Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winter orchard--sleeping
Another year is about to end. I had such a busy year that to me 2014 seemed to last about 6 months, not 12. I am hoping for a somewhat quieter 2015 but who knows? As the author of Cache Lake Country, my favorite outdoor book, says, "Starting a new year is like heading into strange country with no map to show you what’s round the next turn in the trail or what lies behind the hills." Sometimes that’s a good thing. 

Another favorite writer, John Muir, said "the map is not the territory," so even if I had a map of the year ahead it certainly wouldn’t tell the whole story of what is to come. A map doesn’t give you the feel of the territory, nor can you get much of a sense of how easy or difficult the walking might be. Just because a map shows those little swamp icons, for example, doesn’t tell you if it’s a swamp you can walk through or one that’s impassible. So when Huck Finn says at the end of the story, "I’m heading off into the territory," you just know he didn’t have a map and probably didn’t want one. He was heading off into the unknown and seemed pretty eager to do so.

Heading into 2015 I feel a bit like Huck Finn, if perhaps more tempered by the years than that young sprout. It’s a new year, with new adventures, new hopes and challenges, and I would appreciate it greatly if it turns out there aren’t many ravines ahead. Even if I did have a map, I wouldn’t really know what’s ahead because I wouldn’t know how those events will make me feel. The map is not the territory, after all. But we are all heading off into "the territory" now. Here we go!

Monday, December 29, 2014


Holiday seasons are fun if too busy and too hectic for much relaxing or computer time. The busiest part of my holiday celebration is over now, so I am already looking ahead to 2015. I am hoping that 2015 will be a "normal" year for me, so that, unlike 2014, I’ll be able to return to my regular amount of birding and traipsing around. 2014 didn’t give me much time for that, but the known activities ahead of me in 2015 are less than those of this year, so there is reason for my hope.

As a result, I am already plotting my New Year’s Day birding. I fell woefully short of my normal birding this year, and too many other county birders leapt ahead of me in E-bird. For the first time ever I dropped out of the top 5 to number 15 on the year list. And as little birding as I did, #15 is better than I deserve. I am still #5 in the all-time list, so that’s something.

I am fanatical only about my county bird list, as I have neither the time nor the money to pursue a country or state list. Some time after I retire, I do want to attempt a big state year in Pennsylvania, but that’s as lofty a goal as I can aspire to. Until then, my county list is my passion, and this year I simply haven’t had the time to work it with my usual zeal. However, 2015 looms ahead in a mere three days, so my retribution isn’t far off.

First off is the weather, which looks suitable for birding, if chilly. It should be sunny, a rare occurrence over the last month. In winter, especially, sunny weather helps.

Next is planning the routes. I will start and end the day at Roundtop. I’ll spend at least the first 30-60 minutes of the birding day checking my own feeders and the area around the ski resort for the usual suspects. So far, I haven’t seen anything unusual, so I’m not expecting some exotic wintering bird to be around. However, finding the usual birds here means I won’t have to focus on them during my travels.

After Roundtop, I’ll head to Pinchot State Park, just three miles away. There, I will look for waterfowl mostly and perhaps sparrows, trying to scare up any of the common birds that were hiding at Roundtop. After that I’ll head to the Susquehanna River, hoping for a few gulls and perhaps a bald eagle. Last year I did get two bald eagles on January 1 at Pinchot, but they are probably more likely on the river.

After that, I’m still deciding where will be my next stop. It will likely depend on how well I’ve done to this point—or not. On January 1, 40 species are possible here, but I’ve never made that number. I always miss something, often something "easy." Who knows? Maybe this will be the year that I tally 40 species on New Year’s Day. It’s something to look forward to.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter is here!

Winter has arrived officially now. The longest night of the year is over. I am a winter person, though I will be the first to tell you that I prefer days somewhat longer than those of the past few weeks. For one thing, I am looking forward to fresh eggs again, as my hens are on winter egg break.

If the overcast weather that has characterizes this month ever disappears, I might start to see a few eggs again sometime in January. If the gloom stays, it could be February or even early March before the girls start to lay again. For now, though the girls are taking a well-deserved break.

I have been making mung bean sprouts for them, now that they can’t find interesting green things in the forest around my cabin. They love those and gobble them up greedily. Woe to the hen who is slow to arrive when I start handing out the sprouts. Slowpokes are out of luck. Chickens are not good at sharing.

Winter for me means I have to get used to switching out the chicken water each morning, a routine that always comes as a bit of surprise the first time I find their water frozen over. The puppies are re-learning about frozen water puddles but still think they can drink from them and still seem surprised when they can’t.

The truly bitter winter weather has yet to arrive, but I have no doubt which season I’m in today even so. It’s more than cold enough for my winter coat but I still don’t need my winter parka. I have it ready, though.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fog and coyotes

This week is shaping up to be an unusual one for sightings at Roundtop.  First, the fog and then the coyotes.  The fog you can see in today’s photo. The coyotes were hidden by that fog but they were close.  The chickens are on full lockdown for the foreseeable future and perhaps even longer than that.

The fog was as thick as I’ve ever seen it. Even with my headlamp, I couldn’t see more than five feet in front of me.  I can’t tell you how often I stumbled over my own feet because I couldn’t see a dip  underfoot.

I got home last evening around 5:30 and proceeded to run Baby Dog.  We had just gotten outside when I heard 2-3 coyotes howling.  They were down at the bottom of the mountain, probably near the bridge along the little stream where I take the adventure camp kids in the summer.  So that was close enough. Although I’ve seen single coyotes at Roundtop over the years, I’ve never heard them singing here.  That means there’s more than one—the singles don’t howl, having no one to howl to or with.

I take Baby Dog back inside.  About an hour later, Sparrow needed a walk as she was all full of herself, so out we went.  It was then that I heard one of the coyotes barking and very close by.  I am reasonably sure it was along the access road that heads down towards the little stream.  The road leads up to the slopes and a pond here on the mountain, just at the edge of good neighbor Larry’s house.   A few seconds later, the bark repeats and is slightly further down that road and then a third time it was further yet.

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that even the coyotes couldn’t see very far and were more vocal than ever just trying to find each other. It’s also possible the ongoing rifle deer season has moved them off the adjoining gamelands and onto Roundtop’s property.  Still, that howling carries a long way and I’ve never heard them howling here before even at a distance.

I do know that this morning when Baby Dog and I were out walking, her hackles suddenly went up, and she started her serious, deep-throated, I-really-mean-it barking.  I didn’t see the coyotes—too foggy for that—but I’ll bet they were close.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Photo-bombed by whitetail!

This morning I was photo-bombed by a deer.
 Overnight I had a bit of snow, still from that nor’easter than brought the ice storm. Snow, of course, makes for good photos even if poor light, so I was taking a few photos. Then just as I was snapping this one, a deer bolted past. I didn’t know it was there and the photo/deer combo was a total chance.
As I wasn’t planning to take photos of deer, I didn’t have an appropriate lens with me, so my photo-bomber is pretty small, but she is right in the very center of the photo, galloping across the field.

Here’s a cropped version, blown up and blurry, of the deer. That’s the first time I’ve ever had this happen!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sunset after ice storm

Another Tuesday, another ice storm. This one was average in both duration and result. Some small to medium sized branches fell into the driveway and the power stayed on. For ice storms, this is a good result, though I’d be happier if I never had another one. It doesn’t take a very large branch to make a terrific noise when it falls on the roof. And that occurrence is always followed by dogs barking and cats racing to hide under sofa and bed.

After the ice storm comes the clean-up and clearing of the car, safely parked down at the bottom of the lane in an open area away from falling branches. I strapped on my Yak-trax and spent the next hour chopping through the ice that covered the car. Meanwhile, down off the mountain, the storm brought only rain.

The chickens huddled in the dark under the cabin—no eggs from them lately. While the chickens are looking miserable under the cabin, a few of the feral cats head to the chicken coop and curl contentedly in the straw there. It’s only at dusk, when the chickens return, that they leave.

Wild birds emptied my feeders well before noon. I’ve had no sign of winter finches but the usual suspects eat double or triple what they usually do in a day’s time. And near sunset they were still looking for more.

And it was when I was filling the feeders again for the last time yesterday that the sun finally broke through the storm clouds and made its first appearance of the day, doing so in rather dramatic fashion. I’m glad I was there to see it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

White Thanksgiving

White Christmases aren’t the norm here on Roundtop.  White Thanksgivings are even less so.  This year I had a lovely little white Thanksgiving that lasted prettily until this morning, when fog and light rain did it in. 
The puppies were surprised, as the last time they saw snow they were tiny little things, not today’s more-or-less full grown dogs with puppy brains.  They were delighted with the early season snow, racing around in it and gobbling it up like ice cream.  I strapped on my yak-trax and joined them. 
Baby Dog, my old dog, isn’t easy to impress.  She didn’t mind it.  She didn’t act as though she cared about it one way or the other.  I guess by now she’s seen it all and done it all.
The chickens were not amused. At. All. They don’t like snow on their featherless feet and soon retreated under the shelter of the cabin where the snow can’t reach. I haven’t had an egg from any of them since the snow fell.  They won’t care for today’s rain and freezing rain either, so I’m not expecting any eggs from them for a while. Fortunately, I’m well stocked with eggs, at least through this week.
The woodland birds showed up at my feeders in droves, even the elusive blue jays who typically only appear whenever I offer peanuts in their shells. This week, they came for whatever I had in the feeders. They weren’t fussy.
Winter means different things to different creatures.  Some like it, some don’t.  People are the same way.  The snow lovers believe winter was already too short even before any of us knew about climate change. The winter-haters head south as often as vacation days and finances allow. I’m staying put.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Moving too fast!

Whew!  I did not intend for Roundtop Ruminations to sit idle for a week.  Sometimes life moves so fast, I don’t know where it goes.  I do have a good excuse for one day of my idleness—a power outage when the outside temperature was 16 degrees.  Fortunately, my little fireplace kept me warm enough until the power returned. 
My second excuse is one I shouldn’t have, given my age and years of experience I have dealing with it.  Somehow, every year I still find myself in a similar pickle.  The shortened hours of daylight make it difficult to get photos.  It is dark when I get home from work.  And though it is light enough to see by when I leave the cabin in the mornings, the light isn’t very good.  This is evidenced by today’s photo, which is further worsened by a morning fog that was only just starting to dissipate.

Around the cabin, I am dealing with the roller coaster ride that is November. Record lows to record highs. Repeat.  Then add snow for Wednesday.  Perhaps a good bit of snow. Not Buffalo type snow but a lot of snow considering that today is above 60 degrees.  One day I hibernate among the cuddling animals, the next I am outside in my flipflops.  I have used so many coats this week—everything from my heaviest down parka to an unlined rain jacket.  Even for November these changes are extra extreme this year.  And now, I’m going to go dig out one of my snow shovels...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cold and damp

I was almost late to work today, and for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out why.  I got up at the right time.  I didn’t do anything extra or unusual that added minutes to my pre-work routine.  Finally, I figured out what it was. The morning was so foggy that although the dogs and I walked our usual morning route, that walk took longer than usual.  Even with the headlamp I could barely see. I walked off the edge of the road a time or two and kind of wobbled from side to side along the woods road we usually follow, slowly careening from one side to the other.  I must have looked like the proverbial drunken sailor.

Rain fell heavily this morning. My mountain was a mere 2 degrees from having the precipitation be something other than rain.  For this weather event, Roundtop is on the warm side of the storm.   However, once the rain ends the temperature will plummet, possibly into record-setting range.  The high tomorrow should not break freezing and the night will be down in the teens, with a strong wind blowing—that’s almost January weather!
So this weekend I moved the chicken pen into winter quarters, which means it is now next to the cabin and partially sheltered by it.  Last year I waited too long and the coop spent the winter exposed to the elements as it had frozen to the ground. This year, with my chickens a year older and my rooster now nearly elderly, I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Perhaps it’s the ugly weather that has one of the local opossums out and about most evenings.  I’ve had my bird feeders up for weeks now, but it’s only been this weekend that he or she found it.  And speaking of bird feeders, folks in northern PA are reporting evening grosbeaks again.  I hope a few of those manage to find their way this far south. It’s been years since I’ve had them at my feeders.

Friday, November 14, 2014

First snow!

Last evening brought the first snow of the fall. It started as drizzle in the late afternoon, moved into sleet for a few minutes and ended as snow. Most of it melted as soon as it touched the ground, but this morning a few protected spots still had a few spots of it.

Snow on the chicken coop
Today the temperature is much colder and much windier, a sure sign that winter is approaching. This weekend I will move the chicken pen next to the cabin and turn the heat on. I am past the point where just the fireplace will do. 

Still, I love this cooler air and chilly nights. Summer just feels too easy to me. Late fall has an urgency to it that the summer months, with their endless warms days, just can’t match.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leaves up and down

Virtually all the leaves are down now, though here and there I run across one that hasn’t dropped its leaves yet. Most of those show brown, crinkled leaves, but a few, like the maple in today’s photo, are still brilliant with color.

I suppose it’s too soon to identify which trees will have marcescent leaves through the winter and which simply haven’t dropped their leaves yet.  Marcescence is the term for trees that hold their leaves all winter, often until the new spring buds push the last of the old leaves off.  Some trees are notorious for marcescence—the American beech is one and oaks are another, both of which surround my cabin. Often, it’s the younger and smaller trees that are marcescent.   And frequently, it’s the lower branches only that retain leaves.
One theory (marcescence has many theories) is that retaining leaves helps protect the smaller branches from being eaten by deer and so helps a young tree retain its both branches and its health.  The idea here is that the leaves make it difficult for deer to nip the twigs. The dried leaves are less nutritious and even make their twigs less so.   Another theory is that oaks and beech trees have not fully mastered being deciduous yet and that marcescence is some evolutionary in-between stage.   Another theory is that marcescence helps smaller understory trees better retain and recycle their nutrients, keeping those goodies to themselves, which could be especially important to small trees with their smaller root systems.    
One thing about marcesence that is not theoretical is that the leaves provide shelter for birds in winter, helping to protect them from the wind.  That’s a result of marcescence, not a cause of course, though clearly the birds know how to take advantage of it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still busy...and noisy, too

This morning at 4:30 a.m. the sound of several great horned owls calling right outside the cabin woke up the dogs, who began to bark, which woke me up. Sparrow also decided she needed to go out, now that she was awake.  So I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my headlamp, and we went outside.
The owls, three of them, were all very close.  The two females were the closest, the male a bit further away.  The one female was very close and had to be in my front forest, just a tree or two from the edge. With the headlamp I scanned every tree I could see but never caught her eyeshine.
The nearby hooting spooked Sparrow, who started barking and running around trying to find the something she was barking out.  Sometimes a particularly loud hooting sent her in the opposite direction, trying to get away from the sound she couldn’t find.
Needless to say that was the end of my sleep last night.  I rather hope tonight is quieter.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Busy night

Last night the forest fauna were out in force. I suspect they knew that today would be rainy, so they were taking advantage of the evening before the bad weather to look for prey. They are all probably hunkered down in whatever den or hole they call home, waiting for the rain to end before venturing out again.
Here’s a list of what I saw (or heard)
  1. 4-5 deer within a few feet of the cabin. They ignore me, even when I am walking one of the dogs. Last night Skye and I watched them as they foraged their away across the driveway, up the lane and eventually into the forest. Obviously, neither me nor the dog are worthy of their attention.
  2. A medium-sized opossum scrambled up a small tree at the edge of the cabin. When I came outside 15-20 minutes later it was at the bottom of the tree playing possum. The dogs never saw it or smelled it, even though we got close.
  3. A fox barked in the distance. That’s the first one I’ve heard in months. I saw a fox on the other side of the mountain, down at the bottom of the mountain on Monday night. That one was crossing the road ahead of me as I drove by. That spot is more than a mile away from where I stood when I heard this one bark. However, this bark came from that direction, and the fox doing the barking was likely on the far side of Roundtop, making it at least half a mile closer to where I saw the Monday night fox. It may not have been the same fox, but it could easily have been its mate.
  4. A screech owl shrlled (and I called back) very close to the cabin. Its location meant the great horned owls were elsewhere. The big owls prey on the little ones and I never hear the one while the other is near. I tried to find it with my headlamp, but it stayed well hidden.

      1. Tuesday, November 04, 2014


        Leaves are falling constantly.  Sometimes they fall one by one, sometimes they fall in a papery shower.  At least half are down now, which means I can begin to see the mountain a mile or so to my west again.  The mountain is not completely revealed, but I don’t need to know where it is to see it anymore.
        Wind and cold temperatures from a nor’easter are gone now, so the mountain has returned to more seasonal levels.  I was forced to use my fireplace when the wind was blowing. My cabin stays warm enough with a little help from sunlight, but the wind stripped away any of the day’s heat.  Even so, the cats cuddle on my bed like another blanket—warmer than most of the real blankets currently covering my bed. 
        The chickens don’t seem to mind the current weather, but the shortened hours of daylight brings ever fewer eggs for me. I’ve already had to stop selling the eggs, as I’ve dropped from 3 dozen a week to no more than a dozen now.  I hope I will get enough over the winter to keep me in eggs, but sometimes the girls stop laying all together.  That’s especially true if the winter is a gloomy one.  It will likely be late February or even March before egg production resumes on anything like a normal level again. My hens are now more than 2 years old, too, and even in spring their production will likely be less.  Doodle, my rooster, is probably going to be 5 years old, and I’m guessing it won’t be too long before I will need another rooster.  He’s very protective and more than earns his keep.

        Thursday, October 30, 2014

        Waiting for Halloween and juncos

        I’m calling today’s photo my Halloween picture.  The colors are Halloween-ish, and the trees that are bare are like gnarled hands reaching towards the sky.  The weather is appropriately like Halloween, too. Clouds of all colors between white and gray race across the sky, accompanied by a blustery wind. It’s the kind of weather that brings the Rough-legged Hawks and Golden Eagles south.

        Oddly, though, I have yet to see a junco.  For a while I blamed this on a busy schedule, the late dawn and early sunset. I don’t think that’s the entire story. I’ve been as diligent as I ever am in awaiting the arrival of these northern snowbirds, and I haven’t seen any yet.  I am hoping the ever-dropping temperature that’s a result of the latest cold front will bring them.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone into November without finding them. 

        A few times, I thought perhaps I had seen one, with their familiar white outer tail feathers, but when I got closer or got a better look, either the birds had vanished or it had turned out to be a trick of the light.  So I remain junco-less here on the mountain for today.  I still have one more day to find them before Halloween arrives and October ends.

        Tuesday, October 28, 2014

        Morning dramas

        First, let me report that I did not enhance the color of today’s photo in any way.  Nor did I adjust the brightness, increase the contrast or any of those other things.  This is exactly the way I saw it, and the camera captured it. 
        For the most part, the brilliant colors of fall are gone.  The pretty colors either blew away earlier this week or are turning brown, well past the bright yellows and reds of just a week ago.  But this morning the sun rose through a thin grey veil of fog and doused the mountain with shades so intense it hurt to look.  That’s the sun’s glory you are seeing, not the season’s colors.
        Dawn comes late these last days before the fall time change, and my ability to take photos is suffering for it.  It’s dark enough that I still hear the great horned owls calling as I leave the cabin.  The only day birds up are the crows, though this morning, shortly after I took this photo, a gang of them found a hawk to mob.  It had taken refuge in a small tangled tree, but the mob was having none of it, gathering as in the Alfred Hitchcock movie and calling for reinforcements from all corners.
        This morning had an unusual amount drama.  Days pass with little new to see, then all of a sudden the crows are out and the dawn turns the entire mountain as bright than a new penny.  Today I was just lucky enough to see both.

        Friday, October 24, 2014

        Autumn chill

        The autumn colors have already faded, victims of the unrelenting breeze these last few days. The leaves that are left are more brown than colorful. As fall goes, the color this year wasn’t bad, but it sure didn’t last long. Often, the colors remain vibrant and firmly attached to their trees for a week. This year, the color was especially nice on Sunday and went downhill every day past that.
        I cannot yet see Nell’s Hill, the mountain to the west of my cabin, but I can see one edge of Flat Hill, the one to my northwest. The view of the sky is now much more open than it was, and that late summer claustrophobic feeling I sometimes get has gone away, too.
        The mornings are chilly, and once or twice I used my fireplace for an hour or so. Today, the temperature is no warmer than before, but the wind was calm this morning, so the cabin felt warm enough even without the fire. At least to me—the cats are taking up a lot more room on my bed than they were a month ago. Suddenly, I am their best friend again. Funny how that works.

        Wednesday, October 22, 2014

        Colors amid the gray

        The fall color show is coming along nicely, whenever I get a break from the rain and clouds long enough to take a look at them.  That’s October here on Roundtop—gorgeous weather surrounded by rain, fog and big dark clouds racing across the sky.  The weather is very changeable, too.  Don’t wait to go outside when the weather is gorgeous, because in an hour or less it will be different.
        A nor’easter just glanced my way, though this morning it is slow to clear out.  The rain has stopped but the clouds remain. Today’s photo is one I took two days ago, in a brief moment before the view was hidden.  This October I worry that the leaves will fall before I a chance to see the peak of the colors.  So though this view just past sunrise is not yet at the color peak, it may be the best I get to see. 
        A fair number of the leaves already swirl around my feet.  The distance I can see into the forest is at least double what it was in midsummer.  That’s still not enough to see this mountain from the back of my cabin yet, though that won’t be but a few days or a week from now.
        I see deer and wild turkey every day now.  The deer seem ever tamer, though neither me nor my neighbors feed them or do anything to encourage them. Likely, they were simply in the same spots all summer when the underbrush was too thick for us to see them. Now that the underbrush is going or gone, perhaps they still think they are hidden. They even ignore the dogs, though calm Sparrow is better tolerated than my wild Skye, who is never still a moment. I would almost not be surprised one day to find Sparrow and the old doe touching noses. So far not yet.

        Friday, October 17, 2014

        Last one?

        Autumn is not yet in its full glory, but there’s glory enough in the autumn of today to know that summer is gone but winter is still miles away. The season is well and truly here, no half measures at the cusp between two seasons.
        The late summer flowers, and indeed nearly all flowers, are gone. The lone exception that I found on my walk yesterday was a single chicory flower covered with drops of rain.  Even the fall asters have faded to brown, and other flowers on this stalk had already gone to seed.  Only this one late bloomer was in evidence.

        I am soon ready for winter, if not quite there yet. I need to clean my gutters, a job I will probably have to repeat before the snow falls.  And I need to move the chicken pen to its winter quarters, though that isn’t something that needs done just yet.  So far, I have resisted closing my bedroom window for the season. It is ajar but with the nights approaching the first frost of the season, I probably won’t be able to leave it that way much longer. I like hearing the sounds of the forest outside my cabin, but once I close the windows, much of that will be lost until it is warm enough to open them again in the spring.

        Thursday, October 16, 2014

        Gray day

        unamed lane near Beaver Creek, Monaghan Township, York County PA
        The fall color is coming along nicely at Roundtop, though unfortunately I have yet to see it at its best. Since Sunday, the days have been foggy, raining or gray, diluting the color of the leaves.  It’s not the interesting or bright kind of fog either.  It’s the dull, gray and dark kind of fog.  We’ve all seen at least a few photos of a gorgeous fall tree shrouded in a lovely fog. 
        My gray and foggy days are not like those. Mine are the kind where the chickens go to roost at 4:30 because they think it’s getting dark.  It’s the kind where I hear the first great horned owl at 5 p.m., and it’s the kind that washes out the color on the trees. So, you (and I) will have to wait for sunny weather or at least that bright kind of fog to see any intense fall colors. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. I only hope the leaves don’t fall before that happens.

        I have thus far been able to avoid turning on the heat or my fireplace.  However, my goal of making it to November 1 without doing so appears to be in doubt. It’s one thing to ignore cool weather for a day or so, but I will shortly be heading into a spate of days with temperatures near freezing at night and days bumbling around the mid-50’s.  I might not make it past the second or third day of that without giving in.

        Tuesday, October 14, 2014

        Watching and Waiting

        October on Roundtop is usually marked by gorgeous sunny days surrounded by rain and fog.  Sunday I had the gorgeous weather; today I have the rain and fog.  I am awaiting the first juncos of the season, which can be expected at any moment, though perhaps not in this weather.  I have also yet to see many flocks of migrating waterfowl.  They are not late, at least not yet, though I might have expected to see more of them by now. I did have a lone pied-billed grebe last week, but one of anything is hardly full-scale migration.
        The shortening hours of daylight make looking for birds on any but a weekend day more difficult now.  The chickens go to roost by before 6:30 p.m. now and likely will go earlier today in this gray weather.  Evening birdwatching is no longer possible for me.  By the time I get home, run the dogs and grab a bite to eat, only the crows are still out. I’m still getting used to that again. I can always forego dinner but the time I get home and the dogs need to go out can’t be changed.
        For roughly the past week the improvement in my view (otherwise known as leaf drop) hasn’t changed much.  A few afternoons were breezy, and if those leaves had the slightest inclination to fall to the ground, they would have.  I am therefore stymied in my desire to see the western mountains reappear through the thick forest canopy.  I know it won’t be long before the view opens up, so I need to be patient about it. This is a bit like “a watched pot never boils” but with leaves.  “A watched tree never drops its leaves” doesn’t have quite the same ring but seems just as true. Maybe next week.

        Monday, October 13, 2014

        Apple Harvest Festival

        The National Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville PA is my favorite fall festival, favored even over my own town’s Farmer’s Fair, if not by much.  I like that the fairground is at the foot of the South Mountains, the grounds are nestled against the mountain.  No macadam or blacktop is seen anywhere, and tall mature pine trees cover much of the site.
        Even when the fair is crowded, as it always is, walking among the pines feels peaceful.  The buildings at the fairgrounds are old, too, so I feel as though I am entering another time when I’m there.  They are wooden, some clapboard, most from the 40’s and 50’s, the most recent from the 1960’s. 

        And of course the fair itself boasts that great fair food, with everything from soft pretzels to apple bread to the ubiquitous chicken barbeque and pit beef, cooked outside and with the smell of wood smoke and cooking meat all around. 
        For me, the fair is usually my first attempt at Christmas shopping for the season.  I always find something for someone or several someones.  This year was no exception.
        After a rainy Saturday, Sunday dawned perfectly clear.  The early morning was in the 30’s, but the temperature warmed up quickly, bringing with it hordes of fairgoers from several states.  I make it a habit to go early and do my wandering and shopping. Then I eat an early lunch and leave before the crowd worsens.  This year, the crowd on Sunday was even greater than usual because many people, myself included, waited out the rainy weather of the day before.  Crowds or no, I try to attend this festival every year.

        Friday, October 10, 2014

        Bringing in the hay

        Mt. Airy Rd., Monaghan Township, York County, Pennsylvania
        On a grey and chill morning, some 12 hours before a day-long rain, a local farmer readies a load of hay to get it to the barn ahead of the storm. I hope I won’t have to light my fireplace this weekend, but I won’t be surprised if I succumb to the dampness and do it anyway. Early October is rather soon in this area to be thinking about using heat. 

        In winter, I keep the cabin cool by most people’s standards. I am happy if I wake in the morning and the temperature isn’t below 60.  Partly I just don’t like the expense associated with heating in the winter, but almost as important, I am not comfortable with huge temperature changes going from the inside to the outside or vice versa.  I don’t cool the cabin very much in the summer for the same reasons.  But the dampness can get to me, just as humidity can in the summer.
        So, while I will resist if possible, I may also give in—even if the leaves are still on the trees, and many of them are still green.

        Thursday, October 09, 2014

        This and that

        Granted, this morning’s moon does not have the drama of an eclipse or a blood moon, but I still thought it was pretty neat to see the jet contrail right across the setting full moon.
        Back at the cabin, I am enjoying watching the leaves thin out in the forest canopy.  That means my view of the sky is a little larger each day.  I still haven’t “found” the mountain to my west yet, but I know it’s there.
        This morning three of the local deer grazed just a few feet from me as I fed the chickens. I tried hard not to look directly at the deer as I knew that would scare them.  It was a doe and at least one summer fawn—the third deer remained hidden. 
        My fall bird feeder is operational again, if not yet fully arranged to my liking.  Several of the more obvious local birds have found it now that my chickens have shown them where it is. I’ve seen chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.  I still have sunflower seed to buy and the suet feeder to set up.  At this point in the year, I can still see a few birds at the feeders when I get home from work, though few are in evidence in the mornings.  It won’t be long before my only view of the feeders will be on the weekends.

        Wednesday, October 08, 2014


        Did you see the “blood moon” this morning?  I hope so, because it was beautiful. I don’t have a tripod, so taking night photos is difficult at best.  I did manage a photo when the moon wasn’t yet in full eclipse, just before it dipped behind the trees.
        For once, I wasn’t battling rain or clouds or even antsy dogs who can’t stand still. Just before dawn four or five deer joined me near the snowmaking pond.  They were interested in getting an early morning drink and were content to ignore me, even as I ignored them while the eclipse was taking place. I can’t remember the last time I got to see a full eclipse, though I know it’s been quite a while.  Several have occurred during cloudy weather and others simply weren’t visible here. This time, though, none of those things occurred, and the sight was one to remember.

        Monday, October 06, 2014

        Nell's Hill, early fall

        Nell's Hill with the start of fall color
        Fall color in the forest is advancing nicely.  A few days ago I thought the leaves were mostly unchanged, but after a few nights of cool temperatures, that has changed. Now, the fall color is noticeable, though most trees are still green.   Some of the trees that have turned color are very far advanced and are even dropping their leaves already.
        Although I can’t yet see this mountain from my cabin, at sunset I can now see where the bright sky ends.  As that is where the outline of the mountain begins, I know the mountain will reappear at my western windows soon. Slowly, ever so slowly, the holes in the forest’s leafy canopy grow larger, and my view of the sky overhead of my abode is opening, a little bit at a time.
        This weekend brought a small taste of the cold weather ahead. I didn’t have a frost but it was close, and I suspect the lower-lying areas at the foot of the mountain might have had one. Higher up on the mountain, where I live, temperatures are more moderate than down lower.  The average date of the first frost here is October 13, so that’s not far off. 
        It’s cold enough now that I’ve added more straw to the chicken pen, and I find that several cats suddenly want to sleep with me.  I didn’t turn my heat on this weekend when the outside temperature dropped, though it was chilly enough that I was tempted to. I decided to wait it out, knowing that this early cool snap would moderate in a few days. 

        Thursday, October 02, 2014

        Reddish dawn

        Dense fog covered the mountain early this morning, though began to rise at dawn.  The result created a very pretty and unusual sunrise. I had to stop and watch it for a while, nearly making myself late for work, but what is work against a sunrise like this one?
        This was not the "red sky at morning" kind of dawn that heralds a storm.  This was simply the sun rising through a layer of ground fog, but the timing of the mist rising with the sun making its first appearance was perfect.
        I've lived more than 60 years now and have never seen a sunrise quite like this one.  It's true that each is different, but some, like this one, are unique.
        Delicate reddish mist rising over the eastern mountains, alternating with dawn’s red sky and purple clouds nearly matching the color of the morning mountains.  It’s a rare sunrise indeed and not to be missed because of work.

        Wednesday, October 01, 2014

        Auction day!

        Now that my family’s auction is over and I am largely recovered, I will share a few photos from the event.  I intended to take a lot of photos, but the day was too busy to be pointing a camera too much.  I took most of my photos before the action became fast and furious.
        My siblings and I have been working towards this sale for the better part of a year.  Neither my grandparents nor my parents ever had sale when the previous generation passed, so that task fell to the three of us.  Worse, my parents, children of the Great Depression and World War II, never threw anything away.  And I do mean anything.  We found receipts from 1970 and check stubs from long-ended jobs of 40 years ago.  Naturally, good things were mixed in with the junk, so we had to go through everything very carefully and couldn’t just toss it first.

        But finally, we were as done as we were going to be, and it was time for auction.  We sold old things and new, farm implements you’d have to be a bodybuilder to lift, household items—all manner of things. We had family and antique dealers, friends and strangers attend. The day was gorgeous, and we had a decent turnout, if not quite the standing room only crowd we might have hoped for. With 50 other sales in a 30-mile radius, buyers were spread a tad thin.
        One of the things we sold was the old buckboard wagon, which I loved to sit in as a small child.  The man who bought it plans to restore it, though he expects that's a 4-5 year project.  He will enlist some Amishmen to replace the wood around the iron wheels.  He tells me that alone takes 3 months per wheel.  I'd like to see it again whenever it's done.
        Still, the event was a nice success for the family, and the house and old barn are now a lot, if not entirely, empty.  There’s still more work to be done, though no deadline looms over our heads to accomplish that. Now, we can go through the mountains of photos we want to digitize and identify as many ancestors as we can.  We also have a lot of old documents that we need to examine and figure out what to do with, since starting a family library the way former presidents do is probably not going to happen.

        Tuesday, September 30, 2014

        Autumn's progress

        The autumn color change is underway in a few areas on Roundtop Mtn.  In the lower, cooler spots along a stream or a run, gold and yellow leaves are beginning to be evident.  Higher up, where I live, the trees are still green.
        Some leaves, though not many, have already fallen, decorating the mountain lane with a bit of color. As yet, this is not enough to open up the leafy canopy and extend my visibility.  Leaf fall is often a slow process, especially at the beginning. However, I’ve had nearly 6 months of studying every tiny hole in the canopy around my cabin, so by now I know it well and am ever vigilant for the slightest change.
        I am at least 3 weeks away from the main leaf fall and probably longer.  When I first moved to the cabin, some 20 years ago, the main leaf fall occurred in late October.  But as climate change has progressed, it now happens in early November, once as late as November 11 but more reliably around November 5-7, at least for the last few years.  Still, by late October the canopy is much opened again, just from the leaves that fall earlier than most of them.
        As the season progresses, leaf fall is lot like a continuous snow flurry, cascading off the trees to cover the forest floor until they are shin-deep in some places. On a day when many leaves drop, walking through the forest is a lot like walking in a falling snow.  Falling leaves make a gentle rustling sound, best heard when surrounded by a forest.  The effect is not the same with just one or a few trees.  When the whole forest is “molting” the sound is similar to the sound of wind through the trees in summer, but with a drier tone.  I love to walk through the forest and feel the leaves falling all around me, making that lovely fall sound.  It’s best heard on a day without wind, but as long as the breeze is a mild one, I can still hear the leaves when they fall.

        Thursday, September 25, 2014

        Rainy fall morning and weekend auction

        The calm before the auction
        Roundtop Mtn. is enjoying its first fall rain today. The dry forest is getting a nice, gentle rain, so far perhaps .25 of an inch. For people to the east of me, the storm is less friendly—it’s a real nor’easter that’s barreled up through Florida and North Carolina, soon to inundate New Jersey and later Boston.

        This is the kind of day when I keep the chickens in their pen, at least until noon. Nighttime predators stay out often well past dawn on rainy and dark, overcast days. I guess the hunting is better for them once the daytime animals appear. The predators seem to be able to tolerate daylight (or what passes for daylight on a dark morning like this one) as long as the sun is well hidden. In the past, before I paid attention, I’ve lost chickens to a fox and a raccoon, both foraging well past the time they are usually in their dens for the day.

         Sparrow checks out some of the goods!
        This morning Sparrow and I walked nearly right up to a deer that hadn’t gotten up for the day, yet. Sparrow never saw it. I only saw the deer because of my headlamp, and even then I was careful not to look right at her. Wild animals often tolerate a human’s presence as long as you don’t directly look at them. If you ignore them or only glance at them sideways, often they remain where they are, as did this deer. But as soon as you look at them, they are gone! Birds are the same way, as anyone who’s had a bird flush only when they raised binoculars will know.

        Today my photos were taken at my family’s farm. After a year’s work, we are having an auction of the contents this weekend. Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever had sale when the previous generation passed, so we have a lot of stuff. I’ve been amazed at just how heavy those old iron farm implements are. Some I can barely lift, let alone use or manipulate. Those oldtime farmers must have looked like body builders!

        Monday, September 22, 2014

        What the wind brought

        Today’s northwest breeze is pushing a lot of migrants southward.  I’ve seen Broad-winged Hawks and Black Vultures, as well as flocks of 20-25 little somethings that are too small or too distant to identify.  Waterfowl will be appearing soon, though I haven’t seen any flocks of those yet.  The first week of October is about right for their migration.
        The wind brought down a very large, dead limb not 10 seconds after Skye and I walked past that spot.  The limb was light because it was dead and pretty much hollow but it still may have been deadly if we’d been struck.  I heard it crash through the lower part of its tree when it fell but knew instantly it was far enough away that we would be safe. I’d like to think that had I been underneath it, that crack would have alerted us and given us enough time to get out of its way.    I’m not sure that’s the case, but I’d like to think so.  Skye set up a ferocious barking at the downed limb, which was curled and coiled like some large, if stiff, snake.  It was fortunate the limb was as light as it was, as I had to move it to get the car back out of the driveway.

        The small annual plants on the forest floor are really fading now—turning color or just disappearing onto the ground.  Some tulip poplar leaves have turned color and are beginning to litter my driveway.  Most of my houseplants are now inside, and the rest will need to come in tonight.  Tonight the temperature will drop into the lower 40’s and that’s just too cool for a houseplant.

        Friday, September 19, 2014

        Bird Buffet

        The pokeweed I found this morning is the largest specimen I’ve ever seen.  It’s 10-12 feet tall at least—more like a pokeweed tree than a bush.  It is just covered with fruit right now, which the birds love and fight over.  I’ve never seen so much pokeweed fruit in one spot before.

        This morning a blue jay was being chased from the tree by a small bird that was too fast for me to identify.  A little bit higher I saw an immature black-throated green warbler, but they are insectivores, not herbivores, so it wasn’t that little beauty.  It’s possible the warblers were gathering insects on the plant and didn’t take kindly to a nearby blue jay, but I don’t think it was that bird.

        Pokeweed is largely toxic to humans, though various parts of it are edible, at least at certain times of the year. I’d have to be pretty hungry before I attempted it, though.  The plant is not toxic to birds and is in fact something of a bird magnet.  I’m already planning to “plant” myself near here sometime over the weekend to see what else shows up at this bird buffet.

        Thursday, September 18, 2014

        Early morning


        The sound of great horned owls, the higher-pitched female and the basso profundo of the male, echo across the forest before dawn’s first paling.  They call back and forth to each other, one further up the hill than the other.

        The last hour before daylight and the first hour of night is when they are most active and most vocal. I have lived on this mountain for more than 20 years now, and their presence has been a constant, though I have rarely seen them.

        When I have seen them, it has nearly always been on a dreary, dark morning, when an overcast sky tempts them into staying out later to hunt for prey.  When that happens, crows may already be up and spoiling for a good early morning mobbing of the predator.  Sometimes, they meet up with another nemesis, the red-tailed hawk, which inhabits roughly the same ecological niche and eats much the same prey.  Those two are natural born enemies.

        This morning was far more typical.  I heard the pair but never saw them, invisible companions.

        Wednesday, September 17, 2014

        Ch-, Ch-, Changes

        The hours of daylight seem to me to be diminishing pretty fast right now. Not only do I need my headlamp when I start out walking the dogs, I am still using it when our morning walks are over. Now, I can find only the barest hint of dawn in the east when our forays are done.
        The chickens no longer wake me; crowing is later every morning. That is good news. Occasionally, in summer Doodle would crow starting around 4:30 a.m. It doesn’t hurt my feelings that my old rooster now doesn’t wake until around 6 a.m.
        The lessened hours of daylight do interfere with my walks now. Most importantly, I can’t see as much, which translates into having less to write about. My headlamp only brightens enough for walking, not enough for inspecting every plant and rock. I also find myself staying on ground where I know the footing is pretty even. The headlamp isn’t good for illuminating little bumps and holes that I can easily see in daylight. It’s better if I just avoid areas with rougher footing until the weekend when I can walk in daylight again.  It goes without saying that even ground is less interesting than the rougher land, but a twisted knee is even worse.
        Sometimes I hear an owl. Usually it’s one of the great horned owls calling to its mate. It’s too dark to see even the early-rising crows. The forest birds aren’t awake until I’m out feeding the chickens. One thing I have noticed is now that breeding season is over, the local residents are vocal again. Even the noisy chickadees turn quiet when they are nesting. No longer. They are busily scolding me and the chickens and the cats sitting in windows. They probably scold caterpillars, too. Summer is a long time for a chickadee to be silent, and they are making up for lost time.

        Tuesday, September 16, 2014

        Fall Ruminations

        Kralltown Rd., Washington Township, York County, Pennsylvania, September 15, 2014
        Fall is beginning to make an appearance around my cabin. The trees still look green, but the annual foliage on the forest floor is beginning to show signs of color. Poison ivy turns first, and a few of the other plants are beginning to follow suit. Nothing is very pretty or dramatic yet; the change is only just beginning—greens fading towards a dull yellow or orange. The big trees are the last to turn color and that still won’t happen for a few weeks.

        This week should be the big Broad-winged Hawk migration through southern Pennsylvania. More northerly hawkwatches are already starting to report daily counts above 1000 hawks each day. Likely in this area, the big push will be tomorrow or Thursday. The birds won’t reach the U.S.- Mexico border for another 8-10 days. And it will be the better part of a week before they arrive in Veracruz MX. By the time they get down there, the flocks (or "kettles" as we hawkwatchers call those flocks) could hold tens or thousands and even hundreds of thousands of birds.

        I’m noticing the chillier nights, which make for great sleeping weather, as long as the animals don’t take all the room on the bed, which they often attempt to do. The big question I wrestle with each year is when should I "migrate" my houseplants from outdoors back inside the house? The Christmas and Easter cactus are the easiest ones to gauge, as I try not to bring them back inside until they have set buds. My houseplants do best when they are not in the house but outside. Sometimes I think they are only just barely being kept alive inside during the winter. So I tend to wait until the last minute, or even the last second, before bringing them inside. I know the time for them to be outside is soon ending. I just don’t know which day it will be.

        Friday, September 12, 2014

        Evening visitor

        Northern walking stick
        Another sign of fall appeared on the outside wall of my cabin last evening, a northern walking stick. Mid-September is when they mate, so it’s not surprising to find them out and about now. They have the best camoflauge of just about anything. I had to enhance the photo a bit just so it wouldn't blend into the background. This one was perhaps 2 inches long.

        I haven’t been able to decide if this one is a male or a female. The males tend to be dark brown and the females a kind of brownish green. I’m leaning towards this one being a female, but it’s neither as brown nor as green as some I’ve seen, so I might be wrong. The females are a bit larger, too, and as walking sticks go, this one was in the mid-range, so that didn’t help either.

        The oak forest that surrounds my cabin is perfect habitat for them. Oaks are their preferred food source. Walking sticks are mostly nocturnal, which is how I came to find this one when I took the dogs for a final outing of the day. As a side-note, I am still getting used to the lessened hours of daylight. During mid-summer darkness meant it was time to begin to get ready for bed. Without thinking, I automatically did that earlier this week and then discovered it was still only 8:30 p.m.

        Wednesday, September 10, 2014

        Weatherlore and predicting the winter

        Now that I’ve officially proclaimed the start of fall (ahem!), it’s time to start looking to the signs for the winter ahead. Collecting natural weatherlore is something of a hobby of mine. I find it all very interesting and some of it is even right. My own experience suggests that you can’t bank on one piece of weather lore to tell the story, but when you get a couple or several of them lining up in one direction or another, there’s often something to it.
        Even for me, it’s a bit early to predict what the winter ahead might look like, so I thought I’d report on some of the more interesting bits of lore I’ve collected and will use in the weeks to come to attempt to predict the severity of the upcoming winter.

        "If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry." August 2014 here on Roundtop was a bit colder than average but not by very much. I might say this means an average or slightly colder than average winter but nothing to get your knickers in a twist over.

        "For every fog in August there will be a snowfall in winter." Hmm, we did have a fair amount of fog on those gloomy August days.

        If anthills are high in July, winter will be snowy." I didn’t really look.

        "Onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in." Truthfully, the onion skins look pretty normal to me, but I’m no expert.

        I’m sure you’ve all heard some of the other ones—thick animal coats equal a tough winter; squirrels frantically gathering nuts, thick corn husks are all supposed to equal tough winters. My animals are only just starting to shed so it’s too soon for me to tell about that one. The squirrels aren’t doing much of anything unusual yet and the corn husks, well, I’m about as much an expert with those as I am with onion skins.

        For many of the truisms, it’s still too early to see. October and even November weather is what most of them go by to predict the winter ahead. So stay tuned. At the moment, the signs are very vaguely pointing towards an average or perhaps a slightly colder than average winter, but nothing looks dire. At least not yet.