|Snow frosted landscape at sunset on Feb. 6|
This first February storm frosted every detail of the landscape, remaining undisturbed through a nearly windless night. The next morning Great Meadows was a dazzling winter wonderland. Punkatasset Hill looked majestic and its most venerable trees stood out in their brilliant white robes.
|Morning Feb. 6 - big pines on Punkatasset|
|Punkatasset Hill with hundreds of geese napping on the ice below|
|Photographers on the cross-dike trail|
Along the northern edge of the refuge, which borders the river, the floodplain forest provides protection from prevailing northwesterly winds and exposure to the south allows the sun to warm this area more quickly from September through April. It is here, during the colder months, that I most often find lingering gossamer strands in the late fall, fleeting displays of hoar frost on winter mornings, bluebirds feeding on sun-warmed insects, and the first buds to open in late March.
Along this northern boundary, between the river and the trail, an increasing number of river birch (Betula nigra) have taken hold. I only recently found out from Concord's botanical historian, Ray Angelo, that river birch doesn't have a native claim to Concord soil - though they are native within the Merrimack River valley. Thoreau and his botanical colleagues made no mention of it in the 19th century. Not until 1957, did botanist Richard Eaton document the first naturalized colony by the old railroad bridge abutment along the Sudbury River just upstream from Egg Rock. Some of the town's largest river birch still grow between that point and the Lowell Road bridge, but these radiant peeling-barked trees have become well-established along the Concord River and are spreading rapidly throughout the refuge's floodplain.
|I've been watching this river birch grow since it was a sprout.|
This serene morning scene reveals an unusual stillness in the air. The Concord River makes a wide turn here, near the mouth of the inlet channel to the refuge. During winter months, when the impoundments are frozen over, geese and ducks congregate here to feed and bathe.
Wildlife activity is always high, here between the inlet channel and the impounded marsh. The fresh snow reveals the busy residents. Activity is unusually high for early February, since this snowfall follows several days with record temperatures above 50º F. and a thawing of ice and soils.
|Muskrat run...notice the thin tail drag in the track|
On this morning, divine inspiration was also made manifest through the collaborative conditions of a very moist snowfall combined with unusually still air (especially at Great Meadows) and mid-morning temperatures still in the low 20's. Those few of us who were walking these protected stretches of trail at that moment were stunned to witness the very rare event of hoar frost growing on the snowpack before our eyes.
At first, the sculpted snow took on a furry appearance. Then, over the course of just thirty minutes, the crystals lengthened and articulated into glorious plates and "feathers," particularly around open holes. With the warming sun causing just enough moisture to evaporate from the snowpack and and through vents from the muds underneath, it flash froze in contact with the air forming crystals that quickly compounded themselves. Then just as quickly, the sun warmed to the point that all the delicacies melted away.
|Articulated hoar frost crystals around a deep opening in the snow|