Tuesday, September 11, 2007
State of the Mountain
Today I’m going to give a State of the Mountain report. The President gives a state of the union speech, and though I don’t oversee that much territory, I do pay attention to what’s going on around me. In a State of the Mountain report, I can record the changes that took place and report on how the mountain is doing on a day to day basis.
First off, I can report that the "new pond" is settling in and starting to look more like a natural feature than it did last year. I still prefer the forest that was there to a pond, but at least it’s not another parking lot. I’ve seen more waterfowl than I ever did before the pond was built. Deer and fox drink from it regularly.
Roundtop has worked on their tubing run this summer, building it higher and wider than before. At this point, the retaining wall is high enough to look a bit scary to me. I sure wouldn’t want to fall off that thing. No other new construction has trimmed the forest around the ski area, so the local animals and plants that I love aren’t being squeezed or stressed by that.
Deer are plentiful this year, though I can say that every year. This year (and last) red foxes were seen regularly. Turkey are more plentiful now than was typical of my early years at the cabin.
House finch seem to be increasing again, after being decimated by "house finch disease," which was really conjunctivitis. A local pair of kestrel have fledged as least one new falcon this year. I saw the three of them together on Sunday. This is also an improvement over the last several years, though a far cry from the years when kestrels were as common as, say, robins. Red-tailed hawk numbers seem to remain fairly constant. There’s always a pair an assorted younger ones around.
Black vulture were in short supply this year, as they continue to range further northward. This year, they did not seem to nest in the area as before. I’ve seen them migrating southward already, though, so I believe the birds are simply nesting further north. Despite declines caused by habitat loss elsewhere, here on Roundtop wood thrush, ovenbirds and bluebirds are common and doing well.
Southern bird species appear to be gaining a foothold—Carolina wren are now more common than ever. I’m still holding on to calling the majority of the chickadees that I see as black-capped and not Carolina chickadees, but it is true that I see Carolinas more frequently. I saw the first ever northern bobwhite here on the mountain just last week.
Gypsy moths bypassed the mountain this year but I still feel as though I’m on a knife edge with that one. Next year may well be a different story. Wild raspberries were more plentiful than the year before, but still not in the numbers of several years ago. This year, hickory nuts and acorns are the biggest I’ve ever seen them, and though the numbers of them are excellent, it’s not the most of either that I’ve ever seen.
Warming of the region does continue. The last of the leaf drop in the fall doesn't happen until early November now, when it used to occur in late October. Timing of the seasons was also off. Winter didn't feel like a normal winter until mid-January. Spring was also late, interruped after a normally-timed warm-up by a several weeks of a serioius cold snap. Summer was muggier and more overcast than usual, making it feel hotter than it actually was.
All told, it was a pretty decent year, with no major losses and even a few modest gains.
Note: I’ll be offline for the next several days, attending a HMANA conference on North American Birds of Prey. I’m especially looking forward to a symposium on the American Kestrel that will document its decline and hopefully identify some few causes for it. I’ll give a full conference report when I get back.