on the end, closest to the fir tree and the forsythia, seems to get used the least. It had no nest last year and typically does not. It needed no help.
So three out of four next boxes are ready to go. Tree Swallows will be back soon. They often nest in one of them. Bluebirds sometimes get two hatches out of a box. One summer House Wrens used the far one. It will be good to get that fourth one back on track. I am not sure they have ever all been used at one time, but I like to give our avian companions options.
This is the start of cleaning things up outside after winter. I can see we need to rake leaves and clear out debris. Fallen branches need to be hauled away. Our driveway has some ruts that could use some smoothing. But at least the bluebirds and swallows can get started on their annual duty of raising chicks. Already Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows are staking out territories with their songs. Once the ground thaws it will be time for us humans to get cracking as well.
I worked a long day Thursday–started early and ended late. In the middle, when I had some time, I checked the weather. I was planning to head across northern Vermont in the morning, so I wanted to be sure roads would be clear. The forecast was not promising. Snow was on the way, the heavy wet kind, and lots of it.
In the morning it was raining, but some snow flakes were mixed in. The forecast was worse than the night before. I was going to a school, so I checked the closings list. My school was open, but several others, some schools I would pass right by on my way, were closed. I had to make the call. I decided not to make the trek.
I did drive my daughter in to school. On the way, snow started to accumulate–not a lot, but enough to slow me down. After I dropped her off I headed back to work from home. And it snowed more. It snowed all day. It started really piling up by day’s end. Wet and heavy indeed.
My decision not to drive across northern Vermont was sound. The town where I was headed got two feet of snow by this morning. The section of interstate highway I would have traveled was closed for three hours. There were accidents all along Route 2. Even if I had made it, my two-hour drive would have been longer, and I would have had to return at some point. Here at home, over a thousand homes are still without power, although not ours.
Today is quiet. The snow is tapering off, but all is white. Birds are at the feeder in numbers we haven’t seen all winter. Blackbirds sing despite the snow. The town plow has cleared the road. I just polished off the coffee. Later, I will make a trip out to the dump, run a few other errands, and enjoy what is likely our last burst of winter.
This morning I headed out to the lake to try to find some ducks before they all fly back north. A week ago Lake Champlain was frozen over–ice from Vermont to New York. Then it warmed up, and then it rained. There is still plenty of ice. Yesterday I tried to find ducks at the ferry landing. I couldn’t see any open water at all. Wind had blown ice into the cove, filling it right up. Today I tried again and found my ducks.
At Shelburne Farms there was some water. Bald Eagles rested by it, standing on the ice. A crow picked at something out there. Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead and Scaups swam and dove. Farther up the road, water stretched along the shore. Binoculars brought all those ducks closer. I guess there are fish and mussels to feed them down in that cold water. It won’t be long before they fly away to nest.
Closer to home, the river has dropped. The temperature sank into the 20s last night. All that sitting water in the fields turned to ice. A dusting of snow covers it still. On the shore, big frozen slabs. Once the water level fell they could no longer float, like boulders left behind by a glacier. They will likely sit there until spring turns them back to liquid.
Mud still seeps up on the trails. Soon we will have to stop walking on them. They are solid, for the most part, right now. They make for smooth and easy walking. Once the ice all melts, and the ground as well, the trails will be mush. In May, warblers like to sing on one particular stretch of trail. To find them I sometimes have to get wet. Or wait.
Winter is here today. This morning, my son was ruing the loss of spring. I tried to remind him that it is still winter, that those warm days were a bonus. Celebrate warm spring-like days when it is winter, don’t bemoan winter when spring’s time has not yet come. But the sun is higher. The days are longer. Phoebes will soon be singing. They will sing for the ducks as they fly overhead.
We have snow on the ground, but it is sort of crap. Last weekend a whole lot fell. Of course, my whole family was away during the storm. In fact, we left early to avoid travel delays. Still, it was hard to miss a snow storm. I love snow storms.
After it snowed, it rained, so I didn’t feel totally bad to miss it all. Everything got crusty and hard and yuck. When we got back home our driveway was icy. I mean, I couldn’t see that it was icy. There was an inch of fresh snow on top. But turning in, the car slipped. Snow on top of ice is one slick trick. “I hope it isn’t this icy on the whole driveway” I said aloud. I went slowly but where it slopes down at the end, just before the garage, it was especially slick. I tried to stop. I even chanted “stopstopstopstopstopstopstop” before we slid into the garage door and pulled it right off the wall. I was telling the car to stop. But the garage door listened.
Snow has fallen, a few inches, over the past three days. Things look beautiful–white and shiny and all–despite the crustiness beneath. And now it is cold. Right now, end of the day in the dark, it is a degree below zero. And it will get colder before the sun rises. Tomorrow afternoon, snow is forecast to fall again. It should keep falling until Wednesday.
We might have a snow day on Wednesday. I love snow days. Thing is, I am supposed to drive across the state Wednesday morning. Bad timing, that. I might have to skip that appointment. So it goes during winter in Vermont. You always need a plan B. I can still get the garage door open and shut, so I will put the car inside tomorrow night. With more snow, and temperatures below zero a few days this week, we are in full-on winter. Bring it, Baby.
On Christmas Eve it started to snow. A light snow, but it was not long before it started to gather on the ground. It had not been setting up to be a white Christmas so it was nice to get at least that. And it kept falling. We readied ourselves for the big elf in the red suit and, when we finally went to bed, the snow still came down.
Christmas morning we had snow. Maybe three inches on the ground. And it stuck to the trees as well. The world was clean and white. My son said it was a Christmas miracle, perhaps half joking. I just thought we were lucky.
My wife and I walked out in it for a bit that morning. It was cold but sunny. The sky was blue. We were pretty content, our children riding the high of gifts and surprises. We did not get up until close to 6:00 AM, so we even had some decent sleep. Snow squeaked as we walked.
That night the cold rose up. All the moisture in the air settled and froze. Every twig and stone and blade of dry milkweed was covered in ice. You know those cheesy holiday decorations that are covered in fake frost, exaggerated versions of reality? It looked like that.
The low sun, before it climbed up to hide behind low clouds, splashed the world with brightness. All that ice glittered and sparkled. Winter wonderland and all that. Spectacular. Then it became another frosty morning.
Today, rain. And fog. Sleet last night. It seems we are getting all the winter weather. Christmas is over, which is always a bit of a letdown in our house. But I still feel the spirit. The new year is just around the corner. An arbitrary beginning and ending, for sure, but still, a time to reassess and to set some goals. I will get outside again to take some time to reflect on that.