Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fumbling with Ferns

Currently, I am as interested in the ferns I’m now seeing around the cabin as I was with the fungus I saw a few months ago. Like the fungus, identifying ferns isn’t an easy task either. Let’s start with the ferns themselves. There are over 20,000 species. So the fieldguide isn’t likely to be something you can toss in your back pocket. You may need to buy a llama to carry that one around for you.

Narrowing a fern down to its family is (usually) easier. After that it gets messy. Let me give you an example. In the Dryopteris family of true wood ferns, three choices are the most likely in the woods around me—Intermediate, Spreading and Fragrant. In order to decide which of those might be the fern you see in today’s photo, the three species are separated by looking at the "first downward pointing secondary leaflet (basiscopic pinnule) on the lowest primary leaflet (basal pinna)." Then after you’ve found that first downward pointing etc., you have to look at the size and width of it as well as how it’s attached to the first upward pointing subleaflet. Okay, maybe I’ll try that tomorrow.

Then there’s the problem of the fieldguides. They ain’t cheap. They ain’t new, either, for the most part. At least, not for the ferns around Pennsylvania. I found one that sounded ideal, but it was $85. I found another that sounded good, it was $35. Another was printed in 1915 and yet another in 1937. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

The internet offered some help, though not on a par with bird or flower identifications. Here’s a link to a page that contains several good links to more pages with some fern identification information.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Experiment Update

After a break of one week, I'm posting the latest results of my experiment again. Last week, I didn't notice much change from the week before that, so I didn't post a photo. This week, the forest looks denser, so I'm posting the latest photo.
I almost need a machete to hack my way into this spot now. And it's only about 75 steps behind the back of the cabin. I think the reason the entry to this spot is so difficult is because the cabin, small as it is, nonetheless creates a bit of open sky in the forest. And that small, sunnier area creates a riot of growth. Where I take this photo, a little deeper into the woods, there's less sun and no nearby open sky.

Although I have taken each week's photo at about the same time, I may stop doing that and try for a photo that's taken about an hour before dark, whenever dark is. Now that it stays lighter so much longer, the big difference in lighting also plays a part in seeing how the area changes. The flatter light in the earlier photo actually makes the foliage easier to see.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More from Beaver Creek

Today’s photo is another one from my walk along Beaver Creek. The greens of May are so bright that it almost hurts my eyes to look at them, especially on a sunny day. Who would guess it to look at this little creek that it once caused a major flood in my area?

The flood was a long time ago, in the 1830’s if I remember the story correctly. It was a Sunday. At that point people often met for church outside, including at a spot along this creek, just a few miles from where I took this photo. A few mile or two downstream from here, the stream empties out of the mountains and runs through open farmland. It was in this part of the stream that some baptisms took place in the morning on a hot and sunny day in mid-summer.

Not long after the baptisms ended, and the people were dispersing, what was described as a 7-foot wall of water tore down the creek, scattering the last celebrants and flooding the meadow. It was a miracle no one was killed, they said. Apparently a few cows—the number varies—weren’t as lucky. The flood came out of no where, out into a cloudless day, they said.

No one could explain it. Where did it come from? The explanation is a bit odd, too. The story that residents eventually settled on was that a very localized thunderstorm stalled in between the mountains, right along this creek, perhaps right in the area where I took this photo. The surrounding area didn’t get the storm, but perhaps trapped between the two mountains, the storm just hung over this little valley and dropped a torrent of rain for several hours. Perhaps the water backed up somewhere behind trees that had fallen across the stream and that suddenly broke loose as water continued to back up behind them. No one knows exactly how it happened only that it did.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Down at Beaver Creek

After the extended rainy period of the last few weeks, I practically bolted out the door on the first sunny day to head down the mountain. My destination was in the narrow valley between Roundtop Mtn. and Nell's Hill.

The north branch of Beaver Creek runs through the center of this undeveloped area, a small creek that almost qualifies as seasonal. I've always assumed that the time long past when the creek got its name, even then beavers must only have been found further downstream. The way this sectino of the creek is, no self-respecting beaver would bother so set up shop in it. This isn't a criticism, just a fact. Another fact is that I love my walks along this creek.

In spring the littler waterway is noisy as the water rushes along it. By August, especially in a dry year, it is nearly completely dry. A couple of times, I've seen nother but a very few pools barely an inch or two deep with no sign of running water at all.

The stream gathers water that runs off both Roundop and Nell's Hill, so in spring the entire area is wet and muddy. Often, it is too muddy for walking. A time or two I've found myself in a wet and soggy area almost up to my knees. So I've pretty much given up walking along the creek when it's that wet. But this weekend after a few dry days, I hoped it would be dry enough and headed down there for the first time since March or so.

I enjoy many things about this walk. The forest is wetter down here than up at my cabin, and that difference results in somewhat different plants to see. Best of all, the two mountains effectively block most sounds frmo the moder world, except for a few airplanes overhead. living at my cabin isn't noisy by any means, at least it doesn't seem that way until I walk down the mountain where even distant and residual modern noise disappears.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Pretty Little Flower

Sometimes plants have names they don’t deserve. Daisy fleabane is one of those. It doesn’t keep fleas away at all, not even the least little bit. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a pretty little thing.

Almost 400 species have been found in the U.S. The color varies from white through purple and yellow. They are found almost everywhere but prefer drier landscapes.

People too often think of this plant as a weed, but then a lot of people seem to think anything they didn’t plant is a weed. I sure wouldn’t call it that. It’s quite a useful source of nectar for many species of bees and butterflies.

In my area, the fleabane is common, starting in, well, now. I guess "now" qualifies as late spring. Fleabane isn't the first of the spring bloomers, and it will bloom through mid-summer, at least. I've seen it this weekend in white and pale lavendar.

I fully intended to post to my Ruminations over the long holiday weekend, but the weather was so nice that I pretty much spent it outside and down in the woods with Dog and/or Baby Dog. After 16 or 17 days of rain, the weather over the holiday was sunny and beautiful, and I just couldn't stay inside long enough to blog.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Finally! It has stopped raining. The sun is out and the sky is clear.

Finally! The temperature is rising and will soon near normal.

Finally! I have seen the Baltimore oriole who has been singing up a storm in my driveway and along the lane for the past 10 days or so.

Finally! I will have a day off and have a three-day weekend.

Finally! (I imagine you saying) She’s not posting another experiment photo this week. The experiment photo I took last evening looks the same as the one I took the week before.

Finally! Something new under the sun. Okay, this "finally" was a bit of a stretch. My something new under the sun is a downy woodpecker whose feathers are yellow-ish where they should be white. Check out Cathy’s blog The Quiet One to see for yourself.

Finally! (Really) Get outside and enjoy a bit of nature over the weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Machete Needed

The forest around Roundtop is becoming so lush that even the cut for the lane up to the cabin doesn’t really provide much of a look at the sky. At the cabin, it’s pretty much a jungle right now. Rain on 16 days out of the last 17 tends to do that. And the rain, for the most part, hasn’t been that light, drizzly stuff either. As often as not it’s been full days of rain that dropped .5 to 1 inch. Soon I will need a machete.

I'm almost afraid to complain about the rain. Two years ago, this area was in a rather severe drought, and I'm still hoping all this rain now won't be the last rain I see until fall. This much rain is starting to feel just a bit like too much of a good thing, though. The old saying is April showers bring May flowers. I just hope April showers in May don't translate into something less poetic.

Baby Dog hates the rain and the constantly wet underbrush. She has taken to peeing in the middle of the driveway so she doesn’t have to brush against chest-high wet foliage. She is kind of an extreme case, though.

Activity at my bird feeders is starting to drop off, though the woodpeckers are as prevalent as ever. This morning a hairy woodpecker stared down the squirrel who was parked in the center of the feeder, hogging up all the good stuff. The woodpecker and the squirrel weren’t much different in length or general size. The woodpecker had a bigger beak, though, and that seemed to make the difference.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Misty Mountains

This morning the sky is clear but it’s not supposed to stay that way for long. I am starting to feel a little sun-starved. Partly, it’s the annual closing in of the leafy canopy above me. Partly, it’s that when it is clear, I’m at work or the clear sky is during hours of low sun angle. Mostly, it’s the rain.

Still, this morning is gloriously clear and cool. The mountains to the east are foggy as last night’s rain now rises out of the forest and up into the atmosphere again.
Except for the near-daily rains, life around the cabin has been quiet this week. No new flowers have appeared that I’ve seen. The birds are still singing, so nesting isn’t yet underway in earnest. Mostly, I can’t see many birds right now, as they are hidden behind layers of leaves.

My evening walks these rainy weeks have been shorter than the ones I typically take. I don’t mind working my way through snow or even ice if I’m wearing the right footgear. I haven’t yet learned to appreciate mud, however, and mud is one thing that is not in short supply right now. Dog and I walk in the woods or along a trail up to the point where the ground turns soggy, then I turn around and head back the way I came. Dog would be happy, of course, to prance through the mud, but I have no intention of spending the next hour of my evening washing mud out of a long-haired Dog after we get home. When I walk with Baby Dog, she flat-out refuses to place her pampered, precious toes into mud, so her walks are shortened, too. I think perhaps she got her fill of rain and mud during Hurricane Katrina. My little hurricane baby simply doesn’t want to deal with any of that again. And so we don't.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Old and New

I took this photo of these dandelions because I liked that one has gone to seed already and the other is just blooming. Every where I walk right now the woods are soggy and cool. The smaller plants are weighted down by raindrops, and everything looks as though it could use a few good days of sunshine. These dandelions are one of the few blooms left at the moment.

After a day of clouds yesterday, today it is raining again. The weather feels more like April than May. I’m just hoping that whenever the weather does clear the temperature doesn’t jump right into August and stay that way.

The rain has made the forest’s foliage even denser and more lush than it usually is. As a result, even though I’m hearing lots of birds, I’m actually not seeing very many, even when I can tell the bird is very close. A Baltimore oriole has been singing from a tree in the middle of the driveway all week long, and I still haven’t seen him. Last evening, I stood outside with my binoculars, scouring the tree where the sound was coming from and I still didn’t find him. Occasionally, one of the regular crew will visit my bird feeders, and I’ll see birds then, but that’s about the only way I’m seeing them.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Birds of May

According to Carolyn’s birding records, May 2008 is now (already!) officially the best May for the number of bird species I’ve seen since I’ve been keeping good monthly records at the cabin. The little pee-wees arrived over the weekend and in so doing became #52 for the month so far. Peewees are typically the latest of the regular summer residents to arrive here on the mountain.
Theoretically, I could reach at least 55 species by the end of the month. Whether that will actually happen is another story. Now that it has stopped raining, I might be able to locate a few of those sparrows that I don’t have on my list for the month.

The rose-breasted grosbeak has become a regular, if temporary, visitor to my feeders. The male that I see most often doesn’t have much rose on his breast, so that makes him fairly distinctive. He’s likely a younger bird. So far he shows no sign of leaving and heading northward into territory where grosbeaks more commonly breed. I can find no reason why grosbeaks don’t breed around the cabin, but I’ve never known them to do so. They don’t travel much further north of me, though, to reach areas where grosbeaks are common breeders.

I’ve also heard a yellow-billed cuckoo this weekend. The call was very distant and was perhaps not even on Roundtop. I haven’t decided yet if I will count this bird on my May list or not. It was definitely a yellow-billed cuckoo, but it might have been sitting on a neighboring mountain.

I’m not very good at matching my daily photographs with my blog writing, am I? Maybe one of these years I’ll get better at that. Today’s photo is my container tomato plants and the flowers on the front of the cabin. The tomatoes aren’t doing too well right now. I don’t get much sunlight, so I put the tomatoes in a container I can move around, hopefully to get them the most possible sun. But it’s rained all week, and they are now in desperate need of a few sunny days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Experiment Day!

I've reached a point in my weekly experiment where the change in the forest this week is less dramatic than it has been for the past several weeks. The trees are well leafed out now, so it is time for the change in the undergrowth to really take over. And I can see differences. It's just that they are more subtle now than was the change from winter to spring.

Several of the trees in the distant background are now obscured or invisible. in the foreground, the mayapples are taller. Fewer brown leaves are visible on the forest floor, mostly because I am seeing less floor to the forest. And though I didn't think it was possible, this week's photo is even greener than last week's. Or maybe that's simply because there's even more green to see.

I'm honestly not sure how long I'll continue my experiment. My first thought was that I'd do it until spring was "over" or at least until the changes weren't as dramatic as they were during the big growing season. Now, I'm toying with the idea of continuing it for a full year, though the logistics of that may at some point prove impossible. It's one thing take a photo every Thursday evening for several weeks, but I'm not sure I can reasonably commit to doing that for a full year.

Still, I am going to continue it for a while, however long that while may be. I'd like to see the green change from this bright shade of early spring to the deep emerald of mid-summer. And then, of course, fall should be very interesting and pretty. And winter could be good too, at least if I have some snow during the upcoming winter (only 210 day to winter solstice). We'll see. That's about the most I will say for now.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Walk at Night

On a moonlit night I stepped out of the cabin and went for a walk. I paused for a few moments at the bottom of the steps to wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The moon wasn’t yet full, but it was close enough that the forest was filled with its silver shadows.

The night was still, calm, warm enough for mid-May. I carried no flashlight. The moon was bright enough. A ways off, I heard a deer step across leaves on the forest floor. The foxes called to each other, one close, the other very distant.

A walk through the woods at night always makes me feel a bit adventurous. Civilization seems far away. Sometimes I feel as though I could just keep walking and end up anywhere, miles away maybe. Somewhere in the next county or the next state, perhaps.

The moon is high. The stars are visible, if dimmed by the bright moon. I stay to the trails and woods roads. Those little open spaces let the moon shine into the forest and make the night bright enough for me to walk without my own illumination. I stumble on an unseen rock, step carefully over a downed tree and eventually reach a pond where the open water allows a clear view of the night sky. To the north, I see the lights of the city, miles away yet still very bright. To the west, I can follow the outline of the darkened ridges, sweeping away into eventual obscurity.

I find a log and sit on it, watching the sky and the night. Nearby, a Canada goose grumbles a brief warning to other geese, then quiets. I try to think no thoughts and let my mind reach out, away from the small thoughts of the day, to the distant stars. I watch the moon shine into the pond and spread its light into its depths. Be still, I tell myself. As still as the pond, as still as the moon, as still as the stars. The trees whisper among themselves, a different song of stillness. Minutes pass, an hour. The stillness remains, feels no time passing. For a few moments, I feel that timeless stillness, too. It is enough. The cabin beckons.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Beak's Bigger Than Your Beak

This isn’t the best photo by any means, but I think it’s kind of interesting even so. Until I saw the cardinal next to the rose-breasted grosbeak, I think I would have guessed that a grosbeak’s beak was larger than a cardinal’s. It doesn’t look that way, does it? I think I also would have guessed that the grosbeak is a larger bird than the cardinal, but these two look nearly identical in size.

The rose-breasted grosbeak have arrived somewhat early this year. My first sighting was a female on May 4. Last year my first sighting was May 17, which was somewhat late. In 2007 I was starting to despair that I had missed seeing the birds altogether and then they finally arrived.

It was raining heavily when I took this photo through my living room window on Monday morning around 7:30 a.m. The early hour and the rain both contribute to why neither bird looks as pretty as usual. The grosbeak was also a bit uncooperative in that it wasn’t eating in a position where I could get a photo that shows his pretty, rose-colored breast. Seeing these two species together is a treat and instructive too, even if the photo quality isn't the highest

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Walk on the Mountain

Baby Dog and I took a nice walk aroiund the mountain on Sunday. We didn’t walk all the way down to the creek at the bottom of the mountain. Our walk stayed 50 feet or so above the bottom so we wouldn’t get wet feet. The old woods roads that winds around the side of the mountain was damp enough as it was. The trail down by the creek stays muddy for much longer from run-off and little springs that suddenly spring off the hill or seep up from the ground.

The sky grew ever greyer and the air ever more moist during our walk, but except for a few raindrops, we stayed dry. Baby Dog hates to get wet and to this day refuses to even get her toes wet, let alone the rest of her. We started out heading downhill to f ind one of the old woods roads that crisscross the mountain. Most of these were originally logging roads created 100+ years ago. The roads were just wide enough for a horse and wagon to haul out the trees that were cut. The woods roads are rarely, if ever, traveled these days, though a few have been kept open with once a year brush clearing. For a walker, they make excellent trails. Hunters will use them too, as the roads make access into the deeper woods much easier.

I had no real goal in mind during this walk, except to get outside for a bit and see if I could see anything different than what I see around the cabinr. The vegetation here isn’t much different, though I see more ferns than up at the cabin.

My first good sighting was of a scarlet tanager, though my photos are so bad I almost didn’t put it on the blog. Photos like this one usually go in my scrapbook of truly bad bird photos. Sometimes, I like those photos anyway, especially when they are my only shot of that species. The worst of my truly bad bird photos is a least flycatcher that flew the moment I snapped the shutter. It's only a blur but to this day it's my only photo of a least flycatcher.
This tanager did not cooperate by perching in clear view on a close branch. Instead I have a distant bird with at least half of it hidden by leaves. What you can see from the photo, though, is the bird’s very distinctive shade of scarlet. You don’t have to see the entire bird or even get a good view of the bird to know what it is. Just a flash of that color is enough. The song is distinctive, too, of course.

The tanager had claimed a spot that is slightly more open than the rest of the forest. It isn't a clearing so much as an open area created when the largest tree on the hill fell a few years ago. That tree took several smaller trees with it when it fell, and the result is a small area where the sky is visible, unlike most of the forest, where the sky isn't visible during summer. The tanager was perched on a tree at the very edge of this open area, so it had perhaps 75 feet without a forest canopy around one side of the perch it kept returning to.

Baby Dog and I also saw four deer, a pair of Baltimore orioles and heard rose-breasted grosbeak on our walk too. Near the end of the walk, we headed back uphill towards Roundtop's new pond, where we saw 7 new goslings, their proud and vigilant parents, and a host of other geese helping to guard the perimeter around the new babies.
My walk was pleasant, if somewhat uneventful--no bears, no foxes, no copperheads. It was just what I needed to end the weekend.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Sky Overhead Diminishes

The weather is gray and rainy today, which I’m sure the forest vegetation around the cabin will appreciate. The leaves grow ever larger and thicker, a little more each day. I still have a small view of the sky directly overhead, but I will likely lose that in the next few days. To really look at the sky and see what the weather is like, I have to walk to the end of the driveway and down the lane to a spot about .2 mile away where the trees don’t crowd the edge of the lane.

I have yet to see any new fawns, but another batch of Canada goslings has arrived. This is a full brood of seven little ones. This morning mom and dad were parading them around the parking lot at Roundtop. Over the weekend I’ve seen scarlet tanager and this morning had a very wet rose-breasted grosbeak in my feeders. The Baltimore orioles were chasing each other and singing. I can think of just two summer residents that haven’t yet arrived—the peewee and the great-crested flycatcher.

Baby Dog and I took a nice long walk on Sunday afternoon before the rain started. I’ll post photos of that tomorrow.

Experiments and Memory

Last night as I was taking my weekly experiment photo, I thought my view hadn’t changed much in a week. I was even tempted to forego posting a photo this week so I wouldn’t bore everyone with a view that hadn’t changed. But then when I looked at last week’s photo, I couldn’t believe how many changes there were--all of which goes to show why I’m doing this little experiment in the first place.

This week I’ve completely lost my view of the hilltop, and I can no longer see the big boulder that sits halfway up the hill, either. The entire forest just looks so much more lush in this week’s photo. The change is really amazing, I think.

And yet, when I walked to my spot last evening, the view didn’t initially strike me as a landscape that had changed much from the previous week. Memory is a weak thing, easily led by gradual, daily changes into not noticing the bigger differences. Photos are proof of that.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing, this lack of specificity or the remembering of detail in our memories? I am inclined to total up the balance sheet and wish I didn’t forget the details. I am afraid that in the middle of winter, I will forget the sweet smell of spring. In summer I fear I won’t remember the crunch of snow in January. And with climate change, I’m afraid the snow of January will soon be little more than a weak memory here where I live.
If I can't remember how the woods where I live and walk every day looks from week to week, how am I going to remember the snow?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Spring is Speeding!

Spring is too fast for me. I’m out of practice with how fast the woods and its inhabitants can change. I must still be in the mindset of mid-winter when there’s always tomorrow. In spring, if I wait until tomorrow, I’m already behind.

So, let’s play catch-up today. The Eastern Kingbirds have arrived. The are officially quite early this year. Last year I first saw them on May 19. This year I first saw them on May 6. In 2006 I first had them on May 12. This is a species where I’m pretty sure I didn’t just didn’t see them for a week or so after they arrived. Usually I find these birds sitting on the wires at the bottom of the slopes at Roundtop. It’s one of their favorite spots, and I will see them there virtually every day until they leave again in late summer. So I’m pretty confident that my recorded first sightings are actual arrival dates, give or take no more than a day or so.

The first new Canada goslings also made their first appearance yesterday evening. This pair has produced just three babies, which is a not unusually-sized brood for them. For whatever reason, this pair tends toward small broods. The geese always announce their births, or at least, the geese always set up a racket the night before I see the first babies. The mad honking happens each year with such regularity that it seems a deliberate "announcement." Perhaps it is. Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s only that they are warning other geese or ducks away from the new hatchlings.
I am finally starting to hear ovenbirds in something resembling normal numbers now Usually they arrive at the same time as the wood thrush. This year they are a little late, but they are here now.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mayapples in May

...and you wondered how they got their name?? The flowers of the mayapple bloom in May, and my front forest is thick with them right now. Like virtually every native plant, this one also has medicinal uses, but it is also considered toxic. Apparently, a little of this goes a long way.

Native Americans ground up the rhizomes (the stem from which the roots grow) and used it as a laxative and to kill intestinal worms. In modern times, the plant extracts are used to create topical medications to treat some skin cancers and genital warts.

The fruit that appears after the flower is edible and can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies. Its flavor is said to be sweet and a bit peculiar but agreeable. I think I’ll take their word for it. The seeds are poisonous.

The folklore surrounding this plant is long and diverse. One of its common names is witches umbrella because it was thought witches used it as a poison, and the story might even be a true one. The English variety of this plant is called manroot or mandrake, and it was thought that pulling the plant up would cause it to scream and that the sounds would drive a man permanently insane. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets made use of this legend. That’s not it’s only appearance in literature, though. From Genesis to Shakespeare to Ezra Pound to Rowling, the mandrake has a long history.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I promise this is my last photo of a yellow-rumped warbler for, well, a while at least. If I manage to photograph a warbler other than a yellow-rumped warbler, I’ll post that, but no more yellow-rumps for a while. I like this photo because it’s very much how I see warblers in the woods. The little jewels blend in with the sun-dappled leaves so well that they are difficult to see, even when they do sit still, which isn’t often. Warblers are rather leaf-shaped and leaf-sized themselves, and I usually find I can just barely see enough of one through the leaves to make an identification.

A few warbler species are quite distinctive, and I don’t need to see much of one to know what they are—redstarts are like that. They are mostly black with orange (or red) on the wings and tails. Once you see a flash of those colors, the choices for an identification are pretty limited. Other warbler species are more difficult and I have to see more or most of the bird to identify it. Some species are easily identifiable if you see a particular part of it. The colors on a bay-breasted warbler or a chestnut-sided warbler are pretty distinctive shades and a quick glimpse of that shade is all it takes.

Warbler identification is made more difficult because the little dickens spend most of their time high up amongst the leaves of trees, flitting quickly from one spot to another. "Warbler neck," caused by standing for hours with your head craned upwards is a common affliction of birders. No wonder, then, that birders prize a warbler hot spot where they are up on a hill looking down into treetops below. There aren’t many of those.

Getting your binoculars onto one of these little gems isn’t easy, either. Even the standard birders’ skill of keeping your eye on the bird while you raise your binoculars doesn’t always work. By the time the binoculars are raised, the bird is gone already.

But when you do manage to get binoculars on them and when you do get a good view, unobstructed by leaves—ah, what a thrill. These little beauties are well worth the effort.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Warbler Weekend

Warblers took over the woods this weekend. I’m sure the overcast skies and fog helped to keep the birds here for a while. Warblers find moist, unsettled weather better for eating than migrating, and they sure found plenty to keep them busy in my woods for a few days.

Yellow-rumped warblers, like the one in my photo today, were the most numerous species, as well as the most cooperative when it came to posing for photos. Yellow-rumps tend to be the most numerous everywhere, from what I’ve always heard. I also had a nice selection of other species, including black-and-white, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, American redstart (which should be named orange-starts instead), rose-breasted grosbeak, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird and the first catbirds of the year.

I spent as much time outside as I could. A chair on the front deck was a good spot, where I was armed with my binoculars, the camera and occasionally one of the dogs. I took today’s warbler photo from the front deck. This warbler was in a tree just across the driveway. The warblers, in general, seemed to find Baby Dog interesting, and they often approached fairly close to get a good look at her snuffling along in the leaves at the foot of the steps. At least the yellow-rumps did. The others were less cooperative about getting their photos taken.

This is turning out to be a decent year for warblers around the cabin. Last year was terrible; I saw only a few yellow-rumps. I’ve had years where I’ve had 20+ species but those are not the norm. I was also glad to see the catbirds. They are usually a common species here, but last year I only saw a very few. This year I’ve already seen more than I saw in all of 2007. Ovenbirds have arrived, now, but so far are in fewer number than I’m used to.

May 3-4 is slightly early for the big push of warblers in this area. I usually think of the second week of May as the prime time, especially May 8-12. Perhaps I’ll get a nice push then, too, but with climate change making springs earlier than usual, perhaps not. Now that the weather has cleared and the skies are bright blue again, I expect most of the warblers from this little wavelet will continue on north today.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Lots of Spring-ing Today

These lovely violets are blooming everywhere around the front steps of the cabin right now. I have to be careful not to step on them when I step down to the ground. It's even more difficult when I have Dog or Baby Dog with me, as neither one of them could care less about violets.

This morning was the best day for new bird arrivals of the year so far. I've had chestnut-sided warblers, black-and-white warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets and the first catbird of the season. My best sighting, though was one I didn't even leave the cabin to see.

I was working upstairs on the computer, which faces a window. Juneau, one of my Maine Coon cats, was sitting on the computer chattering at the birds. This is her favorite activity. She spends her entire day at one window or another looking for birds. The birds really wind her up, and sometimes I think they are teasing her purpose. The titmice are particularly good at this.

While Juneau is turning herself inside out, the birds are just a few feet away looking at her. Often they will bounce to a twig close enough that I could reach out and touch the twig, if the windows were open. So I'm sitting here typing away, and Juneau is chattering at the birds as usual, and suddenly right in front of the two of us plops a female rose-breasted grosbeak. Juneau starts leaping at the screen over the window, but the bird doesn't fly. It cocks its head and looks at her and looks some more. Naturally, I don't have the camera with me, but I sure wish I had. The bird seemed fascinated by my hysterical cat, and we watched it for a good minute before it flew deeper into the woods and away from the cabin.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sunday at the Cabin

When this odd-looking fungus first poked its head up just off my driveway, I thought it was going to be a morel. It's not, though I sure don't know what it is. It's already turned to jelly, so whatever it was, it is no longer. Any ID thoughts will be much appreciated.

Birds, especially warblers, continue to move through around the cabin. I don't have enough of them to describe it as a wave of warblers, a wavelet is more like it. Yesterday, I added red-eyed vireo and redstart to the list. Likely there were more.

Up until an hour ago, it was foggy here, which adds another layer of difficulty to identifying the tiny flits of warblers as they move from where-I-didn't-know-they-were to where-I-can't-see-them. The only time they are usually visible is in the moment they are flying. They are usually gone by the time I get my binoculars on them.

I hear many birds in the woods right now, and my hearing has never been the best. though I can differentiate many warbler songs on CD, when I'm in the woods, with 12 different species of various birds all "yelling" at once, the warblers all soon sound alike to me. It's a bit like being in a crowded bar and trying to figure out the conversation of the person next to you. If I catch every other word, I'm lucky. Same with warblers.

The fog is clearing now, and the clouds are moving out too. It's too nice outside to stay inside any longer.

It's Experiment Day!

Thursday evening is when I take my "experiment" photo for the week. Each week for the past 5 weeks now, I’ve been taking a photo of the same spot so I can see how much the forest changes from winter to spring in a week’s time.

This week there’s been another big change in how the forest looks. Last week was the first that I saw much new growth, and this week the greenery has grown at least as much again. And I know that even what you see here is nothing compared to how it will look when the forest is fully developed. I almost had to weed whack my way in to this spot last evening. I’m reposting last week’s photo so you can judge for yourself how much the forest has changed in a week.

Dog is missing from this week's photo, though he was along for the walk. He'd found something awful and wonderful just to the left of the frame. The hilltop in the background will soon disappear. I expect by next week that skyline will be invisible. I have already lost my view of the mountain to the west, Nell's Hill, for the next 6 months or so. Soon I will come very close to losing a view of the sky overhead, too, though I expect that is still about two weeks away.

Birds continue to arrive and move through in migration. Last evening Baby Dog and I startled an osprey that was likely hoping it had found a roosting spot for the night. More wood thrush are calling, though the number of ovenbirds calling seems less than average. Perhaps they are just a few days later than is typical. New fungus is appearing on the floor of the forest, and the violets are now in full bloom. I think this is a particularly good year for them. I don’t ever remember seeing quite this many before. Spring is moving in and taking over for yet another year!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Old and the New

Those of you who guessed dogwood to my mystery photo from yesterday are correct. I guess the question was too easy. I thought it would be more difficult because of what was in the background of the photo—dead leaves on the forest floor.

When I was walking around and first spied the flowers down there, I thought what are those? It was only when I got closer that I realized the flowers weren’t growing out of the ground but were part of a tree. This particular tree is a victim of one of the winter’s ice storms. In fact, I thought the tree was dead because it’s broken in half, the top half resting on the forest floor. I’m certain that this tree will die, but somehow it managed to survive long enough to produce one last burst of flowers in the spring.

My photo today shows the last two marcesent leaves on a beech tree in my front forest (woodland living equivalent of a front yard). They look pretty funny surrounded by the green leaves of spring, but there they are, the very last two.