Last night's mellow sunset walk was short but sweet and gave no hint of the stark transformation that would occur overnight.When K and I rolled out into the forest this morning, a thick fog enshrouded the world with forms appearing like ghosts out of the mist. A breeding pair of mountain bluebirds perched atop dried mullen plants, guarding over their newly claimed territory despite the cold fog.Just as I thought to myself, I bet that lions can hunt during the day when the visibility is so poor - a galloping labrador silently sprinted up behind K and me. I was so startled that I nearly fell off my bike. It turned out to be our pack-mate, R, and, in the photo below, K and R wait for my husband to catch up.We discovered that when I'm foundering on slushy and slippery snow, a runner and biker move through the forest at a similar pace. Meanwhile, the two dogs romped and frolicked in circles around us. Although K had refused to play with R for weeks while she struggled at the nadir of hypothyroidism, she instigated play today and didn't back down when R's frantic excitement escalated. After dropping everyone off at home, I took a leisurely ride, noticing intricate details of the forest. The thick wet fog coalesced on fuzzy pasqueflowers. It looks to me like being fuzzy lets pasqueflowers collect moisture from the air which then drips down to feed their thirsty roots.Aspen catkins almost glowed in the fog with hoar frost.And, as I rode up a gulch next to a creek, I noticed that a small tree's (willow, I think) deep red buds had burst since yesterday and now had pure white catkins peeking out. I've never noticed these details of spring in past years, and I'm excited to watch each little step now that I'm awake and alert!
As I neared home, I spotted my second male Williamson's Sapsucker of the year - again drumming near the top of a utility pole. As I snapped a photo, a female swooped and landed near him, joining an impromptu jam session. In Williamson's Sapsuckers, a female looks astoundingly different from a male. She's smaller with speckled brown plumage (photo borrowed because mine was blurry).
Next to the trails behind our house, Williamson's sapsuckers have excavated nest holes in towering live aspen trees in past years. I've homed in on their nestholes because the chicks squeak so loudly that I noticed while zipping by on my bike. A close look at the trees and holes shows that bears have also examined the nest holes.
My nephews were the first to notice the bear claw marks when they asked their dad to lift them for a peek into the hole last fall. It was a fun vision - a bear peeking in the hole just like our little boys. In the photo, the nesthole is at the top and the visible claw marks are on the left of the trunk.
While Sapsucker parents industriously tend to the eggs and then their noisy chicks for weeks and weeks, they use an intriguing strategy when it's time for the chicks to fledge. Soon after the chicks venture on their first flight, the parents abandon them. Since the species has flourished, this abandonment obviously isn't disasterous for the chicks. Biologists think that the chicks survive because a sapsucker's foraging strategy is simple - it involves gleaning insects from pine bark and drilling holes in pine trees just deep enough to reach the 'sap' or 'phloem'. Later, the birds return to their drilling sites to eat the sap and the bugs stuck in it. Instinct must tell the chicks how to find food without parents to help them.
About when I spotted the sapsuckers today, the sky darkened even more (although I hadn't thought it possible), the wind picked up, and my glasses started fogging - sure signs that driving snow is about to freeze me on my bike. I started hammering toward home. My lungs feel a smidgen better than yesterday so riding hard for a short burst was physically possible.I reached the warmth of my house before the snow became intense and was met by the vision of our sweet S working on a kong with homemade dogfood frozen in it - one of his favorite treats in the world. He looked warm and content along with our other labs. I love our labrador trifecta.