Monday, November 17, 2014

Cold and damp



I was almost late to work today, and for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out why.  I got up at the right time.  I didn’t do anything extra or unusual that added minutes to my pre-work routine.  Finally, I figured out what it was. The morning was so foggy that although the dogs and I walked our usual morning route, that walk took longer than usual.  Even with the headlamp I could barely see. I walked off the edge of the road a time or two and kind of wobbled from side to side along the woods road we usually follow, slowly careening from one side to the other.  I must have looked like the proverbial drunken sailor.

Rain fell heavily this morning. My mountain was a mere 2 degrees from having the precipitation be something other than rain.  For this weather event, Roundtop is on the warm side of the storm.   However, once the rain ends the temperature will plummet, possibly into record-setting range.  The high tomorrow should not break freezing and the night will be down in the teens, with a strong wind blowing—that’s almost January weather!
So this weekend I moved the chicken pen into winter quarters, which means it is now next to the cabin and partially sheltered by it.  Last year I waited too long and the coop spent the winter exposed to the elements as it had frozen to the ground. This year, with my chickens a year older and my rooster now nearly elderly, I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Perhaps it’s the ugly weather that has one of the local opossums out and about most evenings.  I’ve had my bird feeders up for weeks now, but it’s only been this weekend that he or she found it.  And speaking of bird feeders, folks in northern PA are reporting evening grosbeaks again.  I hope a few of those manage to find their way this far south. It’s been years since I’ve had them at my feeders.

Friday, November 14, 2014

First snow!


Last evening brought the first snow of the fall. It started as drizzle in the late afternoon, moved into sleet for a few minutes and ended as snow. Most of it melted as soon as it touched the ground, but this morning a few protected spots still had a few spots of it.

Snow on the chicken coop
Today the temperature is much colder and much windier, a sure sign that winter is approaching. This weekend I will move the chicken pen next to the cabin and turn the heat on. I am past the point where just the fireplace will do. 

Still, I love this cooler air and chilly nights. Summer just feels too easy to me. Late fall has an urgency to it that the summer months, with their endless warms days, just can’t match.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leaves up and down

Virtually all the leaves are down now, though here and there I run across one that hasn’t dropped its leaves yet. Most of those show brown, crinkled leaves, but a few, like the maple in today’s photo, are still brilliant with color.

I suppose it’s too soon to identify which trees will have marcescent leaves through the winter and which simply haven’t dropped their leaves yet.  Marcescence is the term for trees that hold their leaves all winter, often until the new spring buds push the last of the old leaves off.  Some trees are notorious for marcescence—the American beech is one and oaks are another, both of which surround my cabin. Often, it’s the younger and smaller trees that are marcescent.   And frequently, it’s the lower branches only that retain leaves.
One theory (marcescence has many theories) is that retaining leaves helps protect the smaller branches from being eaten by deer and so helps a young tree retain its both branches and its health.  The idea here is that the leaves make it difficult for deer to nip the twigs. The dried leaves are less nutritious and even make their twigs less so.   Another theory is that oaks and beech trees have not fully mastered being deciduous yet and that marcescence is some evolutionary in-between stage.   Another theory is that marcescence helps smaller understory trees better retain and recycle their nutrients, keeping those goodies to themselves, which could be especially important to small trees with their smaller root systems.    
One thing about marcesence that is not theoretical is that the leaves provide shelter for birds in winter, helping to protect them from the wind.  That’s a result of marcescence, not a cause of course, though clearly the birds know how to take advantage of it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still busy...and noisy, too


This morning at 4:30 a.m. the sound of several great horned owls calling right outside the cabin woke up the dogs, who began to bark, which woke me up. Sparrow also decided she needed to go out, now that she was awake.  So I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my headlamp, and we went outside.
The owls, three of them, were all very close.  The two females were the closest, the male a bit further away.  The one female was very close and had to be in my front forest, just a tree or two from the edge. With the headlamp I scanned every tree I could see but never caught her eyeshine.
The nearby hooting spooked Sparrow, who started barking and running around trying to find the something she was barking out.  Sometimes a particularly loud hooting sent her in the opposite direction, trying to get away from the sound she couldn’t find.
Needless to say that was the end of my sleep last night.  I rather hope tonight is quieter.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Busy night



Last night the forest fauna were out in force. I suspect they knew that today would be rainy, so they were taking advantage of the evening before the bad weather to look for prey. They are all probably hunkered down in whatever den or hole they call home, waiting for the rain to end before venturing out again.
Here’s a list of what I saw (or heard)
  1. 4-5 deer within a few feet of the cabin. They ignore me, even when I am walking one of the dogs. Last night Skye and I watched them as they foraged their away across the driveway, up the lane and eventually into the forest. Obviously, neither me nor the dog are worthy of their attention.
  2. A medium-sized opossum scrambled up a small tree at the edge of the cabin. When I came outside 15-20 minutes later it was at the bottom of the tree playing possum. The dogs never saw it or smelled it, even though we got close.
  3. A fox barked in the distance. That’s the first one I’ve heard in months. I saw a fox on the other side of the mountain, down at the bottom of the mountain on Monday night. That one was crossing the road ahead of me as I drove by. That spot is more than a mile away from where I stood when I heard this one bark. However, this bark came from that direction, and the fox doing the barking was likely on the far side of Roundtop, making it at least half a mile closer to where I saw the Monday night fox. It may not have been the same fox, but it could easily have been its mate.
  4. A screech owl shrlled (and I called back) very close to the cabin. Its location meant the great horned owls were elsewhere. The big owls prey on the little ones and I never hear the one while the other is near. I tried to find it with my headlamp, but it stayed well hidden.
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      1. Tuesday, November 04, 2014

        Falling



        Leaves are falling constantly.  Sometimes they fall one by one, sometimes they fall in a papery shower.  At least half are down now, which means I can begin to see the mountain a mile or so to my west again.  The mountain is not completely revealed, but I don’t need to know where it is to see it anymore.
        Wind and cold temperatures from a nor’easter are gone now, so the mountain has returned to more seasonal levels.  I was forced to use my fireplace when the wind was blowing. My cabin stays warm enough with a little help from sunlight, but the wind stripped away any of the day’s heat.  Even so, the cats cuddle on my bed like another blanket—warmer than most of the real blankets currently covering my bed. 
        The chickens don’t seem to mind the current weather, but the shortened hours of daylight brings ever fewer eggs for me. I’ve already had to stop selling the eggs, as I’ve dropped from 3 dozen a week to no more than a dozen now.  I hope I will get enough over the winter to keep me in eggs, but sometimes the girls stop laying all together.  That’s especially true if the winter is a gloomy one.  It will likely be late February or even March before egg production resumes on anything like a normal level again. My hens are now more than 2 years old, too, and even in spring their production will likely be less.  Doodle, my rooster, is probably going to be 5 years old, and I’m guessing it won’t be too long before I will need another rooster.  He’s very protective and more than earns his keep.

        Thursday, October 30, 2014

        Waiting for Halloween and juncos


        I’m calling today’s photo my Halloween picture.  The colors are Halloween-ish, and the trees that are bare are like gnarled hands reaching towards the sky.  The weather is appropriately like Halloween, too. Clouds of all colors between white and gray race across the sky, accompanied by a blustery wind. It’s the kind of weather that brings the Rough-legged Hawks and Golden Eagles south.

        Oddly, though, I have yet to see a junco.  For a while I blamed this on a busy schedule, the late dawn and early sunset. I don’t think that’s the entire story. I’ve been as diligent as I ever am in awaiting the arrival of these northern snowbirds, and I haven’t seen any yet.  I am hoping the ever-dropping temperature that’s a result of the latest cold front will bring them.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone into November without finding them. 

        A few times, I thought perhaps I had seen one, with their familiar white outer tail feathers, but when I got closer or got a better look, either the birds had vanished or it had turned out to be a trick of the light.  So I remain junco-less here on the mountain for today.  I still have one more day to find them before Halloween arrives and October ends.