Friday, September 30, 2011


Sunrise with Canada geese
This morning the weather is somewhat improved. The fog has lifted, so even though the sky is still overcast, at least I can see much further than the 20-40 feet that was my daily distance over the past weeks. This morning, the Canada geese came out, so instead of just honks in the fog, they were visible as they paraded through the parking lot at Roundtop this morning.

I saw deer this morning, too, eyes reflecting in my headlamp as I walked Dog and Baby Dog. The deer are nearly tame, not deigning to run even when I speak to try and calm the canines. Three of them even ran towards us for a bit, crossing in front of us to gallop down the macadam access road, hooves noisily telling me where they were even after I couldn’t see them any longer. That really set the dogs off. Galloping deer brings out the wolf in these allegedly long-domesticated beasts faster than I can say “no!”

Later, one of them stood just above my driveway and watched me drive out, never bothering to move away into the safety of the brush. I suspect that hunting season will put some wariness back into them, at least those that survive. The ones that hang around my cabin may be the smarter ones. If they don’t wander far they will be safe from bow and rifle hunters alike.

For now, I am happy with a day of no-rain, and the promise of no-rain on Sunday. I am ignoring the forecast for Saturday, hoping it will be wrong. The weekend promises to be chilly, and rain or shine I will have to bring in the outdoor plants that have happily grown outdoors all summer. I will likely need to have a fire in the fireplace this weekend, too. The seasonal change is well along, now, and I can only hope that the glorious, crisp days of fall (and no rain) will arrive with the new month.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another day, another 2 inches of rain

The daily 2 inches of rain this area is getting is now beyond old.  It borders on torture.

Yesterday afternoon it rained harder than I've ever seen it rain in my entire life.  That lasted for about 20 minutes and in that time an inch fell. Then an hour later, it rained just as hard for another 15 minutes and dropped another inch of rain.  I ended up pumping the flash flood out of my basement.  Again.

Baby Dog, who hates water, was appalled when I took her outside yesterday evening.  Water ran down my drive, and it was impossible for her to keep her toes dry.  She isn't coping well. 

Rain washed out my lane, rushing down the mountain, carving deep ruts down the middle.  Even with 4-wheel drive it's a bumpy ride.  After the rain abated, I went out with my heavy rake and tried to even it out a bit.  That didn't work as well as I'd hoped because the stone and dirt road is mostly too hard to even out with just a rake. But the water managed to cut a path a foot deep even so.

Fog pervades the mountain and off the mountain, too.  In those rare moments when I can see the forest with any clarity, I am noticing the beginnings of the fall leaf change.  In my first photo, if that was all there was to the story, you'd probably think this gorgeous orange shade covered the mountain.  The reality today is more like the second photo.  It's a gorgeous orange tree in the middle of a still mostly green forest.

The weather was supposed to improve (or at least not rain) tomorrow, but "tomorrow" is turning into something that never arrives, and the end to the torture is pushed back for yet another day.  Or two. Whatever happened to gorgeous fall weather?  It sure didn't exist at all in September, which now stands as the rainiest month ever for this year.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Fall is definitely here on Roundtop Mountain, though the temperatures are still swinging back and forth between summer and fall. Rain still falls every other day or so, and though the temperature is lower, it's every bit as humid and muggy as midsummer.

This region has now already broken the yearly record for rainfall. Records have been kept here since around 1888, and the record was last set in 1972, thanks mostly to Hurricane Agnes. Since 2011 has more than three months until it's over, this is likely to be a record that stands for a long time. And more rain is in the forecast. Everyone I've talked to is sick of rain. Sunlight has been in very short supply.

Another sign of the new season is that I'm seeing fall migrants on the mountain. Today's photo is a merlin, a perched merlin, which is even more uncommon. It's a bad photo, I know, but it's the only photo of a merlin in the wild I've ever been able to get. I see this medium-sized falcon fairly regularly on a hawkwatch, but even there they can be hard to see. By the time one person shouts, "Merlin!" the bird is already someplace else. Small, dark and fast as a bat out of hell is a good description.

I saw this bird as I was leaving the mountain on Saturday morning (without my camera). I immediately turned around, raced back up the hill and grabbed the camera, not really expecting the bird to still be there. It was, obviously, but the bird was also now surrounded by three crows, come to mob the raptor, a favorite game. The local crows are usually left to mob red-tailed hawks or maybe a great horned owl. Mobbing a merlin must have been a thrill for them. The light was poor, but at least I got a quick shot.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Long tale on a gray morning

This morning the fog was so dense that even with my headlamp, I stumbled several times on my early morning walk with Dog. I couldn’t even see my own feet at times, and Dog was just a large brown blur at my side.

On such a morning, I didn’t really expect to see anything interesting. After all, I need to see in order to find something interesting. Even the birds were quiet this morning, though the 50 or so Canada geese that live on the new pond are always fussing about something, no matter what the hour. Because I couldn’t judge my footing, the slightest variation in the dirt road’s surface was enough to put me off balance. Sometimes the road was an inch higher than my foot expected, sometimes lower. So Dog and I moved onto a paved access road where the surface was less variable.

That’s where I saw the tracks, just a series of wet splotches on the pavement. The animal had been standing in the pond, then walked onto the macadam, leaving the wet splotches behind. So, I didn’t have a footprint to investigate, just the splotches. That I saw the splotches at all told me that our walking around the pond had likely startled the animal. Even on a gray morning, wet splotches on pavement dry pretty quickly.

At first I thought the print must have been made by a deer, as I’ve seen them many times standing in the pond to drink. But then I saw more of the track pattern, the distance between the splotches and saw how they were lined up. I realized then these were made by a red fox.

Fox walk so that their hind foot strikes in the same spot just vacated by their front foot. This kind of pattern is pretty typical of most canines and is evident when the animal is walking or trotting, though not when they run. Dog and I followed this fox trail as it exited the pond, wandered down along the edge of the road and then headed back into the grass besides the pond again, only to soon return to the road, trot down it further, turn around once and then leave the road for good. What made the animal do that?

Thinking about the route Dog and I were taking on our morning walk gave me the answer. We’d walked along one side of the pond and then, instead of continuing around it, I headed towards the lodge, where the nighttime lights offered more visibility than my headlamp. We hadn’t gotten very far when the automatic lights turned off for morning, leaving me more in the dark than when I was out in the open. So Dog and I turned around and headed back along the pond.

My guess is that we startled the fox as we walked along the pond, but when we headed towards the lodge, the thirsty fox returned to the pond for another drink, only to be thwarted when Dog and I changed our route back towards the pond. It stopped once to see where we were or notice that we were heading back in its direction once again, and then headed off into the woods, for good this time.

I guess the moral of this little tale is that even on a very foggy morning, where I can’t see much of anything, there’s still something interesting to see and think about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No particular topic

A pretty farm just down from Rountop Mtn.
A gray mist descended on the mountain this morning, so my photos today are from the day before, when the sky was overcast but not yet raining. My mother, and grandmother, too, as I recall, called these days with layers of thick, gray clouds an “October sky.” Today is not yet October, but that month is getting close. The days are already starting to vacillate between warm and cool. It’s too early in the season for the temperature to stay cool, though that won’t be long away either. On Sunday I actually lit my fireplace for a few hours, more to chase out the damp than for the heat it provided.

As part of my preparations for cooler weather, I have set up my fall birdfeeders again. The feeding stations aren’t completed yet. I will tweak my placement and set up for at least another month before calling it done. Although I’d like to have feeders up year round, the seed molds faster than the birds eat it in summer. And the opossums are often pretty tough on them, too.

So far, neither the squirrels nor the raccoons have discovered the feeders. That won’t last, either. I’ve given up buying the “nice” birdfeeders. I’ve yet to have one last longer than a year. I did get one of those squirrel proof metal feeders a year or so ago. A raccoon simply up-dumped the entire thing. Squirrel-proof, it might have been, but it wasn’t raccoon-proof.

So far I’ve only had the usual suspects testing the seed. White-breasted nuthatch, a Carolina chickadee and assorted titmice have all visited. The local birds eventually get quite tame. Earlier today I had the patio door open so I can hear my visitors when they arrive. They always announce themselves. Though I sit just 7-8 feet away from the feeders, as long as I don’t move quickly, my presence doesn’t bother them much. I guess the idea of free food is greater than their natural caution. Of course, I just like to think they are willing to share their company with me. I know I sure enjoy theirs.

Cottages surround a muddy Silver Lake, near Lewisberry

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hawkwatching - Waggoner's Gap

 I've spent the past few days hawkwatching, my favorite fall activity.  It's something of an obsession, really, and has been for more than 20 years.  Most people view hawkwatching and hawkwatchers as some other breed of human, one possibly that's not quite human.  When I'm on a hawkwatch with other hawkwatchers, I'm with a group of people who seem perfectly normal (and treat me the same way).  Sometimes, when I'm surrounded by suburban denizens, I feel as though I'm from another planet.  That never happens when I'm on a hawkwatch.

View to the north from Waggoner's Gap
This week I've spent my hawkwatching at Waggoner;s Gap, not far from Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  The weather cooperated, producing a lovely partly cloudy or overcast sky that made finding hawks much easier than trying to find them in the "blue sky of death" that seems to occur all too frequently.  The hawks cooperated, too.  Over the past two days I saw nearly 6000 Broad-winged Hawks, including more than 300 in the sky at one time.

 Broadwings are one of the few species of North American hawks that fly in flocks, or as hawkwatchers call them "kettles."  The birds gravitate towards thermals, columns of warm air. In those columns the birds circle and rise every higher.  When they reach the top of the thermal, they "stream" out in a single file.  Then they glide, gradually losing altitude until they search for another thermal to take them higher again.  They travel down to Central America, and gliding conserves energy, making that long trip easier.

During this week, the broadwings are the stars, but they aren't the only hawk in the air.  I saw 15-17 Bald Eagles, plenty of Sharp-shinned Hawks, a few Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrels and a few Northern Harriers.

When the hawks aren't flying, those of us sitting on a hawkwatch usually talk about hawks, watch other species of birds or just take in the beautiful scenery.  Usually I do all three, though not at the same time.  One of my retirement goals is to spend an entire season on a hawkwatch, from the first day of the season to the last.  As it is, I probably won't get back until October, when the numbers of hawks are fewer but a wider variety of species is common.  And then there's always November, when Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks fly.  The entire fall lies ahead of me, with as much hawkwatching as I can fit in.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Full moon with spruce

The forest is starting to dry off, at least around the edges, so I was able to explore a bit yesterday. Mushrooms, to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, are popping up everywhere. So far, I haven’t seen any that are unusual or gorgeous. I’ve just seen lots of the standard varieties.

Since it’s been nearly a full week since I was last able to wander around the woods, I saw more leaves turning color than I expected. The driveways and roads were littered with leaves torn off by Hurricane Irene for a few days, but now that they have disappeared I really can’t see that the canopy looks thinner than it did before.

Fall bird migration is already well underway. Raptor counts are picking up with several sites already counting more than 1000 hawks in a day. Counters are also reporting large numbers and variety of songbirds. The summer residents are heading south and will soon be gone.

I am looking forward to the change of seasons. I actually have more sunlight in the winter than in summer, and this year the leaf canopy has been particularly thick and the sunlight lacking. With the drop in leaves will come a view of the sky and the mountains to the west, both of which have been invisible to me for the past few months. Even though the birds are leaving, the open sky and the mountain will give me something beautiful to look at. I'm ready for that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finally, sun!

I can't even begin to tell you how glad I was to see the sun when it finally appeared late on Saturday afternoon. Even after the rains from the hurricane abated, the weather didn't clear.  The fog was as thick as a blanket. The humidity was just as bad, and the sky was completely overcast. Even my mold had mold.  I was starting to think nothing was ever going to dry out.  Today, the rivers, especially the Susquehanna, are still running high but are receding, and life is returning to more normal with every foot the river drops.

That first glimpse of sun, just at sunset, was greeted with a mental cheer and a sign of relief from me.  The drying out process after the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irene and Lee (and perhaps even Katia should get a mention) still has a ways to go.  At least the process has begun and no hurricanes are in the forecast. 

Now I am wondering, what will all this rain mean for the fall color change, which is now only about 4 weeks away?  Will it make it later? Prettier?  Longer?  I will have to wait and see. I expect it will have some impact, but just what that might be is still unknown.

In any event, it's not raining today.  No rain is in the forecast, and as soon as the forest dries out just a bit more, I'll be down on a trail, looking to see whatever I can see.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Flood now reaching historical proportions

Beaver Creek
 I didn't post any photos from day 2 of the flood.  I couldn't get off the mountain.  As soon as I drove down the hill, on every road available, one creek or another flooded out the roads.  I was high, if not always dry, though a little water in the basement is far better than what I could see earlier today down off the mountain.

The first and second views are of Beaver Creek. I couldn't get the entire creek, which is normally about 6-7 feet wide, in a single photo.

Beaver Creek
My third photo is of Pinchot Lake.  The canoes are usually well above the shoreline and not anywhere near where you'd expect them to be covered by water.  The flood in this area is now reaching historical proportions.  Worse than this was Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  I was home from college at the time and remember that we had 18 inches of rain in 3 days.  This event is about 14 inches in the same amount of time.

The Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg has already been evacuated.  During Agnes, the governor had to be taken from the mansion in a boat.  This time, the governor's people called in half a dozen moving vans to move everything off the lower level, and the National Guard is sandbagging the place, hoping to keep the water out, but no one knows if that will work or not.

Several bridges across the Susquehanna are already closed.  Several people have died. The Senators baseball stadium is under water.  The sewage and water treatments plants are beginning to fail.  Thousands have been evacuated already. The river is expected to crest just a foot or two below the Agnes level.

From my perspective, this flood is in some ways worse than I remember Agnes, in that the smaller creeks seem more affected than I remember them back in the day when the population was fewer and development much less.  But I'm doing fine and am in far better shape than many people today. 
Pinchot Lake

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What's next? Locusts?

 So let me run down the list.  So far this year I've had tornado, hurricane, blizzard (a small one), ice storm and this week we're adding flood to the list.  This flood is more than just the run of the mll spring melt flooding.  Hurricane Lee is falling apart and moving north, bringing days of rain to my area.

These photos were taken on the evening of day one of the flood. I'm in the middle of day 2 and am already pumping water out of my basement.  Later today, I'll try and get a few more photos, though even that isn't easy since most of the time the rain is a downpour. I've been taking photos from my car, with a window run down but I can only do that on the leeward side of the rain.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime on Thursday, and then this area will see river flooding on Friday and perhaps Saturday too.  Gee, I'm really ready for some nice, pleasant weather for a change.  Now that would be novel.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Someone, I forget who, called this kind of day "air you can wear."  It's so soupy that this morning when I walked down to the pond I couldn't see it. I could hear a large flock of Canada geese on the pond, but I couldn't see a single one of them.  At the day progressed, the haze lifted a little bit, though I still feel that I'm walking through a steam bath.

Tiny spiderweb
Later in the afternoon I did a little hawkwatching up on the mountain.  It's still  too early for many raptors to move, and with the very minimal breeze coming from the south instead of the north, the conditions were not near to anything resembling ideal.  But, I have to hawkwatch when I have the day off.  I can't, unfortunately, do my hawkwatching whenever the weather is ideal and still keep my day job. 

So I was happy to see anything at all.  I saw two ospreys, including one pipping and making quite a fuss over something.  A Cooper's Hawk soared and flapped over the hill, a Red-tailed Hawk joined in.  Several Black Vultures streamed back and forth over the mountain and a handful of Turkey Vultures, too.  Nothing too exciting, though I am always glad to find an hour or two where I can sit and stare and the sky and see a few things.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Old stones, new orchard

The old stone fence circles the new orchard, one young enough that it won’t produce fruit this season. When I call the fence old, I mean it is likely 200-250 years old, which is just about as old as things get in this part of Pennsylvania. This state is notorious for its rocks—ask any Appalachian Trail hiker about rocks and they will immediately grimace when they mention Pennsylvania. The reason we have so many stone fences is that our earliest farmers had to get those rocks out of their newly cleared fields before they could plant a crop. Those rocks became the stone fences.

Today, the stone fences are disappearing, giving way to houses or wooden fences. In my area, which is both hilly and rocky, the stone fences are still hanging on, and are often still used as fences. Unlike in New England, where the poet Robert Frost famously wrote about a stone fence as a property line (Mending Wall, where he wrote, “good fences make good neighbors”), here they more typically simply mark the edges of a field. 

Sometimes, when I walk through the woods, I come across the remains of an old stone fence from some long-abandoned farm.  Homesteads far up on the mountains frequently didn't survive very long.  The soil isn't as good, the conditions are too severe for a good crop.   Trees around those old fences are frequently huge, which makes me think the forgotten farmer never fully cleared the land before quitting it.   

The hills around my mountain are perfect for growing fruit. Apples are the main crop, though peaches and pears do well too. The first apples, the tart ones used in cooking, are already being harvested, sitting in big bins or on trucks in front of the farmers’ barns, ready to go to market. These are the Jonathans, the McIntoshes, the Rome Beauty. The sweet eating apples of fall will follow soon, though never soon enough for me.

Today the weather is so gloomy, I am again reminded that the day is not far off when I will have to take all the week’s photos for Roundtop Ruminations during the weekends. As it was, I was forced to take a photo out of the forest and partway down the mountain where the fields and orchards are open to the sky, but that gave me a reason to take a closer look at the old fence, once again.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


After Irene - road is littered with debris but no downed trees
Ah, to be back in the 21st Century again. My power is restored, though I can’t say my life is back to normal just yet.
During the power outage I gathered up many of the items I use regularly and put them in plain sight on my kitchen table so I could find them easily. Battery-powered lanterns don’t give off nearly as much light as the electric lights. So now I am faced with putting everything away again.

I lost many of the items in my refrigerator, though I saved the condiments in an ice chest and took the frozen items to sister’s house. Tonight, I’ll likely head down there again to retrieve them. The restocking of the other items will have to wait until I shop for groceries this weekend.

Our modern houses simply aren’t geared for long periods without electricity. Back before electricity, people used cook stoves fueled with wood. They used iceboxes for chilling items. They had outhouses. They had hand pumps on their wells. My well pump needs electricity. Naturally, I store water for me and the animals, but when power is out for more than a few days, I start to run low. If I didn’t work away from the cabin during the day (where naturally they had power), I could have pulled water from the nearby ponds, built a fire or run a camp stove and then boiled it to make sure it was safe. Try doing that during a work day.

I’d love to go solar, but for me to do that, I’d have to cut down a lot of trees so the cabin could get enough sunlight for it. I’m just not willing to do that, though if I experience many more windstorms such as came with Hurricane Irene, that option might begin to look more attractive.

One thing I noticed is that with so many people, literally for miles around the mountain, out of power the night skies were gorgeous. Here on Roundtop, I have a far better view of the night sky than virtually everyone else and even I noticed more stars. I hadn’t realized just how much light pollution from nearby developments and villages impacts my own view of the sky up here where there are few lights.

So now my life here on the mountain is returning to normal again. This morning the dogs startled two deer that were inexplicably right next to the cabin, scattering them up the hill, crashing through the underbrush. Some things never change, whether there’s electricity or no.