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.