That’s my cue

The sleet a few days back was unimpressive, the snow flurries before that almost embarrassing to speak of, but last night we actually got something that looked nice, and so I got out today to fire off a few frames and finally get a little more content here.

unidentified red berries under snow cap
It helped that, like usual, we had sunny and clear skies following the storm (which wasn’t really a storm – more like dust settling,) so I had a little more motivation to get outside, though it wasn’t terribly warm. It was a cold, dry snow in fact, the kind that squelches and is impossible to make snowballs from, so The Girlfriend avoided getting pelted. But it made for a few fartsy shots anyway. And no, I still don’t know what those berries are.

cedar branches with snow load
The broader vistas weren’t really coming together, partially because I got out there too late and the dog-walkers and kids excitedly trying out their sleds had already marked up the smooth blankets, so I did my usual thing and stayed in close for most of the shots.

closeup of cedar branch against snow
Though I’d dialed in some exposure compensation because of the brightness of the snow and sky, I wasn’t bracketing like I should have been, so some of the shots are a little peaked in exposure, but I’m not gonna fret about it. Much.

A surprising number of plants looked like they were getting a head start on the spring, before this, so there are buds and even flowers to be seen peeking out through the snow, while the daffodils remained on schedule and have not yet appeared here.

grape holly Mahonia flower spray bursting out from snow cover
I thought, in passing these grape holly (Mahonia) bushes in the dark the other night, that they appeared to be starting to bloom, and I wasn’t mistaken. Best of luck finding some pollinators right now, but I imagine they’ll bloom again later on. It may look like we got a decent amount of snow from these pics, because it stacked well, but it really wasn’t much – 5 cm or so would be my guess, barely enough to count in New York.

I hadn’t been around the nearby pond in ages, but had been alerted by a friend the other day that there was a lot of beaver activity going on, so I went out that evening (because beavers are nocturnal) to take a peek, and did indeed spot two, at least, plus plenty of foraging evidence. I have plans to stake them out some night and try for decent photos with the Vivitar 285HV, the highest power flash that I have, but it will still be tricky. For now, however, we have some evidence.

beaver evidence on trees alongside pond
Some of the trees being taken down are pretty sizable, so this isn’t casual activity, but it’s also breeding time for the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and there may be a den someplace. While everyone knows of the lodges in the center of ponds, I’ve never seen one in NC – the beavers have always made bank dens, typically among the roots of a tree right on the water’s edge. My initial observations did not reveal these either, though I have some suspicions. The snow had frozen into a slush/ice sheet on the pond surface, but a couple of narrow broken channels within hinted that the beavers had been active last night, at least a little. And I loved this particular scene.

beaver tree that never fell
Yes, that’s floating in midair. Being relatively small and tangled in the branches of the neighboring pine, this one simply shifted sideways a little but remained in place; I would have loved observing the beavers as they broke through and virtually nothing happened. Will I be able to get any shots of such activity? I’m not holding my breath, especially since it’s been too cold overnight for me to stake anything out for very long, and it seems likely that if they show any activity at all, it probably won’t be within range of the lens and flash. But we’ll see, I guess.

There was a limited amount of bird activity as well.

buff-colored female mallard Anas platyrhynchos cruising in open water section
The slush/ice cover wasn’t complete across the pond, and in one corner with overhanging trees, the buff-colored female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) showed that she and her mate were still hanging around.

And another avian, who didn’t have a grasp on subtlety despite its feeding habits.

sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter striatus perched in bare, snowy tree
I knew, solely from the length of the tail, that this was either a sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s hawk, but they’re almost identical. However, as this one flew off, I got one frame of the spread tail that tells me it was a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus.) Before that occurred, however, I crept in a bit closer.

sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter striatus looking over shoulder
Even though a couple of people with their dog had just passed underneath not two minutes from our approach, I was being creepy by, well, creeping up on it. None of this cartoon tiptoe or carry a small bush for cover stuff, but I was definitely pausing close by and my attention was clearly on the hawk, so it soon vacated, but not before I got some adequate frames.

Back home, I tried for a couple of shots that didn’t come out well because I’d only taken the 18-135 with me and not the macro, but I can always return to those. I did, however, peek into the greenhouse to note the progress therein.

potted Japanese maple leafing out in greenhouse in January
We have a small heater in there to ensure that it doesn’t drop below 10°c, and the trumpet flowers and one of the Japanese maples find this perfectly adequate – the maple, seen here, is absolutely going to town even when it hasn’t shed its brown leaves from last year.

We’ll close with one of the azaleas out back, where most of the branches sported a small cap of snow on the ends, supported by the cluster of leaves that is the trait of the bush. The sun’s still low so backlighting was easy, in fact difficult to avoid, and I kinda liked the lens flare effects so I went with this frame. Not trying really hard, but good to be shooting a little at least.

tiny backlit snow cap atop end of azalea branch