A few warblers finally showed up around the cabin this weekend, pulled out of the sky no doubt by the fog and drizzle that pervaded the weekend. I saw several American Restart and a Black-and-white warbler. Both species have visited the cabin in other years and both are among those that I’m likely to see here. Some warbler species are more likely to stop at my woods than others.
I’ve yet to see worm-eating, Wilson’s, orange-crowned and several others at the cabin. Black-throated green is usually common and Blackburnian isn’t unheard of. For several years black-throated blue was common, but I haven’t seen one of those lately.
The fog and drizzle of the weekend kept the skies gray or invisible most of the time. The warblers weren’t inclined to attempt to migrate through it. Instead, they spent the weekend around the cabin throughout most of the day. Birders typically get up early during warbler season to catch a glimpse of our little jewels. This weekend that wouldn’t have been necessary. The gloomy weather kept the birds around all day, even into the middle of the afternoon. They also didn’t seem to mind my presence very much. When I was outside I was moving around from one chore to the other and the birds weren’t fearful or shy. I wondered if the calm presence of my chickens outside their pen and foraging made the warblers feel safe enough to ignore me.
"Can I have the keys?"
I did hear a yellow-billed cuckoo this weekend, which is always a treat. The bird never seems close to the cabin, but the sound of that odd call travels a longer distance than do most. Sometimes the bird sounded as though it was high up on the mountain. Sometimes it sounded down along the lower slope, but never did it sound close enough to attempt to look for it. I had to content myself with listening to its haunting call. Maybe one day that call will be close enough to the cabin to make it worthwhile to attempt to find the bird.
That’s the last of them! This morning the eastern pewee’s plaintive call echoed through the forest around my cabin. The pewee is the very last of the summer residents to arrive. So now everyone who normally should be here is here. Oh, I could have another one or so. Some years I have a yellow-billed cuckoo somewhere on the mountain. I suspect that poor bird has yet to find a mate, at least here on Roundtop. The calls echo throughout the summer, moving from spot to spot as though hoping for someone to answer. Maybe someone did answer, eventually, but I don’t think it was here on Roundtop.
So now, instead of trying to find new summer residents, I can relax, pull up a chair and...No, that’s not going to happen. I have a list of outside work that’s longer than my arm, starting with trimming back the various tree branches and bushes that scrape the sides of the car as I travel my driveway. Just because I don’t have a yard doesn’t mean that there’s no work to be done. It can be a near-constant fight against multi-flower rose, poison and assorted saplings determined to take hold and cover the cabin.
It can be tough work, particularly when it’s hot outside, so now is the time to get at it. Some years it gets hot so early in the season that I don’t really get it done to the point that I’m relatively happy with it. This year so far, it’s been fairly cool, so at least I don’t yet have that to deal with. Still, it’s something of a race to get done, because I know summer’s heat is only a few weeks away.
I use hedge clippers and a longer handled clipper rather than a weed whacker. I used to have a weed whacker. Several, in fact. None of them lasted very long. I couldn’t handle the heavy weed whackers and the lighter weight ones didn’t hold up. I’ve had the clippers for years. I don’t mind that this is a battle I will lose. My only goal is to keep the tendrils of new growth from scraping the car along the driveway or me as I walk around the cabin. The forest will win, eventually. So be it. In fact, I hope the forest does win, eventually. If not now then at some point, even if that time is far into a future I will never see. I have faith in the strength of the forest to survive even mankind’s mindless destruction. Though I also believe that mankind would survive longer than I expect they will if there were more of us who believed in the importance of forests.
More spring flowers! Today the first of the wild geraniums are up. They qualify as one of my favorites. That lovely pale purple shade isn’t common on the wildflowers around Roundtop. That alone makes their presence welcome.
Wild geraniums are a small flower. Even with that unusual shade they can easily be overlooked. I first saw this bloom last night as I was walking Baby Dog. I checked the surrounding landmarks and then returned later with my camera. And I still spent a minute or so looking for it.
The near-frost I had in the morning didn’t hurt the plant any. In fact, none of the woodland flowers that are out right now were bothered by the 30 degree drop in temperature. Perhaps it’s only the cultivated flowers that are less able to withstand big drops in temperature.
So far this May has been cooler than most. I don’t mind that in the least as long as whenever the seasonal warm-up finally does arrive it doesn’t appear all at once. I hate those years when I have to turn off the heat in the morning and turn on the air conditioner later that same afternoon. This year my heat is turned off, but the overnight chill was enough to make me, momentarily, re-think that choice. Instead I opted for a sweater and another cover on the bed, where I was eventually joined by every cat in the house. Amazing how quickly they want to sleep with me when the night is a cold one.
May is a lovely time of year for an evening walk. I have nothing against walking in other months of the year, though some of them present difficulties for those of us who aren’t retired or independently wealthy.
Walking in winter’s darkness can have its charms, though that can pall before the light returns to the evenings. A little bit of nighttime walking is fine, but I find six months o f it not nearly as interesting or enjoyable. A winter’s walk in daylight is still restricted to weekends for me, and those are busy enough that a daylight walk feels hurried, crunched in between this errand or that one.
In July and August, morning walks are preferable as the day’s heat takes all night to dissipate. An evening walk then can sometimes be hotter than one in the middle of the afternoon. Summer’s heat is hardly conducive to an enjoyable foray. And there are the ever-present evening storms to contend with, too.
But May is one of those months where daylight stretches on for hours and the temperature is pleasant and even a bit cool as dusk approaches. What could be finer? I think it’s the best month for walking. October has its charms and the temperature is usually fine, but the evenings are already growing quite short. No, May is the best month for an evening walk. The day’s work is done, the dinnertime chores are done, and daylight still beckons me outside. It’s enough to make me wish for May to last for months. Hurry! Don’t tarry or you’ll miss the best walking time of the year. We’re already halfway through the month. Don’t waste another day of it.
More flowers and more birds are making their first spring appearances around my cabin. Alas, none of the birds were warblers. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had any good ones. A male scarlet tanager seems to be taking up residence right by the cabin’s north side. I was treated to his sweet song all weekend long and saw him a few times as well.
I frequently see scarlet tanager deeper in the forest. Down in the valley between Roundtop Mtn. and Nell’s Hill they are regular summer residents. I’ve never had one so close to the cabin before, though, so I’m quite enjoying his presence. I haven’t yet seen him with a female so I don’t know if he will end up with a nest nearby or not.
The blue jays that are nesting on the south side of the cabin must have hatched. I no longer see mom’s head or tail constantly poking up out of her stick nest. The babies, if there are any, aren’t yet big enough for their heads to appear above the edge of the nest.
The first wild geraniums have appeared and, as you can see, so have the first mayapple blossoms. Mayapples are difficult to photograph. The flowers are usually hidden under the umbrella-like leaves, which means I have to get down on the ground to get a photo. That’s not so bad, but at least at my cabin, wherever I see mayapple blooms, I also find poison ivy. You can see one of those on the left side of today’s photo. I’ve already had all the poison ivy I need for this year. A few weeks ago before the leaves of anything were out, I pulled up some stray twigs and roots and ended up with poison between my fingers. That was not fun at all. I know enough to wear gloves most of the time, but I wasn’t thinking that those bare roots might be poison. Now I know.
Dogwood blossoms are hard for me to photograph. The lowest blooms are usually well over my head, and the sky in the background doesn’t always cooperate either. This week the sky has been especially gray—not the ideal background for a while flower. This morning the sky was a bit more cooperative, and besides if I don’t get a photo of the flower soon, I will miss them this year.
I am impatiently awaiting the arrival of warblers, and I’m starting to think my fear that they will overfly me this year is what is happening . Certainly, I haven’t had anything other than a few yellow-rumped warblers. This morning I stood outside the cabin and listened to the dawn chorus, hoping for the sound of one at least. The chorus was filled with the sweet songs of many wood thrush and ovenbirds, but nothing that sounded warbler-ish to me at all. It feels ungrateful to complain while the wood thrush are filling the woods with their songs.
Wood thrush songs seem to emanate from everywhere and nowhere in the forest. The sound surrounds me, though the birds themselves are often invisible. Sometimes I can place them in this tree or that one, but that usually doesn’t help me find a bird that’s sitting deep in the tree. Occasionally they will sing in the open where I can see them, but that isn’t typical.
This week will be the biggest birding week of the year. It’s the week when migration explodes and millions of songbirds and summer residents head through the lower 48. Indications are already that birds are moving through the Central and mid-Atlantic. Many summer resident birds are here already, of course, though this week is still the biggest single time of the year for birds to move.
Unlike fall migration, which is spread out over a longer time, often with males, females and immature birds heading south on different schedules, spring migration is all about finding the best habitat for the best nest site and doing it before anyone else gets there or takes the best spot. Here in the northeast, we’ll have to wait for the low pressure system that’s sitting over top of us to move before the action really takes off. Last night, radar of the DC metro area showed a big concentration of birds, as did central Kansas.
Here at Roundtop, you can see what the sky looked like this morning—foggy, with rain expected off and on all day. It’s the kind of weather where birds like to sit and wait for conditions to improve. In a way, the concentration of birds in DC may prove to be unlucky for me just over a hundred miles or so to the north. Birds can cover 100 miles in several hours of flying; they may not stop here this year. It may be that only the birds who come for the season will land. The birds that we only see during migration may well not be ready to stop for lunch, let alone for the night, at the point when they will be over top of my cabin.
The serious bird radar watchers (or is that serious radar birdwatchers?) suggest that this year fewer birds are to be found anywhere on the trip north. Their radar spikes aren’t as concentrated or as large as is normal. I haven’t yet heard anyone discuss what that means—an ordinary variation in numbers, a sign of trouble in the wintering grounds. So I will try and resist the temptation to speculate and will instead just note it for the future.
I live in a cabin in the forests of Pennsylvania. I write about what I see and do in the natural world around me. I've been a hawkwatcher for more than 20 years, a birder for longer than that, and a crayfish-catcher since I was a polywog.