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.