Sunday, March 15, 2015

No snow, More sunshine

Last week, I wrote about hiking in all different kinds of snow at Sky Meadows State Park, but spring came this week!  I was actually home from work when I wrote last week's post, and we got about 10 inches of super wet and heavy snow.  However, the snow did not stick around long with warm night-time temperatures and rain dissolving it quickly.  As the snow melted, we saw and are seeing more and more signs of spring.

Hooded Mergansers on Turner Pond at Sky Meadows State Park, March 11th, 2015 by Anna Malcom.
Males were arching their necks to display their beautiful crest feathers for females.

The moss responded quickly to the warm
damp rain with lots of sporophytes
reaching up to disperse the spores.
This week, I have found little ferns poking their fronds up out of the soil, fresh shelf fungus on a dead tree, and pollen cones on the juniper trees.  The creek and ponds are full of snow melt, and the ground is squishy mud.  Ducks are arriving as the ponds thaw.  A few of us from Sky Meadows went on a 30 minute adventure during lunch to see about 10 Hooded Mergansers.  They were so pretty and flashy. The males were arching their necks to show off for some females.  I also saw a Ring-necked Duck, a English House Sparrow with nesting material, and flocks of Canada Geese circling.  Jacob and I saw Wood Ducks in some trees. Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities, and were probably scouting out some nesting locations!  Jacob and I also saw 4 salamander egg masses on our walk this morning at Shenandoah River State Park, and an Eastern Meadowlark and a Ground Hog at Sky Meadows on Saturday.  It seems that spring sprung, and it feels good to be outside soaking in the sunshine, doodling, and playing in the garden.

The new shelf fungus are deep purple brown.  

The little creek is full of snow melt.
I've been looking for salamanders but haven't spotted one yet.

The melting snow was creating a fog! 

Little bits of green emerge.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

One hundred words for snow

On Monday my boss at Sky Meadows State Park gave me and Michelle, another new employee, the day to hit as many trails as possible.  The day wasn't ideal weather for hiking, but we still enjoyed our day outdoors exploring the park.  The going was often slow and I better understand the reason that Inuit people have so many names for snow.  On our hike we walked through powdery snow, snow with a crust of ice on top and powder underneath, snow hard enough to support my weight, snow compacted into ice by people walking there, snow melted and refrozen into super slippery ice, snow blown by the wind, snow drifts, snow on top frozen puddles, slushy snow, snow that had melted but left a thin glass like layer of ice on top, and there were even a few spots where the snow was completely gone.  We returned worn out, a bit chilled, and with damp toes.  But the beauty of Sky Meadows rewarded us and we were both happy to have braved the cold.

Winter gets a bad rep, and it seems that winter came a bit late in Virginia and is now extending it's stay (I am having a snow day at home as I write this blog).  I will also be happy to welcome warmer temperatures and spring blooms, but I find things about the winter that I are beautiful and enjoyable.  The views, colors, stark structures of trees, and the snow provide so much to admire.  Our hike was overcast some would call it gloomy, but look at the purple mountains, grey, light blue, and green tinged sky, look at the contrasting shadowy mountains and white fields.  It's beautiful!  We saw silhouetted skeleton trees and brooks the color of black ink.  One of the joys of going out in nature is that it is different everyday, and the bad weather days can still be beautiful.

Looking down at the historic area from Piemont trail.


Thin glass like ice is left floating on the grass as the snow melts away underneath
Ice sounded like glass too as I walked up the hill.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

New Job At Sky Meadows State Park!

Sky and Meadowsof Sky Meadows State Park

Me in my new uniform!

I am happy to report that I am newly employed at Virginia's Sky Meadow State Park as the Volunteer and Special Event Coordinator!  I'm really excited about this position because it will allow me to use many of the talents that I have developed at the Austin Nature and Science Center and Connecticut Audubon, but it will also stretch me to learn new skills as well.  So far, my work has be mostly indoors which is okay when the temperatures stay below freezing all day.  I am busy getting up to speed on all the aspects of my new job.  Here are a few snap shots of the park from the office area and the view from by desk window.  I'm sure to have more to blog about in the coming weeks.  Some of my blog posts, may also be shared with parts of my work as I start getting the word out about up coming events.

Sky Meadows State Park is a beautiful place with over 1000 acres. The park has four interpretive themes for its programs including rest and relaxation, agriculture, history, and nature.  The relaxation and agriculture themes stem from stipulations of the original donation that the park be a place of low-impact recreation, and that the property not loose it's agricultural roots.  Historical buildings from the 1700-1800s, including Mount Bleak house, and beautiful landscapes provide ample inspiration for history and nature programs.  Starting in March through the end of the year, there are things going on every weekend at Sky Meadows.  Our own staff hosts spring hikes, wildflower walks, historic tours, roving programs, and more.  The Friends of Sky Meadows State Park lead a monthly walk and craft day.  Sky Meadows also partners with several volunteer organizations that enrich our site's program offerings.  We have bee hives maintained by Beekeepers of the Northern Shenandoah, Doug and Ramona.  The Farmer's Forge program is headed by George and Phil of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac.  There are astronomy night's by Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, Bird walks with Virginia Audubon, and more.  I am very excited to be working at such a beautiful and fun sight especially since rest and relaxation, agriculture, history, and of course nature are all things that I love!

Sheep and a donkey in a field on the way to work 


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Let's go for a Walk (part 2)

... continuing our walk from last week ...

Come on! We're heading into the pine groove that Ansel planted over 30 years ago.  The trees are tall, and dark with a soft, quiet, carpet of moss and a few pine needles (loads of needles help insulate tender plants during the winter months.)  A pile of feathers, and partial rodent skull mean that some predator hunts among these pines.  Watch the dogs's noses wiggle and snort at the edge of a brush pile.  The dogs wade in among the gnarled brunches in search of its occupants.  A grey loaf of bunny silently and quickly escapes to another brush pile.  The dogs unaware continue their investigation.  Let's go and give those critters a rest!

There's more to check out.  The little pond is frozen, and the dogs venture out on the water.  Cici skitters across the surface in her bounding way of running.  Silly's legs seem to move extra fast with dainty strides.  You can almost hear the cartoon, high-pitched bell sound accompany Silly across the ice, while Cici gets a snare drum and cymbal.  Antro, as always, is just interested in getting closer to those squirrels.

From the pond, we follow the Little Dry Creek (a perennial stream flowing with rains and winter snows) through bushy junipers to the property corner. You must be careful as you jump across the icy rocks, but the dogs have no problem!  The stream continues on its way to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, but we must turn up the hill at the eastern boundary of the property. Your breath might puff just a little trying to keep up with the dogs as they scamper ahead.  The hill is home to oaks, maple and hickory whose fallen leaves make for a noisy carpet.  Crunch, crunch, crunch up the hill, and down again.  The loop leads us back to the house and the end of our walk. 


Thanks for going on a walk with us.  We'll head out again tomorrow around the same time.   The dogs and I hope to see you then.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's go for a walk

 Come on! Let's go for a walk!

What'd you say? Are the dogs coming?  Of course, they're going outside, too.  Oh!  They just heard a magic word.  Outside!  Did someone say outside!?

Here we go, out through the yard on a grassy path through a mix of yellow grasses, rusty red leaves, and grey bushes.  Ansel, gardener extraordinaire, laments the dreary colors of this time of year, but the birds don't mind.  The thick shrubbery is a haven our feathered guests, not to mention good food with berries, seed heads, and several feeders stocked daily with sunflower seeds.  Cardinals, jays, junco, sparrows, woodpeckers, goldfinch, house finch, wrens, nuthatches, and pine siskins are the regulars.

Now, we're going past the old shelter covered in vines, and filled with firewood.  The wood stove is hungry, and we keep it fed. Inspections of the shelter must be done, and Antro is the dog for the job.  He checks all the nooks for rodents, and other critters that only his nose can identify.

On we go to the old apple orchard.  Only a few old apple trees remain, and the spaces have been filled in with younger trees.  Some were planted to provide a screen from the road, and others food and shelter for wildlife.  Are you enjoying the winding paths cut through the tall grass?  Watch the dogs bound through yellowed grass.  Their tails whip the air in excitement.  Nose down in a hole, sniff, sniff, snort, butt in the air, tail a'whorl.  Okay, let's go!  Cici runs to catch up at a whistle and call, Antro and Silly, the terriers, linger at the scent for as long as possible.

Next, we're heading for the pine grove planted over 30 years ago...

On a different note...

The blog turns 3 years old today.  I hope you've enjoyed the blog this year.  Here are a few links to some of my favorite posts of the year.  I would love to hear if you had a favorite post!


Abstract Snow

Mushrooms to Study

Hello Amphibians

A Year at Bolduc Lane

Little Silly's Big Adventure

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Doodle for Creativity

I haven't been taking as many photos lately as I usually do.  It's a combination of not carrying my phone as often since reception is spotty among the blue ridge mountains, and being too absorbed in seeing things that I forget that I have a camera.  I am trying to get some photos together for you to enjoy of our new home, but I hope you enjoy some doodles.  Some of the doodles were done recently and others are a bit old.

I often come up with ideas for paintings while doodling.  I know the free time sketching, scribbling, and sometimes just sitting while waiting for ideas is important to my creativity.  Our busy lives pressure us to be doing stuff every second of the day.  Balancing our responsibilities can make finding time to let creative thoughts bubble up challenging.  Creative ideas seem to come to me the most often when I am outside, being quiet in nature, and sometimes those ideas turn into artwork.

I'd love to hear what helps your creative juices flow?

A Pileated Woodpecker working its way up a branch inspecting every nook and cranny.  
A few mornings ago, I saw several crows walking out in a field beyond the property.
The crows were just on the crest of the hill and looked enormous.  While looking and the crows walking along, I spotted the Pileated in the winter trees.  

Bambam in the garden.  The afternoon sun was lighting up some little unidentified insects.
The insects seemed to be dancing globes of light, perhaps they were fairies!  

Red-shouldered Hawks glide over the yard and me,
squawking and diving as they go

This is a real tree.  I drew its essence as accurately as I could,
but I didn't attempt to make it too detailed with individual leaves and bark textures.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Drawing with String

This winter I took up a new hobby, embroidery, in order to make some Christmas presents and be busy during these super cold winter days.  I found an old embroidery hoop down in the basement, and remembered getting pillowcases that my Grandma Erwin had made for me.  As a kid I was too impatient to complete many sewing projects, but now I think embroidery is fun because it is similar drawing with colorful thread, a needle, and fabric.  I mentioned that I was thinking of getting a kit of pillowcases with a stamped pattern to Jacob to get started.  He said that I could come up with much better designs than anything they'd have as a pattern.  So, I bought plain pillowcases, a washable fabric marker, a bag of embroidery thread of every color, and started doodling.  Of course, by designs are inspired by nature!

The first pillowcase set I made for Jacob and me of our favorite dragonflies and damselflies

My pillowcase is on the left with a Rosette Skimmer, a Halloween Pennant, and an Emerald Green Jewelwing.  Jacob's pillowcase has a Giant Darner (similar to a Green Darner, but an inch longer), a Rosette Skimmer, and a Rubyspot damselfly.

I made my mom and dad Barn Swallow cases.  I drew the birds on paper, cut it out, and traced it onto the case.  

Ansel and Mary Carol (dad and mom Malcom) got garden inspired pillowcases.  

These are Angel Trumpet flowers, brugmansia.  Ansel grows several varieties of the tropical plant in the garden.  They grow taller than people.  Many of them are dug up and put under the house every winter, others are cut down and buried in layers and layers of pine needles and leaves.  The flowers smell wonderful at night.

A hummingbird with Mexican Sage and a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly with purple cone flowers can be seen in the garden during the summer time.