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It's About Time - December 2013

Double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax azurites
Double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax azurites

Darkness comes early in December, now that midwinter is upon us. Remembering that Solstice isn’t until four days before Christmas, long nights are going to be around for a couple of months. We treasure clear, chilly nights when the stars put on a show from early in the evening. I mark the yearly cycle with only one constellation: Orion of Winter. It is the easiest to recognize, after the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Orion has three bright stars decorating his belt; his sword marked by four close, smaller stars angling off below. I begin to see Orion in the late night sky on my midnight creep (last evening walk with the dog) sometime in the fall and say goodbye to Orion in the spring. These nights he seems to be pointing to Jupiter over his head, the brightest “star” in the sky in the middle of the night after Venus has set.

Deciduous perennials are resting for their quiet season. The exotic weeds exhibit scant dormancy, throwing up green leaves as soon as the fall rains begin. None are as prominent in town as poison hemlock.

The Delta Ponds are flush with duck diversity. Every day I see at least a dozen water birds. Besides the year-round regulars — mallards, Canada geese, blue heron, kingfishers, coots and double crested cormorants — winter visitors have flown in. Old friends are buffleheads, wigeons, northern shovelers, grebes, gadwalls, teal and ringnecks. Rare in our pond are hooded mergansers and egret. No wood ducks yet.