Monday, December 28, 2015

Geese finally heading south

Note:  This photo was taken yesterday. Today is not foggy, though it's still overcast and the light isn't good so far, for photos today.

I should have known something was up when I counted 71 Canada geese on Roundtop's largest pond this morning around dawn.  The usual count is about 35-38.  And the local geese didn't seem too happy to be sharing the space with the new interlopers.

Since then, and even now as I type this, I hear the sound of Canada geese far overhead.  Occasionally I see a flock, hundreds of birds to each one.  This is the first time I was sure the geese I was seeing were migrants.  They are only two months late.

I have suspected that a couple of the flocks I'd seen throughout November were migrants but I wasn't entirely sure. Migrating geese are noisy, usually honking the entire time they fly, and except when they are taking off or landing, they usually fly quite high.  Sometimes the geese I saw in November were honking like migrants, but they weren't particularly high or there weren't many in a flock.  I thought it was possible they were birds up off the Susquehanna River rather than long-distance flyers.  But not today.  These birds, so far multiple flocks of them, are heading south in full cry.

No doubt the first blast of semi-wintry weather that's just a few hours away from falling here is the cause.  The precipitation will fall as sleet this time, and the weather maps show it edging ever closer to Roundtop.  So those geese that have been languishing in the warm northeastern weather have finally decided it's time to move south to avoid the wintry weather.  It's about time.  Past time.  A lot past time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Have a foggy, foggy Christmas

 Wait!  That’s not how the song goes.
And this is not how Christmas is supposed to look, either.  But here it is.  Foggy and warm enough to sit out on the porch, if you don’t mind a little drizzle. 
Foxtail with raindrops, like a miniature Christmas tree with bulbs
I’m already tired of El Nino, which shows no sign of let-up or allowing winter to return to normal.  I want cold and snow, though it’s hard to argue about the lack of a heating bill.  Still, this is not the kind of weather that makes me want to put a warm, winter stew over the fire.  It’s not even good hot chocolate weather.
What it is, is about as foggy as it can possibly be.  These photos were taken shortly before noon today, not at dawn or dusk or even first thing in the morning when fog is usually thickest.  No, this is noontime fog.  It’s the kind of fog that makes me glad I don’t have 100 miles of driving ahead of me today.  A quick trip down the mountain and into town at 35 mph is about as exciting as I want it to be.  And 35 mph is about the only safe speed today, which makes me glad I’m not on an interstate somewhere.

Fog for Christmas is a new thing for me, I think.  At least I don’t remember any other year with fog, let alone fog like this.  So now I am back in my cabin, where I plan to stay for the rest of the day, cooking up the last batch of Christmas cookies and hoping that Christmas day will bring something other than more fog. 
I hope all of you and yours have a very, Merry Christmas and a great holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hemlocks--still here but under assault

Holiday preparations clearly are affecting both my writing and photographic time this week.  I love Christmas, but I am ready for the event itself and for the preparations for the event to end.  I hope that once the holiday is over, my days will return to normal, so I can spend more time writing and taking photos again.
The photo today was not taken at my cabin but in Michaux State Forest.  This is, I believe, a little feeder stream into Tom’s Run.  It’s already been a week since I was there and I’m only now downloading the photos.  One thing I noticed on my walk that day was that live hemlocks, Pennsylvania’s state tree, can still be found in abundance.
The state’s trees are under assault by something called the wooly adelgid, which sucks fluid from the base of the hemlock needles, eventually killing the tree.  They look a lot like wooly aphids that can infect houseplants.  Like so many other devastating pests, this one is not native to North America.  It came from Japan, and our native hemlocks have no immunity against it.  And like wooly aphids, the pest can be killed with a soap/oil mixture.  Unfortunately, the preventative needs to be applied at least once a year, not to mention just how does one spray all the hemlock trees in a forest? 
Currently, the pest is found in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.  They can kill a tree in 4-10 years without treatment.  The state is moving ahead with the soap/oil treatment and is apparently thinking about introducing a beetle that can kill the adelgid.  This worries me, as I can only hope the beetle doesn’t end up causing other problems, as so often happens.  The beetles are expensive, too, I’m told.
The hemlock is a foundation tree in our forests. A healthy tree supports many other animal and insect species.  Clearly, a forest without hemlocks would not support the same species as a forest with hemlocks.  A forest without hemlocks would be an entirely different ecosystem. 
On my walk, I did see some dead hemlocks—most looked to have been dead for years and may well not have died from this pest.  The other hemlocks I saw still appeared healthy, at least for the moment. I hope they stay healthy.  I can’t imagine a Pennsylvania forest without them. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

No ice, no snow, open water

Sunrise over Pincho Lake - December 13, 2015
Non-winter is in place here on Roundtop Mtn.  The ski resort hasn’t yet been able to make snow, as the nighttime temperatures are well above freezing.  I haven’t turned on the electric heat in the cabin, though on a few damp mornings, I had a fire in the fireplace.  For the past week I haven’t even needed that.
Birds are not flocking to my feeders.  They are apparently still able to find natural food in the forest.  Oh, a few of them show up in the morning and again in the evening. I think it’s more to check that food is available than from any real sense of needing it.  By this time turkey and black vultures have usually departed at least some ways to the south.  Yesterday, I saw 9 of them twirling around the top of Roundtop. 
El Nino, the apparent cause of this warm weather, is showing its impact.  How long this record-breaking, strange weather will last is unknown.
Today, a northwest wind is driving down the temperature, though it’s still above 50°.  The northern robins, a Labrador subspecies I believe, still forage through the forest.  When I was younger, they were called woods robins locally, browner and larger than the summer robins that breed here in that season.  I saw a flock of 14 yesterday.  I usually find them by sound.  They tend to hang together in a loose flock, skimming through the forest.  I see them mostly in the mornings and evenings.  Most winters I see them into January, though they do disappear during the worst of a winter.  In February they often reappear on the first sunny day. They are always able to find open water—perhaps from a spring-fed pond, a puddle or an open stream.  So far this year, the pickings are easy and open water is everwhere.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Returning to Camp Michaux

On Monday, I decided to return to a spot I hadn’t visited all year.  Michaux State Forest is about a 17 mile drive between mountains with lots of hiking trails and a couple of state parks, lakes, reservoirs and lots of hemlock and white pine.  It’s mostly undeveloped forest, with some cabins in areas that are not on state forest land.  I love the smell of the pines, especially in winter or what’s passing for winter so far this December.
Stone, moss-covered steps in foreground.  Site of Zwingli cabin between the two trees
One thing I wanted to do was revisit the site of the camp that I attended as a 'tween and young teenager.  Camp Michaux was first a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp and then a POW camp during WWII and lastly a church camp from 1946-1972.  Sometime not long after the camp closed, they removed all the buildings, which hadn’t changed since the CCC days—wooden clapboard barracks with metal bunk beds, an outdoor shower area (discretely fenced), a dining hall and a swimming pool.
I'm in the second row, second girl on the right (white headband)
So it has been about 40 years since the camp was occupied, and it’s amazing how quickly the forest has reclaimed the area.  The two-lane paved road that was the main entrance to the camp is now covered with pine needles, branches, a few small downed trees, and the macadam is only visible as a narrow path down the center.  The stone steps down to the cabins are filled with more pine needles and seem more like natural rocks than steps.  Even the stone block foundations are barely visible anymore.
Main "road" into camp. Macadam now mostly invisible
I walked down what used to be the main camp road and found the spot where the cabin that I stayed in used to be.  Nothing looks particularly familiar anymore, and I am rather happy about that.  I’m surprised that the reclamation is happening so quickly.  I’m happy that the forest is taking over what was originally its own.  At this rate, in another 20 years or so, even the little I found that remained will be gone, and nothing will remain but the forest. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Hunkered down

 It’s hard to take photos in a heavy rain, which is why you haven’t seen many blog posts from me, now that I am mostly recovered from a hard cold.  The rain is accompanied by low clouds and fog, so the lighting is terrible.  Sunrise is now at 7:11 a.m., and with the rain and overcast skies, the chickens do not arise for a good 30 minutes after the sun’s alleged rise.
If I’m lucky, I can find enough light around noon to snap a quick shot, but they are nothing to write home about.  The wet darkens the tree trunks, which would be a nice effect if the lighting was cooperative, which it isn’t.
Pennsylvania’s rifle deer season started on Saturday, so traipsing around in the woods, even if the weather was cooperative, is not the thing to do right now.  I heard a lot of gunfire the first 30 minutes of the season, far less later in the day, and not more than 1-2 shots since then.  The deer are hunkered down, as much from the rain as the hunters.  Most of the hunters I’ve seen are waiting for the weather to improve before resuming their hunts.  My own family hunters reported not seeing a thing even though we routinely see three buck promenade across the grassy boulevard that leads down to our pond our at the farm.
Here on Roundtop, I saw the old doe this morning.  She lives in a narrow band of forest between my cabin and my neighbor’s cabin.  She is used to hearing the squealing of my neighbor’s elementary-aged girls and the barking of my dogs.  When flushed by one or the other of us, she just crosses the lane and finds another spot a few feet away.  I hope she makes it through doe season in another week or two.  I like having her around, though she is an old doe who didn’t produce a fawn this season.  I like watching her.  She is about half-tame, whether from habituation to us or because her age makes her less inclined to bolt like a youngster.  She would be tough-eating for a hunter.  I am torn between wanting her around and thinking that perhaps a quick shot would be kinder than a long and painful decline from age in a harsh winter.