Sunday, December 31, 2006

No, I didn't take this today. Or yesterday. But I did take this photo earlier this week. It shows every bit of snow I've gotten so far this season.

Not very impressive, is it?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Morning Light

Today’s photo is the early morning sunlight touching the tops of the trees with a warm glow, moments before the light spreads lower and wakens the earth. It’s the everyday version of alpenglow.

After the incredible sunset I saw the other day, I’ve been thinking about how I look at the woods around me and how that changes with the seasons. In earliest spring, I look for the first hint of spring growth, the first swelling of new buds, the first tinge of green. I'm focused on the smallest details. In autumn, I (like nearly everyone else) am more focused on the fall colors around me. In winter, I’m usually looking at how snow redecorates the landscape.

This year is different so far as I’ve had no more than a trace of snow. The leaves are down. Spring growth is months away. So I’ve turned my attention to the sky, to the sunrises and sunsets. And I’ve come to think that this redirection of my focus is yet another good comparison with how we go through our lives.

Sometimes our attention is caught by the minutiae of day-to-day errands and chores that are right in front of us. I constantly have to remind myself that there’s more to life than just the next errand. The chores never end, and if you plan to do them all before you have fun or go someplace interesting, you’ll never get out of the house.

Other times our focus is broader and we see more of what’s around us. These are days when I’m more balanced, when I can see the connections between tree species and the birds that depend on them for food and shelter, where I hear two distant great-horned owls and know that their courtship has begun again.

But sometimes we step back even further and look at an even bigger picture. Those are the days when I am captured by the beauty of a sunset and look beyond my woods and even beyond my own life. These days of an outward turning focus are important for us too. These are the times when we see if our own lives are going where we want them to, where we look beyond ourselves and into the paths of those around us, where we think about future lives and what will touch them.

In a way, the days of outward focus have similarities with the days when day to day trivia threatens to overtake us. I don’t think we should spend all our time either focused on minutiae or looking out so far ahead that we lose track of what’s around us. We aren’t meant to live with our eyes so much in the distance that we stumble over our own feet. And we aren’t meant to live without ever lifting our eyes either.

It’s the balanced days where we should spend most of our time and focus, though I think the only way to be truly balanced is to understand both the distance ahead and the tasks that threaten to ensnare. It’s only when we understand both edges of life that we appreciate where true balance lies.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Incredible Sunset!

Can you remember the last time you saw a sunset this amazing?

I didn't think so.

Don't feel bad.

I can't either.

Day after day, generally speaking, I find sunrises likely to be more amazing and interesting than sunsets. But then every now and again, the sunsets pull out all the stops and put on a show like I saw last night as I was driving up to the cabin.

And on those rare days when a sunset puts on its best show, I realize that a sunrise really can't hold a candle to the very best sunsets.

Unfortunately, sunsets don't do this very often. I personally think its the best sunset I've ever seen in my entire life. And I'm thrilled I had a camera with me when I saw it (thanks again, Stu!).

There's even the barest hint of a sun pillar.

How about another photo?

Thanks, I didn't think you'd mind.

This sunset went on and on. For minutes.

This wasn't one of those 30 second sunset wonders that's gone before you can get the camera out of the bag. That's gone before you can turn the camera on and point it towards the west.

This sunset turned the entire sky this incredible shade. And what is this shade, anyway? Dark salmon, hints of mauve? I can't figure it out.

Well, maybe I could if I showed another photo.

Nope, that still didn't help.

The color has changed again. In this photo you can just see a few lights from one of the bunny slopes on Roundtop.

Are you tired of looking at them yet.

I didn't think so.

Okay, just one more, but only if you're good.

I took I don't know how many photos of this sunset. Thank heaven for digital cameras or I would have run out of fil (or not had film in the camera or the photos wouldn't have looked like the sunset or...something!).

Anyway, all good things, even all great things have to come to an end eventually. And so it was with the world's best sunset ever.

I'm just glad I got to see it.

When the winter is warm, when the woods look a bit bleak.

When you least expect it, Nature puts on a show-stopper.

Thanks. I needed that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Back Woods

I just can’t get used to this non-winter weather, though I am starting to try. I am used to a short period after the leaves fall when both the weather and surroundings are a nondescript brown. But before too long, the after-leaf drop time turns to winter with snow, sleet and cold weather. In the past, I have probably ignored this in-between stretch of brown simply as something that doesn’t last very long and is a necessary prelude to the actual arrival of winter.

However, this year the in-between nondescript brown stretch has continued for 6 weeks. At first I simply ignored it, assuming it would soon go away. It hasn’t. Now, I feel that I should deal with it, explore it and try to find something nice to say about it. I’m not finding that last part very easy.

This long stretch of in-between weather has been mostly gray, rainy and/or muddy, and it just doesn’t feel right. The closest comparison I can make is that is similar to early April but without the promise of daily seeing new plant growth. I keep waiting for something to happen—waiting for it to get colder and turn into winter, waiting for it to get warmer and become April. I don’t usually have to wait this long for something to happen in the natural world.

So last night I was out and about simply trying to notice more about what was going on around me. And I still don’t think I’ve gotten a handle on it. In many ways, despite the temperature, it is still winter. Raccoons are mostly hibernating, not because it’s cold enough for that but because they’re supposed to be doing that now. The great-horned owls are calling, which they would do in any event. They start nesting in February, and this warmer weather, if it lasts, might actually be good for the survival of the nestlings. The winter feeders birds are here (if not vulturing over the birdfeeders as usual). For them finding natural food easily is probably beneficial to their survival. For me, well, it is still brown outside (but the heating cost is lower).

I wonder if the animals feel, in any way, as I do, that despite some benefits this weather simply isn’t right? So in the end, I am left with the notion that this long in-between period is simply odd. Around me, nature is trying go on with its business as usual, though not much about this is really usual.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fight Global Warming...winter's short enough already!

It sure didn't feel or look like Christmas here. I took the photo at my parents' farm on Sunday. Check out that temperature! It was 54 degrees in the afternoon in a shaded area.

Ski Roundtop has been forced to close until it's cold enough to make more snow. I don't ever remember Roundtop being closed over the Christmas holiday before. It's their biggest week of the season--normally. This area had about an inch of rain on Friday, and that, combined with the warm temperatures, completely ruined what little snow they had left.

Unfortunately, the temperature doesn't look all that much better this week either. A few nights are supposed to be below freezing, but only just. Roundtop really needs for it to be beliow freezing all night long to make snow. When it only dips below freezing an hour before dawn, that doesn't leave them enough time to do much.

At the cabin, my feeders are full of birds, though I don't have any unusual or exotic species--just the usual suspects. I have chickadees, titmice, Carolina wren, cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, and downy woodpeckers. Surprisingly to me, I haven't seen juncos at the feeder, though they are plentiful enough in the woods. I guess they're finding the food they need without using my feeder for support. I also haven't seen any other sparrows at the feeder--usually I have white-throated sparrows at the very least and often a few more species.

I still can't get over that so many people actually like this mild weather. My snowshoes are gathering dust, for heaven's sake!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Fairy House Tree

Today should be the first day of the new year, not that January day. The shortest day and longest night of the year has ended, and so the return of the day’s light begins, at least theoretically. Here, this morning is gray and gloomy with no sign of sunshine. It is so overcast that I couldn’t tell you when sunrise occurred, just that it seemed pretty late before it was light enough to walk across the deck without stumbling in the dark.

The photo today is of what I call the fairy house tree. The open tree hole has sheltered chipmunks and squirrels in the past, but is now large enough to shelter opossums and raccoons. If it gets much larger before the tree falls, I’ll soon be able to crawl in there.

One of the reasons I took this photo this morning is because I’m afraid this tree will soon fall or be cut (it’s near the road). And I wanted to get a photo of it before it did. I'd love to be small enough to crawl inside and use it as my house, or at least a place to have a tea party or sleep overnight. Wouldn't that be great fun!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bark? I'd Rather Howl!

I love the texture of bark on the trees around the cabin. This one is from a weathered oak tree that guards the entrance to my lane. It is weathered and rough to the touch, a true veteran of the forest, with the scars to prove it.

I’ve known for some time that my local weather is warmer than it has been before in my lifetime. I can see it in the dates of when the leaves drop and reappear in the spring. I can see it in the tree species—sassafras is lots more common, for one. I can see it in the bird species that live here. They are following the southern plants, trees and insects that move a bit further north each year.

As an example, I used to only see black-capped chickadees around my cabin. Perhaps once a year I would see a Carolina chickadee locally. Now, I live in the zone where black-cappeds and Carolinas are so interwoven that to be politically correct (and we all know how I am about that), I must call them chickadee sp. as the two “species” have hybridized so much that you can’t separate them. I also used to have house wrens; now I have Carolina wrens.

Even so, I was depressed to learn yesterday that the National Arbor Day Foundation has officially reclassified my area climate zone, and I am now in the same one as Virginia. They have a link (here) that shows the old zones and the new ones. And lest you think this change has occurred over decades, the “old” map was merely from 1990. (Thanks to the DC Birding blog for originally posting this link).

To me, the most striking thing between the old and new maps is the change that has occurred to Zone 5, a dark green band that used to stretch across southern third of Nebraska, southern Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, most of Ohio, northern Pennsylvania and all but the very northern part of New England. In the new map, all of Nebraska and Iowa are now in Zone 5, and once you are east of Iowa, Zone 5 now has almost entirely disappeared.

My old zone, Zone 6, now covers almost all of Pennsylvania except for the area I’m in. Instead, I am now in Zone 7, sharing the same climate zone with Virginia and western North Carolina, for heaven’s sake!

Another big change is the virtual disappearance of the cold Zone 3 from all but a few areas in the extreme northern U.S. Before, this zone nearly covered each of the northern border states. Now, this zone only extends a few miles south of the Canadian border.

Who needs to wait for the holidays to be depressed?

Here's the same tree, standing back a bit so you can see more than just the bark. But as I said in the title to today's post. After reading about my own little climate change, I'd rather howl!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An Almost Winter Morning

This morning is crisp, a welcome change from the warm, foggy mornings of just a day or so ago. It doesn’t quite feel like late December yet, but it’s closer. Roundtop made snow last night for the first time in two weeks. . I hear a Great-Horned Owl hooting almost every morning when I leave the cabin to take Dog on his morning walk. This morning Dog saw one of the snowmakers head up one of the slopes on a snow machine and was determined to chase it. I saw a pale Red-tailed Hawk fly out of the trees just around dawn and circle over the valley before disappearing.

The number of birds at my feeder is steadily increasing. They get bolder as it gets colder and more difficult for them to find natural food. This morning, both titmice and chickadees almost landed in the seed container as I carried it across the deck to the feeder. Several were within 12 inches of landing in it or on my hand before they “chickened” out. Their boldness is a sign they are hungry. When natural food is plentiful, they aren’t inclined to approach before I’ve dumped their seed and turned away. Later, during snowstorms or ice storms, they will often land on my hand or in the open seed dish as I carry it to their feeder.

I enjoy it when one of these tiny birds lights on my hand to grab a seed. They don’t usually stay long enough for me to examine them when they are so close. They usually just flash in, wings fluttering, grab a seed and bolt away. I can barely feel them when they do this. The titmice and chickadees don’t weigh anything. I might feel the curve of their feet around the edge of my hand, but if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure I would notice any sense of weight.

Over all, the woods are quiet right now. Deer hunting season is over, but the surviving deer haven’t yet visited the cabin. The raccoons and possums are hibernating. The squirrels are still around, regularly raiding the bird feeders. I haven’t seen a turkey since fall. Perhaps the quiet has something to do with it, but it is finally starting to feel like winter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Old Rocks

I’ve always liked this rock on the edge of my property. Underneath it is just enough room for small critters to hide or take shelter. Roundtop is a very rocky hill, with lots of medium and small boulders both above and under the ground. Someone told me once that the mountains in this area were essentially created by “volcano spit.” The volcanoes disappeared eons ago but the hard volcanic rocks spit out by that long gone volcano remain as small mountains.

I perhaps think I know where the volcano in this area might have been. Roundtop is one of several small mountains that are separated from the nearby uplifted Appalachian range by a valley of about 10 miles. If you look at the three or four mountains directly around Roundtop on a topographic map, they form a somewhat circular or elliptical shape. In between them all is a smaller valley with a stream through it. I think the volcano could have been down in that long-filled valley. At least that’s my theory until someone tells me differently.

The weather is cooler this morning, closer to more normal December temperatures, though still several degrees above that. At least now it feels like a normal warm December day instead of late September.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunrise Again

The weather here remains atypically warm; perhaps that is somehow related to the spectacular sunrises that have graced the mornings here this weekend. I am finding that a winter, or at least a December, without snow makes photography more difficult than I expected.

Snow has a way of making everything look pretty. An old, broken plastic bucket suddenly looks like an artfully arranged stone in the landscape when it is covered with snow. When the same bucket is sitting the middle of the forest, surrounded by brown, fallen leaves and trees devoid of leaves, it looks like an eyesore. Even without the bucket, brown leaves on the forest floor and brown bark on trees presents fewer opportunities for photos than I’m used to. Somehow, I’m used to the forest looking prettier than it does at the moment.

And that got me to thinking about what we humans consider pretty. Why is it that snow and autumn’s colors are more pleasing to our eyes than a forest without leaves or snow cover? Why must something be pretty for us to consider it valuable or important? Why do we like the Grand Canyon better than bare trees? Why is a spring flower more important to us than a non-flowering vine?

In nature’s scheme of things, one part isn’t more important (hence “better” in human thinking) than the other. Each has a “job,” a reason for it to be the way it is. It’s only humans that prefer one over the other, that calls one pretty but not the other. That considers one important and the other more expendable or less important simply because it’s not pretty.

I wish we could get past this concept of equating prettiness with importance or value. I’m as guilty of it as everyone else, though I’ve always looked more like the non-flowering vine kind of human than the spectacular wildflower kind.
And so, though it is not quite the new year, or even winter solstice (the start of nature’s new year), I’m going to make a resolution to look at beauty in the landscape differently than I have in the past. I will look for and try to find the importance in everything I see. I know it is there.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Early Mountain Sunrise

I was ridiculously thrilled this morning to see a crow. I left for work a few minutes later than usual, just at sunrise. As a result, the early morning birdlife was already starting to move around. And that's when I saw the crow, a large and well-fed looking bird, pulling at something along the edge of the road. It startled and flew as soon as I neared. When I'm excited to see a crow, that's a sure sign I'm feeling very bird-deprived by the late sunrises and early sunsets.

The weather has warmed up this week, giving this area day after day of near-record warm temperatures. It's thoroughly unlike December and thoroughly unappreciated by me. Yesterday it was 58 degrees, for heaven's sake. I think it's fooling the birds, too. This morning I heard a cardinal singing. I've heard cardinals sing on warm days in February, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've heard one singing in December.

I've been going over my bird list from 2006. I tracked it a little differently this year than I usually do. As a result, I'm seeing my results in new ways. I'm noticing that it's not just the number of species that falls as the summer residents head for warmer climes. Even the numbers of resident or common species falls as the year progresses. For some reason I hadn't noticed that before.

Anyway, it will soon be time to start a new bird list for the new year, an event that I always look forward to. It's the time of year when even the common starling can be seen for the "first" time. I usually spend at least a few hours on New Years Day birding and trying to see as many "new" species as possible to start my new list. I keep hoping to make 40 species on the first day (not all at the cabin). I've never done it in this area yet, though I've come close. There's always one or two species that I should be able to find that I don't that keeps me from reaching this minor milestone. Perhaps 2007 will be the year. I can always hope.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Night Window

I have a large window in my bedroom, and when I lay down at night, I can still see outside and into the woods. Falling asleep while looking into the woods is my way to end the day. The cares float away as I watch the quiet and stillness of the forest. Sometimes I will watch the light of a distant airplane as it plays hide and seek behind the trees. Once or twice I’ve seen an owl and once a flying squirrel, but usually there’s nothing to see but the trees and the sky.

Sometimes watching the trees in the darkness is the only time I have in a day to slow down and relax. I have watched the trees change over the years I’ve lived here. One near the cabin has grown noticeably taller and thicker, the scars left on its bark when a limb came off are much faded now and higher than they were when I moved here. Several other trees fell during ice storms or wind storms in years past. But the forest remains, silent and deep in winter, noisy with the rustle of leaves and insects in the summer.

Forests measure time differently than we humans, and watching a forest in an evening or over the years helps give me a sense of the timeless. This isn’t an “escape” from modern life, so much as it is a turning towards something larger than the clutter of my own daily life. Watching the woods reminds me of my own place in nature and helps me step away from the ideas that seem so important in the day. At night, in the forest, few of those cluttering thoughts and activities have much importance. The forest reminds me of that again and again, whenever I forget.

On clear nights, I can usually see a few stars, but the trees hide most of them. I focus instead on the sky. Is it cloudy or clear? Is it the dark of a moonless midnight or is the forest brightened by a full moon’s light? The night is the time when I can just observe and give my processing and judging mind a respite, a sanctuary from the day.

Usually one of the cats sits atop the bookcase and stares out into the woods, too. He or she will join me on the bed as soon they have decided there’s nothing more to look at for the night. That’s usually when I, too, will at last close my eyes and let the day end, leaving the forest to itself again.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Years Ago

Years ago, I rented a cabin in the woods with other regular hawk watchers just behind the curve of the mountain on the left, up the little draw behind it. We were all regulars to the Hawk Mountain lookout during migration season, but we all lived 1-2 hours away from the mountain. Driving home Saturday night only to return early on Sunday morning for another day of hawkwatching wasn’t a good use of our time or money. And driving any distance with tired eyes wasn’t very safe either.

None of us wanted to or were able to spend money on a motel, so we started camping out together in an Appalachian Trail shelter near the lookout. Staying overnight at the mountain allowed us to attend the Saturday evening lectures that often ran past 9 p.m. and we could make it up onto the lookout even earlier the next day. We soon became not just acquaintances but friends and started hosting pre-lecture potluck suppers and post-lecture get-togethers with other, non-camping mountain regulars at the shelter.

After a few seasons of camping at the shelter, which in the fall never seemed to be used by hikers, one of our group found a cabin for rent at the bottom of Hawk Mountain. With the rental cost split multiple ways, it was affordable and we took it. The cabin was a year-round rental along the Little Schyulkill River, so we named it the River House. We were soon staying there on weekends long after migration ended in the fall or spring. We stayed there in winter and summer, too, often having friends over for dinner or a glass of wine. I thought it was prettiest in winter. A couple of times several of us were snowed in there for a day or two. In the summer, the cabin was a cool respite from the season’s heat.

Eventually, after several years, the landlord decided to sell the property, and we were forced to vacate. Now I have my own cabin in the woods to live in year round, and not just on the weekend, but I will always have a fond spot for those years and those times spent at the River House.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Quick Trip to Hawk Mountain

I made an all too brief stop at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on Saturday to attend a planning meeting for the upcoming HMANA conference next September. It was our first session, and Laurie Goodrich, the monitoring biologist at Hawk Mountain, has already put together the shell of the activities. The conference will bring together raptor biologists and enthusiasts from all over North America, and the planned events and sessions sound great. I'm going to be working mostly with publicity for the event and will probably work at the event itself as well.

I had hoped to be able to arrive early enough to at least go up to the South Lookout, which is near the road, for a few minutes. The view from up there is spectacular even when raptors aren't flying, but I soon realized that I didn't have enough time in the day for that. So my trip was limited to the meeting site at Hawk Mountain's still new Acopian Center down at the bottom of the mountain. The first photo shows the side of the building that faces the mountain and its observation deck. The Acopian Center is a residence and field station for visiting scientists. Hawk Mountain also holds events in the main space upstairs. Our meeting was held downstairs in a conference room/library.

I took the second photo in the conference room. It shows a photo of Maurice Broun, the first curator of the mountain, in the center. His wife Irma is on the right. The couple lived on the mountain starting in the late 30's, when hawk shooting, not hawk watching, was a major fall sport on the mountain. When the land was purchased by Rosalie Edge for raptor conservation, the couple moved onto the mountain to close the land to hunting and begin the process of education. They received death threats for prohibiting hawk shooting. But they persevered and the tide turned, and Hawk Mountain became the first sanctuary for birds of prey.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ski Roundtop Opens!

Ski Roundtop opened for the season on Saturday morning. I took this photo literally seconds before they opened the gates. I hear it was a good opening day; the parking lot was certainly full when I saw it later in the day.

I wasn't home much this weekend. I had to go up to Hawk Mountain for a meeting to discuss a conference the Hawk Migration Association of North America is planning for September. I'll have a few photos of my trip up to Hawk Mountain in an upcoming blog entry.

Sunday I worked at Roundtop--another busy day. So I wasn't outside very much and unfortunately didn't have any time to enjoy the woods around me. I did get to see a few birds! (Daylight is a beautiful thing).

Life is like this sometimes. If I lived in Arizona with a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon in my front yard, I'm sure I would have times when I'd be too busy to notice it, at least occasionally. I take solace from the fact that my life is not always this busy, and that I'm lucky to live where I can easily enjoy the outdoors most of the time. Finding the time to enjoy my surroundings isn't always as easy as I think it should be. At least I have the woods right around me, so I can maximize whatever time I do have.

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Picture

It's Friday, and I don't have a new picture for the blog today. I will have to take a new batch of them this weekend. A blog without a photo is a bit like how I feel in the dark in the mornings and evenings at home. I start to feel a bit like a vampire or an owl. Unlike them, I long to see the sun and be out in it, if only briefly.

It was 15 degrees at the cabin this morning, with a cold northwest wind that made it seem even colder. I've started to keep the water faucets dripping in the cabin to prevent the pipes from freezing. I've had the pipes freeze up temporarily a few times since I've lived here. Fortunately, I caught the freeze-ups as soon as they happened, and a hair dryer has always been enough to open things up again. Once, I had the pipes freeze when the faucets were kept dripping--I guess I didn't have have them dripping enough.

Most of the time my pipes are fine. The trouble always comes when wind is added to the cold, and freezing pipes usually happen when the wind comes from the west-southwest. Since the winter wind is usually from the northwest, I don't have the problem very often. The pipes were fine during a -16F degree cold spell with calm winds, but froze another time when the temperature was in the teens, but the wind was from the west-southwest. So, now, just to be safe, once the temperature is in the teens, I usually let the water drip. The cats love that, anyway. They act as though I've created an amusement park just for them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clouds and Things

Did I see the aurora last night? No!

Was it cloudy? Yes!

It's a cosmic rule, I know it. Whenever, the chance to see aurora borealis this far south is high, the clouds move in. This is more of a rule than "red sky at morning, sailor's warning" and "dew on the grass, no rain will pass." This rule is up there with the sun rising in the east.

But enough about that.

How about that cone crop? I'm told the cone crop in Canada is equally lush, so don't expect to see many, if any winter finches down here this winter. Those little cuties will stay fat at home this winter.

I'm still getting used to the idea of taking photos only on the weekend and then portioning them out during the week. Darkness on both ends of my work day keeps me from taking photos either in the mornings or the evenings during the week now. I'm afraid that by the end of the week, the photos aren't very interesting, let alone current. Hopefully, I'll get better at that next week. It will likely be mid- to late-January before the light is strong enough for daily photos again. Such is life.

It's official now: Ski Roundtop opens for the season on Saturday morning!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Special late note: Be on the lookout for auroras tonight! is putting the odds of seeing auroras in the mid-latitudes at 40% tonight, which is about as high as it ever gets for those of us who live in the south.

I have several beautiful beech trees at the cabin in my front forest. I don't have a yard, so the forest grows right up to the front door. The trees are striking, at least in part because of their smooth, light gray bark in the forest of mostly dark-barked oak and hickory trees. These are the trees that people can't resist cutting their initials into, and in fact, the first owner of my cabin did that on one of them. The trees are also striking because their branches often curve and appear at unusual angles. This is also a difference from the straight-limbed oaks. People who have yards don't like them, as they perceive them as "dirty" trees that easily drop their branches and twigs. In a forest, that's not an issue, so I get to enjoy their beauty without worrying about the work of them (not that I would let that bother me anyway).

The photo today shows the nut casings from a beech tree. Unfortunately, I've never tasted the beech nut itself. Squirrels and other critters always get to them first, at least in part because they don't wait until the nuts are ready to drop before they eat them. Now that the leaves are down, I'm able to see the remains of nut casings all around me.

It is starting to feel more wintry here now, though the cold weather is still so new, after the warmth of this past November, that it somehow doesn't feel settled in yet. This morning's temperature showed 18 degrees, and the forecast is for light snow tomorrow. The raccoons have taken to hibernating. I know this as I was visited every night by 2-3 of them raiding the outside cats' food dish. The raccoons were dextrous enough to reach up inside the dish to clean out every single bit of cat food, and now those few bits that the cats can't reach remain until the next morning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Colder weather is here!

Ah, now it's starting to feel as though winter will actually arrive sometime this year. It was 22 degrees F at the cabin this morning. The morning is crisp and clear, and it feels wonderful.

This little tufted titmouse is one of my regular feeder birds. They are tame enough that I can stand outside with the camera and take a photo or two. The chickadees also don't mind if I'm near the feeder when they are. But the red-bellied woodpecker is quite shy and darts away as soon as it hears the door. The white-breasted nuthatch seem bold enough too, but never manages to remain still enough for me to get a shot.

Snowmaking continued all night at Roundtop, and this morning one or two of the bunny slopes are starting to look ski-able. Give it another day or so, and I'm pretty sure they will open. People have often asked me if the sound of the snowmaking is annoying to me over at the cabin. No, it isn't. It sounds a bit like a constant wind blowing through the trees. I drove past a car wash yesterday with my car windows closed, and the sound of that in operation was similar to what I hear at the cabin. Even if I heard that sound during the summer when my windows are open, it wouldn't be annoying to my ears.

However, when I get very close to the snowmaking jets, it hurts the dogs' ears. Plus, the sound of them is loud enough that the dogs don't hear me if we walk on the access road in front of a slope where they're making snow. So I just don't walk in front of the slopes while snow is made. I can walk around the far side of the old pond, which is really less than 100 yards from the snowmaking, and that doesn't hurt the dogs' ears (and they can hear me as well as they ever do).

This morning Dog and I walked in the woods a bit. The deer hunters seem to have gone. The ground is now hard enough that I'm not squishing through mud. We went out to the new pond and watched the full moon set behind the mountain. We were walking before dawn, but the full moon lit our way well enough. I'm always surprised at how much difference there is in where the moon sets in winter and summer. Right now, the moon sets in the northwest. By summer, it will be setting in the southwest. Dog was unimpressed, interested only in the wonderful smells on the ground in front of him.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Snow on Roundtop

Snowmaking has started on Roundtop! This photo shows the scene that greeted me early Sunday morning. The snowmaking crew started making snow for the first time this season on Saturday night.

If the weather stays cold, Roundtop should be able to be open, with at least a few of the slopes, within a few days, almost certainly by this upcoming weekend.

Where I work, in Guest Services, the single most asked question is, "when are you going to open?" People are always surprised when we answer that we don't know, that our opening is dependent on Mother Nature. A surprising number of people seem to equate snowmaking with "fake" snow, as though it is something like plastic, perhaps. We get calls when it is 50 degrees (and higher) outside wanting to know if we're open for skiing. When we explain that it isn't cold enough yet, they say, "But I thought you made snow." Well, we do, but it's real snow and for that it has to be below freezing. In this area, winter is often a dry season. Plenty of years we have cold temperatures and no snow, so Roundtop makes their own.

The short version of how you make snow is this: 1) wait until it's below freezing, 2) shoot water into air with some pressure behind it, and 3) the water freezes and falls to the ground as snow. The colder it is, the more like snow it is. If it's warmer, it's a bit more like ice crystals than snow.

Let the winter begin!

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Apples That Remain

This morning it was 65°F when I got up, a new record for this date in my area. I suspect the final record will actually be a degree or so warmer. But by noon the storm that has pounded and pummeled the west and Midwest will arrive here, bringing some very nasty and much colder weather.

This morning as I left the mountain I passed the apple orchard that’s the first thing I see when I leave the cover of the forest. At first I thought a few leaves were still clinging to the trees, until I looked closer. I was surprised to see many unharvested apples instead and was struck by how the red/yellow apples were the same colors as the red/yellow leaves on the ground. If the predicted winds come through this afternoon, I suspect that by tomorrow, no apples will remain on these leafless trees.

During our walk this morning, Dog and I saw five deer (no buck) still bedded down from the night in a very narrow patch of woods between one of Roundtop’s bunny slopes and the lower part of the lane that eventually passes the cabin. They watched us pass and never moved. Dog never scented them. I wondered if they were occupying this unusual spot because they were hiding from hunters or were anticipating the bad weather and seeking shelter from it.

I left the dogs inside the cabin this morning, as the weather sounds as though it will be too severe for them to be outside. When I left without putting them on the deck, I was met with quizzical looks, as though they were trying to tell me I’d forgotten something.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

In a Fog

This was the scene that greeted me this morning when I got up. Well, it's close. When I first got it up was dead dark. So this is more like what I saw when I left the cabin. My first thought when I stepped outside with Dog was, how am I going to drive to work in that? Fortunately, once I got off the mountain, the fog eased a little bit. At least it eased enough so that driving wasn't terrifying.

I am almost at the point where my photos will need to be taken over the weekend and then doled out day by day throughout the rest of the week. It is now fully dark when I get back to the cabin in the evenings. The morning light falls somewhere between pre-dawn and dawn. And the dawn part is fading fast.

I've never been one to be physically affected by the lack of daylight during the dark times. But I do miss it. I miss seeing what birds are around. I miss seeing the sun at all, except on weekends. It's really the only part of winter that I don't care for.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Open Water

One sign of how warm this November has been is the open water here on the mountain. I only had one hard freeze and several lighter frosts this month. This is highly untypical of November.

I'm also tired of hearing the local weather folks extol the virtues of the warm weather, as though it's a fine thing to have temperatures in the lower 60's when it should be at least 20 degrees colder. They don't seem to get that weather this warm this time of year isn't a good thing. To me the warm weather is just another sign of just how out of whack our poor old earth is. I think it would help keep the warming problem in front of the average person if the weather and news people would at least occasionally treat the warmth like the problem it is.

In the fall here, the leaves are now dropping a good two weeks later than usual. The waterfowl that normally fill the skies are completely, and I do mean completely, missing. They haven't had to fly south this year--at least not so far.

However, it's in the spring where I notice that the early leafing (about two weeks early) is doing the most damage. The spring warblers fly up from south and central America and over the eons have managed to evolve themselves to time their arrival up here with the appearance of the insects and worms they feed on. The insects and worms appear when the leaves first start to come out. Because the leaves are now coming out so much earlier, those insects and worms are also coming out earlier, and by the time the warblers get here the things they feed on are gone or too big or have developed into other things and the warblers can't find or eat them.

Roundtop has never been the kind of place where I could find 20 species of warblers in a day the way you can at the warbler hot spots. But I always could find 20 species during the entire season of warbler migration. Last year I had 3 species. Worse, instead of the 50-60 individuals I could always find, last year I found 8, of which 6 were the yellow-rumped warbler (the most common species). I had one black-throated green warbler and one black-throated blue warbler and that was it.

When I see open water everywhere and wear short-sleeved shirts in November, it's not a good thing. It's a wrong thing. It's the earth's way of trying to tell us that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Opening Day of Buck Season

Monday was opening day of rifle season for deer here in Pennsylvania. Roundtop posts their property, but allows regular employees to hunt on it. Since this is the time of year when they are operating at virtually a dead run to get ready for sking season, they prefer to allow shooting only by people who already know the mountain and know where people and buildings are located. That's makes excellent sense and is just fine with me, though I kept Dog and Baby Dog inside yesterday just in case.

My brother and his youngest son went hunting in the woods on mom and dad's farm yesterday too. My brother was up in his tree stand when he saw a large mink come by. I think we've all seen mink on that property, though they aren't terribly common. Brother put down his rifle and started to take a picture of said mink with his cell phone. Just about at that point a nice buck came bouncing through, and by the time brother closed and put away the cell phone, and picked up the rifle again, you guessed it, the buck was gone. But if he sends me the photo of the mink, I'll post it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Warm Light

I love the warm evening light of late autumn. I love how the western side of all the trees is caressed by it in the hour before sunset. It’s the sun’s last kiss before the long night ahead.

It is only during a brief time of the year that the light looks like this. This warm glow will only last for a few weeks and then the warmth will fade. January’s light is more brittle and far less warm. Late March has a similar light but to me there’s something warmer and certainly more bittersweet about the quality of light in late November and early December. It’s as though all the trees are facing the west, gathering the last of the day’s warmth within.

Sometimes I stand with the trees, feeling the sun’s warmth against my own face. Sometimes I simply watch the light play across the trees, the shadows first lengthening and then the light turning dimmer and dimmer as night settles in.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Winter's Rest Begins

Now that the leaves are all down, I have my view of the western mountain back again. Okay, so this view isn't the Grand Canyon, but after months of not being able to see much further than two arm lengths in front of me, I like this just fine.

November is normally a mean month, usually filled with ice storms, sometimes with deep snows. Freezing rain, sleet and virtually every kind of precipitation possible is the norm. Not this year.

It's been quite a bit warmer than is usual and, with one or two days of exceptions, it's also been quite calm. The weather has been grey and dreary, often rainy, but not cold and not severe. One evening, for a few minutes, I saw rain washed with wet snow on the windshield as I drove back to the cabin. That was the extent of the wintry precipitation.

In some respects, it's still a typical November, despite the warmth. Now that the leaves are off the trees, the forest is quieter than in summer. The occasional creak or slap of one branch against another is a lot softer than the sound of millions of leaves rustling in a breeze. The quiet of winter emphasizes that the trees are at rest.

In other respects, life is as busy as ever. Squirrels abound this year. The birds are busy and noisy at my feeders. Deer, no doubt unaware that in two days rifle season begins here, are plentiful and graze slowly through the forest.

It is the quiet time of the year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fuertes Art at Cornell

Louis Agassiz Fuertes is one of, perhaps the premiere painter of birds. Fuertes was a native of Ithaca, and Cornell has a vast collection of his artwork.

This goshawk is in the Fuertes Room at the lab and is one of dozens such paintings on the walls around this room. I'm told that these paintings were originally painted on the wals of the old lab, and when the new one was built, they cut out the walls and installed them in the new place. The paintings are placed above head height and each one is amazing, let alone a room that has dozens of these panels.

Unfortunately, our own meeting was up on the second floor, in a standard issue modern conference room, not in this much larger meeting room. Of course, if I'd been sitting in this room for 1.5 days, with this artwork in front of me all the time, I doubt I would have gotten much accomplished.

The second photo are paintings of a kestrel and a mallard. They should give you some idea of how these paintings are lined up around the walls of the meeting room. It's a large room, and the paintings surround it completely on three sides. I could have spent hours in this room alone, just studying the paintings.

Here's a link to the part of Cornell's site that has many if not all of their Fuertes work available for viewing: In addition to all the paintings, the lab also has many Fuertes drawings and sketches, many on display in the office areas of the lab. My favorite is one that is where it can be seen by the public. It's a gourache, located with a dozen or more other gouraches in a narrow space behind the fireplace in the lobby. It's a snowy owl:

That's it for my trip. Tomorrow I'll be back with photos and stories from the cabin. Have a great Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Visiting Cornell's Lab of Ornithology

Once inside Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, what struck me the most was the artwork. It’s everywhere, both in the public spaces and in the private and office areas as well. We were metting there over a weekend, so even though we were back in the office areas and touring the lab, we didn’t get to see ornithological research in action.

The first photo is a sculpture of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I just love his party attitude! Although you can’t see it, on his binoculars are written the names of other extinct birds. Everywhere you go at the lab, you'll see lots of ivory-billed woodpecker things--the gift shop is full of them. (This guy's not for sale) .

The next is a weaving I saw back in the publications department that says “ornithology is for the birds.” The publications folks are grouped up on the second floor, and considering the wealth of magazines such as Living Bird, newsletters for members and their citizen science initiatives, it's a pretty small area with not many people.

One thing I didn’t know is that the Cornell lab also does research on vertebrates, so the skeleton of this giant python is back in their department. The walls were covered with posters that summarized individuals' ongoing research.

They do lots of bioaccoustical work, including on the too-low-for-human-ears-to-hear sounds that elephants make to communicate with other elephants over long distances. Naturally, most of their accoustical work is on birds, and their library of bird sounds and songs is unrivaled. They also use their accoustical library for commercial work. They've done the soundsfor the Harry Potter movies, for example.
But the highlight of the artwork are the originals done by Fuertes. I'll show some of those paintings tomorrow.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Back at the Cabin

Grrr! It's so annoying to come back from somewhere only to find Blogger on the fritz this morning.

I’m back from a weekend of work and fun at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. I went up for a Hawk Migration Association of North America board meeting but managed to find time for some fun too.

I went up with Kim Van Fleet, a Pa. HMANA board member, and we stayed at a little motel called the Greyhaven, just on the south side of town. It’s a mom-and-pop motel. We were attracted to it because it was less expensive than anyplace else and because it had a wetland out back. The photo is of a beaver dam in the little wetlands. I didn’t see the beaver but it was an active lodge judging by the freshly cut twigs on it.

Our meeting was held at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods on the north side of Ithaca. There’s a little pond and a bird feeding area. We saw lots of Canada geese and a few mallards. At the feeders were black-capped chickadees, downy woodpecker, American goldfinch and several of the biggest gray squirrels I’d ever seen. We immediately dubbed them large enough for one to feed a family of four and decided they were likely a squirrel and chinchilla cross since they were so big.

In the evening Kim and I went to the famed Moosewood Restaurant for dinner. You’ve probably seen one of their vegetarian cookbooks. The Moosewood is run by a collective of folks, some of who have been there since the counterculture days of the first cookbook. It’s a small restaurant, very reasonable prices, with excellent food. They usually offer 4 entrees a day, one of which is usually fish, the other 3 are vegetarian.

Tomorrow (if Blogger cooperates): Inside the Lab

Friday, November 17, 2006

Road Trip!

I'll be offline for a day or so for a trip to the HMANA board meeting in Ithaca NY. Our meeting is going to be held at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology. So I should have some interesting pictures and will report on that until I get back.

The dreariness and rain has finally (finally!) left after a day of torrential rain and tornado watches. This morning is clear and the sky filled with stars. Dog and I scared up a roosting pheasant this morning before dawn. It exploded into the air just a few feet from us. This is a new Roundtop bird for me, bringing the number I've seen on the mountain to 130 (I think). What the pheasant was doing roosting at the foot of a tree along a woods road I'll never know. We heard its familiar warning chuckle as it flew away. It was likely a bird released for hunting season, though where it might have been released from is also a bit of a mystery. Anyway, after that, neither Dog nor I need caffeine to wake up this morning.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dreary Morning

It's a dark and dreary morning in the woods. I took this photo moments before a heavy rain started. This morning was far warmer than is typical for November, but even so the dreariness of November somehow still comes through. Apparently, dreariness has nothing to do with the temperature.

The woods are pretty barren right now. The winter rest is beginning. This morning I spent some time trying to find something small and interesting on the forest floor--perhaps an interesting mushroom or fungus--but came up empty handed. I expect such an expedition will be easier on a brighter and clearer day, and not when my mind is already half at work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Last of Autumn's Gold

It is still foggy this morning, though less so than yesterday. This morning I found these few maple trees with leaves still clinging and even more surprising, still holding on to their color. The rest of the trees in the forest have dropped their leaves. It is only this small stand of maples, nor more than 3-4 trees, where autumn still holds on.

Soon it will be too cold to leave the dogs outside during the day, an event that I'm not looking forward to. With Dog at nearly 80 lbs., and Baby Dog at 45+, that's a lot of doggie energy to be loose in a small cabin at the same time. Last winter, Baby Dog was still a baby, but this year she is often the instigator of the roughhousing that Dog only too willingly joins in on. At this point I am resigned to having a pair of wild dogs, though I am occasionally envious of those who have nice, calm dogs who spend the day sleeping. Those ain't my dogs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Foggy Mountain Morning

What's the point of having a great view if you can't see it? It's yet another foggy and dreary day. I try to take a photo each day for this blog, but some days are more challenging than others. This is especialy true, I'm finding, with the ever-shortening days. Going off daylight savings time gave me a bit of a reprieve, but now the shorter days are closing in once again. Add that to a foggy morning that further darkens the early morning, and a new photo becomes all the more difficult. I have no idea what I'll do in another week or so.

This morning Dog and I took our usual early morning walk. It was the first day since I tripped over Baby Dog and hurt my knee that I resumed my regular walk. Armed with my headlamp, the two of us headed into the woods. I found the fog disorienting and even had to stop a few times to look behind me and check my bearings. Was I on the right path? Had I somehow taken a side trail by mistake? That's how thick the fog was. It was so dense that I couldn't see the landmarks I take so much for granted that I don't even realize I'm following landmarks. I don't even realize I'm following them, that is, until they aren't visible, and then I see how much I have depended on that oak tree or that large rock to point my way. It's an odd feeling to find that familiar ground has suddenly become an alien landscape.

Still, I took my walk and found my way, if not as easily as usual. I figured it out eventually. Maybe that's what will happen with my photos when it very shortly gets too dark for me to take one in the morning or evening. I'll figure something out eventually.

Monday, November 13, 2006


The weather is rainy and cold, the kind of cold rain that makes me look for hot chocolate and a warm fire.

Activity at my bird feeders creeps up steadily. I start out the feeding season by adding just 2 cups of seeds and nuts a day. I am now up to 4 cups each day. Of course, the squirrels have now found my feeders, and this hasn't helped. By mid-winter this amount will double again, and before a strong winter storm, I will need even more to keep the birds well fed.

I have yet to see any winter residents at the feeders, though the juncos and white-throated sparrows are nearby in the underbrush. Perhaps they can still find enough food so that they don't need the feeders. Perhaps they are just shy.

Now that the leaves are off the trees, my view to the west is back, though obscured today by the fog that also hides the top of Roundtop Mountain from my view. It's not just the view of the next mountain that I can see, either. I can also see deeper into the woods from the cabin. This morning I watched a pilieated woodpecker bounce from tree to tree until he eventually headed own off the hill and into the valley. In the summer, I might have seen him pass, but I couldn't have watched him for 5 minutes or more, as I did this morning, because he would have been out of view about the second bounce. I can see how the birds plan and stage their runs to the feeders. The chickadees approach from almost out of view, stopping at several interim trees along the way to scout the conditions. The titmice often first fly past the feeder, land in a nearby bit of brush and then, when they are assured that nothing will attack them, land daintily in the feeder and choose their seeds. The red-bellied woodpecker is the loudest, announcing his presence first from a distance and then throughout the entire approach. Eventually, he will land in an oak tree that's next to the feeder and scurry over to the feeder, making loud noises the entire time he's moving along a branch. If nothing pops up to scare him along the journey, then he will eventually land in the feeder.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bitter Bittersweet

Yesterday I came across a nice amount of bittersweet plants, out along the forest edge. The orange and red berries on twisting vines make for a pretty seasonal decoration. It was only after I cut a few vines and got them back to the cabin that I realized my find was the non-native and invasive oriental bittersweet plant, not the rarer American bittersweet.

The most noticeable difference between the two plants is how the berries are located on the plant. As you can see in my picture of the oriental bittersweet, the berries are located all along the stems. In the American bittersweet, the berries are only at the end of each stem. The leaf shapes are also a bit different, but since the leaves are off by November, that isn't much help. The berries of this plant are still pretty, and I've placed a few stems on the outside of the cabin.

More leaves came off the trees last evening, so that this morning the forest looks like winter. Last evening was unusually warm. It felt moist ahead of the rain I'm getting this morning. I stood outside, long after dark, enjoying the feel of the warmth. Leaves dropped around me like the raindrops that would soon fall. There was no breeze to bring them down. It was simply time, and they fell. It sounded a bit like sprinkles of rain.

This morning, the rain is a cold one, and the leaves are ankle deep around me. Winter is not yet here, but it's getting close.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fairy Dust

Okay, so it’s not really fairy dust. But that’s what this scene looked like to me when I first came across it. It’s really the “skeletons” of a kind of grass that has gone to seed and was sparkled with rain drops.

Blogger had some kind of major crisis yesterday that prevented me from posting anything. It gave me another scare this morning, but is at least momentarily okay.

The last rain has cleared out, leaving the weather clear and abnormally warm for the moment. That won’t last past today. The last rain storm came from the south, bringing warm weather with it. It is so warm that this morning Dog discovered a very large toad on our morning walk, which he greeted with delight. Having had his own toad encounter years ago when he was a pup, he didn’t try to eat it, the way Baby Dog tried to earlier in the year. Instead he nosed it repeatedly, watching it hop with each touch of his nose. He wagged his tail and seemed to enjoy his discovery. Since the toad was in an area where it might get squished, I picked it up and moved it out of the way, hoping for the best.

The rain that’s forecast for this weekend is from the north and west, and will bring cooler weather with it. It’s as though November is in a tug-of-war, with both fall and winter fighting for control. Winter will win, at least eventually, though if recent years are any indication, it will be a pale shadow of its past years. This is also a mild El NiƱo year, which during any occurrence usually means a mild winter.

Although the heavy rain I had two days ago brought more leaves down, many more than is normal for this time of year are somehow still attached. Until yesterday and today, this fall has tended towards the cool side, at least that’s what the local weather dude reports during his daily report. So I’m not sure I can blame global warming for the trees not being bare of leaves. But I'd like to.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Storm's Gift

It's rained most of the night, a hard, soaking rain. More leaves dance off the trees and tumble down to the ground. This morning the wind is from the east, the least common wind direction here on the mountain. The sight of leaves blowing past a cabin window from right to left, instead of from left to right, looks odd to me.

Inside, the cabin is snug and warm. The sound of rain falling on the roof is a pleasant one and makes it tough to get out of bed this morning. A warm bed is so much more enticing than the idea of walking two dogs in a cold, driving rain. Eventually, there is no choice, and I am up.

Dog loves the puddles he finds, splashing through the water that runs downs the lane, that collects in puddles at the foot of the hill. He is soon soaked and happy. Baby Dog doesn’t share that joy, avoiding as many puddles as she can. And yet the rain doesn’t make her want to go back inside. In fact, she is intent on the smells, thrusting her nose into one spot that apparently smells delicious and keeping it there for long seconds. I’m afraid she is about to roll in something terrible and eventually I pull her away.

I am soon wet. It is raining so hard that my raincoat and hat are soon overwhelmed and can no longer keep me dry. I am certain that when this rain is over, and the weather clears again, the forest will be changed, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. More leaves will have fallen. The storm will likely move the season deeper towards winter. Perhaps more winter birds will arrive or the last of the summer ones will leave. Storms serve to hasten or at least concentrate the seasonal changes in the forest. Today, I am stuck in the unknown of the storm itself. Tomorrow, the forest will show me what the storm has brought.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Foggy Morning and Old Stone Wall

It’s a foggy day at Roundtop, a bit warmer than it was a few days ago. I’m still not as mobile as usual, so the photo this morning isn’t from somewhere in the forest. The stone foundation in the photo is all that’s left of an old house and barn that was part of the original Roundtop property. You can also still see the remains of the old road that led up to the house. That’s the open, slightly sunken area in the foreground.

I still have more leaves remaining on the trees than is normal for this time of year. I don’t know why they’re hanging on so long, especially since they are all dried up and have lost their prettiness. The color of the leaves that have fallen to the forest floor is the same as those still hanging on the trees, so it’s all a monochromatic brown right now.

Dog and Baby Dog are missing their usual long morning walks, as am I. I try to make it up to them by spending the same amount of time outside with them, if not walking. Dog finds this compromise a reasonable one. He busily sniffs all around, as though he’s never done that before, then returns to me for a good butt rub. Baby Dog is less understanding. She will stand at the end of the driveway, looking back at me as though she can’t figure out why we’re not heading out on our usual route.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Small Update

Dharma Bums has a nice post about blogging and bloggers they posted this morning that readers might enjoy.

Feeder Watching

I'm still moving kind of slowly--certainly slower than I expected--several days after hurting my knee. So naturally, this was a beautiful weekend that would have been a great one to do some hiking.

Instead, I rested the knee, hoping it would speed healing. I can't say that I've found that to be true, at least not so far.

Still, I did find some enjoyment moving at a slower pace. One was that I took some time to simply sit by the window and watch the birds that visited my feeder. Typically, I see the feeder visitors in brief spurts as I'm rushing between here and there. Sometimes I don't even see them; I just know what's there by their calls.

But slowed down at the moment as I am, I got to spend some time watching them, which I found both fun and relaxing. This little chickadee looks as though it's at a buffet line and trying to decide what to eat. I also saw the first white-throated sparrows of the season this weekend. My regular visitors to the feeder now include titmice, nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, Carolina wren, cardinals, blue jays. Neither the few juncos nor the sparrows have yet taken up residence at the feeder--not cold enough for them yet.

Being able to watch the birds, as opposed to just seeing them, allowed me to see more interaction than I normally do. The white-breasted nuthatches are kind of bossy birds, not above thrusting their bills in the direction of other smaller birds who are attempting to eat at the same time as the nuthatch. Titmice choose their seeds carefully, then retreat to another spot nearby to eat it. Chickadees and cardinals will often eat while in the feeder. The red-bellied woodpecker is a spooky and cautious bird, often taking minutes to work its way into the feeder, where it will sort through multiple seeds until it finds the nut it wants. Cardinals are shy and most often feed in the early morning and late evening when it is almost dark. Blue jays only show up when the peanuts are in the feeder. They roar into a feeder at full speed.
Each species has its own distinct behavioral characteristics and "birdsonality," if you will. Taking the time to watch them on weekends is something I should do more often, even when I'm not slowed by a bad knee.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I don't know if my photos will be too exciting for the next few days. I tripped over Baby Dog the other night in the cabin and hurt my knee. It's not too bad, as I thankfully didn't twist it as I fell, but it will limit my hiking and wandering this weekend. Baby Dog wasn't hurt (naturally).

The dogs are already missing their long morning walks. They are like wound up toys with no good way to expend their energy.

This morning was the coldest, so far, of the darkening season. I had 28 degrees at the cabin, and Dog's water bowl that was accidentally left outside overnight was frozen. Each morning a few more leaves tumble to the ground, improving my view out the back deck. By the end of the weekend, the view should be almost as open as it will get.

For some reason, there are always a few trees that hold onto at least some of their leaves much longer than their neighbors, sometimes even after the first snows have fallen. The leaves will look like wadded up sheets of paper tossed at a wastebasket but somehow still won't fall. I tend to see that most often with the oak trees, though it's certainly not limited to them. And, it's not always the same trees that do this. However, this year, one of those trees is one that's in the way of my back view. It's a good thing I don't own an axe (just kidding!).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The View is (almost) Back!

Can you see it? You can just about see the outline of the next mountain to the west. This was the view from my back deck this morning. It isn't a good view of the mountain yet, but I can see the ridgeline in the background, so I know the mountain is still there.

After living in the "green box" created by the forest's dense leaf cover all summer, it's nice to know my view is returning again. I look forward to getting the view back each fall.

I also saw a few flakes of snow this morning. I can't quite call what I saw flurries yet. That would be giving them far more importance than the reality. However, tonight and this weekend, that could change, as the forecast does include the possibility of flurries.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fading Glory

I took this photo this morning as I was leaving for work. Most of the fall color has faded to an dull orangey-brown, but it's still pretty when the sun hits it.

Because I live on the grounds of Ski Roundtop, I’m allowed to use the resort’s dumpster for my household garbage. This is not completely altruistic on their part. The garbage truck won’t come back my private road, and I’m sure Ski Roundtop doesn’t want a week's worth of my garbage sitting at their front gate while it waits for the garbage truck. I say this in preparation to help explain my story.

After I got home from work and did a little cabin cleanup, I ended up with one white kitchen-sized bag of trash, which is about one week’s worth of trash for me. To dump the trash, I loaded the bag in the car and headed down the mountain to the dumpster, which is a little over .5 mile from the cabin. Because of the time change, my early evenihng trip was made after dark.

So I drove down my lane and onto the Roundtop access roads, passing one of their snow-making ponds. I saw a white-tailed deer cross the road in front of me. I slowed down to let it pass. It was in no hurry and probably had just gotten a drink out of the pond. I’m surprised it wasn’t at least a little warier, but it wasn’t. I watched it amble across the road and into an area with trees that Roundtop has cleared of underbrush (wouldn’t want those city skiers to see real, live underbrush in the woods). Then I saw a second deer near the first, this one lying down in the cleared area and already bedded down for the night. Now a cleared area next to an access road isn’t a typical spot for a deer to bed down in, but deer have never been known to be rocket scientists. Slowing down my car to take a look was all it took to convince the deer that this wasn’t the best place to sleep, so it got up and calmly walked into the woods (the real woods not the cleared version) and disappeared.

I continued on my way but hadn’t gone more than another 100-150 yards when I see two more deer, these munching grass by the side of the road. These are slightly more suspicious than the first two and wag their tails as they watch me pass but don’t run off.

After that the trip to and from the dumpster was uneventful, but when I returned to the cabin after being gone little more than 10 minutes, I discover one of the large local raccoons on my front deck eating cat food. It doesn’t move when I pull the car into its spot next to the front steps, but it does move when I get out of the car. It scurries away, down the steps and off the deck, but not without first grumbling at my disturbing it. It disappears under the cabin, still grumbling.

There is no moral to this story unless it’s just that I’m always surprised what suddenly turns up in just a few minutes when I’m outside the cabin door. There’s never a dull moment.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I have daylight on both ends of my work day now! It won’t last for long, but the change is welcome, nonetheless. I will lose the evening’s light before I lose the morning light. I get home just as I’m watching the sun slip behind the western mountains, so the light that’s left is only what remains after sunset.

In the morning I have some real daylight again, and another pleasant surprise from that is that I get to hear and see birds in the morning again. This morning I saw/heard eastern bluebird, mourning dove, belted kingfisher, American robins, killdeer, chickadees, titmouse, Carolina wren, blue jay and American crow. After weeks of only hearing the occasional great horned owl on my morning walks, 9-10 species of daylight birds feels like an abundance.

The robins are here in flocks, after weeks of not seeing any on the mountain. I’m pretty sure these are robins from further north, who may not migrate any further south than this if the winter isn’t a harsh one. They are likely to remain for some weeks, at any rate.

In a normal year, the local weather records say I should have had my first hard frost by now. I haven’t had one of those yet, but if the forecast is correct, I should have one on Friday and Saturday nights. So far this fall, the daylight temperatures have been lower than average and the nighttime temperatures have been higher than average. This may simply be caused by the over abundance of cloudy weather this fall, as clouds help retain the heat of the day while on a clear night the heat heads for Mars. To me, the fall temperatures have felt fairly normal, though the leaves have clung to the trees longer than is typical.

I took the photo for today on Sunday (before the wind storm). The cows at the far end of the pasture look pretty content, and the woods were pretty.