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Nature's Notebook

2018: wet and wild in the NW Corner

What a difference a year makes. In 2017, Connecticut experienced widespread drought conditions, with Litchfield County receiving only 32 inches of rain — 18 inches below the yearly average. 
Through mid-October 2018, streams and rivers were running high in our area and we were nearly 6 inches above average. Welcome to the new normal. We can expect wide fluctuations in precipitation, not to mention temperature and weather severity, as the climate continues to change.

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An irruption brings new birds to feeders

There was a significant crop failure in Canada that may bring us some unusual visitors in the coming weeks. These migrants include the red breasted nuthatch and the bohemian waxwing, but are predominantly a group of winter finches that rely on spruce, fir and hemlock cones and birch seeds.

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Trust your sensors

We are such an electronic society. I’m not a Luddite, but I’m cautious.
Home smoke detectors, for example, at least in our home, are known to ignore fumes from blackening onions but blurt loudly at 1 a.m. because their batteries are low.
So I change the batteries twice yearly when I change the clocks.

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As daylight becomes scarce

That chocolate brown river is still running high after weeks of rain. Two weeks ago, the air was so warm that the Housatonic steamed, as it sometimes does in winter when the water is much warmer than the air. This time the fog rose when conditions were reversed. Hip-booted anglers looked like wraiths out in the stream; but the water is turbid with runoff again and no good for fishing until it clears.

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The oak and the maple and our dashed hopes

I should have known better. Daring to predict the quality of the autumn foliage in New England is an act of hubris that seldom goes unanswered. Alert readers of this column will have noticed that despite my assertion in September that we had the potential for an outstanding display of fall color, we have instead experienced one of the drabbest, most muted and altogether lackluster leaf peeping seasons in recent memory. 

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The garden gets a B-

Autumn’s arrival prompted a veggie garden evaluation: B-minus. Tomatoes did very well, basil too. Potatoes could have grown a little bigger before the tops died down. Green beans were enormously prolific. But the vine produce — peas, cucumbers and zucchini — were victims likely of the heat and munchy worms. Carrots are stubby and apparently too wet: they started to grow roots. Kale was happy. 
We’re tempted to skip the beans next year; the two of us can only eat so many.

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A vote that can protect our preserved lands

For more than a century, people of good will and vision have worked with our state agencies to ensure that some of what makes our region so distinctive remains for future generations. If you have ever visited Campbell Falls or Peoples State Forest or Housatonic Meadows or any of the more than 60,000 acres of public lands protected by the state of Connecticut in the Northwest Corner, you have been the beneficiary of their foresight. 

Bat basketed

Case opened  21:01 hours, top of stairs in attic chamber outside master bedroom: Flickering shadows from energy-efficient lightbulb turned out to be caused by a circling bat. Backup called and assault team assembled.

First-to-show was Night Security Officer Winslow the Cat, who danced on the railing in frantic manner, pawing upward as if to nab invader in his paws.

Senior SWAT team member arrived and delegated Officer Cat (under protest) to downstairs traffic control. 

As the NW Corner becomes a beer bastion

On a whim three years ago, I purchased a pair of potted hops plants. I have a very compact garden in the one corner of my backyard that gets sufficient sunlight, and I placed them in the center of the back line. Then I ignored them.

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Same turtle, new name

The unobtrusive and federally threatened bog turtle managed to get a new scientific name quite a few years ago without my being aware of it. 

The world of taxonomy has been upended by genetic sequencing. It turns out that while previously grouped all together in the genus Clemmys, bog turtles are closely related to wood turtles but not directly related to spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata). The bog turtle is now Glyptemys muhlenbergii and the wood turtle Glyptemys insculpta.