Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Losing daylight

Curious eastern cottontail rabbit
Midsummer is here and already I must think about taking a headlamp when I leave for an early morning walk with my dogs. This morning was overcast, which only emphasized what is soon upon me; the days already grow shorter. 
The need for a headlamp is noticeable as I start my morning walks. We begin our walk in the forest, with its thick canopy of summer leaves. It is dark in a summer forest, darker than during winter’s longer nights, when the trees are bare and my view of the sky is unobstructed. Once we leave the sheltering dark of the woods, the pre-dawn sky is pale enough for easy walking.
I am always surprised by how this change in the day’s light sneaks up on me. I know it is coming but I never expect it "today." This morning was my reminder, my wake-up call, that a headlamp is soon needed. Tomorrow, if the sky is undimmed by morning clouds, I will have a brief respite before the headlamp is truly needed again. But by next week, even with a clear sky, the headlamp will again become a morning fixture on our walks.

Monday, July 28, 2014

This past Saturday I once again had the pleasure of attending the Kittatinny Roundtable at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The annual event is hosted by Laurie Goodrich, the senior monitoring biologist there, who is also the vice-chair of the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).

At HMANA’s chair, I was called on to say a few words about what HMANA is up to and what we are planning. About 20 people, mostly hawk counters and site leaders from hawkwatches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, attended. Rich Conroy, a HMANA board member from Philadelphia’s Militia Hill Hawkwatch, also attended.
We got to hear about geographical changes to the American Kestrel’s range. The species is generally declining due to habitat loss but in a few areas is increasing. Nick Bolgiano has been studying this and gave a brief overview of what his research has found so far. Loss of farmland and farming practices seems to drive this decline.
Laurie reported on her Broad-winged Hawk monitoring program, which involves first catching and then radio-tagging several adult and juvenile birds. She wants to see where the Pennsylvania Broadwings winter and where and how they migrate.
A highlight of the event for me is studying the hawk results from the previous season. We discovered that nearly every site reporting tallied record low or near-record low counts of Northern Harrier in fall 2013, and we wondered if this is the next raptor species of concern. In fact, most other accipiter genus species were also counted in lower than average numbers. One year’s data is not enough to draw any conclusions, but it is enough to pay attention to and see what happens in the upcoming migration year.

The Kittatinny Roundtable is always a lot of fun, too. It’s not often that hawk counters gather—they are usually too busy counting hawks!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer view

Ah, humidity! Soupy air obscures all the views today. The mountains just a few miles away look blue instead of green. The distant mountains, some 10 miles across the valley, are invisible. It’s summer.

The vegetation has that mid-summer green look to it, a deep and rich shade with not yet even a hint of the dullness that will set in during August. That month is usually the year’s driest in this area, and for many years I attributed that dull brown-edged green to the usual lack of rain. But since then I have lived through a few Augusts where rain was surprisingly plentiful, and the dullness still appeared. So now I call that dullness a sign of pre-autumn.

But today the trees are breathing nicely, exhaling oxygen and offsetting all that carbon dioxide that we humans are exhaling. Water vapor is returning to the sky, and a storm will probably result later. It’s summer in Pennsylvania, and this is just another normal day. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer ruminations on winter's impact

I might not have seen many fawns this summer, but I sure am seeing a lot of turkey poults. I found another brood of them, this group not far from my cabin. The brood was 6-7; the babies still quite small. They, mom and an "auntie" were taking a dirt bath at the very edge of the road. I stopped the car and they soon scurried back into the woods.
Turkey broods appear variably, with the severity of the winter a determining factor. One PA study showed that egg incubation after one cold and snowy winter (1999) didn’t begin until around May 15. During more typical winters, incubation begins around April 28. The hens incubate the eggs for 28 days. As I am only just now starting to see the poults, I would not be surprised if the hens didn’t begin incubation until roughly the end of May. The younger hens typically don’t start to incubate until a week or so after the mature hens.
None of the poults I’ve seen over the past week flew, though young turkeys can fly a bit within about 10 days. I suppose that just because I didn’t see any of them flying that doesn’t mean for sure that they couldn’t fly, but I can say the birds were quite small and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were under 10 days old.
So in doing the math, I’m going to say that the small brood I saw on Saturday was just 10 days old, which would make them hatched on July 9. That would mean incubation for this brood began around June 10-11. That is very late, and also suggests both hens I saw were younger birds, who would have started incubation later anyway.

Certainly 2013-14 was a colder winter than 1999, when the turkey nesting study was done. So it is likely that nesting for turkeys was even later this year than then. The little ones should still have ample time grow and ready themselves for this upcoming winter. Poults gain weight quickly and by the time they are seven months old will weigh 8-12.5 lbs depending on gender. Still, with nesting coming so late this spring, another tough winter in the upcoming season wouldn’t do the species any good locally. Winter is tough enough on the younger ones, let alone poults that may be as much as a month younger when winter arrives than is typical.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quite a large family

Rain and more rain. Everyone and everything acts tired of it. The large turkey family of 10 poults appeared barely a minute after the latest round of heavy rain ended. I grabbed this shot with my phone as I was driving home last evening from a meeting. I was afraid that if I took the moments to reach into my purse, grab my real camera and take the shot the turkeys would be gone. My phone was closer, so I used that.

Not a mile down the road several more turkey, with no poults, were together in the same field as a small herd of deer. The animals all appeared for an evening promenade or meal just as quickly as that rain ended.

So, needless to say, everything is soaked around the cabin. Wellies are my footwear of necessity. The forest is as lush as a jungle. It IS a jungle in all but official name. "The Appalachian Jungle" just doesn’t have the same ring as the Appalachian Mountains.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Made it!

Whew! I hope I don’t have any more storms like that for a while. 85 mph straight line winds cause as much damage as an F1 tornado. Trees are down all over the place, as are garages and sheds and a few barns, too.

I escaped damage at the cabin, but have been cleaning up at my family’s farm, where dozens of trees are down. For some of the biggest ones that are still hanging over the barn we will need to get professional tree trimmers to remove them, though those people are now booked solid for a few weeks. Fortunately, no more severe weather is on the horizon for a while.

In better news, I have finally seen a fawn! This was no wobbly spring fawn, but a good-sized fawn of summer, well able to follow its mother across the mountain road in front of me.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

July sunrise

Summer sunrise bodes summer storm. 

I close the windows, turn on the air conditioner and do the little tasks, like filling up water dishes, just in case of power loss.  All it takes is one tree, on the power line's long span up the mountain, to fall over in heavy rain or get struck by lightning.  Just one, and I'm out of power. 

Up here, we are always the last to get our power back.  Towns and roads with more people are the first priority.  So batteries are stored, electronic devices are kept charged and lanterns are always handy.  I just never know when I will need them, so they are always at hand.  If I don't need them this time, today, then it will be next week or the week after.  Such things are routine here.  Preparedness is a way of life.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Summer light

The past weekend was a perfect summer weekend in this part of the country. It was warm and breezy but not hot, not humid and not hazy. The temperature hovered around or just under 80 degrees, with pleasantly cool evenings. I didn’t run the air conditioner at all. Three whole days in midsummer with pleasant weather is a rare joy, too rare unfortunately.

I spent as much time outside this weekend as was humanly possible, finding any excuse to walk a little further or take the dogs for another traipse through the forest. We saw deer and turkeys, squirrels and opossums, a ring-necked snake, largemouth and smallmouth bass, heard gray treefrogs and yellow-billed cuckoos. I pulled black raspberries from the bushes and ate them straight away, my fingers turning purple with their juicy goodness.

I saw almost everything there is to see here in summer. Everything there is to see except for fawns. Truly, I must be the only person around not have seen a fawn yet this season. My neighbor up the mountain claims to have seen four at once. It’s a mystery why I haven’t seen one, but there it is. Such is life.

The light in those early morning walks has a clarity that is unique to summer. Autumn’s light is golden, winter’s light is soft, spring’s bright and warm. Summer’s light gleams with a bold clarity that is surprisingly delicate in the early hours of the day.

The hot, hazy and humid weather has returned today, though won’t last but a day or so. And since today is a work day and my time outside is limited, anyway, the nuisance of the 3H’s also has limited impact. I’m still hoping to see a fawn, somewhere, before their spots disappear.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Three H's have arrived

Ironweed, aka wild butterfly weed
The dreaded three H’s—hazy, hot and humid—have taken over Roundtop today. Those three words are like curses to me. I can imagine a whole range of curse sayings about them: "may you live where it’s hazy, hot and humid" being one that comes to mind today.

Overnight, the mountain didn’t cool down even a little bit. That alone is unusual. More typical is that sometime after midnight, even the hottest days start to give up in the face of darkness. Not so last night. It was one of those fortunately rare days when I never turned off the air conditioner and was glad to have one to make the inside bearable. The dogs didn’t get an evening walk until it was dark, and even then we all returned to the cabin hot and sticky and ready for water.

This time around the worst of the heat will break sometime on Thursday, so it’s only 36 hours or so that I will have to suffer. The frightening part is that it is only early July, so there’s a full two months ahead where I have to face at least the threat of the three H’s. That’s another reason I dislike summer. Too many days of the three H’s and too many days when those three H’s might reappear at any moment.

I am ready for another winter.