I actually walk in the woods near my house a few times a week. But the woods on the west side of my property are a real trek at 0.55 km (one-third of a mile) in one direction so I go there only a two or three times a month. There is no trail or path to get there and in the winter one must cross a small stream with sometimes thin ice and then clamber over sedge tussocks and through willow and alder thickets. But it is always interesting even in the dead of winter. Today, the air temperatures were mild and the high reached about 55 F. All week the weather has been warm and what little snow we got this winter is almost gone in the open areas and quickly disappearing in the woods.
On my way across the river I saw two otters out on the ice so I waited a few minutes until they dove back under the water. I usually see where they have been (scat, the remains of crayfish and clam shells) so this was special. Even though it is officially still winter for another nine days some insects and spiders are starting to move about. There are small moths in the sedge meadow and black spiders crawling over the the remaining snow and ice.
I made way across the ice to the other side of the river. There were a few nice surprises. One was finding blue honeysuckle (Lonicera villosa) at the edge of an alder thicket. This is one more piece of evidence that a forested swamp once grew where there are now alders since this Lonicera species is common in rich conifer-hardwood swamps. The forest is making a comeback as many new tamarack, white spruce, balsam fir, tacamahac, elms, red maples, and black ash are starting to emerge from the alders.
Another nice surprise was finding a cocoon which I think may belong to the cecropia moth. There are plenty of its larval host plants available like elm, willow, and paper birch in the immediate area.
Eventually, I got into the woods and began exploring. I set a number of goals for my walk out there including looking for lichens and getting photos of the black ash swamp. I found an interesting pelt lichen (Peltigera) on a fallen fir tree log but have not determined the species yet. I will need to go back and look at the lichen more closely especially at the venation pattern on the underside. At any rate, it is the fourth new Peltigera lichen I have found here.
Further into the woods I saw fresh wolf tracks maybe less than two hours old. That was good to see since these animals are persecuted by too many people around here.
I stayed in the woods for about four hours before turning back. The day was sunny and mild and there was a lot to see and do. And it was quiet except for the pine siskins, nuthatches, chickadees, and the wind through the trees.