Category Archives: Nature Detective

reworkings of the series Michael A. sends out to our TNS

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Amphibians and More

And now for the final installment of the late March-early April edition of observations – spring is such a great and busy time to be out observing what is happening in nature! Don’t forget to check out the previous two installment, Plants and Trees, and Birds and Butterflies, posted the last two days.

Amphibians and More

wood frog egg masses

Wood Frog egg masses: Quite an early start to the breeding season for our little wood frogs AND a sporadic one at that—occasional warm and rainy nights; In the main swamp at Moose Hill and within the usual vernal pools/wetlands that comprise the Vernal Pool Loop, I was hearing them call during the second and third week of March, and then seeing the egg masses a few days later; these are tough amphibians, that is for sure, and according to Robert Parker Hodge (author of Amphibians & Reptiles in Alaska, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories), these MOST northerly of herps; their jelly like egg masses only provide so much protection from the elements and are quite vulnerable to sub-freezing wind chills; Luckily, though, in our parts, they are laid a good distance below the water’s surface and are generally protected from late freezes—a modifying effect of the water in these vernal pools; But we shall see how many survived this last cold spell in week’s to come.

yellow spotted salamander egg masses

Yellow-Spotted Salamander egg masses: almost as tough as our Wood Frog egg masses, these are slightly different in that an extra layer of “jellylike protection” (a matrix) covers them;  Certainly, another adaptation to surviving more northerly climates AND varying water conditions within the Vernal Pools/swamps they are laid in.



garter snakeGarter Snake: the most northerly of reptiles also inhabits our forests and can be seen basking in the sun on a bed of leaves during late March through leaf out in May;  Quite early this year and no doubt resting in a den at the moment; A quick shift in temperature regimes (like we’ve had the past few weeks) might stress some, though; we will keep an eye for them in the forest.

Ticks and different stages of development: “Do ticks really have a purpose on Earth?”, said my wife a few weeks ago after I found one imbedded for DAYS; the adult males and females are out during early Spring, as long as the temps are above 40 degrees F; Something tells me this will be a rough year with both temperature and moisture regimes being higher than normal; DON’T be fooled by the recent cold snap, it won’t be enough to knock back their populations too much.

non-glowing firefly beetle

Non-glowing Firefly “beetles”: One of the first insects we start to see in the Spring, especially along and within bark; a harmless little group of insects with a soft elytra (or winged covering) that is unlike most beetles; good food source for birds this time of year and tough, as most beetles tend to be.

Until the next time,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Birds and Butterflies

There was so many things to report in my observations, that this is the second installment of the late March-early April edition. Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s installment, Plants and Trees, and check back tomorrow for the final installment.

Birds and Butterflies


Robins!: It’s so wonderful to hear these backyard Thrushes during the early morning hours! They seemed to be “on time” this year, as well—with their arrival and with their singing; Most tend to hunker down during snow storms and then are able to feed on available tree fruits and invertebrates; they spend a good deal of time on the ground, so always seem happy when that snow melts and exposes grass or bare ground—worms and insects…yummy.


Phoebes!: another Spring migrant that “says its name” when singing—“phoe-be!” (last syllable up in pitch) “phoe-be!”(last syllable down in pitch)”; Very adaptable to the presence of humans, as are Robins, but a bit more selective in their nesting habits; they CAN find food sources during early Spring snow storms, yet depends on how long that cold lasts; I will monitor whether they come to the Visitor Center and Billings Barn areas; usually it’s “now I’m here, now I’m not” with these birds.

tree swallows

Tree Swallows!: I couldn’t resist this picture, being a romantic and all!; These fast little flyers and gliders in our meadows were back in, almost, full force last week, feeding on the many flying insects that were present; Sadly enough, on my way home during the snow storm this past Monday, I noticed them “chasing snowflakes”, perhaps, and scraping at the barrel to find a meal along Prescott Pond where we live; Although they are able to forage on certain fruits like Bayberry, I’m not sure how well they made it through the storm; I am sure we’ll have another wave of migrants come through and hopefully they don’t endure the same conditions.

red-shouldered hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawks: I’ve seen a number of these hawks circling overhead and making that distinctive, loud “Kyah! Kyah! Kyah!” over the past 2-3 weeks, often in pairs; Like Robins, Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and a handful of other birds, these are your “long distance migrants” that overwinter down in the southeastern US; So great to hear and see them back again down in these parts! A pair nested at the sanctuary at the Museum of American Bird Art last year and I am guessing that they’ll favor that again, instead of the woods around us; A little smaller than your Red-Tailed Hawk with a tail that isn’t always so “broad”, reddish coloration in spots and banding, are good field marks.

blue jay at feeder 3_21_16A

Blue Jays mimicking: blue jays are such an intelligent species and I love that they will often “mimic” the call of Red-shouldered Hawks AND Red-tailed Hawks; But why do this in the first place (and I have heard them carrying on around our Visitor Center)?? To monopolize food resources, of course!  Plenty to read about this behavior, so check it out on the web!


red-bellied woodpecker

Yellow-shafted Flickers and…Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: two similar-sized woodpeckers with fantastically similar ranges, migrates (the Flicker) and the other does not (the Red-Belly); Down south they may occupy a similar niche, but not around here; the Red Belly (pictured here) tends to be a little more secretive, nesting in the forest, and occasionally making its squirrel-like “chuck, chuck, chuck” call;  whereas the Flicker tends to nest closer to forest edges and human settlement…often foraging for ants on the ground, and alighting with a “kek, kek, kek, kek…” and showing the yellow shaft beneath its wings; no wonder it doesn’t spend much time here in the Winter!

Male Belted Kingfisher. Canon 40D with 300mm f/2.8L IS, 580EX flash with Better Beamer in ETTL mode FEC 0.

Kingfisher: Every Spring I always look forward to hearing the coarse “rattle” of this bird as it flies through our nearby marsh and pond, flapping its wings in a type of unison; They spend their winters in the southeastern US and tend to do a bit of moving around in order to find open water in which to dive into and fish; Females (like the one in this picture) are slightly more colorful than males, and that brownish band on the chest is a giveaway; Unusual in the bird world, but it works for them!

great blue heron

Great Blue Heron in flight: Graceful, majestic, patient, and more are all adjectives I would use to describe this fantastic bird; No doubt that the latest Spring snow storm forced many to the coast OR had them hunkering down beneath a tree; masters of disguise, keep an eye out for them in these places, along ponds, and in the air.


Spring Azure: an early Spring Butterfly in our forests.

Eastern Comma: another early Spring butterfly found within open forests and forest edges; like the Spring Azure, Mourning Cloak, and a few others, they overwinter as adults.

Mourning Cloak: always one of the first, early Spring butterflies I grew up seeing in VT; saw one a few years ago at Habitat laying dormant beneath a hollowed-out log; A big question is “will these butterflies rebound from this past week’s cold and snow?” they are slightly more delicate than other insects, but northerly species and tougher than we think.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Amphibians and More.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Plants and Trees

Welcome to Spring!!

Quite a March it has been with large swings in temperature, plenty of wind (as a battleground sets up between North and South), flower buds popping, more birds singing, froggies chorusing, and even a little snow.  Thanks to that strong, March sun and a warmer than normal surface temperature, the “white stuff” didn’t last more than a few days.

Well, that was what I was INTENDING on starting our notes with, but….Old Man Winter has reared its head just to remind us that we live in New England and it’s “only April.”  I was as shocked as you all to see this much snow down in southeastern MA, but having lived in both VT and upstate NY most of my life, snow storms like the one we had on April 4 were more the norm.  Back in late April of 1983 we had over a foot in NY where I was visiting relatives.  And in the foothills of the Green Mountains back in 1997, we also had close to a foot of snow with scant amounts in the Valley below.

And how about those torrential rains on April 7?!  We must’ve had close to 2” in spots.  Combine that with temperatures rebounding into the 50’s and we have, “Bye, bye snow…for now!”

Remember, the months of March through mid-April continue that “battle of North and South”—not a Civil War reference, but a meteorological one, where cold air out of Canada (Polar or Arctic in origin) clashes with subtropical air from the Gulf of Mexico.  Lucky for us, it’s usually just snow and a few rumbles of thunder that we need to contend with VS. tornadoes in the southern Plains, southeast, and mid-Atlantic. We might get some more of the “white stuff” over the next few weeks, but by month’s end, more consistently warm air will be the norm, as the days lengthen and the sun’s angle gets higher in the sky.  Lots of light at the end of this tunnel!!

With Spring arriving there are so many things to share with you. In order to make this long list a little easier, I am dividing this into three groupings: Plants & Trees, Birds and Butterflies, and Amphibians and More. Check back over the next two days for the next two installments of the observations I have made in the last few weeks.

Plants and Trees

Daffodils: daffodilsquashed under 4-6 inches of heavy snow earlier this month and no doubt gasping for air, but lovely and perky in this photograph just a few weeks ago; Our flower garden variety Daffodils are not from these parts, yet are well-adapted to survive the rigors of New England seasons—bred in even more northerly climes; one of my favorite Spring ephemerals that lasts but a month or two (leaves and all, shriveling back).

blue snow drops

Blue Snow Drops: another Spring ephemeral that’s “up with the sun and gone with the wind”; one of the earliest flowering plants we see, blanketing our lawns with this lovely blue or white; like the Daffodil it is also non-native and able to withstand these great changes in temperature that occur up here in New England

Forsythia blooming: No doubt that the recent temperature plunge AND resulting snow have crushed many of these flowers, so brilliant a week earlier.male red maple flowersfemale red maple flowers

Red Maple flowers—male: Some of the earliest of our trees to flower, giving off a “reddish-orange” hue from a distance; Driving along our roads and highways, this is one tree that you can identify clearly this time of year; the male flowers usually appear before the female ones to spread their pollen…hopefully, before the ravages of an early Spring snow

Red Maple flowers—female: These bright red flowers tend to appear just after most male flowers have opened up AND for good reason too: “Why bloom any earlier than you need to?”  New seeds (and genetic potential for the species) will be produced IF they are properly fertilized during the Spring; And IF that happens like usual, standing or flowing water will carry them to a scarified embankment so that they may potentially germinate;  After the madness of the weather, let’s just say that I am monitoring each flower closely for development into these samara-type seeds

male willow flowers

Willow flowers (male): this genus of plants (especially the shrubbier species) also inhabits our wetlands and displays its flowers nice and early; One of the most northerly of shrubs, willows are a hardy lot, so no worries about their being able to survive cold temps and snow!  Just look at those little “pussy cat mittens!”

American Elm flowers: the Massachusetts state tree is one of the larger species to floamerican elm flowerswer in the early Spring, also within wetlands and alongside streams & roads; still occasionally ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease in certain areas (western MA and up through VT), there are many healthy individuals in our neck of the woods IF you just look carefully enough—check out their classic form (below) and swelling flower buds as you drive from Cobb’s Corner up the hill to Sharon Center….there is one on the right (beside the best Daffodils ever), then a larger individual quickly on the left, and finally another large tree on the right just past the white Chabad House; ALL are in flower now and hopefully made it through the storm.american elm tree

The “vase-like shape” of an American Elm: those 3 trees I just mentioned (in Sharon) possess some of this lovely form, but not quite like those that grow in more open areas of New England.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Birds and Butterflies.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Nature Detective Notes: Updates for early March

Almost as soon as we posted the last Nature Detective Notes, there was an abundance of activity that needed to be added, so here’s a little update about what’s happening out and about at Moose Hill.

Timberdoodles!!—these amazing upland shorebirds (also known as the American Woodcock) Woodcock_earthwormare back from the southern US to stake out a breeding territory along forest edges/wet meadows AND perform their famous “courtship flight dance”;  They seem to be “on time” in their arrival when I look at previous years notes; I observed them a few nights ago above the wide meadows on The Trustees property that abuts Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. At least 6 separate males “dancing” through the air (the whistling, twittering, etc. being caused by wind passing through their wings). I also heard them making their characteristic, “BEENT! BEENT!” call from the ground and air; VERY difficult to visually observe in flight due to their erratic behavior, and on the ground because of their wonderful ability to camouflage.

Brown Creepers!—I heard a fbrown creeperew of these little tree climbers singing the other morning (earlier than I usually hear them) up at the Upper Sugarbush – that’s an area of Sugar Maples off of the Billings Loop, just past the Billings and Bat barns. A lovely, “whistling-type” song that always reminds me of a weaker version of the Eastern Meadowlark…just in the forest.

Eastern Bluebirds!—I’ve noticed a few pairs staking out nesting territories in several of our fields that have cavity nesting boxes; so wonderful to have them back and pretty much on time, preceding the arrival of the more aggressive Tree Swallows. Check out their lovely (albeit weak), little warble:

Spring Peepers!—Yes, these little chorus frogs CAN be heard singing almost any time of year, with the exception of hot, summer days/nights OR the deep cold of Winter; they’ve been commonly heard “peeping”, orspring peeper really “attempting to peep or squeak” at least once each month (early December-early March) during this second mildest winter on record. Because it is still early in the season, their activity is limited….BUT I did hear them chorusing a little bit in the large wetland beside the Pepperbush Trail. Remember, “as frogs go”, they are habitat generalists and much more adaptable to varying conditions (weather, etc.) than our obligate, Wood Frogs.

Skunk Cabbage!—You might “smell” the flowers of this common, swamp/wetland plant a gskunk cabbage2 editedood distance before you actually see it!  Their presence along the main boardwalk through the Swamp appears to be on time this year, and with snow/ice-free surfaces, they may continue to flower a bit longer, especially if the water level is kept up (moderating the temperature and all)

Have you observed or heard something on your visit to Moose Hill? Please share!

Until then, be well and enjoy this glorious, Spring day,


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Nature Detective Notes: Late February

“As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens,” seemed to be an appropriate saying to explain the stone wall in swampmajority of February 2016.  With a small handful of snowstorms and at least one, Arctic outbreak (albeit short-lived), our temperatures throughout New England seemed to moderate nicely AND keep the second warmest Winter on record from topping ALL the record books.  Hence, the El Nino winter we are experiencing.

No doubt, as the Earth’s overall temperature continues to warm (progressively and ultimately over time), large swings in temperature will be more prevalent, as will massive storms.  This past November-February is no exception. With temperatures around 30 degrees one day, to negative 10 degrees the next morning, and then back into 50 degrees once again the following day.

The question now remains, “When will Winter end and Spring really begin?”  This is all relative and beyond what is considered astronomical Winter or Spring in the northern hemisphere—this refers to the position, or angle, that the sun is in the sky AND the amount of daylight we receive.  Around December 21 (Winter Solstice) the sun is at the lowest point in the sky and we receive just under 9 hours of daylight.  Conversely, on March 21 (Spring Equinox) the sun is a bit higher in the sky (above the Hemlocks in the front at Moose Hill) and we receive around 12 hours of daylight…AND darkness, hence “equinox.”

But…As another old, VT weather saying goes, “the first day of Spring is one thing, the first Spring day, yet another” (Ludlam, David; The Vermont Weather Book). Each year is different, obviously.  What we can be certain of, though, is that the sun has increased its “elevation” in the sky significantly since early February, thus yielding warmer day time highs and lows—low 40 degrees during the day and down to about 20 degrees at night, on average—AND longer days. Over the past month we have gained close to 70 more minutes in our day, i.e. from 10 hours to 11 or so. If you have been out and about on these days, I’m sure you noticed how the 25-32 degree temperatures felt a bit moderated by the sun’s warmth.  A very different feel than 25-32 degrees in December!

Because we have little or no snow on the ground (in most locations), as we progress through the month of March there will continue to be more absorption of incoming solar radiation (insolation), the soil will warm more quickly, retain that heat each day, AND cause the “events” of Spring to happen much more quickly: sap flow in Sugar Maples, spring ephemerals blooming, grass/herbaceous plants greening up, more birds singing, frogs chorusing, chipmunks active, and more.

Consider each season in “stages” with a progression of these events—early Spring usually includes snow melt, wood frogs chorusing, and birds singing (latter parts of March); mid Spring includes spring ephemerals/grass greening up and more birds singing (April); late Spring includes bud break, leafing out, black flies, caterpillars, and Neotropical migrants (May-early June)…this is the concept of meteorological seasons and what is usually observed during a 3-month period, including progressions up/down in average, daily temperatures. Spring is not a season to rush, so enjoy every minute of it!! Before you know it, we’ll be in the heat of Summer!

Yes, I have rambled enough. In keeping with the “stages” of Spring and the hows/whys (as mentioned above), here are some signs of Spring that I’ve seen at Moose Hill:George and Martha ready for sugaring

  • Maple Sugaring: classic shot here of a Sugar Maples all geared up at Moose Hill. Sap flow is slowing down here after some very active runs in late Winter (February). With those increasing global temperatures yielding such a warm Winter in New England, I often wonder how much longer we’ll be able to go about this practice. No doubt, the insect leaf feeders are way ahead of the curve, acclimating (and even adapting) faster than our Sugar Maples to these warmer temps.
  • Chipmunks active: I’ve seen these little woodland sprites over the last few weeks at Moose Hill, especially near the stone walls just past Wood Thrush Way on the Billings Loop AND “chipmunk alley”. Thanks to a great mast crop in the late Summer-early Autumn (acorns on the ground from late August-October) AND the lack of Winter snow, chipmunk populations are doing better than they have in years.
  • Crocuses blooming: a commonly planted spring ephemeral and often the first flower to blossom in our area; check these out on the very south side of the Camp Barn!
  • Daffodil leaves: these tend to be some of the first, planted spring ephemerals to pop out of the ground, occasionally in parts of February. With slightly warmer than average February (as mentioned above), they were up 6” in my neighborhood. they are able to withstand temperatures down in the teens; now those are some tough leaves!
  • Snow drops blooming: aha! The first Spring ephemerals to both leaf out AND flower!  We saw some with the kids this past week on that little “curve” of trail when leaving the Billings Yard and entering the open field (on the right), with the line of bird boxes.the big Vernal Pool
  • Vernal Pools and running water: In any case, many vernal pools are full to capacity at the moment (due to the copious amount of rain this Winter) and still have portions that are frozen, especially around the edges.

On a side note: remember that frozen water (in the form of snow, ice, etc.) is imperative in the continued formation of these pools; a good slug of rain won’t necessarily fill up them up AND with the increasing elevation of the sun by late March-early April, increasing ambient air temperatures, evaporation will also occur at a higher rate, causing many vernal pools to shrink in area/volume; bring on the rain!!

Back to early March, though…. it won’t be long before….

  • The return of Wood Frogs and Yellow Spotted Salamanders!! These amazing little amphibians are STILL sleeping, believe it yellow spotted salamader crossing roador not. I kept thinking that they might be active over the past few weeks, as both temperatures and humidity levels seemed just right, but after observing a number of vernal pools, I was incorrect in my assumption. So what is it that “wakes them up” from their slumbers beneath leaves and the soil?? Well, maybe I should rephrase my question: “What are the ‘environmental queues’ that these amphibians respond to?” During my Animal Behavior courses at the University of Vermont, we discussed this at great length, and my professor introduced the word, zeitgeber, a Germanic word referring to ‘environmental queues’.  Some of these queues may be proximate, and others ultimate.  Without getting into a large discussion ourselves, you can probably figure out what these mean. Here are some examples, though: Spring Peepers (tiny chorus frogs that frequent our forests and wetlands) respond to short bursts of warmth and humidity much better than other amphibians, hence, proximate environmental queues; whereas Wood Frogs and Yellow Spotted Salamanders tune in to the slowly increasing angle/warmth of the sun OVER TIME, hence, ultimate environmental queues. This, should therefore help to answer a part of our question – perhaps a more detailed conversation in a future posting in regards to these species.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles!! These lads are back from their sojourn in the southern U.S. and are singing/defending breeding territories in full force around these parts. Such a wonderful sign of early Spring!! Are they responding to proximate or ultimate environmental queues??  Birds are trickier to pinpoint in this regard, so both answers would be appropriate here, as early- to mid-March is usually the time that Red-winged Blackbirds return to shower us with their “conglareeeee” song early in the morning within our wetlands. They have been frequenting the feeders at Moose Hill, a wee earlier than usual this year, but great to see!!


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Nature Detective Notes: Late January

Buon giorno mi amici!!

If I had a letter to describe what I have observed over the past few weeks, it would be “S”:

Snow!! (more of it)


Song!! (birdsong, of course)

While many in the mid-Atlantic up through the New York metropolitan area are still digging out pine grove 1987from an unprecedented snow storm (over 24 inches in spots), we New Englanders are enjoying a little fresh powder AND…..the amazing sunshine!! While sitting outside in our garage yesterday, basking in the sun, I was inspired to focus on these topics.

Sssssssso, how are these topics—Snow, Sun, and Song—all connected in some way??  Let’s have a look:

SUN!! We have gained over 30 minutes of daylight in the afternoon and at least 10 minutes in the morning since the beginning of January. With the sun now rising at around 7:05 am, and setting close to 4:50 pm, the days are getting noticeably longer as the Earth tilts its axis “closer” to the sun.  It’s certainly a warmer, brighter sun than what we had a few weeks ago, and will only get better for us “sun lovers” as we get into February. If you are concerned about skin exposure, make sure you get that sunscreen out. But why even consider this in the first place?…..

SNOW!! These ice crystals formed in the clouds (through condensation) do a number of things when the reach the lower levels of the atmosphere.

  • Evaporate, especially in very dry air coming from northwest (continental Polar air from central Canada), like what happened January 22-24; Hence, one reason we didn’t get as much as the more humid, mid-Atlantic
  • Melt and/or Re-Freeze as they fall through layers of air with varying temperatures, thus causing a cold rain to fall OR compacted, “ice covered” flakes called graupel (“corn snow” up in VT), bouncing off the ground like ping-pong balls
  • Combine and interlink with other snow crystals, AND accumulate on surfaces as they fall; The colder the air, the more surfaces will cool off and allow this accumulation to occur, AND before you know it, you have a lovely surface of fresh fallen snow that is incredibly reflective, especially on those sunny days from January through March (or April, if you’re a Spring skier);  THIS is a “property of snow” called Albedo, or the percentage of insolation (Incoming Solar Radiation) which is reflected off of a surface, in this case, new-fallen snow;  According to winter ecologists, James C. Halfpenny and Roy Douglas Ozanne (authors of Winter: An Ecological Handbook, and one of my favorite texts to refer to during this time of year), you need to have a fundamental understanding of the way in which snow “bends like warm tar, absorbs heat, reflects incoming solar radiation, insulates, and much more” in order to understand HOW it affects the plants and animals that need to find coping mechanisms for survival during WINTER (We humans are included in this bit as well); Here are some other Properties of Snow you all might want to look into:
    • Density
    • Age—the longer snow is on the ground (exposed to the wind, sun, other forms of precipitation, and the melt-freeze cycles that accompany it) the more dense it will become AND the less reflective it will be; so it is white as a wedding dress one day, tarnished as the pages of an old book the next day
    • Plasticity—Melting of snow within the snow pack causes liquid water to flow, then freeze, flow, then freeze, causing this unique feature; In teaching these concepts to kids over the years, having an understanding of the difference between adhesion and cohesion (both of WATER) goes a long way
    • Thermal Conductivity—low for Snow, therefore it is a great insulator
    • Absorption—of Incoming Solar Radiation, being much better with new fallen snow versus nasty, salty, dirty, wind-driven, compacted snow
    • Attenuation—reduction of “detectable” Incoming Solar Radiation

There is sooooo much to learn with regard to SNOW (and the Winter)!

Now you’re probably wondering, “How long will this snow be on the ground this year?”  Meteorologists and Climatologists have put their heads together to give a best guess regarding the next 90 days plus.  Here, again, are some links you can refer to:

Predictions, merely predictions.  No “practically snowless” winter this year (like 2011-2012), yet no “Snowmageddon” like last year either in our area.  In any case, the snow is not on the ground long, especially in an El Nino year like this, where we’re in a pattern of accumulation, melting, accumulation, melting; even down in the mid-Atlantic where there is a good deal of snow on the ground presently (24 inches plus).  That’s where the “melt-freeze cycles” really come into play, although with the considerably warmer weather they’ll be having (50’s Tuesday-Thursday), much of the snow pack will “ripen”, leaving behind the dregs.

One thing to keep in mind related to this vast amounts of snow pack, there is a “refrigerating effect” that snow has.  The more that is on the ground, the colder and more humid a particular area will remain during the overnight hours AND even into the day.  So if you’re planning a trip to D.C. this week, don’t be surprised if the night-time temperatures approximate ours (teens to low 20’s during late January-early February).

Use your imagination here!

SUN-Part deux: “As the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger,” is an old, New England snow trail along wall 1986 William Mercersaying from years past and usually holds true for at least the first part of February; that’s according to David Ludlam, author of the 1990’s edition, The Vermont Weatherbook.  He says, “by the second half of February, the worst of Winter’s sting is over and soon, the ‘Snow Kingdom’ will be in retreat.”  And I would add that although February is generally the snowiest month of the year (we broke records in 2015), it’s one of the best times to be outside enjoying the Winter season!  Just keep in mind how much melting-freezing is going on around buildings, driveways, and on roads, so as not to slip and fall or spin out. And, while you’re enjoying the fresh powder and scents of the season (the snow and the earth beneath), have a listen for ….

BIRD SONG!! Here are a few of our feathered friends that are beginning to sing in earnest now: Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Blue Jays. Here are a few others we’ll be hearing by mid-February, if you don’t hear them now: House Finches, Cardinal, Pine Siskin, Carolina Wren (although you tend to hear them year round), and Great-horned Owl.

Don’t let those subterranean homesick blues get you down this Winter. Be well, get outside, enjoy these warmer days, and keep those eyes-ears-hands to the skies and noses to the ground!!


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill.

Welcome to Winter!

Early January 2016

Welcome to Winter!! Many of us thought it would never arrive, but as of the last week of December, we’re in the midst of it now.  The snow-sleet-rain mix on Tuesday morning, December 9, and the short burst of snow (squalls) we saw on Monday, January 4, may be “standard fare” this winter according to Accuweather meteorologists and climatologists at the Climate Prediction Center.  Sure there will be an extended period of cold entering our area this coming week sometime, but not sure if we’ll have the snow like this past winter (my apologies, snow enthusiasts).  Don’t believe me?  Here are a few websites to check out AND monitor over the next few months:



Here are some early Winter observations I’ve made during the last week of December while wandering along our lovely trails at Moose Hill:

tracks and hole

  • SNOW!! The light dusting on the ground in our forests, meadows, lawns, etc. left some crusty snow and ice throughout the sanctuary from the snow events mentioned above. The most perfect type of snow for…..Animal Tracking!! A very light amount of snow will capture those Track Prints and Track Patterns much better than deeper snow, and allow you to identify the culprits.  Ice will also “freeze those tracks in time”, so look out for tracks there as well.
    • During Vacation Days this past December, I lead a group of pre-teens down to the lower Ovenbird trail and we discovered a plethora of animal tracks, including some from a fisher. Such wonderfully diverse habitats to explore in this area of the sanctuary.
  • Bird Song and more!—Yes, I did hear a few black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and Carolina wrens singing as I took my hike.  Not unusual for early January and maybe a “sign of things to come” this winter, as late in the month and into February is usually when they start-up.  Heard a few downy woodpeckers drumming as well.
    • Keep your eyes/ears to your bird feeders and mid-canopy this winter, that’s where these birds, and others, tend to hang out AND travel together in search of food (“flock switching”)—including tufted titmice, golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, and maybe a few others.
    • If you’re lucky enough, a few of the bolder birds such as chickadees, titmice (related, taxonomically), and even a few blue jays may flush out an owl if they squawk enough.  At Moose Hill, barred owls are the most commonly seen/heard species, and the best places to observe them (by chance) are in the vicinity of Moose Hill, along the Vernal Pool/Pepperbush trails, or the lower Ovenbird-Kettle trails.

Until the next time……

Keep those eyes-ears to the skies and ALL of your senses to the ground & to ALL that you surround!!!

Happy New Year! Prospero Ano!  Felice Anno Nuovo!

-Acciavatti “Instep Nonstop”

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill.