The temperatures have dropped into the 20s (Fahrenheit) and, although the snow has disappeared, it is bitter when the wind blows. I was still a bit surprised to see ice on the river and it occurred to me that I couldn’t recall ever seeing it appear. It always seemed to just arrive as a cover, if not a very thick one.
Ice was also forming along the sides of the main river, though, despite it flowing along quite happily. I looked for similarities in the locations where it was starting, and there was always a small notch or gathering of wood. Just like the snow gathering on the tree trunk, using a small bump to build on, the ice must gain purchase thanks to the relative shelter of what is a very minor protrusion in the river’s flow. The snow has remained on the coldest – thickest? – ice, and grows thinner as you get close to the water. The ice is growing in a pattern that must reflect how the water moves past.
The snow may have chased the ducks off but, more likely, they are still around and took shelter. I have seen them still on the river but a few hours earlier, this pond was probably covered with mallard ducks. I find the contrast of the dark water and the white snow to be particularly interesting.
One thing I have started to realize is that, in some places, the humans that made these trails either placed them on higher ground or else graded areas into level paths. It means that, in many places, there is a quick drop off from the path and possibly marshy low areas nearby. Snow is wonderful for highlighting natural features, because it creates such a stark contrast. This area has always looked a bit boggy but I would not have guessed it maintained enough water to keep the snow off. It makes me wonder now if this isn’t actually a moving creek or something year round.
When two rivers run into each other, there is often a way to identify the water of one from the other. Perhaps its the current itself, or the color of the sediment the water is carrying. A storm drain was emptying last night’s storm into the river, and you can see where the deeper, more placid main stream is running into the shallower runoff.
We – the dog and I – came across the muskrat again. Argos never sees him, perhaps because we are on a bridge and he’s about 15 feet below us. It makes me wonder how much the smells above and around the water are an added protection. As I walk along the path, I can often pick up what smell like animal odors, which may mean they’re nearby or have just passed across. This fellow was sitting on the bank of a small island and, when he heard us above, he swam off.
There is a small pond that attracts birds. The great blue heron is often here, as well as a passel of Mallard ducks. I think I even spotted a killdeer at one point, running along the soft sandy area in the middle. On a rainy day, I pushed my way through the coneflowers and goldenrod that surround the pond.
Last year, I was surprised by the number of trees that had been chewed down by what appeared to be beaver teeth. The little sharp stumps were everywhere, but I’d never seen any evidence of a dam or lodge. Then I saw a small brown animal with a thin tail swimming upstream one day and was able to identify it as a muskrat ( Ondatra zibethicus ). It looks like a miniature beaver, with a rat’s tail instead of a large flat one.
I was walking early yesterday morning with the dog and heard a splash. Typically that means something’s either going into the water or coming out. There was nothing on the bank so I looked about 10 feet away from the splash point and saw the muskrat surface. He trundled through the water to a small island where he was gracious enough to wait while I steadied my camera.