THROUGH THE WOODS: The geese are flying in

The goose on the right appears to be a hybrid. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR to look for ducks and geese passing through our area on their way south. If you visit Copake Lake, there may be some little Ruddy Ducks that cock their tails to show off. A raft of about a hundred common mergansers often stretches out in a line in the middle of the lake. Along the eastern shore mallards, a few black ducks, and buffleheads like to hang out. The bufflehead male is a beautiful black and white duck with white patches on the cheeks. A kingfisher may fly by with its noisy rattling call while a great blue heron may hug the shoreline.

Cornfields around the county provide feeding stops, and attract many geese near Kinderhook, Germantown and Copake. About 200 snow geese and 300 Canada geese were feeding on a harvested cornfield west of Kinderhook this week. Binoculars and scope are used to systematically comb through large flocks for rare geese, color oddities, and marked birds. Colored collars are used to track migrating flocks and if you get the colors, numbers, and letters from one it should be reported to the USGS Patuxet Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Lab at website The center is in Laurel, Maryland, and has been in operation for over 75 years.

I find several collared geese each year and use a telescope to get the information from them. It takes patience because a large flock of feeding geese constantly move around and often the collar is blocked by another goose. The recent Kinderhook birds would suddenly disappear into the deep tractor ruts in the wet fields, which were an added challenge. They also love to put their heads down and present a rear view, which is most unhelpful. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Being truly thankful

THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING is full of challenges and decisions. We often found it more stressful than Christmas purchases and planning. At least way back then we actually got to enjoy our turkey centered holiday before the religious ones began. Nowadays you would think Thanksgiving hardly existed.

Back in the 1950s we literally went over the “brook” and through the woods to grandmother’s house one mile up the road from our farm. My aunt, grandmother, and mother divvied up the food so all brought something, usually their particular specialty. I don’t remember any squabbles over the food and we ate well.

Today we have so many more choices. Should we get a free range organic turkey at $10/lb. or the on-sale store turkey? Would the latter endanger the children or can we all survive as in the past? Should we use store bought anything or does everything have to be made from scratch? I remember one of my jobs was tearing many slices of bread into pieces so mom could make the stuffing, and it was made with real celery, onion, butter and Bell’s seasoning. You could taste all that nice sage. Then it actually went inside that germ laden turkey cavity and cooked in there for hours and not checked with a thermometer. To me, that stuffing was the best and no one got sick. Pepperidge Farms dressing baked in a casserole isn’t bad, but it doesn’t taste as good. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Farewell Indian Summer

FALL IS MY FAVORITE time of year, and this year has been a treat with the extended warm weather. Today it was cooling off though and only 49F on my porch with the birds hungry for suet and sunflower seeds. The sky was cloudy for a while and rain threatened with only a few drops materializing. Around the yard there are scattered leaves and brownish shed pine needles in contrast to the golden larch tree needles. My yard and house can’t be seen from the road and sit atop a hill, so I let nature take care of the leaves.

The wind always blows the lighter material down into the woods. Because of the dry leaves these areas are no longer quiet. A squirrel ran through sounding like a large dog on the loose. A little while later a doe and her nearly grown fawn arrived sounding like a herd of elephants. Mom and offspring have their more gray-brown winter coats of hair and are nice and fat. They wander through the woods and eventually get to my beautiful green leach field, where the grass is most succulent. They know my house is quiet and threat free, so they pretty much ignore me.

A few insects were flying around, and some flowers are still in bloom. A pansy and some small yellow marigolds are cheerfully holding on, nestled in a protective bed of greenery. I sat on the porch for a while and did a double take as some poor, confused spring peeper started calling. I hope it gets down into the mud soon. I felt like pretending that this little frog was correct. I wish spring was near. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Cornell 35th Project FeederWatch tracks backyard birds

A TRIP TO THE ALAN DEVOE BIRD CLUB’S Wilson M. Powell Wildlife Sanctuary in Old Chatham was a good reminder of the upcoming start of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch. The feeders are in the main parking lot just past the Powell House Quaker center off county Rt. 13 and up Hunt Club Rd. There are signs to show the way, and the sanctuary is located on the right. Past the main entrance is parking for the Reilly Pond. This is easily accessible via a short walk and flat pedestrian bridge.

Dark-eyed Junco. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

ADBC will start feeding the birds for the winter at the main parking area by Dec. 1. One problem, fortunately not at this location until recent years, has been black bears damaging bird feeders. This can be costly, in the hundreds of dollars plus a lot of effort to fix or replace them. Fortunately, the black bears of this area go into hibernation for the winter in cold weather, and this is when Project FeederWatch begins this year, on the weekend of Nov. 13, 2021 and continues until April 2022. The approach of colder weather was confirmed by the arrival of small flocks of slate colored dark-eyed juncos. I admire these little birds in their tuxedo-like feathers, but their first sightings always make me shiver. The FeederWatch Program means a 5-month commitment, but if you will be unable to do it for the whole winter this is okay. Any data that can be collected is very important. The Cornell Lab says in a press release, “One backyard at a time, participants in Project FeederWatch are doing their part to unravel nature’s mysteries—simply by sharing information about the birds that visit their feeders. Your photos are welcome too. New participants can join at any time. Read more…

GREEN THOUGHTS: Making salt sweeter

WE’RE ALL AWARE that Albany politics can be salty, and recently the city’s mayor made headlines with brine. According to Mayor Sheehan, using liquid brine, instead of rock salt crystals to treat icy roads and sidewalks, can save money and is better for the environment. Using brine might also be a smart political strategy, since leadership careers have been made or destroyed by government’s response to winter storms. Plants, too, care about how streets are cleared, because ice melters splash on foliage and soak into soil. I hear brine and think of pickles, so how can it be used to win the votes of street trees, sidewalk shrubs and citizens alike?

First, consider that salt harms plants in several ways. When your salt shaker clogs up in the summertime, it is because the salt has absorbed atmospheric moisture. Salt in the soil does the same thing, binding with clay and causing it to swell and become more compacted. Compacted soils offer less air and water, poorer drainage, and reduced rooting space to plants. As a result, plants can actually experience drought stress even when there appears to be moisture in the ground.

Secondly, salt is composed of sodium ions and chloride ions. Plants can absorb large quantities of chloride ions through their roots, faster than a dieter can inhale potato chips in a late-night binge. The chloride ions travel to the leaf and shoot tips, causing “marginal scorch,” which is a fancy way to say the edges of the leaves turn brown. On deciduous trees, this may not show up until spring, but on a white pine, the needle tips turn brown by late winter. The sodium ions are no kinder; they can block the plant’s uptake of magnesium and potassium, causing a deficit of these nutrients Read more…