Monday, July 30, 2012

Not just Maude and Mergatroyd

Near the village of Uno
It turns out that the two white-tailed deer, nicknamed “Maude and Mergatroyd” by my neighbor are really Maude, Mergatroyd, Mitzi, Melissa and Mabel. Yes, there are five of them. Oddly, none of the five doe appear to have fawns this year. Two of the deer are smaller than the other three. I suspect they are last year’s fawns, but that still doesn’t account for the other three, seemingly-fawnless deer.

Very young fawns don’t follow mom as she grazes the day away. They hide. For the first week or so, fawns usually spend the day flattened in a spot mom has determined is “safe.” Actual safety varies. During the first week of camp this year, a fawn was “hidden” in the camp’s fire pit for a day. Very young fawns might not move for any reason—more than a few have been killed when fields are mowed right over a fawn. After that first week, fawns usually spend the day lying down but with their heads and ears up. If danger approaches, they revert to their flattened position to avoid detection, but are more likely to get up and run during an actual threat.

Fawns don’t begin to travel with mom much before they are 4-5 weeks old. By this age, they will choose their own bedding site, and mom will have to call them as even she might not know exactly where they are.

At this point in the summer fawns should be old enough to travel with their moms, so seeing this many doe without any fawns seems odd to me. Dog and I startled these five as we began our early morning, pre-dawn walk. I know we woke them up from their sleep, bouncing them out of their beds as we passed perhaps 40 feet away.

Is it possible any fawns are still young enough to stay put when their moms bolt away at our approach? That’s possible, I guess, but for a fawn that would likely be 6 weeks old by now, that wouldn’t be my first guess. More likely is that these doe don’t have fawns and their female fawns from last year are still running with the older doe. But if I see any fawns in the next week or so, I’ll be sure to adjust my thinking!

Friday, July 27, 2012


My climb up the ski slopes on Wednesday evening gave me a different view of the tornado damage that occurred on Roundtop a year ago in April. Starting this spring Roundtop hired a logging company to remove and salvage the wood from as many of the downed trees as possible. The photo I took on Wednesday shows how the area looks now that logging is completed. From this distance it looks more like a park than a forest, though when I’m closer it still looks like a forest, though a badly damaged one.

The worst damaged area is about .3 mile from my cabin and I can still remember how that storm looked and sounded when it blasted down the hill. Last night I had another ominous-looking storm, with rolling black clouds that turned day the color of night. But last night’s storm couldn’t compare to the one that brought the tornado, fortunately. I’ll probably measure all future storms against that one. I tell people that was the worst storm I experienced in 20 years of living in the woods, and I hope I won’t be around the next time there’s another one. I’m not sure if the odds are in my favor for that or not.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Evening with a view

Looking to the north from Roundtop
 Yesterday evening was clear and not too hot, so I took advantage of that to walk up one of the smaller ski slopes to take in the view. Today is hazy and much hotter, not the kind of weather for that kind of walking! I’ll wait until the weather is cooler and the hawks are flying before I hike up any of the bigger slopes.

While I was up there, the local band of Canada geese performed their evening flyby. This year’s young are now airborne but still gaining strength. Flybys are usually limited to dawn and just before sunset. The young birds are now strong enough to make a full, wide circle around the entire mountain before settling onto one of the ponds. Just a week or so ago, the extent of their flight was a beeline line between the ponds.

The current flock is 26 strong, 6 parent birds and a total of 20 young ones, pretty much evenly split among the three couples. I would not be surprised to learn that the couples were raised here too. The three groups are always together and seem to get along without friction.

I was also treated to a round robin of dueling eastern pewees. At least three of them were calling, one right after the other. Two were very close, the third not much further away. It won’t be much longer, no more than another month, before their haunting call will disappear from the woods for another year. They are the last summer bird to arrive in the spring and pretty much the first to leave, though the barn swallows leave at much the same time.

For the moment, summer has a hard grip on the mountain I can already see towards the end of it for another year. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer sightings

I know summer is wearing on when I see fledglings out and sitting on perches. The eastern kingbirds I saw this morning are still young enough to require feedings by the parent birds, but they are no longer nest-bound. The two were well able to fly but mom or dad was still supporting their insect habit.

Even the fawns are growing up, though they are still spotted. The one I saw last evening was alone but seemed full of itself, saucy even, giving me a look that seemed to say, “You can’t catch me, so there!” With that it kicked up its tail and its heels and danced off into the woods. Such youthful exuberance, as yet unchallenged or tested by life’s hard knocks.

In another week I could legitimately start fall hawkwatching, though early August only brings out the hardcore hawkwatchers. We usually couch our own abundance of enthusiasm by saying it’s just to get the eyes and the binoculars dialed in before the action really begins. Early August hawkwatching is usually more about catching up on the doings of other hawkwatchers since the end of the last migration season. By the time the socializing is up to date, maybe the hawks will really be on the move. Sometimes we actually get rewarded for our early season efforts, especially on days with a bit of a northwest wind. Perhaps 10-12 birds, the first double-digit day of the new season, might be counted. Still, you need to be something of a hard-core hawkwatcher to spend all day on a mountain top and only see 10-12 raptors. That would even be a good day in the early season.

Still, a couple of fledged eastern kingbirds and a smart-alec fawn are enough to get me thinking about the fall to come. So what does that say about me?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Misty mountain morning

Roundtop is turning green again, after weekend rains provided a half-decent soak. The rain should have raised the level of Beaver Creek somewhat so the adventure camp kids will benefit from that, if not the crayfish and frogs they will probably catch.

The leaves that dried and fell from the extended lack of rain still litter the mountain, making it look a bit odd to my eye. The trees are all green again but when I look at the ground, it is covered with yellow and brown leaves, almost like fall.

Much of the underbrush or yearling plants of the understory didn’t make it through the rainless time, so I can see the ground again and see a bit deeper into the forest than before. When I look through the trees at the leaf-shrouded sky I am trying to tell if the canopy is a bit more open than before. I can’t tell, and if there’s any difference it sure isn’t enough to matter.

What I am noticing is the shortening of the days. The evenings are a bit shorter and the mornings even more so. This morning under a clear sky, it occurred to me that in another week I will probably need a headlamp to start my morning walk with Dog. This morning I thought about it for the first time in months, but I waited for a minute or so and in the interim the sky lightened enough to do without.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rain and finding normal again

Raindrops on spruce
Rain! It is much needed and should do a lot to ease the damage caused by the lack of it over the past few weeks. It’s too soon for the grass to turn green again, but I’m sure it will. Overnight I had just under an inch of rain, most of which fell gently enough to soak in. This morning I saw a few small puddles but water wasn’t gushing down the lane or off the mountain.
Lately I’ve been a bit bored with taking summer photos in the season’s harsh light and distant haze. This morning’s fogginess makes the mountain look a lot more interesting to me again. That, and a new and empty photo card had me snapping shots like crazy.

The rain comes too late for the spotted touch-me-not plants that withered and died, leaving the ground bare of vegetation where they grew thickly. It comes in time to save the local corn and boost the water in Beaver Creek (and elsewhere). So for at least a little while the mountain will look and feel “normal” to me again.

I have lived in my cabin now for more than 20 years, and over those years I’ve developed a sense, perhaps a memory, of how the forest looks and feels, for lack of another word, in all its seasons. I know when the migrating birds should arrive and leave. I know when the trees should turn color in the fall. I know what winters and summers should feel like. I know what blooms here and what lives here, what the sky looks like when the weather will turn nasty. And I know that things are out of whack.

That sense began slowly, when I started noticing that leaves fell later and later each year. They now fall a good three weeks later than they did when I first moved here. I know that the trees are budded and leafed out far too early for the warblers that arrive in the spring. That used to be such a beautiful thing, a perfect balance in nature, with each species arriving at just the right moment, coinciding with the first appearance of the insects each preferred. The ground-loving warblers arrived first, then the mid-canopy birds and finally the ones that sought food from the highest branches of all. Now, the trees are nearly fully leafed out by the time the first warblers arrive, even though the warblers are coming earlier too.

My sense of normal is solely based on my observations of what happens in the forest around me. I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to support what I’m saying. Others do the science, though the science supports my observations.

A new article to be published in an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone starts off with this: “ June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.” If you’d like to read the full article, it’s here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Two deer

Not Maude or Murgatroyd
The two deer that seem to always wait at the bottom of my lane were dubbed Maude and Murgatroyd by my neighbor. He can’t tell them apart and neither can I.

It made some sense that they would hang out in the 5x10 patch of grass between the lane and the woods when the weather was sweltering. The grass there wasn’t entirely brown, the woods were just a jump away, and the small open area at least held the promise of a breeze. But now that the weather has broken, Maude and Murgatroyd (spelling uncertain) still haunt this small patch.

They’ve nearly been hit more than once because, as deer will, instead of retreating to the woods on the side of the road where they are standing, they decide they must retreat by crossing the road and jumping directly into the path of the oncoming car. And naturally, we can’t really see them until we are right on top of them.

I have tried, when I can see them, driving past them very slowly, hoping they will not jump onto my car. This has had an unexpected result in that now I can get nearly close enough to touch them before they move. If I rolled down the window, stuck my arm out of the car, and if they’d let me approach another 5 feet, I think I could touch them.

They are not quite tame enough to be handfed and not nearly spooky or wily enough to stay out of trouble. The 4 year old neighbor adores them, though she is just a bit too noisy for them. Her squeals of delight when they tiptoe into her front yard while she is in her playhouse can be heard all over the mountain. That’s usually followed by the two deer crashing down the side of the mountain by my cabin, which sets the dogs to howling again. Then the deer gallop through the other neighbor’s vegetable patch and flower garden, while she was at the far end of the garden, armed only with a hoe.

This morning? Maude and Murgatroyd are back in the 5x10 patch of grass. We’re still trying to avoid hitting them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Too hot!

Normally I love the Tuesdays I spend down with kids from adventure camp down at a little bridge across Beaver Creek. I have to admit that yesterday, with its 97 degree heat, wasn’t one of my favorites. There’s just no way to enjoy spending the day outside when it’s 97 degrees and humid.

The kids didn’t seem to mind. The first giant crayfish they caught was all they needed. Suddenly the creek was full of kids catching crayfish of all sizes, from large down to nearly microscopic. They also snagged a few frogs, a couple of salamanders and even a few minnows, which are quicksilver fast and hard to catch. The kids quickly settled into groups working in teams so they could outwit and herd the crayfish into the nets. A few decided to “guard” the prisoners to keep the frogs and crayfish from escaping the bucket. A few others decided to create a dam to keep the crayfish was escaping downstream.

By noontime I was wilting and by the time camp ended I was ready for a cool shower and some air conditioning. Sometimes I long for the days, a mere 20 years ago, when summers in the woods were cool enough not to need air conditioning. Fortunately for me, this latest heat wave is ending today. As long as the afternoon storms don’t damage anything at the cabin, the cool air that accompanies them will be much appreciated.

I know it’s not just me that will appreciate cooler weather. My hens haven’t laid an egg since the latest heat wave began—not that I blame them. And my elderly Dog isn’t much interested in a long walk either. I’ve been seeing deer along the edges of the roads, no doubt hoping to catch something that resembles a breeze. Cars whizz by and the deer just stand there. They aren’t going to move until they are good and ready.

The storms are coming, and I hope some rain comes with them. It’s only the lightning and the wind that won’t be welcome.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A (very) little rain

Brown-eyed susans
A bit a rain dampened Roundtop this weekend, though I seem to have missed the bulk of it. I had enough rain to dampen the forest, but only a few miles away more than an inch was recorded. I could have used more than fell here but at least there was something.

Even that was too late for some of the forest flowers. The spotted touch-me-not, among others, have shriveled and died. As a result, I can now see the ground in portions of the forest, instead of the knee-high understory that covered it as recently as last week. The rain also knocked down the yellowed leaves that made the forest look as though the season was early autumn.

I hope I had enough rain to replenish the little stream where the camp kids will attempt to terrorize catch crayfish tomorrow. With the next few days edging near 100 degrees again, any benefit from the rain is likely to be short-lived. Still, a bit of rain is better than none.

What rain I had did wonders for these brown-eyed susans. They bloomed almost overnight. I have been watching this patch on the edge of the forest near the cabin for a while now, waiting for the buds to bloom. And waiting. Even on Saturday the patch was not completely out. It was only during this morning’s walk with Dog that I saw they were all finally fully open. And now I am eager to revisit other spots on the mountain to see what else a little rain has done.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Odds and ends

Bird song was much in evidence this morning for some reason. Is it that the morning was overcast and hazy? Is it that sunrise already creeps up minutes later than just a few weeks ago? No matter.
This morning the distant call of a yellow-billed cuckoo from somewhere over on the other side of the mountain was enough to keep my ears perked up during my morning walk with Dog. I’ve never seen the cuckoo on Roundtop but it’s not hard to know when one is around. It is very persistent and calls over and over again, often moving around between calls so that each is in a slightly different spot.

The more common of the summer residents were all out this morning, too. I expect to hear a pewee and a phoebe each morning. Ditto the Carolina wren and the squabbling blue jays. Also this morning I heard both wood thrush and ovenbird. Both had been quiet for some weeks during nesting duties. Does the new round of calling mean nesting is over, that the birds are in between multiple nestings or did the first nest fail? Even the hummingbird put in an early morning appearance.


And from the "it never fails (and I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy) department: Just when a class X1.4 solar flare is released, prompting a good possibility of aurora borealis displays this far south, the forecast for the weekend is for cloudy skies. Really, overcast skies and a high probability of auroras must go together. I can’t even tell you the last time I had clear skies when the aurora probably was high.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Perhaps you are wondering, “Why is she running fall photos in July?” The answer is that these are not photos of fall foliage. I took them this morning.

The lack of rain is starting to have a devastating effect on the forest here on Roundtop. The grass is as brown as ripe wheat. The forest understory is crackling and withered. And now the leaves on the trees, even large trees, are yellowing and falling to the ground. At this point, the majority of the yellowing leaves are from tulip poplars. At first I thought the yellowing was restricted to the trees at the forest’s edge. Naturally, those would bear the brunt of the sun and its heat. That is not the case, though I do think those edge trees look worse than the ones deeper into the forest.

Though tulip poplars are the species that is most affected by the dry weather, they aren’t the only one. Locust trees are affected, too, and even a smattering of white oaks are among the leaves scattered on the ground.

Although the last week’s heat wave has dissipated, this week’s temperatures have been normal. But a week of extreme heat followed by a week of normal heat but no rain is enough to weaken even the largest trees in this forest. It has now been more than three weeks since any measurable rain has fallen. June’s precipitation was actually above normal, but all of it fell in the first few weeks of the month.

The only chance of rain in the forecast over the next week or so is in the low possibility for thunderstorms. So this situation is only likely to worsen. I’m not one who enjoys thunderstorms—lightning has struck too close to the cabin and winds strong enough to down trees have worried me too many times for that! But I’m starting to hope for a thunderstorm to bring some much-needed rain to this forest.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Blessed relief!

Indian pipes
The heat wave has finally broken, after topping out at 101 degrees F. on Saturday. Storms rumbled past that evening but missed me entirely. I don’t mind that I didn’t get the wind or that lightning never struck closer than a few miles away, but I sure could have used some of the rain. A week of temperatures that ranged from 93-101 just sucked the moisture out of the forest, leaving it wilted and crackly.

So perhaps the drying out and thinning of the forest understory is the reason why I was able to see these Indian pipes. Indian pipes are a parasite, technically, and not a fungus, which is what you’d probably guess they were if you didn’t know. Without chlorophyll, it’s a plant, a parasite of a fungus that takes nutrients from a tree. And Indian pipes need nutrients both from the host fungus and the tree, making it a double parasite. They were one of the first woodland plants I could identify and probably the first I ever remember seeing, somewhere way back in my childhood. I still think they are a neat plant. They don’t grow very large, usually around 4-6 inches tall. Occasionally I see a taller grouping that is 8-10 inches tall, but those aren’t typical.

American beech trees are a host for the fungus that Indian pipes like, and my front forest has several of those. This little group is just a few of the 12-15 pipes I found yesterday under one of the beech trees.  The others are still just poking their heads out of the ground.  These are still growing and while the heads will always droop, the plant will uncurl more than they are right now. The plant is also called corpse plant and ghost plant, and it’s waxy to the touch. If you pick them they wilt and turn black right away. I learned that at a young age, too.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Still in the heat wave

Day one of the latest heat wave is over, and I’m currently in the middle of day two. I will need to make it through Saturday, with a forecast of 100°F, to reach the end of the worst of this heat.

In the woods where I live, the temperature is always a few or several degrees cooler than in the surrounding towns, though I never get a break from the humidity. Today at noontime it is already above 90°, which makes me think the prediction of 96 for today could be on the low side.

The heat just sucks the moisture out of the ground. Last evening Dog was klutzing around in the forest undergrowth and it sounded like he was breaking glass. Every twig, every leaf he touched just crumbled. The corn is so dry its leaves are curled up and look like pineapple plants. An outside plant that I watered one evening is dead and brown by the next.

Even leaves on some trees are turning brown and falling to the ground. So far I’ve seen mostly tulip poplar or maple leaves. Likely, the leaves that fell came from previously-damaged or weaker twigs. I’ve seen this happen before, though always in September after a hot, dry August. It does not bode well, methinks, to see this in early July.

Although no rain is in the immediate forecast, I’m already hoping for a wet or a cool August. This heat wave is more like August, anyway, so perhaps August will do something else this year. I can only hope.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Too much heat!

Nature's snowflake, Queen Anne's lace. I wish I had a few of the real snowflakes right now.
The current heat wave is too hot for me to be spending much time outside gallivanting through the forest. I am staying where it is cooler. When I am outside I am usually sitting, often with an icy beverage in one hand.

I did, however, still manage to see something I found interesting. I’ve been spooking a deer, a doe, about once a day when I am outside. Usually my first sighting of her is when she bounds away, often from very close by. She’s surprised and startled me a couple of times. I figure she has a fawn hidden somewhere nearby, a fawn that is still too young to be following mom around. I don’t expect to find the fawn until mom is convinced the new baby is ready for travel.

What has surprise me is how close the deer has been to me when it takes off, and I have wondered where it could be hiding so that I couldn’t see it. And I’ve finally figured that one out.

Last year during Snowtober, my lane was so cluttered with tree halves and large limbs that it took me hours to clear it. The rest of the forest was just as thick with broken limbs and trees, too. In the past when I’ve cleared brush, I would just drag it off into my brushpile in the woods. After Snowtober so many trees and limbs were down that I couldn’t even reach my brushpile. The whole woods looked like a brushpile. I just dragged the limbs off to the side of the driveway and left them there; even so I had to struggle to find somewhere to leave them or had to toss them atop the other limbs that came down but didn’t land in the driveway. The side of my driveway looks like an impenetrable barrier now.

This mass of limbs and half-trees is proving to be useful for the deer. Many of those downed limbs are a single main branch with lots smaller branches at the end of it. Those smaller branches don’t lay flat on the ground but instead create a kind of mini-teepee. Dead leaves still cover the branches, and the deer crawl into the circle of the smaller branches and lay down inside. When they do that, they are invisible to me. The deer, and this doe in particular, just stays inside that circle of branches unless I walk too close to her. Then she bounces up and rushes away, but I never knew she was there. If she hadn’t run off, I would have passed within 10 feet of her and never known it.