WINTER LEAVES

A WILD RIDE INTO A FEBRUARY THAW

I've written recently about what a "rollercoaster" of a winter it has been - up and down, warm and cold, etc. - but I have to say recent wild weather has accelerated the "ride", putting us all inside a giant shredder that removed branches from trees and toppled many others, making for a wild ride, indeed. Few of us in the Woodstock Valley will forget the February Nor'easter of 2017 any time soon.

While our little valley is sheltered by its surrounding hills from most storms - which normally come from either the southwest or northwest - we are wide open to the northeast, and will absorb the full impact of a nor'easter. And here we go again! Just a few days ago, we were in bitter cold and now (and through the next week, at least) we'll be unseasonably warm again, rapidly melting snow sticking to snowshoes and filling racing streams. An amazing (and kind of confusing and maddening) winter thus far.

FAUNA

Everybody should be ready for the Black Bears to wake from their nap as the weather gets milder. They'll wake hungry and make a bee-line for the bird-feeders, therefore it's a good idea to bring the feeders in. Since the birds can feed on the ground now, they won't need birdseed anyway. Skunks are out now, so be sharp when you go out to get your paper. As usual they showed up on Valentine's Day, which somehow makes total sense to me. The Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are back, Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) probably soon to follow. A possible harbinger of Spring because they normally will disappear southward for the whole winter. Bald Eagles are proliferating locally, with pairs of eagles confirmed in the Hurley Flats, along the lower Sawkill, in Ruby, and at least three pairs on the Ashokan Reservoir.

Our Woodstock pair have reportedly mated and have been exhibiting nesting behavior (for now, we're keeping the location of their nest secret). We've had a nice hatching of Winter Stoneflies (Capniidae) and it is interesting (and easy) to watch them marching inexorably across the snow, little black exclamation points on a vast white parchment. Whenever I see them, it seems like Spring is not far away. It is interesting how many insects are on the surface of the snow. I also have seen spiders striding along but didn't get a pic.

FLORA

One of our most interesting winter phenomena, I think, is how some deciduous trees keep their leaves through the winter. Most notably is the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), which graces us with its golden leafy treasure, chattering in the winter wind - both a visual treat in a time of otherwise almost colorlessness and a welcome aural blessing when the woods can be almost deathly quiet. I tend to approach understanding of this, as in many things, in an emotional, or poetic, manner, picturing the beech's last year's dried leaves as old soldiers staying on the tree to guard the young green shoots of the coming season, only falling off when the new leaves unfurl.

Then there's the practical knowledge of my friend Mike Kudish, New York State's premier tree-expert, who calls this condition "marcescence", a throwback to the ancient times when all trees kept their leaves year-round. In a new wrinkle on this, we also have many other trees - Oaks, Maples, mainly - this winter that still have their brown, dried leaves on them, also, but for the wrong reason - they died during last year's drought and never went through the natural fall coloration process and separation from their trees. Hopefully, new spring buds will force them off the branch and help them join their kin on the forest floor.

Thanks to everyone for all of your continued encouragement and support. Woodstock Trails has had a fun winter, with numerous hikes, on foot and on snowshoes. Am looking forward to a great season. Please visit Dave Holden and/or Woodstock Trails on Facebook. If you like Instagram, stop by at rangerdaveholden. My email is peregrine8@hvc.rr.com. My cell is (845)594-4863. Have a happy and safe late-winter. Probably still a good idea to take a flashlight on walks in the woods and keep the Yaktrax handy. Take Care, "Ranger"Dave Holden

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