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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there are some new trees growing. A downy serviceberry and a flowering plum are trying to take root so we can enjoy their blooms and fruit in the future. They are not the only things growing. Carrots have been planted. We have already been eating lettuce, arugula, onions, chives, thyme, parsley, and oregano. My mouth is watering just to think of what else we will pull out of the ground later this year. Today, there is a chicken in the smoker. My mouth waters as I walk past to get a whiff.

The garden is coming along. Daryl came up on a Mahindra and leveled the spot. He did an excellent job but my friend Roger mentioned that a John Deere might have made it even more level. There were a surprising number of rocks that came out of the space and they are now stacked alongside the site in a way that resembles a wall.

The trail cam continues to be busy. The old visitors are back. New visitors include wild turkeys and a coyote (who appears pregnant). No bears yet on camera but they are leaving evidence of their presence. Scat full of sunflower seeds suggests that someone is hanging their bird feeders too low. Black Capped Chickadees have taken up residence in a nest box. The field guide describes their nest as a cup shaped nest using moss and coarse materials for a foundation and lined with softer material like fur. In this case, it appears to be the fur of a German Shepherd named Duke.

It is an overcast day and a host of birds are singing. A host of others are feasting at the feeders. Goldfinches are already starting to get that brilliant color they will show off later in the summer. A Pileated Woodpecker flew into the yard. Other birds are investigating empty bird boxes. Dad would have said they were negotiating the lease. But it is birds we can’t see that are causing the greatest commotion. Barred Owls are singing. It sounds like a riot is taking place just beyond the treeline. Not really singing, this has a name – caterwauling. The courtship ritual is a medley of dueling cackles and hoots and caws and gurgles. The best way I can describe it is – a ruckus. For at least one afternoon, here between Jacks and Shade Mountain, we listen to a wild soundtrack.

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Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there is a property at the end of a cul de sac that recently had an address change. This isn’t your typical circle at the end of a paved street with suburban surroundings. This is one of those places at the end of a lane where a turn a round was created by cars circling through the grass. It can’t be seen from the road due to the distance but also because there is a significant amount of timber blocking the view from the road.

Much of today’s timber is managed in order to get a quick return. Back here, there is old growth and mature hardwoods. Just the kind of place where cavity nesters might want to live. A number of cavity nesters reside back here. There are Mice, Red Squirrels, and Northern Flying Squirrels. Gray Squirrels who are skilled at making their own nests will reside in cavities. Tree Swallows, Black Capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, White Breasted Nuthatches, as well as various wrens and swallows.

To increase the odds, we have been installing nesting boxes for cavity nesters. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and we have several boxes ready for guests. Considering the time of year, we should be seeing potential tenants anytime now. Screech Owls are cavity nesters. Keith, Joe, and I hung a box last weekend hoping it will be a future home for these raptors who feast on a lot of critters including mice and insects. I am hoping that mosquitoes become their favorite.

We have been catching a raccoon on trail cam in recent weeks. Perhaps we should put the trail cam in the vicinity of the boxes to see who might be checking things out. Onions are planted and there is a rectangular area painted in the yard where a raised garden is going to be. (While painting the area it felt like I was lining a soccer field). The neighbor, Daryl, has agreed to bring his tractor over and level the proposed site.

Ice continues to cover much of the small vernal pools. Soon, maybe this week, these pools will be full of frog song. I did find two Wood Ducks enjoying the small thawed portion of one of these pools. That reminds me, Wood Ducks are cavity nesters. Maybe it’s time to hang another box.

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Birds of Spring

“Oh remember my darling
When spring is in the air
And the bald headed birds
Are whisp’ring ev’rywhere
You can see them walking
Southward in their dirty underwear
That’s Tennessee Bird walk.”

 Why doesn’t anyone sing that one anymore? Anyway, it is spring. We know this because of the birds. And its not because of the robins. Let’s stop spreading the myth that robins are the first sign of spring and start singing “Tennessee Bird Walk” again.

 It is true, the equinox has occurred and that officially welcomes spring on our calendar. What that really means is that the days will start lasting longer than the nights. It is true, the Full Worm Moon was last night and the morning rain will further soften the ground so the worms will start to emerge (that oughta bring the spring birds out).

 But the fact is, the signs of spring have been around for a while. One day, I am in a tree above the Conodoguinet and watch three Common Mergansers float by (true migrators, unlike robins). Mergansers are divers and it is fun to watch them go under and try to guess where they’ll come back up. From the same tree I hear a familiar song and find a bluebird, then another, and another. (Not migrators, but I hope this activity suggests they are males out looking for a spring nesting site).

 On this same hike, I find a giant sycamore, splotched with patches of grayish brown and white. Sycamore bark lacks elasticity, does not grow with the tree and instead peels revealing its white underneath. (Kind of like showing its underwear. I have mentioned underwear twice in the same blog post, don’t tell my mom). Anyway, in this tree was a large nest and in this nest was a large bird with a white head. Why have I not known this Bald Eagle was here before now?

 Another day, I hear a commotion caused by a Belted Kingfisher. I love these birds and am drawn to the raucous. He is hovering in mid air and obviously upset. Then I notice a harrier perched nearby. I don’t know if the harrier was in his spot or if the kingfisher just doesn’t like harriers. I watched for a while, admiring the attitude of the kingfisher who was obviously overmatched in this duel.

 And then, this week I was walking around the lake when I mistakenly got too close to a pair of Canada Geese. The gander stepped toward me and hissed. That is a sure sign of spring.

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I heard an Oriole today. It puzzles me that I can hear him so close and still it takes me so long to find him. Finally, I am caught off guard with that splash of bright color on the edge of the forest.

Its been that kind of day. A day that the sky shows a lot of blue. A day that leaves you thinking spring is a pretty good time of year. A brisk walk feels comfortable. If you pick up the pace at all, you begin to sweat.

The dogwoods are in bloom. So are the redbuds. Most everything else is turning green. It’s the kind of day that spice bush is the dominant smell in the forest. The kind of day you can find plenty of fiddleheads and an occasional morel. There is plenty of dandelion also but it has already turned bitter.

Critters enjoy these days as well. It’s the kind of day you might spot an eagle flying overhead (I did). It’s the kind of day you might get too close to a pair of geese raising young. The kind of day the gander might step aggressively in your direction and let out an evil hiss (did I just quote Charlie Daniels).

Its the kind of day a Carolina Wren is trying to prove he can deliver more decibels per ounce than any of the other birds. It’s the kind of day to find one of the largest bullfrogs I have ever seen. I can remember when it didn’t seem like it counted unless I caught it. For some reason, I am now content just to find him. It’s the kind of day it seems a bumblebee is following wherever I go. I would like to find a honeybee and follow him back to his honey hive.

Did I mention that I heard an Oriole? I have started thinking about an Oriole feeder. I wonder if I can make it possible to see these colors more often? And then, you turn on the radio and hear Bono’s voice against the instruments of Larry, Adam, and Edge… “It’s a beautiful day… don’t let it get away…” Yes it is, it’s that kind of day.

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I just heard a chorus frog. They are identifiable because they make a sound that may remind you of the noise you hear when you drag your thumb across the teeth of a comb. They are not the only singers I hear tonight. More often I am hearing wood frogs. Their song may remind you of a quack. Behind me are two barred owls creating a ruckus. But by far the dominant songs tonight are from spring peepers. How can such a loud sound come from such a small creature? It is a miracle that anything else can be heard at all.

I am on South Mountain, strangely named since it is the northernmost mountain of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. It is a cool night, I can see my breath. There is a clear sky, the spring stars have a soundtrack. Or these songs come with a light show. Either way, this is quite a concert.

Last week I was traveling. My route took me through and around the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains get their name because they look blue from a distance due to the isoprene released in the atmosphere by broadleaf trees. (Look at me using the language of organic chemistry). I followed these mountains north. The weather was warm. The windows were down. The radio was on. And I sang loudly. I am sure the mountains could hear me. Sometimes I was Don Henley, sometimes Willie Nelson, sometimes Tom Petty. I was Robert Plant, Dave Grohl, and Charlie Daniels. I am pretty sure I was Taylor Swift a couple of times and at least once I was Debby Harry. That’s right. Call me… Anytime.

The Blue Ridge Mountains begin in Georgia, peak in North Carolina, and travel north into Pennsylvania. And tonight on their northernmost ridge, the mountains sing to me. Perhaps to repay the favor. Perhaps to show me how it is really done. But I am glad to be on the receiving end of this song.

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Already this year we watched the borough bloom with magnolia, pear, and cherry blossoms.  With forsythia and hyacinth and daffodil.  We watched as those gave way to redbud and dogwood and tulips.  As the ground temperature has warmed, lettuce, beets, and onions have started to shoot above ground in the garden out back.  So far, the rabbits have enjoyed them most.

I will continue to keep watch on the garden, however I also have an interest in what lies on the forest floor.  As the ground warms, green undergrowth has started to emerge from underneath the browns.  While walking among the poplars I taste dandelion, spice bush, and wild mountain mint.  But those are not the things I am looking for.  I am stalking morchella, the common morel.

These spring delicacies are not your grocery store mushroom.  Gather a bunch, slice them lengthwise, and refrigerate them in salt water.  Roll them in your favorite batter, sauté them in butter and you will be looking for more.  Give one to someone else and they will do anything you want for another.  Having finished a small batch last night, I am getting a little anxious to find some more.  They taste like spring to me.

Last year I found my first one April seventh.  This year, things have been a little slower due to the cooler weather.  But finding morels is about more than the weather.  The weather may put you there at the right time but it is also important to be in the right place.  So, it is best to start by looking for trees that mushrooms seem to hang out with.  If you find potential territory, stake out a perimeter like a crime scene investigator.  Search it thoroughly.  Look closely.  And when you think you have looked enough – look again.

One Saturday last year I was mushroom hunting.  My sunglasses were on top of my hat when I walked into the woods.  When I got back to the car they were not.  While retracing my steps, I noticed my boot lace had become untied.  When I knelt to tie my boot, there was a morel.  A pretty good reminder that it is always a good idea to have another look.

There are other reasons to pay close attention.  Warmer days may bring out mushrooms, they also bring out the Northern Copperhead.  A pit viper whose coloration happens to match the dominant colors of the forest floor perfectly.  It is not unusual to cross paths with a Timber Rattlesnake.  But, though we are told that they are more abundant than rattlesnakes, I do not see many copperheads up here.  I am willing to bet that they have seen me.  It is true that some activities seem to be safe enough – but one never knows what else lurks in cover.

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It is good time to take fishing gear out and walk along a mountain stream looking for promising pools to cast bait for native brook trout.  The stream does not have large fish.  But they have great color and they are fighters.  One day, I find a large paw print in the soft creek bank.  The size and the five visible toes reveal that it is a bear.  We are told they want to avoid humans, however there have been two reported attacks in the county in the past four years.  Whether they wish to avoid or attack, the fact that they run faster, climb faster, and swim faster than I can keeps me on the lookout.  Not to mention that their claws are sharper and their teeth bigger.  I wonder when it came through and if it saw me.  If so I wonder if it considered taking my fish.

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