What’s This White Stuff?

What IS this white stuff?

It seems as if recent winters in my area have been remarkably free of the frozen white compound we call “Snow”. So when we got half a foot of it recently, I went for a walk to reacquaint myself with winter.

What better place to enjoy a winter wonderland than at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge?

Darby Creek was mostly frozen over.

Underneath the ice, the water is always moving, up and down with the tides and current, making for some interesting works of ice art.

What’s that out on the ice across the creek to the left? Let’s zoom in.

AHA! Mallards.

Did you know that a group of ducks is called a “paddling”? That only applies to ducks on the water, though. Since these guys are on a solid surface, they’re just a bunch of ducks.

Ah, here’s a paddling of ducks!

It makes me shiver to see them swimming in water this cold. But ducks are built for this, with insulating feathers and a special circulatory system called a countercurrent heat exchange system.

Class, pop quiz time! What do you mean, you didn’t study? I warned you there would be a quiz! Yes, I know that was seven years ago, but here it is: What is a countercurrent heat exchange system? Anyone? You’d better review the lesson: https://thewildedge.net/2015/01/26/duck-duck-sandpiper/

After walking along the Darby Creek for a bit, I climbed back up to Dike Road. The Refuge’s impoundment, a 145-acre pond, was also frozen over.

Snow sculptures on ice.

About that snow… This felt as if it was the first real snowfall we’d had in years. It wasn’t, not by a long shot. Perceptions don’t always match reality. This storm was the only first significant snow we’d had this season – although the Jersey Shore had several big storms.

My memories of recent winters as snowless are colored by the winter of 2019-2020. We got a grand whopping 0.3” of snow in Philadelphia that year!

But a little research – and a chart – shows that the winters since I began visiting Heinz Refuge in 2013 have been pretty normal. Last year – which felt like an easy winter – we got just about the norm for yearly snowfall here, 23.9”. The two glaring exceptions were the snowless 2019-20 winter, and 2013-14, when we got whomped with 68”, way above normal.

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t been out exploring snowy landscapes for a few years. Just think, I’ve been missing out on this:

Still life.

I titled this image Waiting.

On the trail in Warbler Woods.

A favorite spot by the Little Boardwalk. You can tell how high the impoundment’s been lately by where the frozen water meets the snowy land. Almost to the foot of the bench.

Available to lease: spacious one-room accommodations, sleeps 14. Restricted housing, wood ducks only. Icicle not included.

The view down Haul Road. Easy walking. I met a women on cross-country skis.

The sun was strong, and the temperature was above freezing.

Perfect for making icicles.











What happened here? Did a bird land here briefly, and take flight again?

Ice prism.

More bird tracks.

And the likely track maker. White-throated sparrows are common and very active on winter days. Lots of juncos were out and about, too.

I had forgotten the joy and beauty of a snow-covered landscape. It was time I reacquainted myself with the white stuff, to see it as something to be celebrated and not just shoveled. Time I rediscovered the wonder of a winter wonderland.

POSTSCRIPT: The snow and ice are gone at John Heinz NWR. Birds are singing and the nasal conk-a-REE call of the red-winged blackbirds can be heard again. Our bald eagles and the great blue herons are tending to their nests. Spring is on the horizon.

Best of all, after two LONG years, our Visitor Center is once again open and welcoming visitors three days a week. 😊

2 thoughts on “What’s This White Stuff?

  1. Thank you to Kim. The world needs times like these and someone like you to point them out when the rest of the world gets crazy! I just lost a wrinkle on my forehead… at least for this respite and a wonderful refuge enhanced by Kim’s arts!

    • And thank you, Lynn – the good work you have done for our Refuge over so many years makes it the solace for our souls that it is!

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