Sunday, November 28, 2010

A few visitors

Gray squirrels must be a bit smarter than I’ve given them credit for in the past. I have one that comes to the patio door, stands up on its hind legs, places its front feet on the glass and peers inside the cabin. It gives every indication that it’s begging or looking for food. I’ve seen it pull this trick twice now, both times when the bird feeders (should I call them squirrel feeders?) were empty.
It drives the dogs crazy, of course. The cats aren’t much better, though at least they don’t bark, which is something of an improvement. So far, I haven’t been able to get a photo of the entire procedure, though if the dogs didn’t scare the squirrel with their hysteria, that might be possible. I’ll keep trying.

So far, I have plenty of goldfinch coming to my niger seed feeder, but I haven’t found anything more exotic than that. I’m hoping for siskins but haven’t found any local birders who’ve had them this season. I’ll keep looking.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This morning I awoke to snow flurries, at first wafting out of the sky like feathers.  In a few minutes, the flurries intensified a bit, hiding the top of the western mountain with that distinctive veil of gray.  You can almost see that in today's photo, just to the right of the mountain's peak.  The air feels raw,too, though at least the wind is calm. 

Chickadees and titmice attack the feeders with gusto, perhaps the snow making them a bit edgy or at least even more eager for breakfast.  The dogs are full of themselves.  Gone is the laziness of summer's heat.  They are eager to run, to play, to get in trouble, if they can find it.

I hear the geese fussing over at the big pond.  I can't see them, but I know what they are doing by the sounds they make.  They are chasing each other; perhaps a stranger is trying to join the flock and they are chasing him out.  Perhaps it's just high spirits.  I think the weather has them feeling frisky, too.

This is the look of late fall here on the mountain.  Winter is not yet here, but I can feel it nearby, knocking on the door.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November clouds and sunrise

Good Thanksgiving morning!

My photo on this holiday morning was not taken this morning. It's still too dark on this rainy, drizzly, sleety, snowy morning to take one.  My Thanksgiving dinner won't happen until later today, but the deer have already gotten a salt lick, the birds are feeding happily as I type, and the squirrels have gotten corn, though they seem to prefer the suet that I'd put out for the feeder birds.  The fireplace is warming the cabin, and for a few hours, I don't need to do anything but drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the morning.  My wish for you today is to find a few quiet hours before the get-togethers and the dinner and the family time to enjoy the natural world around your door.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feeding like there's no tomorrow

That dreaded phrase, a “wintry mix,” is now part of the local forecast for Thanksgiving. It’s the “mix” part of that phrase that’s the really, ugly part. Mix usually means sleet and rain, sometimes ice. It’s never a pretty picture, that’s for sure.
The sky over the cabin has only a few clouds this morning, but the birds are already acting as though something is going to happen. Even my chickens are behaving as though they haven’t eaten in a week, judging by the way they rushed me when I was brought their food out this morning. The wild birds that come to my feeders are probably the regulars who appear every day, so they really don’t have much of an excuse either, given how quickly my feeders empty each day. But excuse or not, this morning the birds are feeding as though there will be no food tomorrow, and we all know that won’t be the case.

I enjoy winter quite a bit, but to me that assumes winter brings snow. November and early December are more likely to produce a “wintry mix,” and that I can do without.

At the cabin, I thought I was pretty well prepared for winter—until the door knob fell off yesterday morning. So that’s one more things that needs taken care of. Ah, the joys of cabin ownership. It’s always something.

Here in the U.S. tomorrow is Thanksgiving, or “Turkey Day” as it is euphemistically described. Everyone always eats too much on Thanksgiving. That’s a requirement of the holiday, and I won’t be an exception to the rule. The birds around my cabin, both the tame ones and the wild ones, will have plenty to fill their tummies, too.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

November foray

Now that the leaves have dropped, the brown shades of winter dominate the forest, even if the temperatures of winter have yet to arrive. This time of year can be challenging to photograph because the landscape is something of a monochrome. October brings such a riot of color that the sudden change to brown can be something of a shock.

This weekend the quiet that has pervaded November 2010 continued, so I was eager to get outside. Temperatures this November are about typical, but unlike many Novembers that produce a variety of precipitation, this one hasn’t done much of that so far. In other words, this has been an excellent November to be out and about and not huddled around a fire.

The sameness of the color of my local landscape drives me to look for things that are not brown, and that search usually finds me looking at fungus and moss. This weekend I found lichen and fungus and moss in abundance, so for the moment I happily have something to photograph.
The moss I found looked like a tiny little field of ferns, nature’s own miniature landscape.
The fungus covered the west side of this tree with ribbons of tiny, white polka dots of fungus.
Lichen is a favorite of mine. It is sensitive to air pollution of nearly any kind, so when I see a nice healthy patch of it on a rock or a tree trunk, I know I’m in a healthy forest.
So the leaves have fallen, the forest has turned brown, and the deer are taking on their duller winter coats. Can snow be far behind? Probably not.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The quiet of the season

Quiet is good, I tell myself, hoping to believe it sooner or later. The wind has died down, which is a good thing. I was tired of finding limbs in the driveway that were too large to drive over. More than a few of them seriously tempted me. I sort of wanted to see what would happen if I did drive over them or at least tried to. But then I grew rational again, thought of the possible car repair costs and did the smart thing by exiting the car and dragging the limb or branch or half a tree out of the way.

Quiet is a good thing because it means the raccoons haven’t dragged the bird feeders deep into the woods for several days. One feeder I never have found. Another was tossed or dragged off the back deck. The glass is still missing out of the squirrel-proof feeder. It did keep squirrels out. I’ve never seen a raccoon-proof feeder for sale. I think people know better than to advertize a feeder that way, because there would be no possibility of truth in such a statement.

The nights are quieter than I have been used to for a while. My windows are closed now. I had gotten used to the gentle sounds of the forest as my ever-present background music. But now those sounds are gone until the weather warms in the spring again.

For the moment, not much is going on around my cabin. Migration is quickly winding down and that means the birds that I see outside my door today are pretty much the only ones I will see until roughly the middle of March. Oh, I will likely find a few waterfowl, perhaps the odd wintering-over raptor, but I will have to travel to see them and there won’t be many.

Winter is a time of quiet, and the quiet is again settling over Roundtop Mountain. I enjoy the silence, though sometimes I also think I understand the urge towards hibernation. After the busyness of the fall season, the quiet and the silence of near-winter is making me feel a bit restless. Perhaps I should just hibernate through the quiet and awaken to spring’s bustle. Perhaps I’ll get over my restlessness and settle in to the quiet. Maybe that will be tomorrow. Or the next day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The night visitor

Last night clouds moved across the sky, growing ever lower, and before morning drizzle began to fall. The spate of warm and lovely November weather is ended. When the storm clears, the weather will turn to late fall temperatures, and snow showers are even in the forecast for Thursday. Winter will soon be on its way.

When it’s cloudy at night and rain is due, the clouds actually make the forest lighter. The contrast between the gray clouds and the trees makes it easer to see further than does a clear, black sky against the dark trees.

After I turn the lights out at the cabin, the nighttime view from the window lets me see across the forest floor, until the slope of the mountain hides it. Last night, as I lay in bed, I saw the silhouette of an owl cross the view. It was a great horned owl, as nothing else is so large. It crossed my view heading diagonally across the window, heading towards the ground. No doubt a mouse, perhaps on its way to becoming dinner, attracted the night time predator.

I don’t often get to see the owls that live on Roundtop. I hear them frequently, often several times a week. The great horned is the most common, though I fairly often hear the eastern screech owl, too. Barred owls are rare up by the cabin, though are more common down in the swampy area at the base of the mountain. Anything else is very rare, possible only during migration. I’ve heard the saw whet owl a few times and heard rumors of long-eared owls, but have never seen one of those here.

Most often, when I do see an owl, it’s not long after dawn on a grey and rainy morning. I’ve always thought the owls simply hadn’t gone to roost yet because the morning was so dark. Seeing one of the silent predators of the night swoop across the forest in those few minutes when I lay waiting for sleep is the rarest of treats. I’m sure it happens much more often than I see it, perhaps many more times, but long after I have fallen asleep.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A walk in November

Sunday was such a nice November day that I was compelled to go for a hike—not that I need much in the way of compelling. But I usually end up starting my hike right out my own cabin door, and it is a bit unusual for me to actually get in the car and drive someplace to go hiking.
I didn’t go far, just the few miles down to Pinchot Lake to walk on a trail I hadn’t walked on in a while. The walk is an easy one, mostly flat with a few mild uphills. The trail was rocky in spots, though, and those rocks are now covered with ankle-deep leaves, so that made the walk a bit more demanding that it would otherwise have been.

I was simply looking to get out of the cabin and wander around the woods for a bit before I became mired in household chores, so that was good enough for me. This lovely spate of pleasant November weather is soon coming to an end, and I was determined to take advantage of it while I could.

I left early on Sunday morning and never saw another soul on my little trek. White-throated sparrows and Carolina chickadees scolded me throughout much of the walk. A time or two I heard a deer crashing through the woods to get away from me, though I never saw them.

Nothing recharges my batteries like a quiet morning walk in the woods. It doesn’t matter to me if I don’t see anything unusual. It doesn’t matter to me if the walk doesn’t take me to some exotic vista. I’ve never quite understood the folks who feel they have to see a waterfall or a great view on their hikes. It’s the time away from the everyday that’s important. It doesn’t even matter if I don’t go far. It’s only important that I go.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The pleasures of November

November is a bit of a guilty pleasure kind of month for me. It’s not the kind of month that provokes nods of approval when I tell people I like November. Most people prefer October and May, and while those can both be very nice months, I still prefer November.

I like days that start out chilly and progress to shirt sleeves. I like a fire in the evenings. I like the view once the leaves have fallen. In my case the views I like are both the distant one over to the western mountain and the nearer one that lets me see deeper into the forest than the nearest 15 feet. And if I had to choose between them, I prefer the one that lets me see across the forest floor for a few hundred feet or so.

In the mornings, the feeder birds are glad to see me when I put out the feeder that I bring in at dark to keep the raccoons out of them. The raccoon still cleans up any seed the birds kicked out of the feeders, so he’s not starving, just in case you wondered.

The chickadees and downy woodpeckers are especially glad to see me and are already tamer than is usual for this early in the feeding cycle. This morning, a downy started eating at the tube feeder that was within a foot of my left ear while I was still filling the platform feeders. I could hear it pulling seed out through the wire mesh. Perhaps emboldened by the female downy, the chickadees landed on the deck railing and then the feeding table as I was adding seed and this year’s new offering—freeze-dried mealworms.

Last week a I held a chickadee that knocked itself silly when it startled and flew against my living room window. I stood outside with that tiny ball of fluff in my hand, waiting for it to recover. The rest of the feeder birds apparently viewed this operation as proof that I was “safe” and were soon darting into and out of the feeders while I held the little chickadee. Soon the little one was better and popped off into a branch.

Since then, the feeder birds have pretty much ignored me when I’m outside. I love being surrounded by them when I am outside. The birds don’t come to the feeders much in the warm months; the forest produces all the natural food they need. It’s only when that food disappears that they return to my feeders, yet one more happy event of November and one more reason to enjoy this time of year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The joys of fallen leaves

One of the good things about the open forest of November is all that I get to see the vegetation isn’t a solid wall of green. This morning it was two squirrels chasing each other around a tree and a pair of deer sneaking deeper into the woods as Dog and I passed.
In summer I hear what’s going on but am often left to imagine who is making the sound. I have gotten pretty good at guessing what noises go with what animal, but it’s still more fun to actually see them.

Of course, all those dry, downed leaves, as yet undampened by any rain since they fell, helps too. Not even the sneakiest raccoon or the most careful turkey can avoid the scraping and crunching noises the merest touch creates on those leaves. Any noise sets the dogs to barking, which prompts me to head towards a window to see what all the excitement is about. I’ve seen all kinds of things that I never would have seen if I hadn’t been alerted by the dogs or sometimes the cats. Fox tiptoeing through the back forest just past the deck, a person wandering over on a ski slope, the chickens out where they shouldn’t be—it doesn’t matter what, very little gets past the cabin without someone knowing about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November morning ramblings with geese

A few leaves are still hanging around the forest. Most of those are on the very tops of the trees. The under-canopy of the trees and the understory of the forest are largely bare of leaves or cover right now.

The sky is taking on that deeper blue shade of winter. I’ve never quite known if it’s the lessened humidity or the sun’s angle that creates the shade, but the summer sky is never this color. It’s only November that brings a blue as deep as a sapphire, even in the early mornings.

For the past few days I heard Canada geese almost every time I step outside. Some are migrants. Some are the locals feeling the pull of autumn even though they won’t head south. Something, probably something they don’t even understand, draws them into the air and sets them to that high, keening call even if they are just flying down the mountain or over to the next pond.

The evenings here at the cabin are chilly, and night’s dampness seeps through my clothes, no matter what I’m wearing. The days warm up nicely, though are often accompanied by a breeze that limits a true appreciation of the temperature. Still, this is the kind of weather that requires me to start the day wearing several layers of clothing that are usually shed by midday.

November is good weather for outside work. I can work hard without sweating off gallons of myself, and it’s not yet so cold that I have to work for an hour before I feel comfortably warm. There’s a lot good to be said for a month like that. November has its own kind of pleasures.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Winter is knocking on the door

My western view is still a work in progress, though already a bit more progress has been made. I took this photo on Saturday morning, and I know more leaves have come down since then. I might even have seen the season’s first snowflake last evening, though I wouldn’t swear to it. After dark I was walking Dog, wearing my headlamp to navigate the through the forest during the New Moon. And I thought I saw at least two snowflakes.
The nights are cold enough for snow, if not yet cold enough for snow to lay on the ground. Lake-effect snow did fall not all that far west of me, so it’s not out of the question for a few of those flakes to reach my wind-swept mountain top. The feeder birds have certainly feed as though they expect snow.

I’ve resorted to bringing my bird feeders inside overnight. I’m tired of feeding a 20+lb raccoon and having to wander through the forest looking for the birdfeeders he’s stolen from my deck. Not only must I remember to bring them in at night, but I have to remember to put them out in the morning—a task that’s easier to remember this morning because the forest is now light when I eat breakfast.

The feeders were busy with birds all weekend. I didn’t see anything unusual, though I was happy to see three goldfinch in the finch feeder. Often, that feeder seems lonely, and the niger seed not quick to get eaten. Some of the birds that are supposed to be eating the niger seed seem to prefer the other offerings instead. I don’t begrudge them whatever they choose to eat, but it’s made me consider taking that feeder down as a result. I guess I won’t do that now. Those goldfinch have convinced me that someone is using it.

Away from the feeders, I did see a few unusual birds, at least unusual for November. Yesterday, a nearly-adult bald eagle flew over Roundtop’s north parking lot, heading north. I guess that one’s not ready to migrate just yet. And I saw three robins cruising quickly through the trees, probably wondering where their next worms are going to come from.

It’s starting to feel almost wintry outside, that windy, chilly, raw feeling that says November to me. November to me means it’s time to make sure I’m ready for winter, and that raw wind from the northwest hurries me along. I hurry to stay warm and I hurry to finish up all the things that need done before winter. Time is short now. Winter is coming.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Later and later

The leaves are falling every day, a little or a lot. Today is a rainy day, to be followed by a breezy one, so I expect not many leaves will be left by the end of tomorrow. This is something I look forward to every year because it means I can see the sky again. It means I have a view again. It means I can see through the woods again when I sit on my back deck.

I have been in my cabin for nearly 20 years now, and each year the leaf fall is a day or two later than the previous year. For a good many years, I could count on the leaves being down before Halloween. Sometime around the 26th or 27th or 28th they were down. Then the leaf fall became Halloween itself. Now, the leaf fall is slipping past the first of November and will soon threaten not to finish until the second week of the month.

Climate change? Global warming? Call it what you will, but a change in the date of leaf fall by two weeks over 20 years is a lot, no matter how you name it. That’s two weeks less for the leaves to decay on the forest floor over the winter and likely two weeks less for winter weather, as well. What does that change do for the germination of this year’s nut crop? What does it mean to the water table if warmer weather lasts longer? Likely, thousands of things are affected by such a shift, most of which I suspect we don’t even know about.

Insects can forage later in the year. Warblers arrive in the spring after the point when insects they used to feed on have already dispersed. The trend doesn’t look to be one that shows any sign of slowing down. It’s as though our little blue marble in space is rolling down a hill and picking up speed with every revolution. Stopping or even slowing this freefall will be difficult to impossible, I expect.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope we can find fixes that don’t entail removing human life from the planet. I hope we are smart enough and care enough about our little blue marble that the best minds on it can find a solution to keep all life on it healthy. But every year the leaves drop a little later than the year or the two years before, and I wonder.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Changing seasons, changing thoughts

Fall’s colors are already past their peak. The color doesn’t last very long, certainly not long enough to enjoy it properly. Wind has brought many leaves down, perhaps half of them. That’s enough to open up the view around the cabin. Funny, how summer’s heat never seems to end but fall’s glory is over in an instant.

This morning I found ice in the chickens’ water. My bed was covered with cats all night. The dogs huddled together like puppies. There’s no denying the season is changing.

It seems odd to me, after six warm months, to find ice again. After all the years I have seen ice come and go, I would have guessed that the annual reappearance of ice would be so old hat as to hardly even be noticeable, let alone worth mentioning. But that’s not the case. Apparently the span of 180 days or so is enough for the commonplace to appear new again.

Each year brings new surprises and new reappearances. The passing of time lets me look and think about things with a fresh eye and a fresh mind. I don’t know what the right amount of time is for the eye and mind to see old things in a new light. The surprise of the ice is a good reminder for me to think about the things I believe to be true and see if any adjustments are needed. Maybe what I thought was true last year isn’t as true this year. I’m pretty sure one season isn’t long enough for this process to work. Two seasons or 180 days works, though there’s nothing magical, so far as I know, about the passage of that amount of time.
The impending arrival of winter, with its shorter days and long nights, is as good a time as any for me to kick those thoughts around a little.