Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Wrack Line

February 16, 2010
Betar Path, South Glens Falls, NY

It was another gloomy day, clouds hanging low with no promise of snow.
The snowpack already on the ground is old and crusty.
At this time of year, while as ever the eye seeks stimulation, the heart grows more satisfied with the Spartan scenery, sensing art and beauty in the plainest of things.

It was a good time to walk along the riverbank, and see what has arrived along the wrack-line.
I've tended to use the term “flotsam & jetsam” for stuff like this, but the proper word for what ends up along a shoreline is “wrack.” It’s more of a seaside term, but seems to apply here.
This part of the river, a pondy section between dams, is subject to level changes (above and beyond the seasonal ones.) Add to that: the ice-up, thawing, break-up, and re-freezing that has been happening all winter here.

No matter what the condition of the river, the ducks always manage to find a bit of open water in which to preen and socialize.

People walk, boat and fish here, and along the river upstream. All sorts of interesting things can be seen if one looks closely.

Here’s the remains of a valentine that seems to say –
“Be Mine – At Least, Until the Ice Goes Out”

The river level has lowered in the past day or two, and a line of debris along the shore reveals the great variety of local plants.
How many can you identify?

Some like the bits of cedar, must have come from far upriver.

In places, the wrack resembles a carefully-arranged still life.

There’s always a little bit of man-made stuff, too, some of it mysterious.

Some of it was crudely cast-off into the river, or lost overboard.

Some of it was meant to fool the real inhabitants.

And some of it, most likely, will be sorely missed!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

White Wonder

February 9, 2010
Betar Path, South Glens Falls

It was a day for an ordinary walk, on a paved trail on the edge of the village. The Path runs along the river, and is a wonderful place for birding. Lately, though, things have been quiet. Even the snoopy crows were staying silent today.

The critters seem to be resting up for the busy season of courting and rearing young.

This time of year, one's eye leaps upon the slightest bit of color.

That was about it, however. It's the most color-less time of year here.

As I walked, I asked:

May I be content with the way things are. To find the beauty, even in black and white.

Or grey ! The grey squirrels are ever-present, and as I walked under the tallest white pine, heard a plainive moaning from the top of the tree. It wasn't the usual squirrelly whine or complaint. It had a come-hither tone to it. It was waaaay up there somewhere.

After some careful waiting and looking, I finally saw the moaner:

She then stretched out in her sunny balcony, hundreds of feet up, inviting an unseen suitor "come-up-and-see-me-sometime" with flirty flicks of her tail.

Farther along the trail, squirrels were playing tag - they generally froze when I got near,
doing the "you-don't-see-me-I'm-just-a-part-of-this-tree" thing

Walk often enough on this short but sweet riverside trail, and you will hear tell of The White Squirrel. Since seeing one there for the first time five years ago, and maybe 3 other times since then, I’ve gotten in the habit of using this as an occasional greeting to other walkers on this trail: “Have you seen the White Squirrel lately?”
Most of the regular walkers here are quick to tell you when and where their sighting occurred. It’s a matter of local pride. (the other response is look at me as if I’m crazy). Actually there may be more than one of these creatures in the area, but you can go for months -- or years -- without catching a glimpse.

Technically, the ones I have seen here are not true “albino” squirrels. These guys have dark brown eyes, and my birding friend Lindsey tells me they are more properly termed “leucistic.” (We promptly began referring to this mystery squirrel as “Luke.”)

The last time either of us had seen Luke was back in November. He was pretty easy to see against the dull brown background of the woods. I figured that after the snows came, it would be almost impossible to spot him.

Then today, there he was!

He was being coy, since I had apparently interrupted a fascinating conversation he was having with a normal-colored grey squirrel.

His thick coat was pure white, and he had dark brown eyes.

You can see how this color could be a disadvantage, even in winter. After spotting me, he tried the hanging-trick, but it didn't work so well for him:

I watched him for a short time, then he disappeared in the thick viney undergrowth that runs rampant along this trail.

I who have been shown so many wonderful things in Nature, felt especially favored today.
You never know what you'll see on the most ordinary walk!

A quick search on Google reveals several towns that have entire colonies (more than 20 individuals) of these color-variants, some albino, most leucistic.
(map from website mentioned below)

A town near Toronto calls them The White Wonders.

One town is so proud of its white squirrels, that there are ordinances protecting them, and the town seal looks like:

The legends surrounding the origins of these colonies are pretty amusing, (“escapes from a circus” etc.) but most likely it’s just a genetic variation, like black squirrels, that pops up here and there. They are all Eastern Grey Squirrels, underneath it all.

Here’s one good site to begin with: