Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bat in Stovepipe

The new roof is on and looks fine. Now, I shouldn't have to worry about shingles blowing into the driveway anymore--or roof leaks.

Two nights ago as I was sitting in the living room, I heard this faint scratching sound in the stovepipe of my fireplace. I knocked on the pipe. The sound stopped. But soon started again. I opened the damper and a bit of soot and a few dead leaves fell into the fireplace. I cleaned up the mess and forgot about it.

Then last night I heard the noise again. This time I figured a bird had flown into the pipe (this has happened once or twice before). So I opened the damper and a small bat fell into the fireplace. I quickly got a towel, gathered it up before it could recover itself and placed it outside. The poor bat has been in there for two days without food, but this morning the bat was gone, so I hope it was strong enough to feed and find a new place to hang out.

Friday, April 28, 2006

New Roof

Last night as I was pulling into my driveway, I got a call on the cell phone. “Can we come tomorrow and do your roof?” So tonight when I get home from work I will have a new roof on the cabin. I hope it will look okay. I couldn’t exactly match the color of the old shingles and the new shade will be a warmer brown.

I had to leave Dog and Baby Dog in the cabin, so Dog, especially, won’t eat the roofers. I’m sure that the moment the roofers arrived, Dog started barking up a storm, with Baby Dog’s voice added to the chorus. They’ll probably keep it up until the roofers leave.

The photo is another blooming redbud tree. This morning, I just started to see the leaves pushing through the red buds, so it won't be long before the color is gone.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Redbud and Dogwood

I took this photo last weekend looking up the lane as the road winds up the mountain and towards the cabin. The redbud and dogwood are in color right now and really pretty. In another week, perhaps less, the redbud will fade and turn into nothing more than a stunted-looking tangle of a tree.

This morning, I had the first good sighting of a warbler. A yellow-rumped warbler was singing right outside my bedroom window, much to the enjoyment of The Bad Cat, who looked like a frozen drooling statue with his nose pressed against the window. My hearing has never been very good, but even I can recognize the song of the yellow-rump, primarily because it’s just a little twitter, not unlike a singing junco. I had the window open a few inches, so the bird was really only 6-8 feet away from my ear.

I had a light frost last night and perhaps will again tonight, though the temperature warms well into the 50’s quickly enough in the morning.

Unlike most springs, this one really has been pretty and not too muddy, though that has been at the expense of the water table. Two inches of rain over 2 days last weekend wasn’t enough to make up for the water deficit. It has been enough to make everything pretty.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Trail Journals and Black Vultures

If you’re interested in hiking, here’s a neat site where people who are long-distance hiking post their trail journals and pictures of their hikes ( ).

Many of these hikers are using a device called pocketmail, which has a miniature keyboard and allows them to post reports about their hiking day from the trail as long as they are in cell phone range. Most of the hikers are on the Appalachian Trail, but a few are on other trails, mostly the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s really neat to read the trail journals in nearly real time. I’ve found a few favorites (like Bluebird, Flat Rocks. Stumpknocker and Overflow) and look for their journals regularly. Sometimes they’re out of posting range, but many are updated several times a week.

Years ago when I was long-distance backpacking, the only time anyone knew where I was was when they got a phone call from me every 7-10 days. My family had a map showing my planned route along the North Country Trail but that was it. Boy, have things changed! So now, in addition to a digital camera, I’ve added pocketmail to my wish list!

This morning I had a great, up close visit with a black vulture. I find these vultures so much prettier and more interesting than turkey vultures. They even fly nicely, unlike turkey vultures who fly as though they are only minimally airborne and are constantly in danger of falling out of the sky.

Since I live about half a mile off the public road system, I don’t have garbage pickup. Ski Roundtop doesn’t want me leaving my garbage at their front gate—the closest public road—so they asked me to put my garbage in their dumpster. Naturally, this is fine with me. The dumpster is also about half a mile from the cabin, so I have to drive my garbage over there. They’ve placed their dumpster at the bottom of their maintenance area with a little driveway that goes up and alongside it that’s even with the top of the dumpster. So I drive up and back around but before I open the car door, I see a black vulture in my side view mirror. It’s just sitting on the edge of the dumpster. Carefully, I open the car door so I can see the real bird, not just its reflection in my mirror. It just sits there. I don’t move. By now the bird is eyeing me warily. Eventually, it gets antsy and takes off, flashing its white wing patches as it glides over the maintenance lot and into the air.

The photo was taken by Bob Fisher, a young guy I knew years ago at Hawk Mountain. He was really more of a friend of a friend but was always a good photographer. Another of his photos is currently on the cover of the latest issue of Hawk Migration Studies, the journal of the Hawk Migration Association of North America. You can see more of his photos at

Monday, April 24, 2006

After the Rain

I took this picture in the backyard of my parents' farm on Easter Sunday, looking down towards their orchard.

This Sunday morning I was awakened by the singing of a Carolina wren. The bird was no more than 5 feet from my ear, and it was louder than my week day alarm clock. My bed is right next to my bedroom window, and the little singer was on the edge of a branch that nearly touches the window. The cats soon leapt onto the bed and pasted their little noses right on the window glass. After a few seconds of that my alarm clock flew away.

I’ve found some new species this weekend—wood thrush calling further down the mountain, barn swallows skittering around the old pond, a yellow-rumped warbler flitting from branch to branch, a zebra swallowtail.

The 2 inches of rain I got this weekend was all that the leaves needed to burst open. The summer canopy is filling in.

The redbud is currently having its annual moment of glory. And it is barely longer than a moment. The trees of the redbud are spindly and almost more like a stunted shrub than a tree. When the red buds are in their glory, that spindliness takes on an exotic, zen-like quality. But those little red buds soon open into leaves that are nothing special. The tree itself loses its appeal and instead looks like a tangled mess of edge growth, with no hint of its spring beauty.

The dogwood is also in bloom, though much diminished from a few years ago. A fungus that is sweeping the east coast is killing the trees, though a few still remain. At least for this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Flute Section Arrives

Last evening I heard the first flutey call of a wood thrush. It wasn't close--down in the valley somewhere. I had to stop and wait for the sound to repeat to be sure, and then I heard it again. It's one of those quintessential sounds that says "forest" to me. In another week or so, my woods will be full of their songs and that of the ovenbird.

When the trees are bare, I have a great view of the mountains to my west. In the summer, I have no view, but instead I have a symphony. I can sit out on the back deck with Dog and Baby Dog and just listen to all the calls I hear and identify the birds, frogs and others who sing them.

Right now it is raining--finally. This area is inches low in precipitation this year. And this rain is all the trees needed for the leaves to burst open. In one day I went from having a slighly obscured view of the western mountain to one where I can only barely tell there's a mountain over there. By tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised if even that was gone.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Birding News!

The March results from Pennsylvania’s backyard bird count are in. I’m tied for #6 in the state and only 2 species short of the #5 ranking! I moved up one notch from February. And this after what I thought was a slow March. So far my April is not bad, but not as good as I’d like it. I need one good weekend to get the numbers where they should be, and this weekend the forecast is for 2 days of much needed rain. So, I’m not expecting to make much if any progress on improving my ranking.

I know I’m already breaking my promise of not posting snow pictures for a while. But I just got this one from last week’s last snow of the season, so here it is. I took the photo looking north just at the point where my mountain ends and the valley begins. It was early morning, and I had just come out of the forest and could see my neighbor’s orchard.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Night Sky

The evening sky has been spectacular the past few evenings. The weather has been clear this week, with little humidity to mar the night sky. The lights from the ski resort are off and even the moon doesn’t rise until late. When I am walking the dogs for the last time, all I see is the black, black sky filled with thousands of stars.

Robert Frost wrote the poem “Starsplitter” about the constellation Orion and his first view of it as it makes its appearance in the east in the fall. He said:

You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me.”

Well, now Orion, having crossed the starfield, is about to toss his leg over the western mountains and disappear for a while. Every night when I’m out I look to see if Orion is still in one piece or if tonight will be the night he starts his long disappearing act. So far he’s still there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Broadwings on the Mountain

Last evening as I drove onto the mountain from work, I saw two broad-winged hawks coming over the mountain, slowing losing altitude as they lost their thermal lift. They circled lazily in the dwindling heat of the day, glided low over the mountain and headed north. Broadwings should be moving through this area now, though it is likely still 4-5 days before the typical peak day of their spring migration.

Broadwings are one of the few hawks that flock together in what we call “kettles” as they migrate. I’ve seen kettles of thousands of birds, though rarely. I’ve more commonly seen kettles of 100 or several hundred. Even these numbers are nothing compared to the tens of thousands that funnel through Veracruz, Mexico, each fall. Broadwing migration is different in other ways too. Weather permitting, they migrate in a narrower time range than most other hawks.

In the fall, in this area, if you want to see kettles of broadwings, you will be most likely to find them in the biggest numbers on September 18. That doesn’t mean you will always find them on that date. Notice I did say weather permitting. Storms hold them up, move them east or west and occasionally hurry them along, but if you look at the most common date for peak migration for the past 50-60 years, September 18 is your best choice if you have to plan vacation weeks in advance. Of course, if you don’t have to plan your time off far in advance, you can always do what I do, which is to study weather reports and watch site reports from the further down the ridge and then take your best guess.

Spring migration is a different animal, though if pressed, I will vote for April 22 as the day most likely to be the season’s peak broadwing day.

Anyway, last night I saw two and was pleased with that since it was nearly 6 p.m. and thus late for these thermally-needy birds to still be flying.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Birds on the Mountain

Saturday dawned bright, beautiful, warm with thin high clouds and a bit of a breeze from the south. In other words, it was perfect spring migration weather. I finally (finally!) managed to steal a few hours to watch birds around the mountain.

So in the morning, I took Baby Dog, a chair and my binos down to the old snow-making pond where I had a good view of the southern sky and just sat around looking at whatever was around. In the space of less than 2 hours, I saw 30 species of birds and 3 species of butterflies.

The butterflies were a great spangled frittelary (I think! It was only a quick look), lots of cabbage whites, and a good many eastern blue butterflies. It was the first day of trout season, a fact down here that always corresponds to the arrival of this species.

Some interesting bird sightings: in the morning the black vultures were all flying around with their feet hanging down. What's the deal with that? I also saw a red-tailed hawk chasing or harassing a black vulture. That was quite an air show.

I finally saw the eastern towhee I've been hearing for a while now. Chipping sparrows are suddenly here in numbers, and swallows are also more numerous than just a few days ago.

In the early a.m. I heard a barred owl call--unusual for here where I usually hear great horned owls and screech owls.

I saw an osprey pass over low and heading towards the new pond. Later in the day I heard that broadwings were moving around Philadelphia, but didn't see any here. Yet.

I also saw a nice big hairy woodpecker, which I don't see as often as their smaller cousin, the downy. When you see one as well as I saw this one, it makes me realize just how different in size and posture they are from the downy. But at some distance the ID can be trickier. There's also the "bill trick" that's a good way to distinguish between the two species. Perhaps I'll explain that another day.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More spring arrivals

Every day, sometimes every few hours, brings new evidence of spring. Yesterday, I heard a turkey gobbling somewhere in the woods behind the new pond. Chipping sparrows have arrived. Last night tree frogs were so loud in one small area that the sound was almost deafening. This morning I saw a swallow, probably a rough-winged swallow, but it didn't hang around long enough for me to be sure. I have spring beauties lining the driveway and in bloom.

And yesterday, yesterday, I saw the first Eastern blue butterfly. These are lovely and tiny little things, almost a lilac blue that always seem to show up around the start of trout season. I can remember many opening days of trout season sitting along the bank of a creek somewhere, while little clouds of these things floated along.

Has anyone ever written a poem, Ode to a Blue Butterfly? It seems to me as though that's one that's long overdue.

More spring arrivals

Every day, sometimes every few hours brings new evidence of spring. Yesterday, I heard a turkey gobbling somewhere in the woods behind the new pond. Chipping sparrows have arrived. Last night tree frogs were so loud in one small area that it was almost deafening. This morning I saw a swallow, probably a rough-winged swallow, but it hang around long enough for me to be sure. I have spring beauties lining the driveway.

And yesterday, yesterday, I saw the first Eastern blue butterfly. These are lovely and tiny little things, almost a lilac blue that always seem to show up around the start of trout season. I can remember many opening days of trout season sitting along the bank of a creek somewhere, while little clouds of these things floated along.

Has anyone ever written a poem, Ode to a Blue Butterfly? It seems to me as though that's one that's long overdue.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Orchard View

As soon as I drive off the mountain, the first area of non-mountain that I reach is an apple orchard. I took this picture a week ago Saturday, looking over towards the next mountain range (Called Range End). It was kind of a pretty day, with the young orchard in the front freshly pruned. I don’t post too many non-mountain or non-dog photos, but I was feeling the urge to try something different.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Last Snow Photo (for a While)

I promise this will be my last picture of snow for a long time. I almost typed, “until next winter,” but I don’t feel I can make that extreme a commitment this morning. I took this picture last week when an early morning snow squall temporarily blanketed the mountain. The snow was gone within hours. I tried taking a picture of one of my escaped Easter flowers covered with snow, but it turns out the flower is white, so you can’t see the flower at all. In other words, the picture sucks.

I should have taken a vacation day today. The weather is warm, with a slight breeze from the south and high cirrus clouds moving in ahead of rain tonight. In other words, hawks are migrating! I’ve already seen an osprey heading north from my office window, and if I didn’t have a meeting this afternoon, I would be heading home at noon.

Baby Dog and I walked around the new pond last night. It’s about half a mile around, as best I can estimate. The two Canada geese who have claimed it swam over to check us out and make sure we were not Up To No Good. They seemed to decide against us and starting making warning sounds. Baby Dog, who needs no excuses anyway, took this as a sign that they must be barked at, and that only confirmed their suspicions about our intentions.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Watching Daily Changes

This picture was taken on a cold and cloudy day not too long after Roundtop closed for the season. Today that same scene looks less cold, if not yet flushed with spring growth.

Spring is arriving, with one or two small changes each day. One day it might be a new bird species or a higher temperature or the sound of bullfrogs in the pond. Yesterday I saw the first butterfly of the season—a cabbage white with a tiny black spot on each wing. Today, I’ve seen a crow and a mourning dove carrying nesting material in their beaks.

It is in spring and fall where changes on the mountain are the most noticeable to me. Spring and fall change relentlessly, while summer and winter feel static. In mid-winter or even mid-summer, the days seem so much the same, with only a few degrees or a difference in cloud cover to tell one from the other.

Sometimes the middle of summer or winter feels a little like being in the middle of a rainstorm. I can see the storm coming. I can see it moving out, but when I’m in the middle of it I can’t see much at all. The ending of the storm could be moments or hours away, but either way it’s impossible to guess.

Watching the seasons change is one way I can deny that summer is soon here (It can’t be summer yet, the lightning bugs aren’t out yet!) or anticipate that fall will soon be here (the shorebirds are moving already!)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Near Sunset

I took this picture last week as I was coming home from work and driving into Roundtop shortly before sunset. I liked the long shadows and warm colors.

It’s funny, but after a mild winter, so far I’m having a fairly cold spring. For some reason, it seems to me these two shouldn’t go together. Yesterday morning I had ice in the cats’ water dish—and not just skim ice either. Yet by afternoon the temperature was warm enough that I could sit on the ground in the sun with Baby Dog and watch the world go by.

Although Roundtop is closed now, you’d be surprised how many people still are wandering around. My neighbor Wes and his dog Molly were walking the slopes, following the snow edges and scavenging for cash and items lost. Two motorcyclists pulled into the parking lot, then stood around chatting for more than half an hour. A family in a van pulled in and then proceeded to go hiking up on the slopes. A large group was playing paintball. People fairly frequently drove in, drove slowly around the ponds and then drove out again. I guess the high price of gasoline isn’t high enough to deter Sunday drivers on the first really nice Sunday of spring.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Baby Dog, the goofball

Baby Dog as she looked last week. Her tail now curls in a 360o circle. You can see that her tongue is mostly black (but it has a few pink spots).

Yesterday (Friday) was a big hawk migration day in this area. I saw 2 Cooper's hawks and 3 sharp-shinned hawks from my office window during the day. On the drive home I saw a Cooper's hawk sitting atop a light pole overlooking one of the 4-laned highways. Today, I saw 4 redtailed hawks and a probable broadwing. IT rained until early afternoon, so these might have been local birds or travelers that sat down to wait out the rain.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

First bloom of spring

Here is the first bloom of spring, even beating the escaped Easter flowers. It looks like a dandilion, but without leaves. I thnk it's called Coltsfoot.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

(Probably the) Last Snow

It snowed this morning. When I first went out on the deck this morning, I saw a few little plops of snow that looked more like paste or bird droppings than anything. I had to touch one to make sure it was snow.

When Dog and I were the farthest from the cabin as we usually get on our morning walks, another snow squall started. First, I heard thunder and saw the woods light up from a flash of lightning. For a few minutes the snow produced a mini whiteout. By the time I got back to the cabin my black raincoat was white and my hair was soaked. Dog looked like a powdered doughnut until he shook himself and miraculously returned to his usual appearance. Baby Dog was thrilled and raced along, skidding like the kid she is.

I took some pictures, including one of one of the Easter flowers hanging sadly and covered in snow. I expect this will be the last snow of this season. It was a short but intense final gasp of winter. At work in the valley, the snow is already gone.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

First Thunderstorm of the Season

Last evening, the first real thunderstorm of the season rattled the woods. Dog was scared and sat on my foot through the entire event. He’s been this way since he was unexpectedly caught outside on the back deck during a real doozy last year. That remains the only time I’ve ever seen him in his doghouse. Baby Dog, still new to thunderstorms, barked at the thunder. She wasn’t using her scared bark. She was using her “I’m-announcing-an-intruder” bark. I think it’s going to be a long season.

Before the storm, I walked the dogs and then took my own evening walk, the first I’ve been able to do after work since the time change. I watched the clouds thicken, lower and grow grumpy-looking. I kept my walk close to the cabin, not wanting to get caught far from it when the storm hit. I spent more time watching the clouds than I did observing the sights of early spring around me, I’m afraid. Still, the walk felt good and reminded me of other walks in other years and made me look forward to more in the future. I guess spring is good for something after all.

The storm hit near sunset, turning the forest light a sickly shade of yellow. At first, I thought that’s what was happening—sunset through an overcast sky. It only took a second before I realized the storm was on its way. The rain hit first, pelting the window so hard I never did figure out if it was rain or small hail. In the end, the storm turned out to be no worse than average, despite the destruction and death it caused in Tennessee and the tornado watch in the northern counties. It is another sign of spring, as sure as the new growth and the tree buds and the arrival of summer migrants.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Time Change

This was my first morning of fully dealing with the time change. I woke up to complete darkness and only with a struggle did I roll out of bed. When I walked the dogs, it was still completely dark, with not even a hit of color in the east.

I fully enjoy having more daylight in the evenings but I don’t much care for the weekend of the time change. I have trouble dealing with the fact that my weekend is a full hour shorter because of it. I’m of the view that weekends are far too short as they normally are without chopping an hour off of them. Of course the fall time change is a wonderful thing (but that’s another story).

The buds of the lower and mid-forest story are starting to come out. I’ve found two bushes in my front forest with tiny leaves on them. I’m also starting to see low-level growth on the forest floor, but so far nothing is yet advanced enough for me to be able to identify it. The upper story trees are still bare, without noticeable swelling to the twig ends but that will soon change.

The escaped Easter plants that sporadically dot the area around my cabin are up several inches, some even have flower buds. I think one will be daffodils, the other hyacinth. Both look extremely out of place in the middle of the forest.

The weather is still being difficult. The weekend was warm, with temperatures nearing 70ºF, even on the mountain. Tomorrow the prediction is for snow. I’m guessing the escaped Easter flowers won’t be thrilled with that.