Monday, February 27, 2006

Winter Still (has) Life

A snowy surprise overnight. While I was walking the dogs last night, I felt the gentle kiss of snow flurries on my face, reminding me that winter still has some life left. Yesterday I groused about skiers asking when the mountain would close. Their constant questions had the unconscious effect of making me feel that the end of winter is already here. So last night was a sweet little reminder that it isn’t.

And then to solidify winter’s presence, this morning I woke up to about half an inch of beautiful new snow on the ground. Ah, winter!

I had the full group of birdfeeder visitors this morning. They remind me of people running to the store for bread, milk and videos in anticipation of a predicted snowstorm. All four cardinals were there, as was the white-throated sparrow. I had a carpet of juncos on the deck, and the blue jays roared in en masse like a group of B52 bombers strafing the woods. The rest of the usual suspects also joined the party.

New snow gives me a great chance to see what animals are around in the woods. I was no sooner off the deck when I found that a rabbit had crossed the driveway sometime after the snow stopped. Dog stuck his nose deep into each track, inhaling what must be to him a delicious scent. Three deer crossed the lane, as well, one quite small, no doubt one of last year’s fawns. I looked for signs of raccoons, as I suspect at least one is raiding the food I put out for the semi-feral local cats. I didn’t see those tracks.

I also looked for signs of wild turkey, as locally there have been a lot around this year, but to no avail. Do you think I could put turkey on my yard list if I find their tracks, but don’t see or hear them? Birders typically count heard birds as sightings, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone discuss if tracks count as a “sighting.” Anyway, the question is moot until I actually find any tracks.

Endings and beginnings

I wrote a few weeks ago that I was starting to see the night grow a shade paler in the east when I walk the dogs just after 6 a.m. in the morning. Today, I am happy to report that I saw the first hint of color in the eastern sky during my morning walk.

The one thing I don’t like about winter is its few hours of daylight. I look for the increasing light each year with anticipation. With the longer daylight I stop feeling like a vampire. I start seeing birds other than owls. I stop tripping over my feet when I’m walking in the woods—at least occasionally. To me the end of February means the returning of the light. I try not to think that it also means the nearing of the end of winter.

However, the skiers on Roundtop are already anticipating the end of winter and their skiing. Yesterday, for the first time this season, I heard the second most asked question of the year. That question is, “when are you going to close for the season?” The most asked question of this or any year is always “when are you going to open for the season?” The most asked question is usually first heard sometime in August.

I am always surprised at how early in the season, at least from my point of view, this second most asked question first starts to be asked. To me, the end of February still seems no later than mid-winter, so I am always surprised when people ask me to predict the end of their skiing.

Either question is really a pretty ridiculous one to ask so far in advance of the event. I can’t predict when it’s going to get cold enough to start blowing snow anymore than I can predict when we’re no longer going to have enough snow to ski on.

Sometimes I am so tempted just to give people some precise date just to see what they will do.
“So, when are you going to open this year?” someone will ask in early September. “November 31,” I’d say confidently, wondering how long it will take them to realize that November doesn’t have a 31. Will they just say, “cool,” hang up the phone and look for the date on their calendars? Will the answer rattle them enough that the neurons fire and make them realize that expecting an answer to this question in September isn’t rational?

When visitors ask me in late February when we’re going to close for the season, what would happen if I said April 15? Would they believe me and pencil in their next trip to the resort? Some years we’ve had plenty of snow to ski on, and Roundtop still closed because skiers simply stopped coming. They mistakenly assumed that because it was springtime where they were, we couldn’t possibly have any snow left.

In many ways, I am looking forward to the end of the skiing season--I'll like having the extra time off, for one thing. But in another sense, the end of my long hours of work means the winter is soon over, and that isn't something I look forward to.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wind and more wind

About the only constant this winter has been the wind. It has been both stronger than usual and more frequent than usual. Winter will roar back in (winds from the north) and then warmer weather will zoom in (wind from the south). So it feels as though I haven't had many, if any, nice winter days. Even on days like today, with lots of blue sky, and the temperature near 40oF, the 25 mph wind makes it feel like it's 15oF or so. Yesterday I tried to find a sheltered spot where I could sit outside comfortably in the sun and had no luck. I'm still looking for a balmy day.

Baby Dog is almost back to acting as her normal self, after being spayed. My little conehead goes crashing around, banging into one thing after another, while wearing this large plastic cone on her head. I don't know if I can take 2 weeks of her as the conehead, but yesterday when I tried to take it off, she was pulling at her dressings within a minute.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Arnold the Chickadee

This morning I was watching my birdfeeder, when suddenly a very large chickadee flew onto the platform. To my eye, this chickadee looked like a chickadee on steroids, a veritable Arnold Schwartzeneger of a chickadee. The bird was large and plump and very bright, and it took me a moment to realize that I was seeing an actual black-capped chickadee, not a Carolina chickadee or even an intergrade Carolina/black-capped chickadee.

I am fortunate enough to live in that narrow band of territory where both Carolina chickadees and black-capped chickadees are possible. Usually, I just refer to the chickadees I see as chickadee sp., as the two species hybridize in this narrow area of overlap and even learn each other’s songs. As a result, most of my chickadees are a little of this and a little of that and not definitively one species or the other.

But every now and again I see one (or the other) that is so quintessentially not a hybrid that it seems almost alien. My “Arnold” sighting today was the perfect black-capped chickadee.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Home from the Vet

Baby Dog is home from the vet after being spayed. She is doing well, though hurting a bit. She has to wear one of those "cone of silence" things on her head to keep her from licking or pulling at her stitches. She bangs her way through the house in the thing. I don't see how that's going to last for 2 weeks until she gets her stitches out, but we'll see.

Dog was glad to see her, but seemed to take her disappearance in stride.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Worried Mom

Tomorrow morning I take Baby Dog to the vet’s to get spayed. I’m already exhibiting “worried mom” syndrome and have taken the day off work on Friday, so I can bring her home and see she’s all right.

Despite long conversations with her about this upcoming procedure, Baby Dog remains blissfully unaware of what awaits her. I know she will not be amused, especially tonight when she doesn’t get any food or treats. I expect she will bark constantly while she’s at the vet’s and that they will all be glad when I bring her home.

When she was a tiny Baby Dog, she barked and/or whined 100% of the time she was awake. In the months I’ve had her, the barking has been mostly eliminated—except during feeding time, when one of the cats is near her food or at the sight of the dog down the hill. I’ve discovered that whenever she’s faced with something new—a new location, a new person—the barking returns until she’s satisfied the new thing is safe enough not to bark at it.

Barking at the cats when they are near her food is a new behavior she started this week. I think she’s decided that lowly cats should not ever be closer to her food bag or the treat bag than she is. And when they are, this is a dangerous development, and I Must Be Warned, and They Must Be Punished.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Evening Walk

Last evening when I got home from work, I was feeling a little better, so I took Baby Dog down the hill. Neither of the dogs has gotten much exercise from me this week, and I wanted to try and give them a little more. We were down at one of the paintball fields when I saw a small flock of Canada geese circle overhead. I decided to walk over to the new pond, hoping I would see something else that I could add to my February bird list. I didn’t have any luck in that department.

The Roundtop boys are enlarging one of the paintball fields, or perhaps the last wind storm brought down some trees, but at any rate, they’d lit a bonfire of piled logs and stumps at the end of the pond. By the time Baby Dog and I arrived, after sunset but with the sky still light, the fire was all coals and ashes, more like a friendly campfire than a bonfire. I warmed my hands by the fire, and Baby Dog sniffed around warily—it was the first fire she’d ever seen, I think.

There’s something about the heat from a comfortable fire—nothing feels as warming or as pleasant. We stood around for a while, Baby Dog was getting used to the fire, I was enjoying it. I was also enjoying the unexpected pleasure of finding a friendly fire at the end of our evening woods walk. I warmed my hands and my face, remembering other fires and other winter evenings. We sat there for 10-15 minutes, until the night deepened, and I started to feel its chill on my back. It was only then that I reluctantly turned around and headed back to the cabin.

I'm #8!

Oh my gosh! I just found out I’m #8 in the state in my yard category with my list of birds seen in January. Okay, so I’m 10 species behind the #1 guy, and so far in February I’ve only added a measly 4 species. But for now, I’m looking good. If only I’d been able to bird watch more this past weekend, I might have some hope of improving my February list. Now, I’m on a mission to go out there and look for birds!

Roof woes and Baby Dog learns to growl

I’ve been so, so tempted lately to rush out and buy a semi-cheap digital camera so I can quickly post pictures to the blog. Well, that temptation was squelched this weekend. I had high winds on Friday night into Saturday. Sometime on Saturday I noticed these little black things in my driveway. On closer inspection I realized they were pieces of shingles from the roof. I’m missing what looks to be 10-12 shingles entirely from the NE corner of the cabin. So whatever money I can scrape together (and probably more that I don’t have) will need to go towards new shingles for the roof this spring. It probably also means I’ll have to wait another year to buy a new stove (heck, I’ve been getting by with one burner, a microwave and a toaster over for a year now, so I guess I can go another year). Why couldn’t I have been the one to win that S365 million Powerball jackpot, not some unknown someone in Lincoln Nebraska??

My cold is making me grumpy (can’t you tell?). The poor dogs didn’t get much exercise this weekend, though I tried to make it up with attention. Dog spent Saturday afternoon sleeping on the bed with me, to his great satisfaction. Baby Dog has graduated from sleeping in the crate to sleeping in the bedroom doorway, though I still have to tie her to keep her in one place. She’s doing really well, though, so I might be able to get rid of the indoor leash soon, though.

This morning Baby Dog growled when one of the cats wandered into her space while she was eating breakfast. She didn’t like the cat in there at all, though she doesn’t mind if I pet her when she’s eating. Although I’ve never heard her growl when she’s eating before, in a way it’s not a surprise. She’s taken to barking angrily if she sees one of the cats doing something she doesn’t approve of. Bad Cat #1 was trying to claw his way into an unopened 20lb bag of cat food Saturday night, and Baby Dog let him (and me!) know that this activity was unacceptable. I think she’s going to be the house tattletale.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Restful Afternoon

The snow has mostly melted now, but here's a picture before it did, with the woods looking extra pretty in the sunlight.

I'm still recovering from my cold, and this afternoon I laid down to rest for a while. I can see into the woods from the picture windown in the bedroom, so I rested and watched birds at the same time.

Today seemed to be woodpecker day. At one point I had three different species on the same tree--northern flicker, downy woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecer--looking like an illustration from a field guide.

I also saw a turkey vulture today, every though it was only 15oF at the time.

The dogs joined me on the bed and kept me warm.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bad Dog

Last night my cold was really making me feel tired and not very ambitious. At bedtime, I needed to take Dog out for the last time. Wouldn’t you know that stupid dog saw a semi-feral cat and pulled the flex-lead out of my hands and took off into the woods? He probably wouldn't have been able to do that, if I was my normal self, but I was feeling like a limp dishrag.

Dog did what he always does on the few occasions he's gotten away from me. He runs until the flexi gets tangled and then he sits there. No amount of calling him will get a response—no barking, whining, etc. He just sits. Which makes it difficult to find him at 10:30 at night in the woods.

So I went back into the cabin, got my headlamp and headed down the mountain to an access road that travels in same the direction of where Dog looked like he was heading. The dirt road was mushy and slushy and slippery, and I was in no mood for it. But I hadn’t gone too far before I saw eyes shining in the dark and knew it was Bad Dog. Unfortunately, he was on the other side of a usually small stream with a steep bank on the far side. I sloshed my way across the stream and then struggled up the bank. There at the bottom of a tree was my Bad Dog, tangled, just as I expected him to be.

I crawled around through the low brush, cursing and untangling him while he sat there looking miserable. Then I looked up and saw the treed feral cat gazing down at us. Eventually I got Bad Dog untangled and headed back towards the cabin, not following the access road this time, as I could see the lights from the back of my cabin up ahead, so I made a bee-line towards them. Just what I didn’t need! Bad Dog spent the night in the doghouse, both literally and figuratively.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I haven’t blogged much this week. I’ve been a bit under the weather. Nothing major, just a cold, but it’s been enough to slow me down a bit.

Last night I had an unexpected surprise. I was upstairs doing something when the dogs suddenly set up a ruckus. I realized someone was at the door. Since I live where I do, you might guess that this is a rare occurrence. It’s even rarer when I’m not expecting anyone. So I head downstairs, sort of expecting to see my neighbor Wes, since he’s the closest and only other person around. But I quickly saw that it was two women and then just as quickly realized it was my teenaged niece Lydia (who seems to have grown several inches in a month or so) and her friend Michelle. Wednesday is one of Brother’s nights to work at the resort, and the girls came along with him.

So I invited them in to the dog-infested cabin. Dog and Baby Dog wouldn’t quiet down, convinced that two teenage girls apparently were carrying weapons of mass destruction. So Dog was put into the bathroom, where he eventually quieted down. Once Baby Dog actually met the visitors, she stopped barking and started doing puppy squiggles.

Lydia and Michelle, the friend, were ‘boarding on the mountain. It was Michelle’s first try at it. Lydia has boarded for years but took a header that knocked the wind out of her, and I think they decided that was reason enough for them to decide to walk over to the cabin.

So we chatted for a bit. Then I grabbed my flashlight and took the girls and Baby Dog for a walk down the hill, through the muddy woods and over to the new pond so they could see it. The walk was muddier than it would have been just a day before. In fact, the night before I saw 5 snowmobilers over there. But yesterday was warm, and a lot of the snow melted.

The pond looks beautiful by night, especially since the night was clear and calm and even a bit balmy. Afterwards, the girls walked back over to the resort, and Baby Dog and I went home. Our surprise was over, but is mellow happiness lingers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dog and Baby Dog

Here's a picture of Dog and Baby Dog that I took just before the last snow. Baby Dog is almost 6 months old now, and I don't think she's going to get too much bigger.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Last night I had about 10 inches of new snow. In the early morning before I went to work at Roundtop, I was trying to shovel the deck(s), feed the cats and the dogs and fill the birdfeeders. I filled the big scoop with bird seed and had just dumped it into the feeder when a black-capped chickadee landed in a branch just inches from my face. I froze so I wouldn't scare it, the scoop still upside down, my hand over the platform. The chickadee decided it was too hungry to wait, so it landed on the back of my hand at the knuckle for the index finger and then dipped down into the seed. It took one and then flew off, as though landing on the back of my hand was an everyday occurrence. For me, it was a great way to start the day!!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Let the Snow Begin!

Sun shadows
light the room with fire,
While wood burns in
the stove.

Snow is predicted here for Saturday and into Sunday, with predictions ranging all the way from 1-12." Boy, I wish I could find a job where I could be wrong as often as weather forecasters are and still keep my job.

The poem at the top of this post is one I wrote years ago and just rediscovered this week when I was cleaning off one of my too many and all over-crowded bookshelves.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Raven! (and other less exciting things)

I saw a raven this morning! I had just left the cabin for work and decided to take the dirt road short cut out to the main road. Now that the ground has frozen again, this route past the paintball headquarters is faster. I just cleared the woods and had an open view of Roundtop’s north parking lot when I saw a large black bird on the opposite side of the parking lot sitting in a low tree. I just about had time to think, “Boy, that’s a big one” when the bird turned his head, and I saw that familiar giant bill.

I slowed the truck and started to inch my way across the lot, hoping the bird wouldn’t fly. I’ve seen ravens before at Roundtop, though rarely. I’ve heard them more often than I’ve seen them. I kept moving, wishing I’d had my fantasy digital camera, or any camera, with me, but I didn’t. I got within 25-30 feet of the bird. It was all puffed up, making it look even larger. The bird didn’t seem too upset at the sight of a truck slowly crossing in front of it. I chose not to get any closer than I did, hoping the bird will stay around for a while, at least long enough for me to put a camera in my hand and get a picture of it. It probably won’t, but I can hope.

January was a tough month for my yard birding since I work away from the cabin during the week and work down at the ski slopes on Sunday. Because it gets light so late and dark so early, I really only get to bird on Saturday, although I might see a few early-rising birds in the pre-dawn semi-darkness just before I leave for work. And in this past January, it rained buckets on at least 2 of those Saturdays, limiting my explorations even more. My Saturday birding is limited further by the unfortunate need to run errands and occasionally doing something that vaguely resembles housework, not to mention also walking the dogs, who demand enough attention that I can’t actually focus on watching birds when I’m out with them. Nor would I want to. That’s their time.

This limited birding time is why I always miss seeing some species that I know are around in January. And, worse than that are the species that *might* be around, if only I was around enough to see them. This would include yellow-bellied sapsuckers, common redpolls and pine siskins, which I’ve only seen here occasionally, though I expect the sightings wouldn’t be quite so occasional if only I could look for them more often.

In dog news: I’ve made an appointment for Baby Dog to get spayed near the end of the month. I can’t believe she’s old enough for this already. I also think she’s not going to get as large as I first thought. She hasn’t gotten much taller in the past few weeks. I used to call her a chowbrador, but lately I’m thinking she might be a chowder collie (or would that be a border chow?). She’s a solid as a rock, and her weight is in that solidness, but she doesn’t seem to be getting as tall as I thought she might.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

January "Yard" Birds at the Cabin

I finished January with sightings of 26 different species of birds at Roundtop, a pretty good total for mid-winter. As always, I missed seeing a few species that I should have seen. And I had a few semi-unexpected surprises.

In Pennsylvania there’s a guy who compiles yearly yard sightings of everyone who submits monthly reports to him to see who has the best list. I'm sending my sightings in to him this year, though I don’t expect to win. Last year the winner had 169 species. I have just 131 on my yard list for all the years I’ve lived in the cabin. But I was happy that I didn’t find out about this competition in, say August, as would be more typical for me. So at least I can participate and perhaps make an extra effort to see how many different species I can see here in a year.

The competition is broken into yard categories. I debated which category I should use. My own property is small and would be considered bordered by woods, pond etc. instead of the more suburban and urban categories. But, if I included all of Roundtop, I could quality for category 5, which assumes a large amount of acreage. In the end I decided on a category 3 entry, which means I can only count what I can see on or over my own property.

So here’s my January yard list:
Black vulture – this is an unusual sighting for January. I don’t usually see them until around mid-February, if there’s a few warmish days then.
Turkey vulture – not an unexpected sighting, though in cold years I often won’t see these at all in January
Canada goose – expected
Mallard – don’t always get these here in January
Red-tailed hawk – expected
Mourning dove – not as common as you might guess, at least in January
Great horned owl – expected
Red-bellied woodpecker – expected
Downy woodpecker – expected
Northern flicker – somewhat unusual in January. These birds seem to head off the mountain and down to sheltered valleys in most winters. The fact that they haven’t indicates just how warm this January was.
Pileated woodpecker – expected, though never taken for granted as these birds have a large territory and sometimes don’t make an appearance in my end of it.
Blue jay – expected, but I have more of them this winter than usual.
American crow – I think this was my the first bird I saw in the new year.
Black-capped chickadee- expected
Tufted titmouse – expected
White-breasted nuthatch – expected
Brown creeper – always appreciated. These secretive birds are always around but I don’t often get to see them.
Carolina wren – they’ll be around until I have a year with a lot of deep snow, then they will be missing for several years. Seeing them is another sign that the winter is mild.
Eastern bluebird – lots here at Roundtop, but I don’t usually hear them singing in January.
American robin – I think these larger, slightly duller-colored birds are Canadian robins who think they *have* migrated south for the winter. They hang out in flocks in the woods.
European starling – expected
Song sparrow – expected
White-throated sparrow – expected
Dark-eyed junco – expected
Northern cardinal – expected, but they’re singing already!
American goldfinch – expected

What’s missing? Screech owl, kestrel, sharp-shinned hawk, wild turkey, hairy woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, house finch, perhaps mockingbird

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wind and Winter

Semi-winter weather has returned to the mountain. I saw snow flurries this morning, Saturday night winter blew in (again!) with a vengeance. It was just after dark, and I was in the cabin with the dogs. It had been raining for a bit, but suddenly the wind picked up and kept picking up. Rain came down so hard it rattled the windows, and I thought it was sleet at first. Then I felt the familiar vibration in the cabin that means a tree has fallen somewhere nearby. That was followed by a branch crashing against a window and the sound of the wind growing even more extreme. I was starting to think about heading down into the utility basement. I turned on the weather radio which indicated the winds were to be 25-35 mph. Well, I knew this was a whole lot stronger than 25-35 mph. But about this time, the storm started to ease, and in 15 minutes it was back to being just a normal storm with a lot of rain and heavier than normal wind.

People often ask me if I’m afraid to live out in the woods where I do, and my answer is “no.” Most who ask me this question are really asking “aren’t you afraid someone will attack you?” Or sometimes “don’t you worry about fire?” Or sometimes it’s “being stuck out there during a bad winter” or “what if you’re injured and no one knows you’re out there?” The list goes on and on.

Funny, but no one ever mentions wind. And while most of those other things are just people’s own fears talking and not based in much, if any reality, the one thing that comes closest to scaring me is wind. Sometimes I worry that some giant tree will fall on the house and destroy it and/or me. I have to tell you that this worry isn’t nearly enough to keep me from living in the woods. But it tends to surface every time I get a strong wind storm, at least during those minutes when the wind is at its most extreme.

So far I’ve had one tree fall on the back deck (doing minimal damage). I’ve had 3 very large trees fall very near the house during storms (and felt that vibration when they hit the ground). Those trees would have done major damage if they’d hit the cabin. I currently have one smallish tree that’s fallen but was caught by its neighbor. It’s leaning over the driveway and would hit the parked car if it completes its fall. It’s stayed there during 50 mph winds, though, so it should continue to stay there until spring when I can get it removed. I’ve had trees fall on the electric lines back where they cut through the woods and knock out the electricity for almost a week. But so far I’ve been lucky. Compared to wind, the other fears seem fairly minimal or manageable. (Except for the mother of all ice storms, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Note: this morning I heard that on Saturday night about 10-12 miles south of me the roof was blown off a hotel and damaged multiple cars in the parking lot. That wind was pegged at 70 mph. I’m guessing the wind I had during the storm was at least in the 50-60 mph range.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cabin Sweet Cabin

I took this picture of the back of the cabin this week. No new pictures can be expected from this weekend, though. I'm getting a rain that this morning started as a warmish, spring-like rain and as the day has gone on, it's now reverted to a cold rain, with fog.

The day is far darker than it should be, even the birds at the feeders are silhouettes except for few short hours in the middle of the day.

And though it's only the beginning of February, the birds are acting as though spring has arrived. Canada geese are all over the sky. The flickers are drumming territory on any transformer they can find. The morning is filled with cardinals singing. This is truly the weirdest winter weather I remember experiencing. Yet as warm as it's been, the local weather people are counting it only as the 9th warmest ever.

I took Baby Dog to the pet store this morning for the first time. It wasn't a huge success. She loved the car ride, was very good when I left her in the car to run other errands. But in the pet store she barked. And barked. And barked some more. She's still a work in progress.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Dog in a portrait taken on Saturday when we were walking around in an area that was partially logged or thinned. Dog loves to sit and climb on anything, especially rocks. When he was a puppy I used to walk him down to the bottom of the mountain and then sit on a boulder there. He wasn't old enough to walk very far, and we had to rest.

He always wanted to jump up on the boulder to sit with me, but he wasn't big enough to jump that high (it was about 16"). So getting him up on the boulder by pushing his butt and encouraging him was a big deal. The day he was finally big enough to get up on the rock himself was a major life event. And ever since then he just loves to jump onto anything he can sit on. Even now, all I have to do is say "rock" and he's there.