Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Falling Leaves, Falling Temperatures

I have only just last evening turned on the heat in the cabin, but I still only keep it between 61-63 degrees inside during the heating season. My reason for the low temperature is a combination of trying to pay less for energy, trying to reduce my overall energy use and not minding at all if I need to wear a sweater inside. That’s what sweaters are for, anyway.

After the first day or two, I don’t even notice, let alone mind, that my cabin is cooler than most places. My body adjusts and is happy at the cooler temperature. By not turning the heat on as soon as the temperature dips below 65, my body has a few days to adjust slowly, which is what it takes to not notice that the temperature is lower than "normal." If the outside temperature suddenly shoots back up to 75 or so, I will be hot. In the summer, a temperature of 75 will seem cold after a run of 90 degree days. Once you realize that a healthy body can easily adjust to a wider range of temperatures than just 68-72 degrees, both heating and air conditioning become a lot less important, though I’m sure the power companies don’t want you to know that.

Often I don’t even wear a sweater inside, I’ll just put on a hat if I get a little chilly. People lose 40% of their body heat through their head, I first learned back when I was a novice backpacker. The fastest way to warm yourself up is to simply put a hat on. Most of the time I forget I have one on my head and it stays on until I go to bed. I favor a beret, as they are soft and loose over the top, so there’s no hat hair when I take it off.
My photo today just shows the road leading off Roundtop mountain and the current state of the leaf drop, which is later than normal. Inside the cabin, the bright moon and the more open forest canopy make even the night seem bright.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finally, Juncos!

Yesterday was a big migration day through my area. When I got home from work I heard the sound of something I haven't heard in a while--robins! Not one or two robins, but a large flock of them. I had robins as thick as grackles in the woods, much to the annoyance of a few local squirrels. And near the robins I found a few dozen dark-eyed juncos--my first of the year. These birds didn't arrive by onesies or twosies this year. They all got onto the bus together and came south as a group.

Overnight, the chipping sparrows have thinned out, and the white-throated sparrows are much in evidence. The chipping sparrows aren't completely gone yet, but I expect another day or two will see the end of them.

Here on the mountain, I have not yet had a frost, though the lower-lying valley areas have. Hot or even warmer air rises, and the Appalachians aren't high enough here for the temperatures to be lower than the valley temperatures. In some ways, the temperatures on the mountain are more moderate than in the cities or down in the valley. The trees and leafy canopy keep summer's hot temperatures a few degrees lower at the cabin. In the winter, the low-lying areas take the worst of the cold, though I get the wind up here that isn't felt down below.

Do you like today's photo of a wolf spider? It was on the side of the cabin a day ago. These spiders look like miniature tarantulas to me. They are common in the fall, especially around doors, porch lights (where I found this one) and windows. They don't weave a web at all, they are hunters. More than once I've found them in my shower. I tend to just leave them alone unless they get into the way.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cows: Yes; Juncos: No

A field of cows doesn't have much to do with life at the cabin, but at least once a year, cows in a pasture with a pretty mountain in the background gets to me, and I'm forced to take a photo of them. I've now gotten it out of my system for a while.
As you may guess from the title of today's post, I still haven't found juncos at the cabin, despite some rather intensive searching this weekend. Even without juncos, it was an interesting few days at the cabin. What I did see was many, many birds exiting the region for the winter. I literally saw hundreds of chipping sparrows, that most ubiquitous of summer sparrows, in groups from just 5-6 to 20 or more. They are fleeing the area in droves right now, and once they are gone, looking for other species of sparrows will be much easier, as I won't have 499 of them to look at before finding the 1 that isn't a chipping sparrow.
After weeks of not seeing a robin, suddenly I am seeing a few again. These are not the same robins that were here all summer, but migrants that are moving down and through the region. Some of them, those larger, tougher, slighthly browner Canadian robins that locals here call "woods robins" may well stay throughout the winter, thinking they have already come far enough south to spend the winter.
I also had saw a phoebe, several weeks after the local phoebes left. Raptors were moving, too--redtails and sharpies especially. Some of these will likely winter over, too.
One summer resident that has so far not left is the killdeer. I still hear them nearly every morning in one of Roundtop's parking lots. I don't expect they will remain much longer, though.
After several days of rain that grew into an ever colder rain as the days passed, the temperature is now near normal for this time of year. However, the chill doesn't yet feel "deep," for lack of a better word. The trees or the rocks or the ground itself is still holding onto the heat of the year. The wind feels chill but there's an underlying warmth beneath it somehow, as though if the wind stopped, the land would quickly warm again. The cooler weather hasn't yet settled into the rocks or the cracks and crevices. That takes a while longer.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No Juncos?

The rain continues here at Roundtop, though overnight it was light enough that it didn't add much depth in the rain gauge. Almost hour by hour I can feel it getting colder. The rain started like one of those rare, soft summer rains that makes me feel as though I could enjoy getting soaked to the skin in it. But now it is verging on a cold rain, with a chilling wind from the east. I like it, though; we need the rain and the temperature is now closer to normal.
I am hoping that later this weekend when the rain finally stops I will finally see the first dark-eyed juncos of the season. Their arrival is much delayed this year, though juncos are not a species that arrive like clockwork on the same day each year, as swallows very nearly do. And it is this normal variability in their arrival that has kept me from saying until now that they are late.
Juncos ordinarily arrive in shifts. In past years, it has been common for me to find the first junco or two during the second week of October. But then I won't see large numbers of them for another week or two. Occasionally, I have missed seeing these early "scouts" entirely, only to have the first small flocks of juncos show up in mid-October. I typically see them daily from October until they leave in the spring, but it usually takes the first small snowstorm before they are as thick as a carpet in front of my bird feeders.
I have never seen the first juncos later than October 21 before. I really expected to find some when I took my walk down in the valley earlier this week, figuring that the abundance of natural food this year meant simply that they didn't need to scavenge at or near the cabin. But I didn't see any. I've also noticed that not many have thus far been reported on the PA Birds listserv I subscribe to. At first I thought that was because juncos are a common species and the PA Birds folks tend to be looking for rarer ones, but I don't think that's it either. The little darlin's simply aren't here yet. I expect they will arrive as soon as this rain stops late in the weekend. I will look hard for them then as I don't wan't October to end without sighting my first junco of the year.
Thanks to all who've asked about Baby Dog. She is fine, full of herself and doesn't seem to be bothered at all. I actually wish she was a little less full of herself, as I'm worried she might reinjure the tail with her antics.
My photo today was taken at my neighbor's farm. The mountain in the distance is the one on the far side of the valley that I walked over to earlier this week on my walk through the forest.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Roundtop News of the Day

It's a good thing I did take a lot of photos during my walk down in the valley earlier this week. It is raining now and has been for two days. It is a lovely, soaking rain totalling perhaps an inch so far. This fall, all-day-long rain is much different than the momentary gully-washers that seem to be the only kind of rain that comes in summer.
Between the rain and the shortened hours of daylight, it is now too dark to take photos during the weekday hours I'm at the cabin, so it's a good thing I have plenty to use, even if they are now 3-day old photos.
Last night after I went to bed, I looked out my bedroom window and was surprised by how light the night appeared. At first I thought the pale gray cloud cover was the reason it appeared so, but then I realized that wasn't it. The rain is starting to bring down the leaves, and I am suddenly able to see the sky through the leafy canopy. Hurray! Soon I will be able to see Nell's Hill without traipsing 200 yards out to the abandoned ski slope. My view to the west will slowly reappear.
In other news: Still no juncos, but the other winter residents are gobbling up the bird food as though they haven't eaten all summer. I am seeing decent-sized flocks of sparrows as they flush from inside one bush and fly to the inside of the next bush, but they are so skittish and flush so far ahead that I rarely get close enough or get my binos up fast enough to ID them. I suspect the flocks are primarily white-throated sparrows, as I occasionally see enough of a bird to ID one, but I'd love to be able to see more.
Baby Dog has broken the end of her tail. When I came home from my hike on Monday, she was all excited to see me (as usual) and was jumping up and down in excitement. Somehow, during this jumping, she got tangled in a cable I had placed by the car in anticipation of throwing it away. Even as I was bending down to untangle her, she got scared by the tangling and bolted, but her tail was still tangled and was broken about 2-3 inches from the end. After a vet trip to detangle her from the cable, she is home and now back to her normal antics of rough-housing the cats and barking at any object that has been moved from its appointed place. I am hoping the tail heals well and doesn't need to be amputated at the break.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Day in the Forest - Part 3

This photo shows the logging road that runs between the boundary lines of the state gamelands and Roundtop's property. It makes for a nice and easy walk through the forest.

A little further on, I found a road that started up the mountain next to Roundtop and led back north, so I followed it. I'd never been on this particular woods road before, and my only concern was that I would end up on the opposite side of Beaver Creek, where it flow wider and deeper and that I'd have trouble getting back to "my" side of the creek without getting wet. As it turned out, an hour or so later I ended up back at Roundtop's first pond and only had to balance my way across the spillway to get back to my side. Normally, water flows over the spillway, and I wouldn't attempt this maneuver then, but as dry as it's been water wasn't within a foot of the top of the spillway.

October is a wonderful time to be in the woods, and when you find a clear and calm October day, that's even better. I didn't see or hear any humans on this jaunt and didn't see any four-legged animals either. The blue jays made sure that my progress was tracked throughout the woods.
My last photo is the giant stump I found deep in the woods, an old remnant, I think, of the logging days in the past. It must have been amazing in its day.
Tomorrow: back to current events at the cabin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day in the Forest - Part 2

As I said in my last post, my only goal for this walk in the woods was to walk on woods roads or trails that I don't often walk. I simply wanted to enjoy the day and see the fall colors.

I walked down the hill and down into the valley, which is entirely forested. I walked west as far as the the base of the mountain in the distance but mostly stayed in the valley between this photo and the mountain. The valley is owned by Roundtop and the Pa. Game Commission. I don't know how many acres it totals, but it's a good bit, and it's rare in this area to have a valley that isn't developed or at least doesn't have a road going through it. To have that valley just out my back door is like hitting the lottery.

I spent much of my walk telling myself that I'm a fool for not spending more time down here. At the base of Roundtop, I found a trail heading south that I don't usually walk because it fairly soon reaches posted private property. But I vaguely remembered a trail leading off from that follows the Gamelands/Roundtop property line, and I decided to follow see where that went. I found it soon enough and followed it over to the base of this mountain, passing several more trails that I wanted to explore after I saw where the trail I was on went. On the boundary trail I soon crossed Beaver Creek, upstream far enough where it was not wide enough or deep enough to have ever supported beavers.

I saw signs of old, old logging here, including one stump that would have needed three people holding hands to reach the whole way around it. The roads that were built to log out the trees more than 100 years ago still exist. Some are no longer passable and can barely be seen. But often, they are still there, especially when they follow boundary lines that get walked at least occasionally. Or maybe a farmer used the woods road as a short cut to somewhere. There are lots of reasons why these roads still exist in good enough condition to allow walking over them 100 years or so after they were built.
I saw the first white-throated sparrows of the season--several flocks of a dozen or so. Blue jays were common, as were the usual small birds--chickadees, titmice, downy woodpeckers. I still haven't seen any juncos, and these birds are now starting to be late in arriving, though as warm as it's been, their late arrival shouldn't be a surprise. All the birds I came across were not very wary, and I suspect that they see few humans. I certainly didn't see any human footprints in the soft spots, though I saw plenty of deer and raccon tracks.
The forest down here is now at least 120 to perhaps 140 years from being logged and is starting to look fairly mature again. Every now and again I come across a very large, old tree--usually an oak--and I wonder how this one avoided being cut. Perhaps it was still deemed too small 100 years ago or perhaps it was simply in a spot that wasn't easily accessible.

These old woods roads keep me from having to bushwhack through undergrowth. Also, these roads always go somewhere, even if it's only to peter out in some clearing. The benefit to me is that getting lost or turned around or confused is pretty difficult. I can always retrace my steps. I simply pay attention to the direction I'm walking in and when I want to go back I just find a road that heads in the direction where I want to end up.

After following one of these roads west, it eventually came out onto the road that parallels the base of the next mountain, so I turned around and headed back to find one of the roads I'd seen earlier that headed north and back in the direction I wanted to go. But I'll leave that piece of the walk for tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Day in the Forest Part 1

Today was just a tad shy of the peak color in my woods, but by the weekend the peak will be past. Today was the day I had to spend in the woods and so I did. I took so many photos that I likely have enough to last until January. But even if these global warming times, you folks would likely get a bit suspicious if I was still posting fall color photos in January. So I will have to be selective.

I headed down off the mountain and into the valley early this morning, and had no sooner taken my first steps on the trail I was planning to walk when a pileated woodpecker saw me and swooped off through the woods, screaming in outrage. I was busted! The woodpecker woke up a blue jay, who was equally outraged. In turn, the blue jay alerted a squirrel, and before you know it, I am being followed by several blue jays and assorted other creatures. All I did was take two steps down the mountain.

My plan for today's walk wasn't really a plan. I wanted to photograph the pond in today's photo, as I didn't have many photos of it in fall. I have summer and winter photos, but if I have any fall photos I can no longer locate them. I also wanted to wander a few of the old woods trails I don't regularly walk. Much of this area is wet even in a dry season, and springs keep the footing mushy. So I tend not to come down here unless it's been dry, as coming down here in years with normal rain is a good way to ruin a pair of shoes. So that was the extent of my plan for the day. I ended up walking all over the valley on a beautiful day and will post more of my photos in my next post.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Orange Tree, Black Fog

This morning Dog and I took our early morning walk in a black fog. Most fogs are light gray and in an odd way often brighten the darkness a bit. But this morning the fog was black and heavy and seemed to suck the light from the electric lights around the ski lodge. My headlamp barely cut the blackness and that only for a few inches around us.
As dawn approached, I realized that I was actually inside a black cloud. I live about 1100 feet above the surrounding flat land, and sometimes a cloud layer, especially a storm cloud layer, hangs lower than that. This morning, the storm clouds that were over the valley were not over me, but all around me. I half expected to see tiny lightning bolts suddenly dance between the leaves or hear thunder come from inside the pond. I was inside a storm cloud before the storm.

Inside this storm cloud, the air is so moist it would better be described as wet. The temperature is warm—far warmer than an October morning should be. No breeze flutters the leaves, which hang limp and still. Sound travels on the moisture, but the source of the sounds is hidden and seems to come from every direction and none.

We walk back to the cabin, and for once I am relieved to be back inside, where the light is a comforting and familiar shade of yellow, and leave the blackness outside.

The orange tree in this morning’s photo gets brighter with every passing hour. It is the deepest and brightest shade of orange I have seen in any of the fall colors so far. Orange is also the least common of the local fall colors—yellow and red are much more typical—so the shade alone makes it special.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fall Ruminations

What’s a girl to do? The leaves are nearing their peak of color change, and I have little daylight time before and after work to take photos. The past two days were also overcast and the light hasn’t been very interesting, which even further limits what I’d hoped for with the photos. So I have only one option, as I see it—a play day! I’m off on Monday so I can rattle around the area and get some (I hope) good fall photos. As a result, you may not see any posting from me until Tuesday, and if I do happen to post on Monday when I get back from my mini-expedition it will be late.

Until then, the cabin is warm and cozy, and the windows are open again. The cicadas have gone back into hiding, but the crickets and tree frogs have replaced them. The good news is that those two are not as loud, so sitting outside on the deck after dark is pleasurable again. Baby Dog played hopscotch with one of the jumpers last night after dark. It was a small jumper but it was too dark for me to identify it properly. She sure looked funny, though.
Despite the increasing warmth this week, the fall color change is starting to move rapidly now. I can see changes from morning to evening. Migration seems to have slowed down again, but a front coming through tomorrow is likely to jumpstart that again. Although I’ve seen a few migrating flocks of waterfowl, I haven’t seen many. This may mean that they’ve taken another route this year—sometimes that happens—or it may mean they haven’t migrated in numbers yet.

I wonder if the warm temperature has the same effect on the birds and animals that it does on me. The air is calm and humid, and it’s easy to be lulled into a near somnolence, cocooned by the warmth around me. This is a different sensation than the drowsiness of mid-summer, which is dominated by attempts to avoid the heat. This is a more temperate drowsiness brought on by what feels like an equilibrium of the physical senses—no wind to ruffle the hair, temperatures neither hot nor cold, humidity that comforts rather than cloys. I feel like a sleepwalker floating through the forest, momentarily protected within this rare balance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blue Sunrise

I am a bit overwhelmed with sheer amount of the red and yellow and orange colors that surround me in the forest right now. Everywhere I turn is a brilliant color that would make a wonderful photo. I literally can't decide what to snap next. It's more than a little like being a kid in a candy store--too many choices, so little time, it all looks delicious. Then I saw this blue sunrise. It was the only blue around in this vast sea of red and yellow, and somehow that made my choice eaiser. I decided to make my blue sunrise today's photo.

Since last week's lovely change in the weather and temperature, that darned warmer weather has been creeping back, a degree here, another there, like a bad dog that's been put into another room and thinks I won't notice when it creeps a few inches closer every minute or so. Well, I've noticed. And since I tend to be mildy obsessive in my record-keeping about birds and weather (to name a few), I went back to some of my last year's weather data and discovered that by this time last year, I'd already had several light frosts. This year, I haven't been within 10 degrees of a frost. Then I checked the long-range forecast for the rest of this month, and there's nothing in it within 10 degrees of a frost.

Last year's "winter" barely qualified as one. It didn't arrive until mid-winter and then left early. So based on not yet having had a frost and with none in sight, I am already despairing for what this winter might bring. So what's it like where any of you are? Is it warmer than it should be? A lot? I guess I'm sort of hoping that my extreme warmer weather is anomalous, though in my heart of hearts I no longer believe this. I'm thinking of getting a bumper sticker that says "Global warming sucks!" or maybe if I'm having a better day, it would say, "Fight global warming. Winter's already short enough."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How to Avoid Hitting a Deer

Last evening as I was driving back to the mountain from a meeting, I saw deer in four different places in or along the road. So far I’ve been lucky and have never hit one in all my years of driving. Part of my "luck," I believe, is due to a few simple rules that I follow religiously during the height of the deer rut. I don’t mean to imply that I or you will never, ever hit a deer if we both follow these rules, but I know I’ve avoided at least several accidents because I do follow them.

1. Use your fog lights and your high beams whenever you can, even if it’s in weather or darkness conditions where you wouldn’t normally use either. Both these lights illuminate the sides of the road better than just your normal headlights.

2. With the sides of the road better illuminated, you should now look for eye gleams off both edges of the road. Avoiding deer depends on you seeing them first. Fortunately, unlike bear, deer eyes are on the sides of their heads so your headlights will pick up the gleams. With bears, these directions won't help much because their eyes are in the front of their faces, and your headlights won't catch them (plus they’re black, which doesn’t help either).

3. Slow down! In order to keep your eyes on both the road and along the edges of the road, drop your speed at least 5 mph slower than your normal speed. It’s also easier to stop when you’re not going so fast.

4. When you see a deer, even if it doesn’t look as though it’s going to cross the road, slow down even more and/or stop to look around. This time of year, if there’s one deer, there’s more of them and who knows what side of the road these "more" are on.

5. If a deer stops in the middle of the road with that stereotypical "deer in the headlights" act, stop and flash your headlights between high and normal. Headlights seem to confuse them, but the change from normal to high and back again always gets them moving, in my experience.
6. Good luck! So far, so good, and I hope to keep it that way.
I've had a few requests to post a photo of the fig tree that now is sweeping the ceiling of my cabin and has grown tall enough for me to sit underneath. Perhaps a more interesting shot would have been video of me trying to get the tree inside a one-story door, but fortunately there is no footage of that nor of the curses that accompanied it. So here is a photo, complete with a portrait of Ben, the bad cat.

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Alien Landscape

Now that fall has really arrived, I feel as though I am suddenly living on a different planet. Or perhaps, I’ve just moved further north. Still, after nearly 6 months of summer, having the weather change so completely so quickly has overnight makes me feel a bit as though I’ve living in a different place, in a vaguely alien landscape.

In most years, the seasonal changes arrive so slowly that I barely notice them. I have to make an effort to notice them. But this year, suddenly and overnight, I am living in a place where I need to wear long sleeves and a jacket. I live in a place where a red-breasted nuthatch comes to the bird feeder. Suddenly, I need to close the windows and heat the cabin. Suddenly, geese fly and their calls can be heard in the dark of a new moon. Six deer trot past the cabin door each morning as they head from their bed to a morning grazing spot. The green of summer is giving way to a yellower, browner shade of leaves. The change out my front door was seismic this week.

On Saturday, it was chilly but pleasant, with little breeze. I sat outside reading my morning newspaper when I heard a familiar call. The call I heard reminds me of those Christmas favors that used to be popular—a little tin horn. It’s the call of a red-breasted nuthatch, which has a hoarser sound than the resident white-breasted nuthatch. It’s been several years since I’ve seen one of these little cuties. They don’t come south every year, and when they do it means they’ve come south because their northern crop of cones is poor. What’s good for southern birdwatchers is a real hardship for these birds. They come south to find food, braving the hazards of migration to search for a new food source. I wonder how many never make it, and I also wonder if the overall population of these birds plummets the year after they are forced to leave their own territories and head south for the winter.

As I sat outside I saw several birds flitting around in the driveway, though the sun’s angle kept me from IDing any of them. I noticed that most of the birds were coming and going from my birdfeeders out back, so I went inside to sit by a window. It didn’t take long before the little red-breasted nuthatch appeared in the feeder. He got food several times, but was often chased away by one of the white-breasted nuthatches. The local white-breasted nuthatch tries to chase off every other bird that comes to the feeders, so this behavior may not be a perceived threat just from a different species of nuthatch. I watched the newcomer for several minutes before it took off. I haven’t yet seen the bird again, so perhaps it is already somewhere else, continuing its flight south.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Inside Forest

Now that fall is back, it wasted no time evicting summer and has settled in as though it never left. The temperature has now dropped nearly 50 degrees in 3 days, and my body hasn't quite acclimated yet. Right now I am wearing a flannel shirt and a sweater. In a few days, when I've acclimated, I'm sure I'll be able to remove at least one layer but I'm not there yet.

Last night I spent the better part of an hour bringing inside all my houseplants that summer out in the forest. My fig tree has grown another foot. It is now so large that it nearly touches the ceiling in my 2-story living room. It is so large I can sit underneath it. I put a rocking chair next to it so I can do just that this winter. Suddenly the cabin feels a lot smaller. In addition to the tree, I have two large philodendrons (I think) that are shrub-sized and those three alone take up what seems like half the room in the living room. Another is an asparagus fern that hangs from the ceiling, and I've already bumped my head on it 3-4 times. It will be a while until I'm used to that one again.

It is now barely past dawn when I leave the cabin in the morning, and twilight is already starting when I get home in the evening. That means I will now need to start taking all my blog photos for the upcoming week over the weekend and dole them out one by one during the next week. Not until spring will I have up to the minute timing again.

This morning's photo will be last one taken outdoors within a few hours of posting it. This morning as I was heading down the mountain and out one of Roundtop's access roads, the sun peeked through momentarily before slipping behind a covering of clouds.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Fall Morning at the Cabin

This morning I took a deep breath and inhaled the sweet aroma of the forest in the fall. The sky is overcast with more shades of gray and cloud patterns than I can count. It is the kind of complex layers of cloudiness that I only see in October and November. A breeze from the northwest rattles the leaves. A red-tailed hawk and a few turkey vultures were aloft before the day had fully broken.
If you had told me in the midst of Tuesday’s heat that the season would change so completely and so utterly in 36 hours, I don’t think I would have believed you. Outside the cabin, it now looks like fall, it feels like October, and I feel energized. The winds have pulled down many of the leaves that turned color early, so around the cabin this morning I have this weird mix of newly bare trees and green trees, with fallen leaves on the ground.

This morning it was too dark when I left the cabin to notice if my winter view of the western mountains is back. I rather suspect that the barest outline of it will be visible, but that the full view is still a few weeks away.

Last evening, while the weather was still cooling, I took Dog for a long walk in the woods. He ran around like a puppy, not behaving a bit the middle-aged gentleman he is. The weather has fired him up too, and he ran and sniffed and ran some more until we headed, him panting like freight train, back to the cabin.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fall is Back!

Fall weather is back! It hasn't had time to pull up a chair and settle down yet, but summer was chased from the forest last night like a guest who has long overstayed its welcome. Autumn has arrived again, this time with a plan for staying for a while. I'm glad of the cooler temperatures. I'm not used to wearing the same summer clothes for nearly 6 months, and I hope I never have to repeat that experience.

Boy, do I wish I was off work today. This will be a big migration day for all kinds of birds--hawks, songbirds, waterfowl. Birds of any kind prefer to move south with a northwest tailwind behind them to ease the trip. But as I'm at work I'll just have to hope I'll get to see some of the results of today's migration when I get home tonight.

Any day now, juncos should arrive. Somewhere between October 8-12 is when the first of them usually show up at the cabin. It takes several more weeks, though, before they all get here. I was still seeing a few chipping sparrows on Monday evening, though they are rapidly diminishing in number.

The days are getting much noticeably shorter now, despite this longer stay on Daylight Savings Time. The sun is only just breaking the horizon as I leave for work, and it's now dark within an hour of my return home, which very much limits my chances for seeing much outside my door.

The extent of the leaf change here is quite variable--at least that was true through last evening. In some spots it's well advanced, while just a few feet away the trees still look pretty green. That's the case in the photo I'm posting today. I took the photo on Sunday, but if not for the goldenrod and dried grass in the foreground, it might easily have been taken in July. With normal temperatures back and below normal temperatures due by the weekend, it won't look like this by this Sunday, I'm sure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Common Buckeye

Sunday evening I was walking around the new pond at Roundtop and discovered this Common Buckeye butterfly. I didn’t think too much more about it, as common Buckeyes are, well, common. But I didn’t know much about them, so I did an internet search to try and find out more. I went to one of my favorite ID sites,, which is great for ID information for butterflies, skippers, birds, wildflowers and since June, snakes.

What I discovered when I went to the range map for the species is that a confirmed record of the Common Buckeye in my county—York—wasn’t listed. Now, in this particular case, it was apparently just an older map, as when I went to the site of the North American Butterfly Association ( ) Web site, York County was included in the range for this species.

"My" Buckeye was found in stereotypical habitat—an open, sunny area with low vegetation (in this case grass) and some bare ground. Its markings are also typical, with nothing unusual.
As a result of my searching, I found out where to report sightings of butterflies, so if you think you’ve found one that’s not typical for your area, here’s where to find the person in your state or province to report it: .

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hot Fall Weather

Never before have I started work at the ski resort in short sleeves. Yesterday I did just that. Boy, did that feel weird. The temperature topped out in the mid-80's.

But even that wasn't perhaps the weirdest happening of the day. As I was walking back to the cabin from my first shift of the "winter," I heard geese honking high overhead. It was a flock of Canada geese, so high that I never wouldn't have seen them if I hadn't heard them first. I saw perhaps 75 or so of them, obviously at a migration altitude, not the local flocks that flit from lake to lake here throughout the year.

This flock of geese was flying at what should be the peak of waterfowl migration, despite this year's weather. Usually, I see goose flocks between October 9-12 or so here. So the timing of this flock's migration was right, though the weather sure wasn't. Perhaps the other geese have decided to wait until the weather more closely resembles what it should be before they fly.

My photo this morning was taken looking up my lane on Friday morning. It's changed a bit since then but the color change (not surprisingly) isn't progressing very much right now.

Friday, October 05, 2007

BirdHawk is Not Just for Hawkwatchers

Even if you’re not a hawkwatcher but if you are a birder, I’d recommend joining the BirdHawk listserv. Why, you ask? Well, who else but hawkwatch counters can spend all day outside looking at the sky for whatever flies by?

Counters spend their days recording lots of birds they see other than "just" hawks. Nearly every hawkwatch in the U.S. submits its daily hawkwatch count data to BirdHawk every evening after their site closes. These are the messages that appear on BirdHawk.

After all the sightings and non-sightings of raptors for the day, at the bottom of each message is a listing of non-hawks that were sighted that day. Monarch butterflies, dragonflies, warblers, waterfowl, bears, everything that is seen is listed. If you read what others are seeing at a hawkwatch near you or even at a hawkwatch north of you (if it’s fall migration), you’ll soon have a pretty good idea of what you should be seeing around your own local patch of woods and when.

You’ll soon know what are the big migration days, when the black-and-white warblers or the Canada geese are moving, who saw a green parrot migrating past their hawkwatch and lots of other cool stuff. So even non-hawkwatchers can benefit from the list.

I do recommend that you get the list in "digest" form or you’ll soon be getting about 50 more e-mail messages a day (during migration) than you normally do. If you’re interested, send an e-mail to and make the first line of the message "subscribe birdhawk." Once you’re subscribed, send them another message with the command "set Birdhawk digest" as the first line of the message. You’ll get an e-mail when you sign up that gives you a lot of the commands and instructions you need to sign off the list or otherwise manage the messages you get.

If Birdhawk still sounds like more work than you care to undertake, you might want to find out if any of the hawkwatches near you have their own Web sites where they post their daily results, including all those non-hawk sightings. Every year, more and more hawkwatches, even the small ones, have their own Web sites. You can even contact me, and I’ll let you know what your nearest hawkwatch in the U.S. is and if they have their own Web site.

I took today’s photo last evening as the sun was getting low. Yesterday was a good migration day apparently, though I only saw the very end of it. I saw lots of killdeer, a sharpie (that’s sharp-shinned hawk for non-hawkwatchers) and a kestrel moving past the new pond. Four flickers were harassing the kestrel by crowding it and making a lot of noise until the kestrel flew off.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Yellowing Leaves

The yellow tulip poplar leaves in my photo today make it looks as though fall is further along at the cabin than it really is. Tulip poplar is one of those trees that does turn early and usually produces a nice bright shade of yellow as well. The oak trees tend to produce a deeper yellow, not this lovely bright shade. Sassafras is often orange. Red is a more uncommon shade in my woods.

I am finally starting to see some evidence that the deer rut has begun, though as yet the deer don’t seem fully consumed by it. Last evening I saw a small buck, a few doe and only the back ends of two other deer out after dark in various places on the mountain, tiptoeing from one side of the road to the other. So at least that sign of fall has appeared.

As for the rest of fall—it’s still on hiatus. Today the temperature will be in the upper 80’s, a full 20 degrees above the normal long-term average for this time of year. Right now I am only a few days from what is the typical first frost of the year, but this year I’m not even close to seeing that. My windows remain open. My “indoor” plants continue their outside summer vacation. My Christmas cactus, which usually have set buds by now, haven’t. And so it goes. Or so it doesn't, as the case may be.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Quiet Evening

Fall is lost this week. Maybe it took a wrong turn around the Great Lakes. The weather through the weekend will be positively summer-like, though fortunately not the weather of summer’s dog days. I’m annoyed when TV stations talk about how "wonderful" the weather is. In the first place, it’s dry and we’re under a drought watch. How is that "wonderful"? In the second place, the temperature is flirting with being 20 degrees above normal. How is that "wonderful"?

I’ve actually heard people argue that global warming is "good" for the world because it means lower heating bills and the opening of the Northwest Passage. I should be wearing a lightweight jacket by now, not still wearing my summer clothing. I should be seeing flocks of migrating geese honking across the sky, not this seemingly endless blue sky. Ah, but I rant…

So last evening I went out to the abandoned ski slope behind the cabin and took this photo of a bit of the now-stalled autumn color change. Dog was with me. The sky was empty—no birds were to be seen for some reason. It was perfectly quiet. Dog couldn’t even find a rabbit to scare up, much to his great disappointment. Nothing happened.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Little Leaf Change

Fall has stalled here, with temperatures warming up again to what should be an early September range. This likely means that the color change will halt until the weather turns more "normal" again. I love fall because of its cool, crisp temperatures but this year I don't seem to have anything even remotely resembling cool, let alone crisp.

The color changes I do see are quite variable. One side of a hill will have some obvious color change. The other side will still look green.

Around the cabin, it's still too soon to get my view of the western mountain back, but I'm starting to be able to see the forest floor now. Instead of being covered with growth, the understory of the forest is withered and thin. I can probably see close to 30 yards now, which is at least double the distance I could see in mid-summer.

I think I waited about a day too long to take this photo of the red/green oak tree near the entrance to Ski Roundtop. The day before, the tree really looked as though it was evenly split between red and green.

Yellow appears as though it will be the dominant color this year, with a little orange and just a bit of red for variety.

I've changed the resolution of my blog photos so dial-up users wouldn't have to wait so long for the page to load. Please let me know how it looks and works. I can still fiddle with it some more.

A Few Early Fall Colors

Leaves are starting to change more quickly here now. I can already see the difference between Saturday—the day these photos were taken—and how things look around the mountain this morning. Still, when I get closer, many of the changing leaves are on the stressed trees, those with insect or limb damage, so it is difficult to be sure what is caused by some kind of damage or what is simply the usual autumn color change. It will likely be another 2-3 weeks before the color change is at its peak here. Autumn colors move in fits and starts, with a lot of progress over a few days and then nothing much new for days after that.

The temperature is more fall-like, though still not as cool as it should be. The humidity has dropped to fall levels, and the weather is very pleasant. It’s not very good for hawkwatching, unfortunately, though the birds are probably as thrilled as birds can be with this migration weather. Few clouds cross the sky, and it’s nothing but blue, blue, blue. This means the migrants (not just the hawks) can fly as high as they want to. The breeze, when there is one, is hardly worth mentioning, so the birds don’t have to fight their way south. They should have a safe, quick trip. For them, this is likely the best weather they could hope to have for a trip of several thousands of miles. For those of us who like to watch birds, well, all I can say is that I’m glad they’re having a safe trip because I’m sure not getting to see very many of them.

Deer are starting to feel the rut, and I’m seeing them in some odd places. First thing Saturday morning I walked out to the end of the driveway so I could see the sky, and four deer startled in the woods across from the driveway, ran out of the woods towards me and then galloped up the lane. They were about 15 feet from me when they first bolted, and for an instant I almost thought they were going to run me down. The first bounced off the bank towards me before heading uphill. I did have my camera with me, but it wasn’t on, and by the time it booted up, they were gone.