Bruce Fellman: Blog en-us (C) Bruce Fellman (Bruce Fellman) Sat, 20 Jan 2018 14:30:00 GMT Sat, 20 Jan 2018 14:30:00 GMT Low ebb

True to predictions, it was cold over night... very cold... In fact, when I emerged from under the covers in the daylight and had stoked both woodstoves—I'd also gotten up in the middle of the night to keep them happy—I went out to the woodpile for a few more loads and checked the maximum-minimum thermometer. The high for the day would barely nudge double-digit territory; the low, well, six degrees south of zero was certainly noteworthy... and worth ever more layers of winter clothing.

below-zero cold maximum-minimum thermometer Sun, 07 Jan 2018 14:30:00 GMT
Rarer species

It was below zero cold at daybreak, but the morning warmed to the plus numbers... well, plus single numbers... so, with all due senior citizen precautions, I headed out on a trek. I had my dSLR stowed safely out of winter's way in my backpack, and, by the silage mound of the dairy farm, I would be exceedingly glad I'd packed the good camera. Flying low above the dairy barn were two vultures, and while the sight of these elegant flying carrion eaters is hardly unusual around there, there was something about the way the pair moved that told me: Pay attention. Soon enough, it was obvious why the radar went off. The white wing tips in the shorter, broader wings signaled Black Vultures rather than their infinitely more common Turkey Vulture cousins. Every year we get a few Blacks, but they're always unpredictable, so spotting these invaders from the Southeast—and getting a good photograph—is a good-luck sign, to say nothing of proof that patience and persistence is sometimes rewarded.

black vulture dslr turkey vulture Sat, 06 Jan 2018 13:45:00 GMT
What Grayson wrought

Finally, a winter storm actually worthy of the name—and the hype. Grayson delivered about a foot of the driest, fluffiest powder snow in creation, and it definitely killed me, well, metaphorically, to be unable physically to make the most use of it. Of course, I'd been warned about what expending too much energy in the snow and frigid cold temperatures could do to the critical arteries of heart disease victims, and though I only marginally believe it—I'm still having trouble believing that what happened to me is a subspecies of heart disease—I took it to, well, heart, and didn't push it. I did, however, delight in the way that Grayson softened and altered the landscape. Maybe by the next blizzard, I'll be able to enjoy things in the old-fashioned manner: on skis and snowshoes, and armed with a snow shovel.

heart disease winter storm grayson Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:15:00 GMT
A bomb arrives

Winter Storm Grayson, screamed the Weather Channel, was not only going to be the Real Thing, it was going to be The Bomb, as in a nor'easter that underwent a rapidly dropping barometric pressure regime because of an unusual phenomenon known as bombogenesis. Bomb cyclones, we were told in no uncertain terms—and red headlines—could be devastating, with high winds, frigid temperatures, and copious amounts of snow, even, when the atmosphere got sufficiently rattled, thundersnow. Grayson lived up to its advance billing, and as it arrived in the morning, quickly got down to serious business. I was ready, with plenty of wood and water indoors, the generator ready for action in the shed, and enough bread, milk, and toilet paper—all of which had been largely stripped off the shelves last night at the local supermarkets—to get us through at least a week. I think I was up for snowshoeing, but I wasn't at all certain about handling the shoveling chores. Maybe I could once again rely on the kindness of neighbors.

bomb cyclone bombogenesis weather channel winter storm grayson Thu, 04 Jan 2018 18:30:00 GMT
Hanging on

The weather remains impressively frigid, with this morning's temperature bottoming out at four below and all eyes fixed on the possibility of a genuine blizzard tomorrow. Most of my day was devoted to keeping both wood stoves stoked—so it goes—but in the late afternoon, I managed to get outside for something other than carrying in yet more fuel. The back-lit leaves and berries appear to be almost warm in the abundant sunshine, but don't be fooled. It wasn't even 20, the lifeless leaves are just hanging on, and sun is all light but no heat.

back-lit leaves blizzard cold snap wood stoves Wed, 03 Jan 2018 14:15:00 GMT
Downy dilemma

It's so cold on our ridge—the temperature's not forecast to get out of the teens—that much of my activity centers around keeping the voracious appetites of two wood stoves satisfied. Since the temperature inside the house remains above freezing, I guess I've been up to the task. In between frigid trips to the woodpile, I've been birdwatching and attempting to resolve a couple of dilemmas that, despite the title of this entry, are only marginally concerned with woodpeckers. To be sure, it is sometimes maddeningly difficult to tell the difference between Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, but, based on the relatively small overall size, the length of the bill (fairly small), and that conspicuous feather tuft in front of the eyes, this is probably a Downy. The dilemmas, however, are more about image quality than identification. The kind owner of the Sigma supertelephoto, my go-to bird lens, would like the beast back, and this poses a couple of questions: can I still hand-hold such a monster, and what can I replace it with? Based on the sharpness of this image, I'd say yes to the first question. The answer to the second remains under intense internal debate.

birdwatching downy woodpecker sigma supertelephoto Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:45:00 GMT
Happy 2018

It was so cold this morning—I had two below for the minimum—that a number of places actually cancelled their "polar plunges" and told would-be leapers into the Atlantic to stay home to avoid not just frostbite but sudden death. That certainly made sense to Stasia, who, upon hearing the news, shook her sleepy head and asked the obvious question: "Why on Earth do they do that?" I answered that it was a tradition to raise money for charity. She shook her head again and declared, "They could just give money, right?" Indeed they could, I answered, as the thermometer finally crept into positive territory. The Rhododendron leaf "thermometer" did not, however, make the climb, too. Tightly rolled Rhodie leaves are a sign of ferocious lows. The behavior is known to botanists as thermonasty, and as far as the cigared leaves are concerned, the new year started off as thermonastic as possible.


polar plunge rhododendrons stasia thermonasty Tue, 02 Jan 2018 03:00:00 GMT
Au revoir, 2017

It's been quite a year, but as we ring out 2017 and get ready to celebrate the arrival of the 2018 model, my granddaughter Stasia has one resolution: to stay up until midnight to watch the ball drop. Groan... that means we, the Old Geezer and Geezerette, have to stay up as well. To build up her stamina, Stasia wisely engaged in a round of carb-loading, which was accomplished with the accompanying impish grin. This said to me, "It'll be OK... this is the reason to stick around." It was also the reason to remain conscious until 12. So long, old year... time to ring in the new... if I can only stay awake.

2018 ball drop midnight stasia Sun, 31 Dec 2017 14:45:00 GMT
Wounded White-fronted

I decided to try my luck once again in the thus far fruitless pursuit of the Pink-footed Goose that other, more lucky—or persistent—birders have spotted near our home. However, when I got out of the car in the proper spot by the river, I got the sad news, from earlier rare bird enthusiasts, that the rare critter was injured and on the ice. Sure enough, there was a goose, and the poor bird was a bloody mess, one of its wings damaged quite badly. But, as I watched, it was clearly able to swim, and as it headed downriver, I hoped against hope that it might survive. While we'll never know, one thing became certain: it wasn't a Pink-footed. Rather, it was a White-fronted Goose—the bird gets its common name from the white feathering just behind the bill—and while these aren't downright rare, they are uncommon... and an uncommonly good sighting, if under potentially sad circumstances.

pink-footed goose rare birds white-fronted goose Sat, 30 Dec 2017 14:30:00 GMT
Suet robber

Periodically, the suet in the suet feeder disappears mysteriously, and, on occasion, the feeder has vanished as well. Usually, the wire-mesh holder—we used to use a genuine "fat sack"—wasn't too far from the tree, but there was a time in the fall of 2017 when I actually gave up the feeder for gone and wondered whether a raccoon or perhaps even a peripatetic bear had dragged off the contraption. No doubt after devouring the calorie-laden treat inside the mesh, the thief spent ecstatic moments licking fat off the coated wires. I did, however, find the feeder eventually—it was buried in the leaf litter about 20 feet south of the maple that had long held it—but the perpetrator remained unknown. Until, in all likelihood, today. While it's possible, of course, that this Gray Squirrel has other partners in crime, I'm guessing, based on its artful acrobatics, that we've found our thief. For purposes of identification, I offer a mug shot.

fat sack gray squirrel suet suet feeder Fri, 29 Dec 2017 14:15:00 GMT

Around four, while I was hauling in wood to feed the increasingly voracious appetite of the basement stove—a cold wave is starting to make its presence felt—I heard something low and familiar coming up the hill from the vicinity of the millpond. When I paused my labors to engage in what scholars might call "close listening," I had to smile: the local Great Horned Owls were engaging in a battle of the bands. I grabbed the Sigma supertelephoto, drove downhill for a better look, and started to scan the trees on the ridge from whence, somewhere, the hoots were emanating. I hooted, the GHOs hooted back, and, happily for me, one of the males took the bait and left the safety of the forest. It perched near the top of an oak, and while neither the fading light nor my inability to hold the heavy lens steady enough made for a sharp image, you can at least identify the bird by its unmistakable ear tufts. The notes from the GHO hootenanny were also diagnostic, but I can't put sound into this blog.

gho great horned owl millpond sigma supertelephoto Thu, 28 Dec 2017 15:45:00 GMT
Wild goose chase

Just before the holiday, the Rare Bird Alerts were alive with the news that a very rare Pink-footed Goose, a species normally found in Europe, had not only made it to North America, but the darn thing was practically hanging out in my backyard. I didn't have time to go "goosing" until this afternoon, and when I arrived, there wasn't much to see, beyond several also hopeful birders. Suddenly, the northern sky was darkened by a flock of geese, no doubt Canadas, but inside that group, perhaps, just perhaps, was a Pink-footed hobnobbing with kin. Maybe the wayward bird was even asking for directions home. Alas, when the individual geese flew into view and deployed their landing gear, the rare bird was not among them. Maybe tomorrow.

canada goose pink-footed goose rare bird alert Wed, 27 Dec 2017 15:30:00 GMT
On the road

The night before Christmas, the available males—yours truly, my brother Rob, and my son Caleb—were busy with one of those time-honored pre-holiday rituals: taking care of a gift for which, as the package chillingly announces, "some assembly [is] required." My granddaughter Stasia wanted one of those battery-powered vehicles, and inside a very large box in the basement was a pink, off-road car... well, the parts for one. After she was asleep, hopefully with visions of sugar plums dancing in her head, the men did what men have to do, and a couple of hours later, we'd finished the job. Christmas morning, Stasia was beyond delighted, and the day after Christmas, with a little warmth in the air, she took her vehicle out for an off-road spin in the backyard. I think it more than met her expectations.

battery-powered vehicle some assembly required stasia Tue, 26 Dec 2017 05:45:00 GMT
A star is re-born

Officially, I've always considered myself to be Jewish, but I've also adopted my wife's local customs, which include celebrating Christmas in all its glory. The house is decorated, the wreaths are hung, there's pine roping everywhere, and, of course, there's a tree... a real one, to be sure. Every year, one of my favorite activities is to put up an ornament I procured decades ago: a 26-pointed Moravian Star, made entirely out of paper, by deft craftspeople I met at a church in Bethlehem... OK, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I think I bought it pre-Christmas in 1981, and though it weathered well enough, last year we had a cat-induced disaster that brought the heavily decorated tree to the floor. A number of glass ornaments were shattered, and the brittle Moravian Star fell apart, hopelessly beyond repair. I missed the ornament and even thought about making the journey to eastern PA to buy a new one. I hadn't even thought about going online, but, fortunately, my son Noah did. The gift almost brought my wife to tears. Me, too.


bethlehem pennsylvania moravian star Mon, 25 Dec 2017 05:30:00 GMT
The night before

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore:

"Twas the night before Christmas

And by the porch light.

The Winter Moths gathered.

It was really a fright.

I hadn't seen so many in a few weeks, and with a taste of warmth in the air—so much for a white Christmas—those male pests came out in the hundreds to search for their flightless mates. I took a quick look, photographed the horde, and then went back inside to engage in the most traditional of Christmas Eve pursuits: helping to put together a toy for my granddaughter Stasia. The high-stakes and too-often-late requirement used to fill me with dread, but, with the able assistance of my brother and my son, this job proved relatively straight-forward, even, I should add, fun. When we finished, the moths were still there and busy.

clement clarke moore the night before christmas winter moths Sun, 24 Dec 2017 14:15:00 GMT
Milkweed hunt

I thought I was strong enough to tackle a trail where I knew, from earlier experience—which is to say, before surgery—had played host to Butterflyweed, that orange-flowered lepidoptera magnet I've always wanted to include in the wilder sections of what passes for a garden around here. Asclepias tuberosa is a member of the Milkweed family of plants, and though A. tuberosa is not a major nursery for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, it's not bad, and it is a boon to other butterfly species. It's also native and gorgeous, so off I went, hoping to find some seeds. Alas, what I found was the story I've experienced all of the late fall and early winter: I was too late and all I found was a group of spent seedpods. As we used to say about the Red Sox, "wait 'til next year." I'm confident that I'll be back.

asclepias tuberosa butterflies butterflyweed lepidoptera monarch butterfly red sox Sat, 23 Dec 2017 13:45:00 GMT
Anxiety antidote

In the omnipresent chaos and high anxiety that precedes the holiday celebration, sometimes you just need a respite—and a relaxing image of a sunset. Here's one taken up the inlet of a flooded salt marsh on a chilly late afternoon. Such scenes and places are my refuge, and I hope they can be yours as well. Be tranquil.

refuge respite sunset Fri, 22 Dec 2017 05:45:00 GMT
Winter refuge

Several months ago, when the weather was still warm and I was in pre-surgery walking mode, the pock-marked edges of every salt marsh I visited were alive with Fiddler Crabs, which excavate these burrows as a way to escape from potential danger—often the bills and appetites of herons and egrets. The predator birds, of course, have now largely moved south, so the crabs are safe. They are not, however, cold hardy, so, until the warmer weather returns, the Fiddlers will be "fiddling about" deep down in their burrows and hibernating out of the reach of the frost.

fiddler crabs hibernation salt marsh Thu, 21 Dec 2017 15:45:00 GMT
Surprise demise

Today was special: a drive into New Haven to hobnob with my friends and colleagues of the Yale Alumni Magazine over a fine, fine lunch. (I actually retired in mid-2009 as managing editor, but for reasons that continue to delight me, I'm still considered one of the contributing fold.) It was wonderful to be in the Elm City for social reasons, rather than for yet another evaluation by one of my doctors, and after we all departed for the holidays, I really needed to walk for the most basic of reasons... I ate too much and just had to burn off some of those excess calories. My destination was one of my favorite places—the Stewart McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Old Saybrook. I was a little nervous about walking up and down hills alone, but I managed. One of my finds was this poor White-footed Mouse, which bit the dust for nothing obvious. No marks, no sign of too close an encounter with a predator. Maybe the critter just didn't want to face the winter.

elm city new haven stewart mckinney national wildlife refuge white-footed mouse yale alumni magazine Thu, 21 Dec 2017 04:00:00 GMT
Quiet marsh

I'm tempted, given how far behind I've gotten in this day-by-day chronicle, to just call it quits and start over with the new year. But I did manage to capture some fine—I hope—images, and this shot of a chilly late afternoon alongside a salt marsh is, I'd like to think, one of them. The water looks like a reflecting pool. Maybe I can read the future in the clouds.

salt marsh Wed, 20 Dec 2017 02:15:00 GMT