Signs of spring

I begin with a reminder that the equinox came and went more than a week ago. Joanna has reminded me that there have been years warm enough to allow swimming in the pond by this date. Winter has been slow to relinquish its grip. I write by the wood stove, we have steady rain and 43°F outside. The top layers of soil have turned to mud but frozen ground remains. It wasn’t until this week that the ice went out on the pond. Although our supplies of hay and wood are quite low, our need for both remain constant. The Maple buds are swelling and the bark of the Willow has turned yellow but one needs a good measure of imagination to discern even the slightest hint of green across the pastures and hay fields. We have had mild days followed by overnight temperatures in the teens. Lambs were expected fully two weeks ago with no sign of them yet. Our good news is that the bees made it through this very cold, very harsh, seemingly endless winter, and we are pleased. We will feed them up, add an excluder and a super, and perhaps we’ll have honey by the solstice. Between rain showers Joanna and I took a walk up the hill and into the woods, looking for hints of the coming season. They were few and far between. On our way back we stopped to scan the living depths of the upper pond. To our delight we saw quite a number of Red-Spotted Newts (Notophthalmus). It’s odd that the red of red-spotted is the color of the sub-adult, terrestrial and quite cryptic, form of this common amphibian. What we saw was the mature, aquatic, and seemingly gregarious form. As poikilothermic ectotherms (a biologist’s way of describing organisms whose body temperature, and activity level, varies dramatically and directly with the temperature of the environment in which they live) they were quite sluggish but still fun to watch. The re-emergence of newts and bees, and the increasing number of Robins around the place, give us confidence that spring is most definitely, and at very long last, here.


16 thoughts on “Signs of spring

  1. Saw this post a few days ago and just found a few minutes to comment. Such beauty in a creepy little fellow! From this angle, he looks suspended in some sort of space-like background. I like the vertical composition. All your animal shots look as if they could be used in Biology textbooks!

  2. This is amazing! Fully met my high expectations 🙂 Was it really blue like that, or is that a photo tint?

    • I’m wondering who ‘Anonymous’ is? Anyway, yours is a keen observation and good question. When post-processing this image I did the following in Adobe Lightroom, I created brushes for the body of the newt and a separate one for everything else. I did the following to the background, reduced the clarity (contrast in the mid-tones), reduced the contrast, reduced the highlights, reduced the exposure, and reduced the sharpness. I did the following to the newt, increased the clarity (contrast in the mid-tones), increased the exposure, increased the contrast, increased the sharpness, increased the highlights, and increased the saturation just a bit. So, the answer to your question is, ‘No,’ I did not manipulate the tint or color balance. Having said that, however, it’s clear that the manipulations (especially increased saturation) that were made had the consequence of shifting the apparent color balance of the body. If you look the digits I think the color balance there more accurately represents the color of the beast which, as you may know, is more toward the green-end-of-bluish than toward the blue-end of that spectrum. Good eyes Anonymous, good eyes. D

  3. Hi, Dave. I believe that heating with wood is living a little close to the bone for me. 😉 However, doing everything yourself will most certainly keep you in fine fiddle well into old age. I am awaiting the arrival of the lambs …

    • Yes indeed I am waiting for the lambs TOO! Joanna and I were discussing this last evening … we think they went with the rams on Oct. 15 … gestation is 153 days. Now … ewes cycle every 18-21 days … if the group was synchronized, and they had just come off a cycle when meeting up with the rams … that would put the due dates 18-21 days later than we had originally figured. So, that means we should expect little ones any time NOW! I leave for work when it is still dark out … Joanna does morning chores. I wait at my desk for her call with daily Lamb Report … she has yet to call this morning. She usually begins with, “Well, we had some visitors last night ….” D

  4. I am glad for you as no doubt you will soon need the grass. I am curious, though, regarding the backup plan. What if your supplies are depleted before there is fresh grass in the field? Can it be purchased at this time of year? I am wondering since, if you have the problem, so, too, will others, thus creating quite demand for what’s left. And the lambs–does a late birth mean complications? If so, what of the access to a local vet? Sadly spring is nowhere near here. While the days have lengthened this has not been accompanied by higher temperatures. We had storm after storm last week and this week looks to be more of the same. I am thinking mid April … maybe. Lovely photo, as always. I noticed you resisted the urge to use the popular phrase “cold blooded” 🙂

    • You have asked two good questions. What we have run short of is square-baled hay. Hay in this form is easier to handle (30-40 pounds per bale) and to feed to horses. We have plenty of hay in round bales, which is what we feed to the sheep (750-800 pounds per bale). If worse came to worse we could either purchase more square bales from a local dairy farmer (they always harvest a very large surplus of all sorts of forage) or we could either hand feed some hay from the round bales or even run some hay from the round bales through the square baler to produce squares. As far as veterinary assistance goes, Joanna and I are able to do nearly everything ourselves. There’s nothing like lots of experience when trouble is about. The last two times we needed veterinary assistance were to ‘sheath swab’ a bull for Trichomoniasis certification required of interstate transport (nothing I would want to try myself) and then to have a horse euthanized. Although small animal practices abound in our area there is a significant lack of folks doing large animal work and those that do seem to cater to dairy farms. So, you see, we have learned out of necessity. As far as the lambs go … Joanna and I are at odds as to the date the girls went out. We can’t decide whether it was October 1 or October 15. In either case, gestation is 153 days so we’re off a bit. When they are in heat a sheep will cycle every 18-21 days. So, if we did put them in on the 15th and the girls were cycling synchronously and had just come off one then lambing could be as late as April 1 or so … and that’s coming up next week. There’s always an explanation! And finally, regarding the term ‘cold blooded.’ If you were to insert a thermal probe up the rear of a lizard (an ectothermic (behavioral) homeotherm) as it basked on a rock in the middle of summer … it’s core would be very far from cold. Although amphibians track environmental temperatures more closely, their cores are still very far from cold. Perhaps the term should be ‘not-quite-so-warm’ or perhaps ‘not-quite-so-predictably-warm’ blooded? D

  5. Those colour combinations are almost unreal, those red spots are so vivid. I don’t think we have newts in our part of the world, or if we do, they must be very shy. I had no idea that they are so beautiful!

    • Thanks. It wasn’t a photo that I thought was going to amount to much … it looked quite dull through the viewfinder. A bit of a crop and a little boost to the overall contrast work wonders. I also adjusted the clarity which influences contrast in the mid-tones. Anyway, the adjustments seemed to work quite well, I’m glad you agree. Thanks for checking in. D

    • Hi there Cathy. We have been here at the farm now since 1995 and have always heated with wood. We’ve got a big stove (around 100,000 BTUs) in the living room and a smaller cook stove (perhaps 80,000 BTU) in the kitchen. Heating with wood is one of those things that sounds awfully romantic to folks who heat with some other sort of fuel. The realities of heating with wood are harsh, but if you can get by them I believe there’s no more satisfying way to heat your home. We have no source of heat on the second floor … it heats via convection through vents we created in the ceiling/floor. This arrangement works nicely since we like to sleep on the cool side. Joanna and are both small people (with lots of relative surface) so a point-source of heat warms us quickly. Remember though that heating with wood means either cutting or purchasing pole length ‘trees’ … cutting those into shorts in late winter or spring … splitting the shorts sometime during the summer … and then ranking the split wood to dry. Then you have to clean stoves, pipes, and chimneys each month that you’re burning. And leaving the house for more than 8-10 hours or so during the winter months can’t happen when you’re heating with wood. Having said that I can tell you that a house cannot be insured without some source of heat deemed permanent by the insurance company. We have a propane furnace in the basement that we have used twice now in the 10 years since it was installed … both times to keep the house warm in winter when we had to be out-of-town for funerals. Sad, but true. Wood heat is certainly lovely, but like absolutely all things in life, a trade off. Thanks for checking in today. And, thanks for good luck wishes for the bees and for the lambs. Today is yet another day that has passed without little ones on the ground! I’m not sure what the ewes are waiting for. D

  6. A beautiful creature – and I like this combination of colors. “As usual” your image shows such an interesting contrast of the distinct orange dots and the pattern on the back of the animal and the “unworldly” background. Nice coincidence too, I have seen some lizards in the garden today – it seems they they enjoy the sun, sitting on large stones – and I figured what great photos you would probably take of them 🙂 (My attempts to photograph such animals are usually quite pathetic.)

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