THE WHITE OF A WINTER SKY #4 – Marilyn Armstrong

WHITE WINTER SKY – Marilyn Armstrong

The sky is as white as the snow. That was winter. Now, it’s just dull gray, day after day. With rain, with sleet, with ice. Warm enough so the fleas don’t die and the dogs need flea and tick collars. I’m not sure what this season is, so here’s to winters in years gone by.

As winter ends, a bit of snow still remains along the road

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE! – Marilyn Armstrong

Following the snow came the arctic blast from somewhere in the northwest. The sun was out when I got up, so it was a beautiful gleaming woods. The birds, for a change, had control of the feeders … but sneak squirrels had a takeover in mind.

Frozen woods

Ice everywhere

The birds didn’t feel like giving up the feeders and they flew around him until he went to a nearby tree to hang out for a while. Not for very long, though. A determined squirrel is not easily deterred.

Up a tree, thinking about seeds

Getting ready for another assault on the feeder

It’s really COLD out here! Where are those seeds?

Hunger no more! I’m home at last.

THE “OLD PERSON” WEATHER REPORT – Marilyn Armstrong

These days, watching television and seeing even the finest meteorologist give a forecast that is everything other than summer would be a lot funnier if it didn’t mean that climate change is hitting this area — New England —  harder than it is hitting other places in the world.

Nobody ever said it would hit every place equally at the same time, although somehow that’s how I imagined it.

This idea came to me as I commented to Garry that my sinuses were throbbing, my lower back felt a little better than it had earlier, but both hips were pulsing in pain. also, I have a massive headache and both eyes feel like someone poured sand into them. Translated into meteorologist-ese, it means:

Chipping Sparrow

Humidity is rising, barometric pressure is dropping, probably fast. Temperature is falling quicker than my head can handle and the air, for the moment, is very dry (eyes), probably because I ticked up the heat by a couple of degrees.

I suddenly foresaw a new kind of weather report. Traditional and “old person” weather.

First, the modern, up-to-date scientific meteorologist gives his report. Maps, stats, wind directions, where it’s coming from, going to. When we’ll get sleet, freezing rain, blinding snow, less blinding snow, total amounts from Connecticut through Maine. How much of whatever falls will fall on us?

How long will it last?

Next snow?

By the time he’s done, he has forecast every possible form of winter weather and all anyone knows it that is will be cold, wet, and ugly. I better make a new doctor’s appointment in the morning. No matter how good a driver Garry is, he isn’t the only one on the road. There are an awful lot of people who don’t “get” that simply slowing down would prevent a lot of weather-related accidents. Four-wheel-drive doesn’t help on ice or sleet.

The weather report’s not over yet. Winter weather reports take up at least half our news broadcast, just as — when one of our teams is winning — sports takes up at least half the report. Especially baseball and football.

Photo: Garry Armstrong –Winter at home

Part two of the report has no stats, numbers, or maps. There’s an old person, male or female —  both? — in comfy chairs, rambling on a bit. Local color. “Remember that 24 inches we got on April 1st in the 1990s? That was some storm … and it all melted in three days. Lots of flooding,” she says.

“My right shoulder is bad,” he says. “Suppose that means cold with snow.”

“My spine hurts bottom to top. Rain first. Likely sleet, then snow. The boiler is in overdrive, so temps are dropping. Bad day tomorrow. Coming from the west. so it’s packing a lot of water. Unless we get lucky, we’ll have a nor’easter along the coast. Good thing we don’t live on the coast anymore, eh?”

“We’ll get twice as much snow as they get along the coast, but at least we won’t flood.” says the old guy.

“Not yet,” she points out. “When it melts, it’ll be dicey.”

“Figure six inches at least, depending on how much sleet and freezing rain we get before the snow. With the falling temps? Gonna be black ice under the snow. Time to cancel that appointment with the doctor.”

Everybody over fifty will relate. Anyone who plays sports will get it. What’s more, we will be accurate — at least locally. Can’t do national forecasts, but we can tell you how it’s gonna be right here in the lower Massachusetts section of the Blackstone Valley.

A heating pad really helps.

ABOUT THOSE DOGS AND TREES – Garry Armstrong

Now that it has snowed, the mud that had almost become solid has turned back into gummy mud. With the best will in the world, this house will never be entirely clean. Too many dogs. Too many trees. Too many people. Dog hair, dust, and dead oak leaves — the triple D of home ownership.

Live in the country — both inside and out!

On their way

Always, the trees

Trees

Home again, from the road

There is more snow coming tomorrow unless it’s rain or unless instead of getting cold, it gets warm … or unless the winds change and everything blows northward. But something’s going to happen, whatever it may be!

IN THE WHITE OF THE WORLD – Garry Armstrong

Marilyn gave me her small Leica as a Christmas gift, but not before her getting a small pocketbook camera for herself. Is it a bit early? Absolutely. She never waits for the holiday.

The Episcopal rectory on the Common.

She knew I wanted it and now, I have it. Thus armed with a camera in my bag, I went to the grocery store because after three days of being locked inside with snow blocking our driveway … and with a couple of hundred feet of downhill driveway (you could use it as the Bunny Slope), you cannot get out of here without a plow first clearing it.

Unitarian Church (empty) on the Common.

Meanwhile, not only were we running short of food (though we have enough dog food, birdseed, soup, and bread to keep us going for a while), we were almost out of half-and-half. What, no coffee? Oh NO!

1888 Library across the Common

Marilyn was also running out of some prescriptions and they do not deliver in this town. They don’t deliver anything. Contain your shock: they don’t even deliver pizza. Our salvation is frozen pizza which, coincidentally fits into our small counter oven.

1770 Quaker Meetinghouse

And, since I had that little Leica packed in my bag, I took pictures. It turns out she was right. If you have a camera, you just never know when a picture might turn up. There are more to come.

SQUIRREL ON A COLD, SNOWY DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Just as I feel the birds need feeding — because when the weather is like this, they starve and freeze pretty fast — I know squirrels need to feed too. I’m doing a pretty good job at letting the squirrels eat all morning and the birds eat in the afternoon.

Maybe they’ll get used to the routine and start to cope without human intervention?

Up to the rail having jumped from the tree

A quick taste?

A few more seeds

Yummy!

Dinner is better eaten upside down!

WHITE IS WONDERFUL BUT PLEASE, NOT YET! – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: White

We know the big storm is on the way because the news has been full of it. What is funny is that they are talking about huge amounts of snow. Like … nine inches to a foot. We consider that a dusting. It doesn’t get serious until it tops 14 inches and really serious starts at about 18 inches.

I suppose that’s the difference between living in snow country and living in “sometimes it snows” country. I grew up in “sometimes it snows” (New York city and Long Island) as opposed to upstate New York which is like here. Although to be fair, we live in one of the heaviest snow areas in the country. Something about the way the snow goes up over the Worcester hills and when the ground drops away, the clouds just dump a ton of snow. Usually right on top of us. Unless the storm is coming in from the ocean, in which case Boston gets clobbered and we snicker … until the next storm.

THE THREE SEASON YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

We don’t get four seasons. We get three. Summer — hot, sticky, and buggy, but at least it’s warm. Okay, a lot of humidity, but you have to take the good with the bad.

I had been hoping we’d more Autumn, and we did. It was short — just about a week — but glorious for that week. Which is good because it’s only the first week in November and they are predicting snow. I don’t think we’ll get any here, but it would not be a surprise. I can remember many years when it snowed before Thanksgiving and stayed snowy until Summer showed up.

Sometimes we get a second Autumn in November that lasts until after Christmas. Last year, it lasted until March, at which point we had three blizzards in a row. The snow hung around until the trees began to bloom after which we got two months of heavy rains and wind. No climate change here!

Last week it was pretty warm, but right now, it’s cold. Very cold.

House in summer

Summer by the Blackstone

Autumn by the river and canal

Now those are Autumn specials! – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong –Winter at home

Junco atop the Toad

No pictures of spring because that’s a season we don’t really get. It’s winter, then summer. We always HOPE for spring, though. Even though we know it isn’t happening, we figure maybe one year it will.

You never know, right?

THE SNOW IS GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: SNOW

The snow is gone.

We didn’t get a lot of it this year. It didn’t show up at all until March and it only lasted a week and a bit, but it rained and stormed almost continuously from February through this month. So our water table is doing fine.

Now that the Gypsy moth caterpillars have been spotted locally, we really need the rain — so of course, we have lovely, dry spring weather. The rain brings forth a little caterpillar killer bug that drops those caterpillars dead from the trees. But we need rain and a lot of it.

It’s as if the weather is rebelling. Whatever it is we want, we can’t have it. It’s not a lack of weather. It’s a lot of weather — at all the wrong times.

It’s funny to think about snow now. All I have on my mind are the hospital tests and getting finished with them. I think I’m about to (in late May and June) finally complete … and how doth the garden grow.

March blizzard

And how many squirrels are hanging on the bird feeder. Perhaps, as Stuart Templeton said yesterday, “Isn’t it great  to see some birds on your squirrel feeders?”

Unsurprisingly, the feeders were filled last night and were nearly empty this morning. I was going to let the feeder run empty and try to convince the squirrels to do their own hunting, but if the caterpillars take over, there won’t BE any food to eat. Those nasty bugs strip the woods and everything goes hungry.

The Gypsy moths are an evil omen in an evil year. Last time, I survived by getting everything sprayed, but I don’t have the money this year — and I don’t even know what (if any) company is set up to to the work. No one was expecting them to come back so soon. They usually lay low for decades before making a return appearance.

If it gets ugly (and Garry is horribly allergic to these nasty critters), I’m going to hide inside and refuse to leave. Since our squirrels are always starving, can they be convinced to eat these guy? Except almost none of the birds will eat the big hairy caterpillars, but many will eat the egg masses they leave behind. We do have most of those birds here. On our deck.

Bring on the birdseed!

And, for what it’s worth, squirrels eat them too, even the caterpillars. So I guess we’re going to keep those feeders full!


More information from Mass Audubon Society and Pests.org:

Some native birds, such as cuckoos, downy woodpeckers, gray catbirds, and common grackles, will eat gypsy moth caterpillars but, unfortunately, not in large enough quantities to have an effect during an outbreak. White-footed mice, and occasionally gray squirrels, prey on gypsy moth larvae and pupae.

Pests.Org

These little-known buggers can lay waste to entire forests and crops as they munch their way through the leaves and plants. Up until last year, the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar was not considered a big deal. Granted, they are still a problem when they infest your farm, but they had taken a backseat to other common pests. That is until some states (the northeast and especially Massachusetts) saw the worst Gypsy Moth infestation in more than 30 years.


NOTE: In 2016 and 2017 — here in the Blackstone Valley — virtually every hardwood and fruit-bearing tree were defoliated by the caterpillars), farmers started paying attention. 


Some birds typically eat Gypsy Moths. Birds such as the Bluejay, catbird, blackbird (cowbirds ARE blackbirds), crows (we have them, though they don’t favor our woods) and such find these insects delicious.

These ARE blackbirds!

One of our many cowbirds.

Encourage these birds to visit your property to feed on these moths by not chasing them away when they come.


We definitely encourage them!

TEMPERATURE AND WINTER IN NEW ENGLAND – Marilyn Armstrong, Photos -Garry Armstrong

RDP Thursday – TEMPERATURE

“Oh, the temperature outside is shocking …” and it really is. Really really cold, though it’s supposed to go up into the 40s over the weekend. I hope so. Because nothing is melting.

Photo Garry Armstrong

Photo Garry Armstrong

Photo Garry Armstrong

Holly, By Garry Armstrong

SPECULATING ON SNOWFALL – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Monday: SNOW SPECULATION

We have a very favorite meteorologist, Harvey Leonard, currently with Channel 5 (ABC), but previously a colleague of Garry’s for more than 30 years. He’s a great meteorologist and can tell you — really — pretty much what’s coming.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist

What he can’t tell you is exactly how much of what is coming you are going to get. Storms move faster or slower and winds push them east, west, north, or south — all of which changes your town’s “how much.” Also, your proximity to the ocean. More rain along the ocean, more snow piling up inland. We are not far from the ocean, but not close enough to get the wind from the sea. We get the other winds, the one that brings big white snow clouds.

Dogs on the sofa, gazing on snow

The deck and feeders

He did say — repeatedly — that this was a big one. We were going to get a lot of snow, no matter where we were in New England. Or for that matter, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and all points north. He was figuring around a foot but upped it towards the end of the news because new maps were coming in.

We got more — as we typically do in the valley.

Dove waiting on tree limb for a shot at the feeder

Eighteen-inches in our little town, so we are in this house until the plow shows up and digs us out. My son is at work and he says if the plow doesn’t show up at his place (same plow), he can’t go home because he has nowhere to put the car.

A lot of flapping and flying going on

It’s not that the plow won’t show. He will. It’s just with this much snow on the ground, it’s going to be a long day. I’m pretty sure we are nowhere near the top of the list.

Mostly Goldfinch while I was shooting

With one incoming Goldfinch (on right)

Usually, we get big snows and it warms up the next day and everything melts. Not this time. This time, the temperature is supposed to drop to around zero (-18 centigrade) for several days. Which means this snow is going to hang around, get icy and crunchy. And it’s not a light fluffy one, either. It’s, as Harvey put it, “like oatmeal.” I like the fluffy ones much better.

So we speculated and I do thing the last thing I said to Garry before drifting off to sleep was “Maybe it won’t be as bad as we think.”

Good morning, Uxbridge

I was wrong. We speculated. I’m glad we didn’t actually gamble on our speculations. We’d have lost money on big snow.

I’d have posted this earlier, but there were pictures to take and process. There are more, but I’m tired. The birds have cold feet.

AND THEN, IT WAS WARM AGAIN – by Marilyn Armstrong

It was bitterly cold and it snowed. Then, it sleeted. Eventually, it rained, but not so much around here. Mostly here, after the sleet blew through, that was pretty much it.

The Mourning Dove who waited for me to focus. He was very patient.

The ice and snow lay on the ground and the plow came and scraped us clean. Of course, if he hadn’t come, it would have been clear by lunchtime anyway, but what the hell. We’ve got plenty of money to blow, right?

Tufted Titmouse

I started to take some pictures, but on blue sky days, the birds are not nearly as interested in our food as they are in the forest because they are getting ready for spring.

A bright Yellow Warbler

The Warblers are back and the Goldfinches are changing to their brighter breeding colors. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Juncos decided to fly north, but with all the good food on the deck, they might just hang around.

Pair of Goldfinches

And moreover, it has been warm so often, there are live insects in the trees and the woodpeckers are pecking their hearts out. It’s going to be a bad year for the bugs, but I think I vastly increased bird flock will help keep it in check. My ant guy assured me that birds love ants and will eat a lot of them if they get the chance.

We use non-toxic insect killers around here for what I assume are obvious reasons. There are our dogs and all those birds. The Chickadees, Titmouses, the Goldfinches, and Warblers with their long, strong beaks.

And then, I decided to adjust my camera.

Bright yellow Warbler. Welcome back.

Lacking a “real” manual, there are lots of things in the menu — oh so many things in the menu — which say things like: “ADL – OPTION: YES/NO/OFF” without any explanation of what ADL does. I’m at a complete loss, so I leave it on “OFF.” Too many times I’ve changed one setting somewhere and the camera won’t work until I figure out what setting it was and under which sub-menu.

More Goldfinches

I wound up spending at least half the day setting my camera, then I had to go back and changed some of the things I fixed so the camera would work again. Like it used to, though I did change a few things and whether or not they will change anything, I do not yet know. By the time I finished adjusting the camera, it was too dark to shoot.

Downy or Hairy? So hard to tell!

I have a few pictures I took before the adjustment, though.

Oops.

AND THEN IT SNOWED AND WE CANCELLED THE DAY … Marilyn Armstrong

I’m not afraid of winter. I’ve lived most of my life in areas with serious winters, the most serious of all here where we live.

This year, we’ve had the least snow ever recorded for any winter. It isn’t that there wasn’t snow elsewhere. It’s just the storms blew out to sea south of here, or took a path past us and went straight into northern New England and Canada. So we’ve been surrounded by snow, but it missed us.

Snowy Goldfinch

Not this time, though this isn’t exactly a monumental snowfall. In fact, it’s just a nasty little snow and sleet combination. It’s the sort of storm that makes the roads dangerous without adding any of the beauty of the season. It lands on the ground and gets sodden then hard as a rock. Not a really fun kind of snow. You don’t build snow people from this kind of storm.

Woodpecker in snow

What you do is cancel non-critical appointments and wait until they clean up the roads … or the rain takes care of it for you. Regardless, we live on a pretty lethal road. People drive as if their four-wheel-drive cars make them impervious to road conditions. Maybe (only maybe) on snowy roads, but 4WD is no better for driving on ice than any other car.

Goldfinch in snow

No one seems to have conveyed this to the drivers. We have more fatal accidents on this road than on any other road in the state … which is saying something because Massachusetts drivers are not known for their cautious driving habits.

Junco on the railing

Once we decided to not test the roads, we settled down and I made chili, my favorite cold-weather dinner.

As soon as we get “weather,” the birds get crazy as if this is going to be their last seed, ever. The moment it started to snow, there were dozens of birds on the deck, knocking each other off the feeders.

This was one of those days when many beautiful birds appeared and the moment I raised my camera, vanished. Sometimes, I think it’s personal.

This Junco has an attitude!

I’m sure Duke’s excursions into the backyard don’t encourage the birds to get friendlier, though to be fair, he showed no sign of being interested in hunting the birds. He was just curious about them.

Junco atop the Frog

And for the day, my favorite show. There were not only a lot of birds on the deck. They were also very active. Lots of fluttering and flapping as they knocked each other off the feeder. Normally, we’d have filled the feeder today, but it was snowing a bit hard and there are still plenty of seeds left if they’d stop banging each other around!

It’s difficult to show the activity, though. This picture shows it as well as I think I can!

Some fluttering in the snow