Saturday, April 02, 2016


The trout lilies, aka dog-toothed violets, are blooming just two steps from my bottom step.  It is a large patch, perhaps 7 ft by 5 feet.  It grows a little larger each year and has been in that same spot ever since I’ve lived in the cabin, and who knows how long before that. 
This morning I am blessed in a dry season with a bit of spring drizzle—not much unfortunately. Enough even so to make the birds sing and see the leaves of the smaller forest trees now edged with pale green.  The rue anemone are blooming, too. 

So, it is spring, and it feels like an early spring after one of the warmest Marches ever.  Looking ahead, the first half of April, at least, looks cool.  Perhaps the weather will keep spring at this level for a while.  I would like that for I like this time of year before the oak leaves burst open, before the underbrush makes woods walking difficult.  It’s a bit like November after the leaves have fallen, but warmer.  It’s a time when I can see over to the next mountain, and sounds aren’t yet muffled by the leafy canopy.  I wouldn’t mind if this time of year stayed for a while and didn’t rush into summer or even full spring.  Perhaps it will happen.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Odd and ends

Lichen and bark

I’m still coughing from that dratted, awful cold but mostly I am back to normal.  Here on Roundtop, spring is starting to spring.  I see yellow-rumped warblers fairly regularly.  The American coot that set up shop on the little snowmaking pond is still there. The bird seems healthy and happy, but why it has chosen this little pond to hang out on when bigger ponds and lakes abound isn’t something I understand.
The dog-toothed violets/trout lilies/etc. are just about ready to bloom.  The stalks are up but the flowers aren’t yet out.  I will check the patch later today again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few flowers open before evening.
Except for two days, the entire month of March here has been above average in temperature.  For a while, it looked as though the month would rank in the top five warmest March’s since recordkeeping began.  Those two cooler days were enough to drop the month into the #7 slot.  So far the month is 6.7 degrees warmer than average, which is pretty warm.

At the moment the wind is fierce, following a day of light showers and fog.  With this kind of wind I don’t venture outside very often or too much.  It’s the kind of wind that brings down branches but hopefully not trees.  Still, I feel a lot safer with a roof over my head.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Breaking new ground

Dog-toothed violet or trout lily,--take your pick
I have had the worst cold of my life for going on two weeks.  My sister gave it to me, and I told her during the worst of the cold that if I’d gotten this cold ten years from now it would either kill me or put me in the hospital.  I have now returned to the land of the living, though the cough and some remnants still remain.  No long walks in the forest for me just yet, but I am well enough to wander around my own little acreage.  And that is where I discovered the first leaves in my dog-toothed violet/trout lily patch.
The pretty bi-colored leaves aren’t hard to see, but they can be hidden by fall’s leaves as they are only up by an inch or two at the moment.  It’s a good thing the flowers aren’t out yet.  Tomorrow I will get what is virtually certain to be the last gasp of winter on what will be the first day of spring.  Several inches of wet, heavy snow are predicted, a true “onion” snow, as such things are called in this area.
Other signs of spring are popping up.  Spring is not yet exploding but it’s moving forward, about like when the first kernels of the popcorn start to pop.  The first phoebes arrived a week ago.  I have had an American Coot on the smallest snowmaking pond for a week now.  It shows no signs of leaving.  The ski resort has closed for the season, too.
As I type a local Blue Jay is performing its Red-tailed Hawk call.  It started doing that about 10 days ago and is so pleased with itself that it now calls all over the mountain.  It particularly performs the call just before landing in my bird feeders, perhaps hoping to clear the decks so it can have the feeders to itself.

I am glad this cold has nearly run its course in time for me to enjoy the start of spring, even if I have to shovel to get to the chicken coop one more time. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Could this little snow...

…be the last?  
It’s early, even here in southern Pennsylvania, for the last snow to be on the fourth of March.  However, the next week looks spring-like, and by the time that weather pattern is gone it will be mid-March.  And after mid-March snow becomes fairly unlikely here.  Cold weather can abound in March, but precipitation—not so much.

So I am enjoying this little bit of snow this morning.  It likely won’t last much past lunch time, when the temperature rises above freezing. Despite the 31” blizzard of late January, 2016 brought fewer snow events than is typical. I only recorded 6 days with snow this winter, and half of those were about the depth of this little snow.  Last year was exceptionally snowy with 15 snow events against an average of 8. The snowfall in winter 2015-16 stands (so far) as one below average, though that big blizzard sure tried hard to make up for the lack. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The marcescent leaves of these young American beech trees won't be around too much longer.
This morning I saw the first northbound skein of Canada geese, a long line of about 150 birds, far more than the 30-couple that are resident here on Roundtop.  The lone male red-winged blackbird has now been joined by several fellows.  The boys are settling on territory, arriving earlier than the females, who will decide later which of these singers with red chevrons on their wings has the best spot to build their nests.
With the disappearance of the snow cover, I can once again walk through the forest around Roundtop.  In much of winter I am restricted to plowed roads and pathways.  Even once the snow melts, I avoid the worst of the mud.  I own “Wellies,” which are great at keeping out the mud but not designed for long walks.  Last night saw a mild freeze, which froze the mud long enough for me to take an early morning walk. 

Tomorrow a bit more snow is called for, which means today is the calm before the storm, and a beautiful, calm morning it is—ideal for a walk in the woods. Woodpeckers were busy; a pair of mallards were complaining about something, the bluebirds were singing.  Between them and the blackbirds, the songs nearly qualified as a dawn chorus, a harbinger of spring if ever there was one.  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leaping around

Winter’s snow is nearly gone.  Patches and piles remain, as does ice on the lakes and ponds. 
After a warm day yesterday I really thought the ice on the lakes would be gone. So early this morning I went down to Pinchot Lake and discovered ice still covering it.  The small lagoon has open water and is currently populated by 21 Canada geese, but the waterfowl I’m most interested in seeing don’t like the little lagoon and can only be found on the large lake.  I would not want to try and walk on that ice at this point.
Of the “spring” birds I have so far only seen and heard red-winged blackbirds.  The robins were here all winter, and it became common to see robins foraging beside juncos, which I always find amusing.  Those species can’t be well acquainted with each other in this area as their timing doesn’t usually overlap, as it has this year.
February started out cold, but ended up warm and so ended up being a fairly average month in the temperature department.  I wonder how a leap year affects daily temperature averages.  As today would normally be March 1, do weather people compare a leap day to March 1 or keep it separate from the other days?  Do daily temperatures skew differently in a leap year because of the extra day?  It’s a thought I am pondering this morning on this once in every four year event.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Snow - ice - sleet - rain

For the moment, the forest is snow covered. I say for the moment because I am in the middle of one of those snow/sleet/ice/rain storms that is a staple of southern Pennsylvania winters.   Even for here, this storm is extreme.  Yesterday morning was 4° and today the temperature will be in the 40’s! Yesterday I was dripping the faucets to prevent the water pipes from freezing, and today I am worried about flooding!
The feeder birds are feeding heavily. I still haven’t seen anything unusual here so far this winter, unless you count a sapsucker as unusual, which I don’t.  Not a siskin, not a redpoll, not a purple finch can be found.  The winter finch forecast was not encouraging, but it didn’t sound as though I’d have none of them, just fewer.

So “today’s” photo was actually taken on Sunday, when the snow was still lovely and not icy or water-logged. It may be the last photo of nice-looking snow for a while.  I took the photo from the kitchen of my family’s farmhouse, looking over to South Mountain. I never get tired of this view.  The mountains look different nearly every day of the year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Snow, beautiful snow!

Isn’t it amazing how snow can transform the look of a landscape?  Even though I’ve lived at the cabin for more than 20 years now, the forest around me looks like an entirely different place when it’s covered with snow.  Yes, I know all about the downside of snow—the constant shoveling, the dicey driving, the sore muscles that follow the constant shoveling.  And yet, looking at the forest covered in snow never fails to inspire me.  I wish more of the year was snow-covered.
So far this winter, I’ve had a few days with just a trace of snow—that’s not really enough to make me appreciate it.  Then I had the 31” storm that was nearly melted a week later.  Now, I’ve added another 6-7 inches of snow-cover.  This one is likely to stay on the ground for a while, as temperatures are to plummet for the next 4-5 days. 

Unlike the blizzard, which was as powdery and lightweight as a feather, this was a heavier snow that even in a rather stiff breeze is sticking to the trees, which only adds to the beauty of the winter forest.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Before the rain

I took this snow photo on Tuesday morning, before the clouds rolled in.  At the moment it is raining (!) and raining hard, with fog to boot.  It’s the kind of day for me to stay inside and work around the cabin. I’d say the weather isn’t fit for woman or beast, but the bests don’t mind the heavy, cold, near-freezing raindrops soaking their coats as much as I do.

My plan for the day is to do some housework, peppered with a little cooking and a couple of cups of hot chocolate or flavored coffee.  It’s a ham and bean soup kind of day, too, though any good, hearty, hot soup would do as well. It's a good excuse to spend a few hours watching the feeder birds, too, even if it's only the "usual suspects" that are frequenting them this year.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Out of the blizzard!

I’ve been quite lax recently in keeping up with Roundtop Ruminations, and for that I apologize and will try to do better.  Lately, I’ve been taking photos and posting them on Facebook, mostly due to a lack of time. Feel free to friend me there, if you like (Carolyn Hoffman).  Those photos go up pretty much as soon as I take them, though often with a cellphone, as that is more quickly at hand, especially when I am walking the dogs.
Most of this past week has been spent shoveling 31” of snow that fell during the blizzard of 2016.  With help from Roundtop Mountain Resort, I now have my car dug out in and in my driveway.  Plus, the sibling, sibling-in-law and I have also gotten the farm’s driveway plowed out and dug out, at least as much as it’s going to get done.
The chickens have gotten over the shock of seeing so much snow, but still haven’t found their way clear to lay me any eggs.  I hope that changes soon! I can’t say I blame them, though.
Around the cabin, I’ve been seeing deer and turkey. They have been using the plowed driveways and walk paths for their own travel, as that is much easier than wading through so much snow, though doing so brings them closer to people.  They don’t appear to mind this. Somewhat to my surprise, the Carolina wrens are still around.  After a big snow in 1993 or 1996 they disappeared for several years.  Those little southern birds like to roost and nest under tree roots and similar ground tangles.  In heavy snows they are buried and can suffocate or starve.  But in this snow the birds were out and about the day after the blizzard, so they made it through this time well enough.

My feeders have been busy with birds—nothing rare this winter—though I have had some local birds that don’t normally appear in my feeders show up demanding food. The blue jays have been out in force, as have a pair of crows.  I think this is the first time I’ve had the crows in the bird feeders.  Naturally, these large birds empty the feeders faster than the little ones.  One of my errands today will be replenishing the bird seed.  I am nearly out, and the birds are counting on me!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Feeder birds, 1; weather forecaster, 0

Ominous morning clouds over Pinchot Lake
My feeder birds are better at predicting snow than the local forecasters.  Two days ago I wasn’t supposed to get any precipitation when I noticed the feeder birds chowing down in earnest.  That’s never a good sign.  It’s true they weren’t going at the bird seed like little demons, but the level of feeding was definitely higher than was normal for 10 a.m.  The clouds looked ominous, and snow wasn’t far to the south of me.  Perhaps it was just nearness of that coastal storm that set them off.  But no.
Within an hour, the first snowflakes appeared, and not long after that the snow was heavy enough that I couldn’t see the mountain to the west and before long I couldn’t even see to the bottom of Roundtop.  For an hour or so, the snow was pretty intense before it began to taper off.  The feeder birds do not lie.  They know when it’s going to snow.  They are not fooled.
This winter, I don’t have any exotic or unusual feeder birds, just the usual suspects in roughly the same numbers as is typical.  For me, this means about 5 Carolina chickadees, a pair of Northern Cardinals, 2-3 tufted titmice, a pair of Carolina wrens, another of eastern nuthatch, the ubiquitous downy woodpecker and an array of dark-eyed juncos that never seem to quite understand how feeders work.  They are much more likely to just sit around and watch the other birds eat from the feeders. Eventually, they return to the ground where they join the white-throated sparrows.
 I also have a few infrequent visitors—a pair of house finch and another of American goldfinch, the red-bellied woodpecker and occasionally the hairy woodpecker taps on the tree from which the bird feeders hang.  I have yet to see that one in the bird feeders.  I have no sign of pine siskins, let along the even more rare evening grosbeak or the rarer still, redpoll.

Still, I do not complain as watching these little ones flit in and out never gets old for me.  They teach me a lot about the behaviors of the different species, and, as weather forecasters go, they can’t be beat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Snow finally arrives

Finally, Roundtop sees a measurable snow, if barely.  The snow blew through at dusk yesterday, accompanied by a vicious wind that made me glad I was inside the cabin in front of the fireplace.  Today, the wind is abating and no longer howls, but at 12 degrees, it doesn’t take much wind to feel bitter cold.
Today, all the birds are feeding heavily, emptying several of my feeders before noon.  And that’s without help from the chickens, who remained in their coop, unwilling to emerge, until after noon.  The wild birds don’t have that option, of course.  The number of them at the feeders today is causing an unusual amount of disagreements.  The white-breasted nuthatch don’t like each other and when they are not feeding, they are trying to chase each other away.  The juncos have something against both the titmice and chickadees and will force both of those species from the platform.  They simply don’t want to share.  For the first time I’ve had 5 Carolina chickadees at the feeders at the same time.  Until today I thought I only had 4 regular visitors. 

Oddly, even in this cold I’ve seen a few robins this morning, though one was sitting in the middle of the road as I drove off the mountain and only flew reluctantly.  Still, their cousins, the eastern bluebirds were singing this morning, so they are apparently getting by well enough.  It does, finally, feel (very much so) like winter, but after the warmth in December, it’s well past time for the season to appear in earnest.

Friday, January 08, 2016

How long will it last?

This photo was taken on December 23, and I’m posting it for one reason only.  This tree looks as though it will fall before long, and I wanted to document how long it would be before that happened.  I’m not sure when this tree began to lean so precipitously, but it hasn’t been that long.
 I walk by this spot every day with the dogs, and I do try to make a habit of noticing things.  I might have missed seeing it lean for a few days, as I couldn’t see this far into the forest due to heavy fog or because I was walking when it was still mostly dark, but I doubt I missed it for longer than that.  Even now, I’m not so sure that the only things keeping it from falling aren’t the medium-sized boulders at its base.  And no, I probably won’t get much closer than this to investigate.

The tree is leaning from south to north, so a southerly wind might well do it in, though southerly winds are mostly blocked at this spot by the mountain that rises behind the tree.  Still, it won’t take much to bring it down—a moderate ice storm, a heavier rain, perhaps even a heavy snow.  I just want to see how long it takes between when I took the photo and when the tree actually falls.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Re-learning how to do winter

Ahh, the never ending fog has finally cleared, leaving chilly winter days and bright blue skies.  I love winter’s light near sunset here on the mountain.  Everything turns a lovely, warm golden shade, one last warmth of the sun before night’s fall.
I have discovered after the never-ending autumn that I am out of practice for my winter routine.  I have to remember to change the chicken’s water twice a day, leaving the frozen container to thaw in my bathtub.  I try giving the chickens extra straw for warmth, but they usually end up kicking it out of their coop.  I’ve never understood why. 
I spent an awful amount of time looking for my winter gloves and my boot cleats.  Fall lasted through the end of December this year, unlike last year when winter kicked in by mid-November.  One thing I’ve always enjoyed about living in Pennsylvania is that I could say it has four distinct seasons, usually evenly split.  Not this year, not unless winter lasts into April, which seems unlikely, if not impossible.
My bird feeders are seeing more action, finally.  I have yet to see any unusual species this winter, but even now I’m still hearing migrating geese and have yet to see many waterfowl.  The birds that summer in the north have been as slow to head south as I have been to remember what needs to be done during my winter days. I hope we all get it right before long.