Tuesday, May 26, 2015

chicken worries

Yellow iris along the edge of our farm pond

Here on Roundtop Mountain in Pennsylvania the weather this past Memorial Day weekend was about as perfect as it gets.  It was sunny, not too hot and frequently with a pleasant breeze.  That changes today, when the weather turns mid-summerish—hot and humid, if not yet too hazy.

Somewhat against my better judgment, I let my chickens out this morning. Last night the local red fox barked for half an hour or more, so close that I could see its eyeshine, if at the far edge of that light, in my headlamp.  It was close enough that when I was out with the dogs, they barked at the sound.

I have learned that if I don’t let my chickens out to roam the forest, I won’t come home to any unbroken eggs. They will lay eggs while inside their coop, but they end up broken before the end of the day when I get home.  And being in the coop all day makes them grumpy, too.  The biggest black hen typically gives me an unhappy peck if I don’t let her out.

So last night the fox barked from 9 p.m. until 9:30 or so, though I didn’t hear it the rest of the night. I just hope there’s enough activity from my neighbors and Roundtop people during the day to keep any wandering foxes away from my chickens. And I hope those girls don’t decide to go on one of their expeditions away from my cabin.

Usually, foxes are only really active at night, but this time of year, with the kits investigating life outside the dens, the parents don’t always have a normal schedule.  I’m just hoping that fox family is sleeping this hot, sunny day away.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday morning, late May


Fleabane
At Roundtop, all the summer residents are now in place—the eastern kingbirds have returned to their favorite wires that extend over the grassy ski slopes, the eastern pewee calls from the tree tops.  A willow flycatcher calls, too, though no willows are in sight.  The warblers have mostly moved on, leaving the ovenbirds and wood thrush to carry their lovely summer songs through the forest.

Rainbow after rain

The spring wildflowers are gone, and the summer flowers are just getting started.  It looks as though I can expect a bumper crop of ironweed, also known as wild butterfly weed, this year.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the wild black raspberries.  That plant seems in short supply here this year.  I will have to look elsewhere other than Roundtop for some of those delectables.

My chickens have taken to going on expeditions during the days when they are out in the forest.  One day I came home to find no sign of them.  They wouldn’t come when I called them either, which really set me to worrying. But an hour or so later, they all came marching down the mountain together from someplace.  Yesterday they wandered down to my neighbor’s, as he has a tiny patch of grass they  apparently found irresistible.

I have yet to see any spring fawns, though the deer have largely disappeared, a sure sign the doe have fawns and are keeping them in hiding.  Summer is sneaking in at little at a time, day by day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lovely luna

Luna moth

This morning I found a lovely luna moth as I was out walking in the forest wet from a day of rain.  I think it was not long out of its cocoon, as the tail looks not quite fully unfurled yet.  Lunas emerge from their cocoons in the mornings. I found this one around 6:15 this morning, so I believe it’s just beginning its short seven days of life.

Lunas are common, but because of their short life span, they are not commonly seen.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to study one of these palm-sized moths. I might see one or two a year, and often they are flitting by or otherwise not being photographically cooperative.
This morning’s moth was a wonderful exception.  The little “moon” spots on its wings are the basis for the moth’s name.  But that’s just one of the truly beautiful things about the moth. Notice how the brown top line resembles a twig in both shape and color.  And notice, too, how the wings themselves mimic the shape and the color of the nearby leaves.  How perfect is that?

In this area, the moths produce two generations in a summer.  The first is now, the second will be about 11 weeks later, in mid-August. More northerly lunas will only product one generation a year. Those to the south will produce three.

 I am still trying to decide if this one is a male or a female. The only difference is in the length and width of their antennas.  The male’s antenna are larger and wider, but to my eye the difference is a small one, so I won’t hazard a guess about this one.  I’m just lucky to have found one so cooperative, so I could admire its beauty and share it with you.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

What a difference 3 days makes!


Sunday evening view
What a difference three days makes!  I took the first photo Sunday evening, when I could see my winter view was beginning to disappear, but even I didn’t think it would go this fast.  I probably should have taken a photo on Sunday morning, as the view was still largely unobstructed then, and the difference from morning to evening was striking.

Even so, I didn’t expect my view to disappear entirely in just three days, but it has.  It will be November before I see the neighboring mountain again.

In other news, I have a blue jay nesting in the first trunk split of my favorite beech tree.  The tree is right at the edge of my driveway.  The jay was very cunning about where she places her nest. I can see the twigs on the back side of the nest, but the front of it is hidden by the thickness of the trunk. Only one side of the nest is open to her or vulnerable to attack from neighboring squirrels.  It’s also probably less likely that her babies will fall from the nest, as three sides are blocked by the tree.  Smart mama!

I will take some photos of the nest so you can see it.  Don’t expect to see mama inside that nest.  I only see her when she’s scolding a squirrel or entering the nest.  She’s invisible when she’s in the nest.
Wednesday evening view, same spot, a little closer than Sunday's view

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Spring explodes!


This is the annual “spring is exploding” week at Roundtop.  In 2-3 short days, the forest leaves have gone from tiny leaf buds to fully-formed leaves, if not yet full-grown leaves.  I’ve lost my winter view of Nell’s Hill, which won’t return until November.

I took a photo on Sunday night at sunset where I could tell the view was “going,” but it was still rather nice.  This morning I could only make out where my neighboring mountain is because I know where it is.  I’ll take another photo tonight at sunset and then post both of them so you can see the difference a mere 3 days makes in how the forest looks. It’s amazing how fast the trees leaf out once they get going.

Warblers have arrived, skittering through the treetops around my cabin. So far I haven’t been able to identify many.  I have poor hearing for those high notes, so I can’t identify most of them that way.  And even with my expensive, trusty binoculars, those flitting shapes atop the tallest oaks are either 1) hidden by leaves  2)gone before I see them or3) those little things don’t show up well in poor early-morning light.  Oh, and there’s a 4) too.  I only find the females, which as they prefer more camouflaged coloring, unlike their gaudy mates, the distance and poor lighting doesn’t make them very easy to ID.  But trust me, they are up there.

The wood thrush and ovenbirds are singing away at dawn and dusk—those I can hear!  I’ve heard 3 separate males and probably 2 separate ovenbirds on my little patch of woods.  The forest is a busy place this week.  The first week of May is virtually always the busiest week of the year in these parts. It’s not a time to be indoors!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Spring is here



Spring is here. That is all. Thank you.

Redbud blooming at the bottom of my lane

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nature's Notebook

Redbud starting to appear
Do you know about Nature’s Notebook?  It’s a program of the National Phenology Network where citizen scientists record details about birds, trees, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and moths to help scientists create long-term datasets about changes to populations and timing.  The species the organization is currently tracking are not all inclusive of every species you may see, but it’s a fairly long list. I currently have just under 100 species I’m reporting on, but you can pick as many or as few as you like.

Phenology is the study of when things happen in nature, the seasonal changes that occur every year.  For instance, I know that the leaf fall in my forest is about two weeks later in the year than it was 20 years ago because I keep track of the dates.  Lest you think I’m totally OCD, for years the only television reception I had was a satellite dish that only worked once the leaves fell in the fall.  I knew when to expect to see TV again, and I soon realized it happened a day or two later just about every year.

Tools like e-Bird made it easy to see changes in the arrival and departure dates of bird species I see around my cabin. For Nature’s Notebook, the questions asked about each sighting are more extensive than for those in e-Bird, and the questions vary somewhat with each species. You can submit your sightings online by computer or through an app that’s available for i-Phone and Android users.

The organization has about 50 partnering groups that range from nature centers to student groups and professional organizations. Sponsoring agencies include the National Park Service, The U.S. Geological Service, NASA, NOAA among others.

The only downside I can see is that I haven’t yet figured out if I can enter my data from previous years.  One project I’m participating in is about red oaks.  My observations will note when the first leaf buds appear, the number of them I see, when the first actual leaves appear, when the leaves are full size, when they turn color and when they fall.

Some publications and educator tools are available for free download to help explain particulars and help with botany. They also have tools, some only in a beta version currently, that let you see the arrival of spring, for example, across the U.S.

Anyway, if such things interest you, I invite you to check it out and see if it’s something you would enjoy participating in.