Tuesday, August 30, 2005

August 30, 2005

“Thus, remarkably, we do not know the true number of species on earth even to the nearest order of magnitude.” - Edward O. Wilson in Conservation for the 21st Century, edited by David Western and Mary Pearl

Okay, no rants today. So far I haven’t seen any “hurricane birds” at Roundtop, though that is often a birder’s benefit from one of these devastating storms. And Katrina is certainly worse than nearly all. Here, all that is forecast is an inch or two of rain, though the western part of the state will have more.

Here’s the birds I did see or hear on my dawn walk this morning (though each morning now there is less and less “dawn”):

36 Canada geese sheltering along the eastern edge of the new pond, drifted slowly towards the center when the Dog and I appeared. Dog was unimpressed, as I suspect the geese were as well.

1 steel-belted kingfisher at the old pond. These birds are often around, but this particular one has been ubiquitous the past week or so.

6-8 American crows (the usual crowd of busybodies who feel duty-bound to report to the entire forest that yes, indeed, the world has survived another night).

1 Eastern wood-pewee. Okay, so maybe the robin is the early bird that gets the worm, but that’s only because the pewees don’t want them. This is the first bird I hear in a summer’s “morning,” and the pewee’s idea of “morning” doesn’t match anyone else’s. I’m not even sure astronomical dawn (sun still 18ยบ below horizon) has begun when this bird starts his call.

2 Mourning doves a.k.a. “pinheads,” as designated by a birding friend of mine. I’m not sure if he called them pinheads because of their stupidity or their silhouette. Doesn’t matter. Either fits.

Chickadee sp. This is the current politically correct way to identify these birds in areas such as mine where both the black-capped and Carolina chickadees occur. I used to differentiate these species by their call, but now I’m told that isn’t definitive. In winter, because they come to the feeder and I can see them up close, I believe I can differentiate them. I look at the white patch on the head and how it extends behind the eye. In what I call Carolinas, this patch is smaller and fades to a dirty white. In black-cappeds, the patch bright white and larger. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I’m told this isn’t right either, and that it’s just a variant and/or subspecies or possibly a hybrid. And if that happens, how long will it be before the “lumpers” in the American Ornithological Union (who have been long out of power) overpower the “splitters” and declare that this is just one species, after all.

Monday, August 29, 2005

August 29, 2005

"Is there some significance here I am unaware of? Or no significance at all?" Czeslaw Milosz, Symbolic Mountains and Forests

What’s a blog without a rant? Okay, so here’s my current one. I’ll try not to rant any more until September (Oh, God, that’s 3 whole days away).

Top 8 reasons why I intensely dislike summer.

8. Thunderstorms and tornados. These aren’t fun when you live in the woods surrounded by trees. I have several trees that are too close to the house, anyway. I can open my upstairs bedroom window and touch the leaves. Having the trees this close is great for birdwatching. During migration seasons I take my binoculars with me when I’m sitting at my computer, which faces a window. My best sighting from this window has been wood ducks in the spring checking out the holes in the trees. So far no takers. Some years ago a tornado came through the area, passing only a few hundred yards to my west. I was at work when it came through and had to detour all over the place (roads blocked by fallen trees), driving where I shouldn’t, not to mention over and around fallen trees, to find a way in to the cabin. The 20 minute drive took over an hour, and I found a path literally on the last possible choice of travel routes to get in to the area. I truly expected to find the cabin nothing but a pile of sticks. What I found was a driveway full of big branches, a tree lying across the back deck and the cats still under the bed. Not to mention the eeriest and most complete silence I’ve ever heard.

7. Mosquitos. West Nile virus has hospitalized at least three people from my county this summer. I refuse to cover myself in DEET every time I step outside, so I get bitten sometimes.

6. It’s very green out. It’s like living inside a green “box” in summer. I have native plant life right up to the front and rear doors with trees in every direction. Most days I can’t see the sky unless I go out onto the back deck and look straight up. From inside the cabin, I can see little pinpricks of sky through the leaves in some places, but that’s the extent of it. In winter I have a great view of the two mountains to my west. With my scope, I can just barely see the porch light of my nearest western neighbor in winter. I think the light is over a mile away.

5. It’s nearly always humid and therefore usually hazy. Even if I did have a view of something in the summer, I likely wouldn’t be able to see it due to the hazy and humid weather that’s normal here. I know, intellectually, that the haze is part of the chlorophyll process in action, but it’s still not attractive. Try watching for a Perseid meteor shower when it’s hazy. Try looking for aurora borealis when it’s hazy. Try looking for the Milky Way when it’s hazy. You get the idea.

4. Not good for hiking. I sweat enough on a cool day when I’m carrying a pack. Hiking when it’s 95oF outside simply isn’t my idea of fun.

3. Not good for birding. They’re too hot to move much either. Plus, there are rarely any truly exciting birds in summer—just the residents and the summer residents. During the migration seasons, it’s possible to see almost anything. It’s always surprising.

2. Not good for hawkwatching. See #3 above. I do have a few resident raptors around—mostly red-tailed hawks, though the local American kestrels also fledged a batch of teenage terrorist falcons this year. (More on these another time). Great horned and eastern screech owls rule the night, but it’s not the same as accidentally flushing a bald eagle out of a nearby stand of pine trees or seeing an osprey take a fish from one of the local ponds.

And the number one reason why I so intensely dislike summer:

1. I am sick to death of hearing people say, “I can’t live without air conditioning.” Get over it, people! Until 50 years ago everyone lived without air conditioning. Darwin’s Theory doesn’t work that fast. I live without air conditioning today. If people didn’t cut down every flipping tree around they wouldn’t need so much “steenking” air conditioning. Here’s the deal: I work near a city where the temperature is a good 10-15 degrees higher than it is at the cabin (okay, so I wouldn’t want to live in *those* temperatures without air conditioning either). When I get drive out of the city and get to the rural areas on my drive home from making a living, the temperature drops 6-7 degrees over the city temperature. The very moment I first reach the forest on the drive to the cabin, the temperature drops another 6-7 degrees. The inside of the cabin is typically 3 degrees cooler than outside. So even on the hottest days, the cabin area is 10-15 degrees cooler than the city. Imagine if every house was surrounded by trees instead of the sterile grassy lawns that suburbanites love so very, very much.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

August 28, 2005

"Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves." - Frederick Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

New blog. Yeah, I can see the excitement in your face. Just what the world needs. So why am I blogging? Because I haven't yet read the kind of blog I want to write, and I'm tired of waiting for someone else to write it. At this point the only viable alternative is to write the ding-dang thing myself.

Now that that's covered, what *is* the kind of blog I'm going to write? Here's the deal. I live in a cabin in the woods--pretty deep in the forest--off the public road system anyway. And no, I'm not Alaskan (unfortunately) or even Canadian or Montanan (is that the word?) or one of those other outdoorsy states. I live on the east coast, surrounded by encroaching suburban ghettos and the thought processes of urbanization that go with it. But I don't live like that. I try to live simply and in tune with the eastern forests that surround me. I don't care if pointy shoes are "in" this fall (are they "in"?), and you'll not find a single piece of lime green anything in my closet. I don't have a lawn or a garage or cable TV or any of that stuff. So I'm going to blog about what it's like to live in an eastern forest at the beginning of the 21st Century. I'm going to talk about the change of seasons, what I see off my back deck and around the cabin, and I'm going to comment on the foibles of those who buy into and live that whole "normal" lifestyle kind of thing.

Who am I? Well, you've probably guessed I'm a woman because of that pointy shoe, lime green comment. Right you are. I'm single and live with three cats (2 Maine Coon and 1 foundling and a large dog). I like hiking, birdwatching, hawkwatching and backpacking, and I'm tired of keeping my mouth shut when I'm in "polite" society. The rest you'll find out as we go along.

Pictures? Sorry you asked. I don't own a digital camera. It's on my wish list, but most of my little extra cash goes towards things like the new tires I need on the truck and if I'm really lucky and thrifty the storm door I need on the front door. I promise I'll work on it. In the meantime, I'll work on scanning some non-digital images and see if I can add those. Don't expect them tomorrow.

What I will promise tomorrow is more meat to the blog and less introduction.