Saturday, May 31, 2008

Weird weather

Weird day here at the Aerie. The weather quacks put the odds of rain at between 70 and 90% in last nights forecast so Terry and I opted to "sleep in" this morning rather than head to Hills Creek State Park for our regular Saturday morning bird walk. Gary lives nearer and leads most of the walks so we would be participants only. (We actually didn't sleep in much. We both got up at 6:45 AM even though Chester didn't "rour?" at the door.)

Coming down stairs and looking across the valley it sure looked like it was raining--over there to the northwest. Not here, however. The Aerie was bone dry although you could smell moisture in the air. And that's pretty much the way things stayed all morning. It looked like it was raining to the north. It looked like it was raining to the west. It looked like it was raining to the southwest. But at the Aerie? Bupkis. Nada. Nil. Zip. Nothing. (Except for a bout 20 raindrops that fell when I drove about 3 miles northwest to get the mail. And most of them fell on the truck when I was at the post office.)

After lunch, the sky even cleared completely and was a brilliant blue with only a few cumulus clouds. But that didn't last. Terry and I pulled some boxes of books out of the attic and out of the garage and out of the basement and started filling the bookshelves in the basement. We also set some books aside for the library book sale that's coming up. We emptied a dozen or more boxes of SciFi and Fantasy and Mystery and nonfiction books. There are maybe just as many boxes left but only a few are actually books. Some are office supplies and many, many are magazines (I will not throw away a woodworking or cooking or gardening magazine that I might find a plan or recipe in. Terry's the same way with her stitching and beading mags--but she emptied her boxes into her "sewing room" months ago.

All this was done while I watched the Mets against the Dodgers. (Mets pulled it out with a double, homerun and a couple of singles scoring 3 runs in the 8th inning to win 3-2.) Outside, things had gotten dicey again. The wind had picked up and was swirling around. A severe thunderstorm warning (with possibilities of 3/4 inch hail!) flashed across the screen and the sky to the north grew ominously dark. You could see rain falling across the valley to the north. You could see rain to the northwest. You could here the occasional rumble of thunder to the southwest. But there was still no rain here at the Aerie.

Shortly after 6 PM the sky started to clear and the temperature dropped. The sun was shinning as it began to sink lower int he northwest but there were still some dark clouds overhead. And sure enough, NOW it began to rain. With the sun shinning brightly. But it didn't last long or even soak the ground with much moisture. Waht landed seemed to evaporate within moments.

And now the sky is clear again and there's a slight, cool breeze causing the tree leaves to quake and rattle. Some might say we dodged the bullet, but we haven't had a real rain for over a week despite the forecasters' best attempts to create one. We could sure use a little rain even if it means the clay road will be slicker than a card shark on a riverboat and the cars will end up looking like wallowing hogs.

The weather quacks are still calling from some scattered thunderstorms tonight. If we don't get any, I'll be watering the plants tomorrow morning while Terry goes off to church.

Friday, May 30, 2008


Terry planted some pansies and geraniums in the boxes on the deck a couple of weeks ago. They have been making some slow progress because of the chilly nights and pretty stiff winds that dry them out. Still, they are growing. One box has blue pansies with a red geranium and the other has what I’d call maroon velvet pansies and the red geranium. The pansies are really pretty.
Blue pansy

Blue pansy

Maroon velvet pansy

Maroon velvet pansy

Stair progress at the Aerie

My semi-holiday is over. I went back to work on the steps this morning and got them all carved out and braced with rebar. I worked from 8 AM until 2 PM when a slight spritz of rain drops told me I had done enough for today. I still have six bags of fine gravel to put in the steps to give something besides muddy clay to walk on but I figure I’ll let Mother Nature wash things tonight and tomorrow (weather quacks say we are to get around ¾ of an inch of rain) and put the gravel in place on Sunday when things are supposed to dry off again.

I ran out of the 27 inch long 6 x 6 I was using and had to go to the shorter leftover cuts for one step and used a stone that was almost a perfect match of the 6 x 6 for another step and a large flag stone for the final step at the top. There’s still a small slope to the top step but I can probably round up another large flat stone to take care of that. There are a couple of likely looking outcrops in the woods I can “mine” for flatties.

Why am I spending so much energy building these steps? There are two good reasons. First, as it is now, to get to the basement from the deck you would either have to go through the house, walk down that steep slope (4 foot drop in 12 foot run), or walk far out to where the slope peters out and circle back to the basement. The steps will shorten that route considerably. The second reason is what happened to my Dad back in the 70’s. He went out in the back yard of our home in Oakland one day when it was covered with about 2 inches of snow. He slipped on the slope. His heel caught under him and he tore the ligaments in his knee. No one else was home so he had to crawl up the steps on his own and call for an ambulance. I’ve had two back surgeries, a knee surgery and have a problem ankle. I’ve already slipped on the slope a couple of times. I do not want to have it happen to me or Terry.

Steps from the bottom up

The lower 6 steps are formed from 6x6 held in place with rebar. All but the top one of the 6 is 27 inches long.

Steps from the top down

A large flagstone forms the top step. The next step down is also formed from stone with a perfectly flat front and top. It's almost a match for the 6x6 used on the rest of the steps.

Some of the stone...

Some of the stone taken out of the steps. This pile of stone is part of what was found in the area dug out for the steps. Much more went in the wheelbarrow and got dumped across the yard in a hollow. (The pieces of rebar on the right are 16 inches long.)

Bags of fine gravel

This red gravel will be put down on the top surface of each step to a depth of 1 or 2 inches and then I'll pack it in place.

The hardest task today was pounding the rebar stakes into the ground to hold the 6x6s in place. (Without the rebar, the steps would tend to roll if you put your weight on the front edge or they could shimmy out. In either case the step would be no better than the slope and, perhaps, even more dangerous.) I used ½ inch rebar cut to 16 and 18 inch lengths and a 5 pound hand sledge to drive them into the ground. About half the time I would hit a stone beneath the surface. About half of those stones gave way with a half dozen whacks with the sledge. But half of them didn’t. After pounding on one rebar stake 10 or 12 times without it making any progress, I would move it a couple of inches left or right and try again. Usually that was all it took. But one piece was stubborn and it took me nearly 15 minutes and three relocations before I finally got the damn thing pounded down below the edge of the 6x6. Another was even more obstinate and I finally had to give up. Luckily, it’s the bottommost step and it’s wedged in pretty tightly from the sides.

With all the pounding with the sledge and lifting and dropping the 16 pound pry bar, my arms got to quivering by the time I was ready to call it quits for the day. They’re tighter than a drum even as I type and I feel like I’ve developed Popeye arms. Just don’t ask me to lift anything heavier than a beer can or a glass of Scotch until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A beautiful day at the Aerie

We had a beautiful day today. Getting up at 6 AM to go get breakfast a McD's before we went birding. The temp at the Aerie was a comfortable 43 degrees but as we got down to the bottom of the valley, those digits were reversed to 34 and there was signs of frost on the lawns. (Gary, our bird watching friend who lives over near Hills Creek State Park, reported he had a thin layer of ice on his bird bath!)

We climbed out of the valley on the north side to reach the Fire Tower and the temperatures rose again to around 45 degrees. I guess the old adage of cold air sinking was proven correct.Of course, if there had been any breeze blowing, all the mixing would have prevented the frosts in the valley.

We enjoyed our morning of bird watching and socializing with the others in our group, but came away from the morning of peering into the tree tops with stiff necks and aching backs. I, therefore, declared a semi-holiday on the step work. By "semi-holiday" I mean that I didn't do more than pick up the gravel and rebar I will need to finish the job (after I carve out two more steps) tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, tonight sounds like it's going to be a repeat of last night with the temperatures falling to the low 30's, no cloud cover and virtually no breeze. Should be good sleeping weather but those folks who may have put in their garden down in the valley had better go cover their plants. The National Weather Service out of State College has issued another frost warning for north-central PA:


Perhaps tomorrow I'll get to sleep in if Chester's stomach doesn't cause the alarm to go off. At any rate, I don't have to get up at 6 AM to go across the county. And if it stays cool, I'll be pretty comfortable working on the steps.

Y'all stay warm now, y'hear.

Thursday morning Birding

Birding this morning took us to the old fire tower northwest of Mansfield. The tower is gone and it’s been replaced with a microwave tower. The area itself is part of the state game lands—number 37, I believe. The parking area and the small lop we made is at the very top of the hill and there are open grass fields and food plots, some spruce, lots of honey-suckle hedgerow and second growth oak forest—some of which has been thinned considerable. The Mid-State Trail runs through here and we walked a portion of it. There are also many grass firebreaks and access trails that you can wonder. The road up twists and turns and by the time you’re at the parking lot you can easily lose your sense of direction.

We had our largest group in quite some time with a total of nine people. There was almost as much socializing as there was bird watching. Even so, we came away with a list of two dozen species. There were many American Redstarts singing high in the oaks and an equally large number of Chestnut-sided warblers. The oaks are in full leaf and have their tassels of flowers drooping from each leaf cluster. That brings out the inch worms and the warblers to feed on them. The difficulty for me is trying to distinguish the songs of the two species. The Redstart song can vary from location to location and the ones we heard today sounded almost exactly like the Chestnut-sided Warbler. Bob R., who has an excellent ear, had no difficulty telling them apart and IDed the Redstart immediately after he got out of his car in the parking lot. (I had thought it was a Chestnut.) As the walk moved on, Bob tried to point out the differences in the song. The Redstart song was shorter and ended on a down note. The Chestnut’s song was a little longer and ended on the up slide. I’ll have to take his word for it.

There were also many Red-eyed Vireos. These rather plain looking birds can be difficult to spot high up in the trees but sing a rather recognizable song that just entices you to keep on looking. After craning our necks and twisting our backs into pretzels, we had one Red-eye come right down to eye level in the shrubs not 10 feet in front of us. It’s most unusual to have a vireo come down that close to the ground.

By the same token, we spotted a male Eastern Towhee 40 or 50 feet up near the top of an oak tree singing his heart out. The towhee seldom gets more than a few feet off the ground. We had heard several in the shrubs and underbrush with nary a glance, yet this guy was way up there and right out in the sunlight where we couldn’t miss him.

Anyway, here is my official list for today:

Location: Fire Tower
Observation date: 5/29/08
Notes: Cool (45-55 degree), clear morning with little breeze.
Number of species: 24

Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker X
Northern Flicker X
Eastern Wood-Pewee X
Red-eyed Vireo X
Tree Swallow X
Black-capped Chickadee X
White-breasted Nuthatch X
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Brown Thrasher X
Yellow Warbler X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Black-throated Blue Warbler X
Black-throated Green Warbler X
Black-and-white Warbler X
American Redstart X
Ovenbird X
Common Yellowthroat X
Eastern Towhee X
Chipping Sparrow X
Song Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Red-winged Blackbird X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Was the Captain's name Franklin?

What’s so funny about an icebreaker getting stuck in the Arctic ice? Why, it wasn’t just any icebreaker it was an eco-tour to the Northwest Passage to view first and the vanishing Arctic sea ice. They were stuck in the ice for several days. Ice that wasn’t supposed to be that thick. If it was there at all.

You can’t make this stuff up!

(h/t to TigerHawk )

The reference to Franklin can be found here: Franklin's lost expedition

Working on the earth steps

I went to work this morning on the steps on the slope in front of the covered porch. I had hoped to get them all dug out today but that just didn’t happen. Have I mentioned that we have a yard that’s basically clay and shale/slate fill? And that it can be wicked hard to dig a hole in this mixture? Well, it is.

First the work area:

The slope

There's a 4 foot drop in about a 12 foot run from the top of the slope on the right to the bottom on the left. If you look carefully you can see a yellow string that I ran from the top of the slope to the metal rebar rod in front of the wheelbarrow. The string is level.

The job:

The steps

The plan was to start at the bottom and cut out a wedge that was just over 8” deep (high?) on the upslope end and perfectly level on the bottom. I have several pieces of pressure treated 6” x 6” left over from the deck construction. Each is 27” long and will serve as the front for the steps. I need to get some rebar cut to 18 inches to drive into the earth in front of the step to hold it in place and some gravel for the surface of the step. (The top most step will be a 2-3” thick flagstone I've had my eye on for just such a use.)

The tools:

The tools

Here's a view of the tools with which I've been working. The long metal pry bar weighs in at 16 pounds and can get most of the stones out of the soil...if I can find the edge of the stone. You are supposed to simply lift the tool and let the weight of the iron do the work. Right. You can also swing the thing like a battering ram from the hip and gouge out the rocks and loosen the soil that way. Both techniques (all three if you count lifting the bar and smashing it chisel point first into a particularly stubborn rock) are hell on your arms and back after a time.

The wood step is 6” high by 27” long. The ground is fill consisting of mostly shale/slate and clay. There are a lot of rocks. A. Lot. Of. Rocks. Each step rises 6” and the earth/stones must be removed to make the flat surface. Each steps run will be slightly different depending upon the actual slope and any immovable stone.

I removed at least two wheelbarrows full of stone and clay for each step that I put in today. And I managed to put in four with two to go.

Tomorrow morning I’m going bird watching. The stones and clay will be there when I get back after lunch. Besides, I’ve got to buy some rebar and some gravel for the steps.

This is definitely giving me an appreciation of the early road builders who had little more than a mule and a broad back to carve many of the roads that crossed these mountains. (Although I'm pretty sure they may have applied some black powder in a judicious manner. Mmmm, I've got a pound or so of the stuff in the locker. I wonder....)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Another busy day at the Aerie

Sleeping was a bit better last night although I still woke up at 1 AM...and 4 AM...and 6:30 AM. I finally got up at 6:30 AM because Chester was making a racket.

I spent the day doing some yard work. First I gathered up some pea gravel to create a smooth bed at the bottom of the front steps. On top of that bed of tiny gravel particles I placed a flat flagstone that is about 18" wide and 36" long but only 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick (that's why the pea gravel bed. There's less chance of it cracking with the finer stone beneath it.) Then I started shoveling more dirt and broadcasting it around the lawn. I worked until 4 PM when suddenly the blackflies went crazy. They had been nibbling on me all day but as the temperatures cooled after a front moved through, you would think I was the only supply of food for miles around. I surrendered and went inside.

I've still got some dirt left and will use it to level the steps I'm going to build on the slope in front of the covered porch. It's pretty steep there and can get slippery with a little snow or even rain. That's also the path the meter reader from the electric company must take to get to our meter. I figure I'll make both his trip to the meter and my comings and goings from the basement to the deck just that much easier. I've saved 6 sections of 6 x 6 left over from deck supports that will do well as the lips of the steps.

I may also build a low retaining wall of stone or landscape timbers at the base of the slope to create a slight terrace. Some erosion has already occurred on the slope and many stones from the fill have come to the surface. All this work on the slope (steps, low retaining wall of landscape timber or stone) will make mowing the lawn a bit more difficult but if I can get some plants to grow behind the retaining wall it will be worth it. I'll just have to be careful of what I put in there as that area is beneath the power line right of way. Of course the power company would only be really concerned if I were to plant some fast growing trees that might threaten their wires, but there's also a transformer on the pole out there that has to be serviced via cherry picker so I don't want to block access for a truck to get back there.

Today's weather was...well, schizophrenic is what it was. The day started out warm and humid, built to scattered thunderstorms around noon when the temperature was in the mid 70s, and then got cooler and breezy as the afternoon wore on. We could actually hear the steady rumble of thunderstorms to our southwest as the front moved through, but we got only a couple of drops. And the temperature didn't just slowly drop, it noticeably dropped. I mean, you could actually feel the temperature go down as it dropped nearly 20 degrees between 1 PM and 6 PM. There are frost warning out for the valley tonight as the sky is clearing and the wind is out of the north again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The basement...a room with a view...

...even though it's mostly underground.

I mentioned that the basement ceiling was finished last week. Well, Terry has moved a goodly portion of her “office” stuff down there and set herself up in the corner. She’s got a phone extension, a filing cabinet, two desks, a printer, her laptop, and a copy machine down there. She’s all set for when she has Smocking Arts Guild of America business to attend to. As for stitching, she still has her “little” sewing room. (One of the two first floor bedrooms.)

Actually, the basement will be a cool place (literally) to hang out when/if the temperature gets up to 90 degrees or so this summer. (It did get above 80 today, but it's only going to be in the low/mid 60s tomorrow.) There’s a love seat, a TV and a small beverage fridge down there. You’ve even got a bathroom so you don’t need to climb stairs when nature calls. In the winter, there’s the woodstove and ceiling fan to circulate heat and the radiant floor heating if you don’t want to bother with the fire.

Terry’s corner office:
Basement 8

Further down the wall….
Basement 7
…there’s a hutch, a banker’s desk that needs refinishing but that is just huge. Don’t know what we’ll do with the deacons’ bench yet.

On the other side of the basement…
Basement 6
…there’s a TV and mini fridge. A love seat, wood stove and, for the time being, lots of boxes and a ladder and saw horses.

The wall divider on the office side consists of…
Basement 5
…an armoire, a chest-on-chest, and a dresser. There’s lots of storage space in there.

On the TV side of the divider, we have…
Basement 1
…two large bookcases and the love seat. (The planer and the shop vac—like the ladder and saw horses—need to be put away.)

Well, obviously there’s still work to be done and on the next rainy day I just might get around to some of it.

A day at the Aerie

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been having a tough time sleeping. Actually, I’m getting about 7 hours of sleep it’s just that I’m starting too damn early. Last night I hit the sack about 9 PM and was awake at 4 AM. Do the math. That’s 7 hours of sleep.

Obviously my circadian clock is all screwed up and I’m going to have to do something to straighten it out. I’ll probably resort to a couple of fingers of Glenlivet over ice about 9 PM tonight and, by slowly sipping that 15-year-old Scotch I’ll be ready for the sack about 10 PM. Even if it doesn’t work and I still wake up early, I’ll at least have enjoyed my nightcap.

So what did I do this morning? Well, it’s true that I first woke up at 4 AM and tried to go back to sleep after a visit to the bathroom. When that didn’t work out (getting back to sleep), and Chester started to howl outside the door (Can cats “howl”?), I went downstairs and fed the cats, and the birds, and made myself a cup of coffee. Then I sat down and fired up the ole laptop and started surfing the net. Of course, much of what was new was posted late last night except for the news. And, being as it was Sunday night, there wasn’t much new.

I sat and listened to the birds and watched the sun come up. And while it rose, I thought of all those men and women who have died in service to our great country and who did not get to see as many sunrises as they should have. I said a silent prayer for them and their families and said thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice so the USA could continue to be the envy of the world.

Terry finally came downstairs around 7 AM and did her thing with tea and TV. We had some breakfast (Cheerios for me, Special K for her) and then we went down to Agway for some more bird feed (they’re going through 50 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds in two weeks, which is better than back in February when it was 50 pounds in a week to 10 days), a rose bush and a pot for some Coral Bells Terry bought last week for the front door.

We got back to the Aerie around 11:30 AM (we took the scenic route home) and the cats wanted to be fed again. Hey, why not. They got breakfast at 5 AM and their tummies have a schedule.

I went out to move some more soil about and plant some bulbs/corms for some Liatris I picked up from Agway. Terry grilled some burgers for our lunch and then came outside to repot her Coral Bells and plant her rose bush. I helped dig the rose bush hole in the rocky fill we have and moved some more dirt from the rapidly shrinking pile in front of the house. When I got to 10 or so wheelbarrow loads I called it quits for the day. I’ve about 10 more loads to move but I’m running out of places to put it. I want to have some of it retrievable for when we decided to put in another bed or two. I’ve already filled the areas behind the retaining walls, the raised bed in front and a makeshift bed beyond the bird feeders. I’ve also put quite a bit in the “compost” bin. (In reality, the compost bin is a couple of logs forming a U into which I’ve dumped grass clippings, sawdust, some vegetable peelings, etc. and about a dozen wheelbarrows of soil.) I’ll probably use what soil that’s left as top dressing. I’ll first rake up what stones have popped to the surface on our “lawn”, broadcast the soil with the shovel, rake it with a leaf rake, spread some starter fertilizer, and then over seed with some grass. With luck, it won’t get washed away in the first thunderstorm and even if it does, it might end up on the lower shelf where it can add nutrients for the grass that’s there. Of course, if I put some stone or landscape timbers at the bottom of the slope and fill the area behind with soil we could hold back some of the erosion and have more places for plants. I believe I’m going to have to learn to pace myself.

Liatris Bed
Liatris Bed
10 or 12 wheelbarrows full of soil on top of some leaves and grass clippings have made a nice deep 6' x 4' bed at the base of the slope by the power line.The 30 Liatris I put in here will, with luck supply food for butterflies and hummingbirds. I'll probably edge the front with stones. Lord knows we have enough to go around!
Compost Pile
Compost pile
Grass clippings, sawdust, soil and some kitchen scraps (here it's cantaloupe rinds) all held in place by some logs. I know I should be burying the kitchen scraps but 1) the rabbits like the cantaloupe 2) the raccoons haven't been around and 3) neither has the bear. 4) opossums are not to be feared 5) skunks are welcome (as long as they don't spray!)

(I really don't have a great deal of kitchen scraps in here anyway.)

One Sub-zero rose, yellow
Sub-Zero yellow rose
Why do I feel this will be a continuing project.

The incredible shrinking dirt pile.
Shrinking dirt pile
This was a huge mound of dirt when it arrived last fall. Three tarps barely covered it. Now, one is more than enough. I've been whittling it down a little at a time and can see the end is near!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Summer jobs

In the Business section of today’s New York Times we have a report about teens having difficulty landing a seasonal summer job. ( Toughest Summer Job This Year Is Finding One )

As the forces of economic downturn ripple widely across the United States, the job market of 2008 is shaping up as the weakest in more than half a century for teenagers looking for summer work, according to labor economists, government data and companies that hire young people.

“When you go into a recession, kids always get hit the hardest,” said Andrew Sum, an economist at the Center for Labor Market Studies who led the study on the summer job market. “Kids always go to the back of the hiring queue. Now, they find themselves with a lot of other people in line ahead of them.”

We’re in a recession? When did we have two consecutive quarters of negative growth? Did I miss that report somewhere? They later throw in the line: “… with the economy gripped by what many experts believe is a recession…” just in case you missed the reference the first time.

At the lower end of the market, adult Mexican immigrants, in particular, pose competition for jobs traditionally filled by younger Americans, like those at fast food chains.

“Spanish-speaking team members in our stores have increased the age a little bit,” said Andy Lorenzen, senior manager for human resources at Chick-fil-A, a national chain of chicken restaurants based in Atlanta, where 70 percent of the work force is 14 to 19 years old.

How sure can they be that these folks are all legal?

But then again it may not matter because some of the youth searching for summer employment find slinging burgers and waiting on customers to be, well, beneath them.

She and the other students stammered in veritable horror when asked if they would consider working in fast food.

“I don’t see myself saying, ‘Hey, sir, may I take your order,’ ” Ms. Henderson said. “I don’t see any growth in it.”

From an 18-year-old young lady working as an optometrists assistant in the Tulsa area.

As a graduating senior I could see her point. An interning position would definitely be a leg up and assist you in deciding whether the career or college program you are embarking upon is right for you.

I feel sorry for the kids looking for summer employment but the quotes about not seeing any growth in working at a fast food joint…well, that takes a little of the empathy out of the equation.

The fact that the Times could find no one willing to speculate that the rise in the minimum wage and demands that employers over a certain size provide all sorts of benefits just might have produced a tightening in the entry level/seasonal jobs marked is just a little peculiar. They do point out that the rise in fuel prices makes it difficult for some of these kids to get to their jobs. And, of course, they have “experts,” named and unnamed, who seem to lean on the “recession” theme. (Way to ignore the facts, NYT!)

Oh, yeah, then there’s Jose.

a 15-year-old sophomore named José, who has lived here since he was 2 years old but lacks legal immigration papers, worried that he would not find a job. He would happily work in fast food, he said, but word is that more places are checking papers.

“It limits your choices,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid.”

Oh brother! Where to start.
1- Age: 15 what’s the law in Tulsa? Are you old enough to work in fast food?
2- You are here illegally. Granted you probably didn’t have much of a say in the matter at age 2 but your mom and/or dad smuggled you across the border. If you and they are afraid, they can either smuggle you back (after you have benefited from some 10 years of education on citizens’ dime) or you can all get yourselves arrested and deported. That’s what illegal means.

Another lousy night

If you noticed the time stamp on this and the previous post, you'll note that I did not sleep well last night. I woke around 3 AM and struggled unsuccessfully to fall asleep again before finally giving up around 4 AM and moving downstairs to the delight of the kitty-cats who got fed early. Precisely why I woke and stayed awake may remain a mystery. I seldom remember any dreams and, until I was awake for a while, I had little difficulty breathing. (I've still got a small amount of the bronchial problems that sent me to the doc two weeks ago. Most of what remains can probably be blamed upon tree pollen and cat dander.)

I do know that once I had awakened I found the pillows a cold, sweaty, clammy mess. The sort of thing that would make me feel uncomfortably putting my head upon. I also was extremely warm which is odd since the room was only 65 degrees or so. (The heat is turned off, the window was open 4 inches and it was a bare 40 degrees outside.) It was extremely quiet outside and the cats were sound asleep until I got up and switched on the lights. Even then they remained silent knowing I was getting dressed and would be out shortly to feed them.

As I lay there in bed attempting to get some more shut-eye, I kept thinking about the three trips I've got to make this summer/fall. The first is a short hop to NJ for a retirement party for several former coworkers. This little one day jaunt will require driving about 250 miles one way (one tank of gas in the Tundra) and a stay in a motel for the night. With the current gas prices I figure the total bill will be around $250 Not including the cost of the party and the associated booze.

The second trip will be a bit more extensive and expensive. My niece/God-daughter is getting wed in San Francisco the end of June and Terry and I are flying out of Newark airport for a long weekend stay. Air fare, motel, rental car, meals (at least those that are not part the wedding), Terry's new dress, possible new sport jacket and slacks.... It's already starting to show up on the credit card bills. And I hate to fly commercial. Especially looooong flights like these.

The third trip will be the end of September/beginning of October. Terry will be installed as the national president of the Smocking Arts Guild of America (see the sidebar for the link) and I must play first husband or some such roll. This takes place at SAGAs National Convention held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. Two years ago we took the trailer and I parked on the outskirts of town for a couple of days while she did her thing. I can't get away with that this year. I'd still like to have the trailer so we could do some sightseeing/visiting while down that way but it's the middle of the bear/deer season in the Adirondacks. Archery is ending and muzzleloader will just be starting. The freezer will be empty of venison unless I get into the woods. I've got a feeling we may be flying again. Did I mention how much I hate to fly commercial?

Damn, another good one gone.

Sad news via Glenn Reynolds:

ROBERT ASPRIN has died. He will be mythed.

Perhaps he has merely moved on to another dimension.

Wiki entry on Robert Asprin here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday Bird Walk at Hills Creek SP

Another Saturday bird walk at Hills Creek State Park. These walks are supposed to be for the campers at the park but in the two years that they have been part of the activities offered at the park there have been only two or three campers that have participated. Today we had the three of us from TAS, a pair of professors from Mansfield University and a local grandfather and his young (8 years-old) grandson. The latter pair has been out three weeks in a row now and are about ready to lead the next walk! Each walk is a leisurely 2 ½ hours in length and we get to see quite a few different birds. It’s a good time as we do a lot of socializing as well as bird watching.

Here’s the list I compiled for today:

Location: Hills Creek State Park
Observation date: 5/24/08
Notes: Cool but lovely morning at Hills Creek SP. Gary led us on a different route today--one that was more of a circuit than our usual path. Far more variety in habitat and some nice areas just to walk. Many wildflowers are in bloom: Trilliums, Wild Lily of the Valley, Star Flowers and more.
Number of species: 35

Canada Goose X
Mallard X
Wild Turkey X
Common Loon X
Spotted Sandpiper X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker X
Hairy Woodpecker X
Northern Flicker X
Eastern Phoebe X
Red-eyed Vireo X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Barn Swallow X
Black-capped Chickadee X
Brown Creeper X
House Wren X
Eastern Bluebird X
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Brown Thrasher X
European Starling X
Yellow Warbler X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Black-throated Green Warbler X
Ovenbird X
Common Yellowthroat X
Eastern Towhee X
Chipping Sparrow X
Song Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal X
Indigo Bunting X
Common Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cats and Light

Cats are firm believers in the Particle Theory of Light.

At least that's what I can deduce from watching Chester and Shadow case the flash from the sunlight reflecting off the Toshiba logo on the cover on my laptop. Not to mention the riot that occurs if I play the beam from a laser pointer on the walls and floor.

They just do not understand why they can not grasp that flashy thing on the floor or wall. Its true nature eludes them in more ways than one.

Tell me...

Is this Pelosi's cat?

more cat pictures

By the way...

...right now the Mets really, really suck.

Swept in a four game series in Atlanta 6-1, 6-2, 11-3, and 4-2.

Has it's voice changed?

Some say it’s due to warming but personally I believe it’s a sign that Jupiter has reached puberty. These red spots that have been appearing are nothing more than zits.
Jupiter gets a brand-new Red Spot

(The title of this post refers to the Music of the Spheres.)

Birding in Asaph, PA

A small group from Tiadaghton Audubon Society enjoyed a fantastic morning birding today. After all the wind and rain of the last few days, today dawned nice and clear with just a touch of a breeze (although it was still very chilly!). Four of us met at the USGS Research Labs at Asaph and birded along portions of Straight Run creek looking for water thrushes before turning our attention to the section of the rails-to-trails bike path that ran from Straight Run Road toward Webster Road to the east. We succeeded in finding a pair of Louisiana Water Thrushes along Straight Run as well as three Veerys and a pair of Ovenbirds and another pair of Scarlet Tanagers not to mention several other birds in a short walk in the woods. The bike path proved even more productive as it runs next to Dantz Run and we had permission from a private land owner to walk the banks of a huge shallow horseshoe bend between Lower Marsh Creek Road and Route 6.

The number of Baltimore Orioles was really impressive. They seemed to be everywhere as we walked along the bike path.
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s the list of birds that we saw.

Location: Asaph USGS Labs & Rails to Trails
Observation date: 5/23/08
Notes: Clear, cool morning with just a few cumulus clouds and little breeze until 9 AM. Temps from 40 degrees along Straight Run to close to 55 degrees when we finished.
Number of species: 55

Canada Goose X
Wood Duck X
Mallard X
Great Blue Heron X
Turkey Vulture X
Red-tailed Hawk X
American Kestrel X
Solitary Sandpiper X
Mourning Dove X
Black-billed Cuckoo X
Chimney Swift X
Ruby-throated Hummingbird X
Belted Kingfisher X
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Hairy Woodpecker X
Northern Flicker X
Alder Flycatcher X
Least Flycatcher X
Eastern Phoebe X
Eastern Kingbird X
Blue-headed Vireo X
Warbling Vireo X
Red-eyed Vireo X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Barn Swallow X
Black-capped Chickadee X
Eastern Bluebird X
Veery X
Wood Thrush X
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Brown Thrasher X
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing X
Yellow Warbler X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Black-throated Green Warbler X
American Redstart X
Ovenbird X
Louisiana Waterthrush X
Common Yellowthroat X
Wilson's Warbler X
Scarlet Tanager X
Chipping Sparrow X
Song Sparrow X
Swamp Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Baltimore Oriole X
House Finch X
American Goldfinch X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cookie Jar is full (for now)

It never got above 51 degrees today and the stiff breeze (20-25 mph) out of the north made it feel much cooler. The winds also brought waves of cloud banks that produced heavy but brief showers.

I got the fixin's out and made a gross of cookies. (That's 12 dozen or 12 x 12 = 144 for those who are mathematically below mean.) Half of them were chocolate chips made with the Toll House recipe and the other half used the same recipe but with Heath's Butter Brickle chips and Chocolate Toffee chips. The latter cookies turned out quite good and, unlike the chocolate chips, pretty uniform in size and shape.

It took me about an hour and a half to mix and bake the cookies and another half hour to clean up. Time well spent in front of a warm stove and with my hands immersed in hot water.

(Terry wants to know if I think the cookies will make it to Monday. I don't know, that's a loooong way away.)

I think the blue is too large.

song chart memes
more song chart memes

Otherwise it is accurate.

Baby it's cold outside.

I just saw a couple of blue jays attack one of the neighborhoods free range cats that had staked itself out under the bird feeders. I think they wanted its fur coat to stay warm.

Another chilly day

One HVAC system that we did not install at the Aerie when we built her was central air conditioning. Part of the reason for that was the question of just where we were to run the duct work to deliver the cool air and, since we had opted for radiant floor heating, the fact that the ducts would have but a single purpose. We also reasoned that with a huge walk-in basement built of poured concrete with Styrofoam insulation inside and out and three quarters of the walls below grade, we could always spend more time in the basement if it got too warm upstairs. Or we could install a single window AC unit in the bedroom for comfortable sleeping.

Well, I'm glad I haven't bothered to go out an purchase that AC unit or move the bed to the basement. As noon time approaches, it's a chilly (and very breezy) 42 degrees outside. The weather mavens say it will get to around 51 or 52 today. Since it's heavily overcast and that breeze is from Canada, I won't be holding my breath. (Actually, if it wasn't for the cloud cover, I probably would have been able to see my breath this morning. Instead, it only fell to around 38 degrees.)

This is not so good for the tomato plants sitting in pots on the deck. And we haven't even thought about purchasing any peppers yet.

Average high temperature for this date according to is 71 degrees while the average low is 44 degrees. We haven't gotten UP to the average low yet.

If it stays like this much longer, I expect to see a polar bear in the back yard instead of a black bear.

I may have to break down and bake some chocolate chip cookies just to stay warm. Like firewood, CCCs can warm you twice provided you don't dunk 'em in cold milk.

Cats are back to normal*
*Whatever that is fot a cat.

For the second consecutive morning I was up at 5 AM today. yesterday it was due to concerns over the cats. Today...who knows?

After they got their shots the Tuesday, the cats--all three of them--became as moribund as the New York Mets' offense in Atlanta. Chester and Shadow plopped down to sleep and barely moved from noon Tuesday until Wednesday afternoon.

I was really concerned about Chester because he actually felt warm to the touch, didn't want to get off the couch even for food, and could barely be teased into opening his eyes. I felt I might find him curled into a cooling ball of fur Wednesday morning.

Shadow, too, acted totally out of it, although not nearly as badly as Chester. She would occasionally shift from couch to recliner, but slept the better part of 24 hours.

Julie, the old girl of 7, was off her stride a little but not nearly as much as the younger pair.

When they did eat, they (can't pin point which) would go down stairs to te basement and throw up.

We were concerned enough to call the vet to find out if this was normal behavior. She said to give them another 24 hours and if they hadn't returned to normal to bring them back to the office.

By bedtime last evening (Wednesday), all three were back to normal. Which is a good thing because I imagine putting them into their carry cages would have at least brought out the vocal portion of their nature.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Death defying!

In about an hour, Terry and I will perform the life threatening "herd-the-cats-to-go-to-the-vets" maneuver. Yesterday when I pulled the three carriers out from storage, Julie headed to the loft just like she does when the vacuum comes out, Shadow sniffed around the three cages as Terry wiped the dust off and Chester feigned indifference.

Once it's time for them to actually go inside those cases all hell will break loose. There will be howling and hissing, clawing and scratching, running and hiding and, perhaps, even a little upchucking. The cats might complain too.

Chester and Shadow had their shots a little over a year ago when they also had some--ahem--surgical improvements to insure there would be no incestual relationships and a true herd of kitties running about. Julie had her last shots two years ago (but she has a better memory of those several times she has gone a riding).

This is not like a dog. A dog you put on a leash (or not), open the car door and he jumps right in with tail wagging and slobber dripping off his tongue as he anticipates sticking his nose out the window at 50 mph. A dog is more of a what's going on right now, kind of critter.

The cat seems able to reason more. Hear a sound and the cat will anticipate the next action. (Open the draw to get a spoon sometime around 11:30 AM and three cats come running because they know the next action is to put food in their bowls. Have the man on AOL say "Good-bye" and Chester runs from the other room to sit in the middle of the floor because he knows I'm now free to play with him.) Open the closet and get out the vacuum and Julie will be in the next county in a second. (She hates the vacuum with a passion. The other two? Not so much. Chester lets you vacuum his fur. Shadow waits until the head is almost touching her and then runs for the basement.) Somehow they know there is a future and what that future holds. Perhaps that's why they can land on their feet.

To get all three into the three carry cases could turn into a battle of wits. Much like the puzzle of getting the fox, the chicken and the bag of grain across the river in a small boat, it will all depend upon getting the rght one in the case first. I figure once Julie is safely stowed away in her case, the others will be just too curious for their own good.

Could get to be an interesting morning as they have all gotten car sick at one time or another.

UPDATE: 10 AM and we are all safely back form the vet's. Luckily we are only a short drive from the office for it was a constant trio of "Meow" and "Meoar" (kind of a mix between "meow" and "roar") as we made the 15 minute drive both too and from. Julie and Shadow shared the alto and meso-alto while Chester did the full tenor and bass. Yeah, he sang a duet with himself.

They were well behaved while the doc checked them over and administered shots for rabies and distemper. Shadow and Chester even purred. The latter is no surprise because she (the vet) was petting him at the time. They weighed in at a healthy 10, 12 and 16+ pounds. (That's Julie, Shadow and Chester, in case there was any doubt. He's a tub of loving lard, he is.) Chester and Shadow may have weighed a tiny bit less when we got home due to a biological activity they engaged in while we were on the road. Unlike kids, you can't push them into the bathroom before a road trip. Oh well, Got to go clean two carry cages.

Monday, May 19, 2008


If anyone can tell me why the stupid table in the last post has like a three inch space above it, I would appreciate it. There's no code to indicate why it's there and it doesn't appear in the Preview of the post. Frustrating.

The Gore Effect

This might explain the hail, sleet and snow showers we've had today: Al Gore was in Pittsburgh yesterday giving a commencement address at Carnegie Mellon University.

Of course, he spoke about Global Warming:
"You, I hope and expect, will be called upon to be part of the third hero generation in American history," by countering the threat of global warming, he said.

"We face a planetary emergency," Gore said. "The concentrations of global warming pollution have been rising at an unprecedented pace and have now given the planet a fever."

Carnegie Mellon had provided "great leadership in confronting what I regard as the most serious crisis our civilization has ever confronted," partly by becoming a major buyer of retail wind power, he said.

He must have pissed off Ma Nature.

The weather in Pittsburgh yesterday? A couple of degrees below the averages.

Pittsburgh, PA May 18, 2008:

  High Low Precip
Actuals 62 F 43 F 0.58 in.
Averages 72 F 48 F ---
Records 86 F (1992) 41 F (1993) ---

Might explain that cold front that came through late in the day.

Did I mention the hail this morning? How about the snow flurry we got at 10:30 AM when the temp was 38 F? Or the showers mixed with sleet we’ve been getting much of the morning? They say it will get up to 50 F today. We’ll see.

I’m real glad I didn’t bother to have any central air conditioning installed in the Aerie.

Global warming my a$$.

Wait 5 minutes...'ll change. The weather in the Twin Tiers region of PA-NY is that changeable. Or you could just drive over the ridge and see what's on the other side.

We had some horrendous winds and a brief thunderstorm drive through yesterday afternoon and the temperatures (which never got very far above 50 degrees) dropped over night to a mere 38 once the sky cleared--a little.

This morning we have passing clouds and showers and just now a bit of hail. Not very large hailstones, just about the size of a BB, and they didn't last very long, but still....Hail? Without any thunderstorm accompaniment? Very strange.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And a removal: Bye-bye

Went to get a topo map from TopoZone yesterday and discovered that they have merged with Unfortunately, is a subscription site and costs $49.95 per year. As much as I loved using TopoZone I’m not paying that kind of money for something I use maybe twice a year. Therefore, TopoZone comes off my blog roll.

New additions: At The Water and
Building a Log Cabin

I’m adding a couple of blogs to the list on the right today. They were kind enough to drop a comment or two on posts I’ve made here and I’ve been visiting them for a couple of weeks now.

The first is At The Water. Richard is “…on a Lake in central Minnesota and enjoying all the wonders of nature and still looking for that perfect bird or nature picture.” He’s got some great photo’s of birds that are to die for so go on over and take a peek.

The second is simply called Building a Log Cabin. It’s a place where Shelly and her husband, Greg, tell about their new log home. “My husband and I had the dream of building a cozy log cabin in the woods of Northern Michigan 4 years ago. We were always fascinated by their warmth, the craftsmanship, and the way it was a compliment to the great outdoors. Here's hoping our experiences will assist others in their log cabin dream.” Shelly’s place is an elegant one and filled with great photos and pointers for log home living.

Shelly also has a birding blog called Birding In Michigan that is chock full of photos and is well worth a visit.

Weather--Bah! Humbug!

After yesterday morning's bird walk, I came back to the Aerie to do some gardening. The pile of earth we had delivered the end of last summer is still present but it's growing smaller every time I haul 5 to 10 wheelbarrows of it about the yard. From its current size I would say there's about a dozen or so wheelbarrows of earth yet to be relocated--I just don't know where to put it.

Anyway, I moved 5 wheelbarrows over to an area behind the bird feeders where there was a natural depression. I shored up one end with some logs left from the crew that cleared the electric right of way and made leveled the area (about 3 feet by 8 feet). I had already moved several loads of leaves, grass clippings and about 10 wheelbarrows of earth to this area so it's pretty loaded.

The reason for this particular bed was to locate three climatis plants that were quickly outgrowing their pots. I wired three 8-foot long maple poles together in a teepee formation to offer a climbing platform and put one plat at the foot of each pole.

I also planted the area under the west end of the deck with some pachysandra that Terri had picked up last week. It too was growing very well in its little six-pack and needed to get in the ground. Each cell of the six pack held three or four well-rooted cuttings so, if it all takes, it should fill the area quite well.

I finished around 2 o'clock and joined the Mets-Yankees game in progress. I was just in time to see Johnny Damon get thrown out at the plate in what even the YES broadcasting crew admitted was the turning point of the game. (The Mets, losing at that time 2-0, went on to win 7-4.)

As the game progressed, I looked out the window to see I would not have to go out later to water the plants I had just put in the soil, Mother Nature was doing that job for me. We've had light showers off and on since about 4 PM Saturday and may well get some heavier rains later this afternoon/evening. And still the folks at Accuweather say we are below the norm for the month.

Last year was very dry and may have led to some of the problems we had with our relatively shallow well (135 feet) producing water laced with very fine clay sediment that made it through the 1 micron filter we use. This year, due to the snow melt and frequent rains, we have yet to experience any problems. So I would guess there is some siver lining to this wet weather.

Another benefit would be that we have no need to visit England, Ireland or Scotland. We've got all the cold, damp, drizzly weather we can handle right here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

One of Life's Lessons

Over a year ago I turned on my Apple PowerBook G4 and was greeted by all sorts of grinding noises and repeated clickings. Never having heard such a racket before, I shut the power off and tried again with the same results. I attempted to start the computer one more time and got the same noises. The hard drive had a catastrophic failure. I was without a computer! Worse, I had several years of documents—mostly journal entries but at least a year and a half of blog entries—on that computer. And let’s not even discuss the number of photographs that were on that 80 GB HD. Back-up? Surely you jest?

Needing a wireless computer, I immediately went out to purchase a new laptop and ended up with a Toshiba Satellite running Vista. (Hey, it came with the damn thing.) As much as I love my Mac, this Toshiba has been doing everything I want. And Vista hasn’t been the nightmare I expected. I had run Windows machines before but this one has all the bells and whistles. I’m pretty happy with it.

I still had the Mac and have an insider working in the Apple Store at the Mall at Short Hills—my daughter, Jess. She asked around about data recovery and came up with a couple of companies that do that sort of work from machines that have suffered far worse than mine. Of course they charge a pretty penny for their services, but I’m thinking of all the photos from several fishing trips to Quebec, one or two trips across the country, and five years worth of miscellaneous family action. How much are they worth? (Seeing as how I didn’t pay for any film or developing, I might be breaking even here.) Plus there are all those journal entries and blog posts. I’m thinking of biting the bullet and boosting the economy of one of these recovery companies. It’s going to cost me between $700 and $1K. Ouch!

Oh, by the way, Jess did have one of her friends take the old HD out of the PowerBook G4 and install a new one so I’ve now got a Windows Vista machine and a Mac PowerBook G4 running Tiger. Sweet!

I will say that the connectivity of the Toshiba is much better than the Aluminum cased PowerBook. Must be the case itself, but the strength of signal with the PowerBook is so dependent upon where I am in the house and even which direction I’m facing that it’s pretty damn annoying. No such problems with the Toshiba. Strong signals are received anywhere in the house and even on the deck.

Saturday bird walk at Hills Creek SP

The weather cleared overnight and today was an excellent day to do a bird walk at Hills Creek State Park. Terry had other things to do so I went to meet with Gary and anyone else who might show up. We had A local grandfather and his 8-year-old grandson, and a couple from Lancaster, PA who were staying at a nearby Bed & Breakfast.

The Bald Eagle was an adult that was spotted by the 8-year-old as we were preparing to leave. First an Osprey flew over head (the third time this morning we saw an Osprey) and then the Eagle came out from the woods heading across the lake with the Osprey hot on his tail. There’s always talk of how Eagles hound Ospreys to steal their fish, few people talk about how the Osprey will attack an Eagle out of shear anger.

Location: Hills Creek State Park
Observation date: 5/17/08
Notes: Clear and cool morning (45-55 degrees) with little wind after a day of considerable rain. Wind did pick up at the end of the morning.
Number of species: 34

Canada Goose X
Wood Duck X
Mallard X
Common Loon X
Great Blue Heron X
Osprey X
Bald Eagle X
Cooper's Hawk X
Broad-winged Hawk X
Mourning Dove X
Northern Flicker X
Yellow-throated Vireo X
Blue-headed Vireo X
Red-eyed Vireo X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tree Swallow X
Northern Rough-winged Swallow X
Barn Swallow X
Black-capped Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
European Starling X
Yellow Warbler X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) X
Ovenbird X
Common Yellowthroat X
Chipping Sparrow X
Song Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Friday, May 16, 2008

New visitor to the Aerie--Baltimore Oriole

A new bird for the Aerie this rainy morning. I stepped out on the deck and saw a flash of orange and black in the trees across the clearing. And then a second. I was sure they were two male Baltimore Orioles and then I heard the rasping call notes and was positive. They were chasing one another in the low shrubs on the hillside and flitted out into the open of the poplar trees. One chased the other down the hillside dodging in and out of the trees and shrubs as they went.

This is the first time I’ve seen any Orioles on the property and I hope it won’t be the last.

While I had no chance to get a photograph of these birds, pictures and more information about them can be found here and here.

Rain and more rain

Ole Ma Nature turned on the sprinkler system sometime during the night and we woke this morning to the sound of rain gently falling on the roof, running down into the gutters and clanging down the downspouts. (Well, it sounded like clanging as it makes that C-curve around the first floor eave. One. Huge. Drop. At. A. Time.)

Contrasted to the year we built the Aerie, this has been an incredibly wet spring. Two years ago we took delivery of the log home package on April 19 and I don't recall missing one day due to the rain. We got some rain, of course, but it was either during the night or during a time when we could work indoors, having closed in the Aerie.

Just checking Accuweather records for the area and they say we have had 0.8 inches of precip so far in the month of May. (Normal for the month is approximately 3 inches so we're substantially short of our average there. I guess most of it slid to the east of us as Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey seem to have been hit pretty hard last week.) AW also says we were 0.3 inches short on precip in April: 2.6 inches received vs. 2.9 inches average. I'm going to have to get the rain gauge up and keep my own records 'cause I'm pretty sure we got a good deal more than that.

Anyway, it's raining now and it will be until around noon. Then the sky will clear until Saturday late and all day Sunday. Then again on Tuesday night. Anything beyond that is a guess and not a forecast.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Birding at Colton Point SP

Today we took a walk along the western rim of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania at Colton Point State Park. It’s the time of year when the warblers start to pass through the area and we had pretty good success out there last year. This year things wet a little more slowly. There were still many, many warblers, but they seem to have kept themselves hidden better or something. We could clearly hear the songs of the Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue warblers, the Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Ovenbirds, and many more. Yet we could only spot maybe one in ten of those we heard. We came away with sore backs and aching neck muscles from craning backwards to peer into the treetops attempting to located that loud bird singing directly overhead. When it came to spotting the Blackburnian and Magnolia warblers, the aches were worth it. (Although I still prefer to search the tree tops for warblers from the comfort of a hammock strung between two trees.)

Anyway, here’s the report from today’s bird walk.

Location: Colton Point
Observation date: 5/14/08
Notes: Cool. clear morning that started at 40 degrees and ended at 65 degrees.
Number of species: 26

Common Merganser X
Great Blue Heron X
Turkey Vulture X
Cooper's Hawk X
Ruby-throated Hummingbird X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker X
Northern Flicker X
Blue-headed Vireo X
Red-eyed Vireo X
Blue Jay X
Common Raven X
Black-capped Chickadee X
Red-breasted Nuthatch X
White-breasted Nuthatch X
Hermit Thrush X
American Robin X
Magnolia Warbler X
Black-throated Blue Warbler X
Yellow-rumped Warbler X
Black-throated Green Warbler X
Blackburnian Warbler X
Black-and-white Warbler X
Ovenbird X
Hooded Warbler X
Scarlet Tanager X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weather report

It was a mere 38 degrees at 6 AM this morning with a cold, slow, steady soaking rain falling. It could have been worse. In the high places one county to the west they had snow.

The rain stopped around 10 AM and the temperature did rise all the way up to 50 degrees despite the sun staying behind the clouds all day. ( reports the average high for this date is 67 degrees.) We are supposed to reach the average tomorrow.

At least I got the plants in the ground and mulched (that was yesterday's project) before it rained.

I may go out and do some clearing of small saplings tomorrow if the flies behave. Otherwise it will be some staining of the basement doors.

Basement Progress 8

I spent the afternoon finishing up the ceiling in the basement. That meant putting up the last three partial tiles in the back corner and then installing the ceiling fan. It took some time and I can truly say that I'm glad Adam installed the two in the cathedral ceilings on the first floor and master bedroom because those things are 1) heavy and 2) awkward to work on over your head. Granted he had someone (me) on the ground to hand him tools and parts as he needed them and I was working alone, but still....

Here's what the final installation looks like:

Basement Ceiling Fan

I had to slice the ceiling tile to fit it around the drop down pipe but because of the style of tile we chose, you can hardly tell it's been cut.

I'm really pleased with the final appearance of the ceiling. I just wish there hadn't been so much dust from the cutting of the tiles--and the cat dander and litter boxes. I'm sure that dust contributed to my breathing problems. I'm going to hook up one of the air filters for the basement and hope that keeps things under control.

Now the only things left to do down there are the trim around the doors and windows and the staining of the doors themselves.

The other meat on the table.

Uh-huh. Yep. Right on the money.

The ultimate ethical meal: a grey squirrel

Of course, the grey squirrel (aka: tree rat) is an introduced pest in England. The red squirrel is their native species and it’s endangered. So by putting a grey in the pot, you’re helping eradicate a nuisance and reduce the pressure on an endangered species. That and putting a meal on the table makes it a win-win-win situation in anyone’s book. The only trouble I can see is the prolific reproductive nature of the grey. As I’ve said before, Mother Nature abhors a vacuum and the grey squirrel will fill any void created by harvesting. Still it’s a situation…….

Wait a minute!

Butchers in England sell grey squirrel? Guess that’s ‘cause they (the British public) don’t have access to .22LR cartridges and a Marlin bolt action rifle. Or even a Gammo Air Rifle and ammo. Although they do mention that it is hunters bring the squirrels in…hmmm. And they sell for 3.50 pounds per squirrel. That’s like $8 US. Holy cow! I’ve got a bloody fortune out back!

I do like the recipe for Squirrel Pasties given at the bottom. Yum! (Although the metric measurements are a bit off putting.)

(h/t Don Surber )

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Eastern Towhee

From the tops of the trees (Indigo Bunting) we go to the forest floor. It’s among the leaf litter of the deciduous forest that you will find the Eastern Towhee. Actually, you’re far more likely to hear his song (“Drink your teeeeeaaaaa!”) or his scratching and kick of the leaves before you’ll spot this Robin-sized bird. But when you do see the male, I think you’ll admire his black back and hood and the rich brown of his rufus sides. It looks like a vest peeking out from beneath a long frock coat.

Eastern Towhee

Indigo Buntings: Flashes of bright blue

When we started building the Aerie two years ago, each morning we would have an Indigo Bunting land in the tops of the poplar trees and sing to welcome the morning sun over the mountain. Last year this tiny blue jewel repeated the performance and stayed active around the feeders almost all summer. Earlier this week, I thought I saw one come in to the same spot but, since it was back lit, I couldn’t be 100% sure. It did sound right however and the profile seemed to be the right shape and size, but it might have been a Purple Finch. Today there was no question as to the identity of the two that came into the feeders
Indigo Bunting
This brightly colored little bird seems to be saying, “Hallo! My name is Indigo Bunting. You stole my seed. Prepare to die!”

And, as this one perched upon the shepherd’s hook upon which the feeders hang, I could only think of the Captain Morgan Rum ads. He definitely appears to have a bit of the Captain in him.

Indigo Bunting

In reality, the Indigo may be a very shy little bird. He sings from the tippy-tops of the trees; often hidden amongst the leaves--and not much bigger than the leaves, either.

American Goldfinch: A yellow jewel of a bird

The American Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey but in my 50+ years as a resident of that state, I seldom saw them. Even in the farmlands of Warren, Hunterdon and Sussex Counties, the Goldfinch did not appear to be terribly abundant. Only when I started visiting the Adirondacks of New York State did I start to see them in large numbers as flocks of Goldfinches would scavenge the roadsides near farms for any grain, flower, or weed seeds. It would not be unusual to see 30 or 40 of the birds whirl along the edge of the road as you drove along. Half of that number would be the brightly colored males looking dapper in their yellow and black with just a few spots of white on wings and tail.

American Goldfinch

I was pleased when I found Goldfinches to be regular visitors to the Aerie’s feeders last spring and summer. Not so pleased at the amount of thistle seed I went through when the regular 25-30 Goldies decided to make my feeders a regular stop in their daily rounds. (Little did I know that they would be a mere blip on the radar compared to the massive numbers of Common Redpolls that showed up this winter!) For some reason, the Goldfinches seem to be focusing on the black oil sunflower seeds this year and leaving the thistle alone. Perhaps it has gone stale? I’ll have to dump the thistle feed and scrub the feeder before refilling it just to make sure.

Blue Jays

Blue Jays are loud, raucous birds that can set the entire woods into Defcon 5 when they start squawking. Usually they sound off whenever there is a potential threat. They will mob a hawk or owl sitting quietly in a tree and harass the hell out of it until it gives up and moves on. (Why the hawks never seem to take any active resistance to this harassment and attack and eat one of its tormentors, I don’t know.) I’ve seen the Blue Jays set up a series of shrill warnings as a fox walked through the woods and was even alerted to a large buck one time when the Blue Jays’ alarm system went off.

Occasionally, however, the Blue Jay community will send out false alarms that will send all the smaller birds diving for cover and leaving the feeders completely at the Blue Jays’ mercy.

The bright blue, black, white and even gray of the Blue Jay is a welcome sight in the winter. But not so much in the spring when they may sneak into some unsuspecting bird’s nest to eat either the eggs or newly hatched chicks.

Blue Jays around the Aerie have been appearing in swarms. As I said the other day, they remind me of Viking raiders of the first millennium. They swoop in to wreak havoc on the feeders. Chasing all the smaller birds away, spooking the larger mourning doves and generally marauding and pillaging until they are sated. Then they disappear for a time only to return once their crop is empty and they want more easy pickings.

Blue Jay

Saturday, May 10, 2008

More farming at the Aerie

The sun came out around noon and the breeze picked up about that tie, too. between the two, the grass dried out nicely by 5 PM so I knew it was time to get the mower out and do the first cut of the season before it got out of hand. Growing on clay fill with virtually no topsoil or organic material, I like to see the clover and other pasture grasses mixed in with the "real" grass. It's still pretty sparse in places where erosion on the slope has washed even the clay away and left stone exposed or where water has flooded the smallest depression and killed the roots, but it seems to be progressing.

I noticed that the wild daisy population is a little thinner this year but there are still clumps of plants beginning to pop up along the margins of the "lawn." If I can find any along the road or on our second driveway, I'll consider moving them to areas where they can contribute to the landscape. The same goes for any daylilies or tigerlilies I might come across. I might even raid the beds up at the Bolt Hole for some. They transplant pretty easily. Come to think of it there are rugosa roses up there and black-eyed susans as well as daisies and raspberries. Might have to go plant hunting up there as soon as they grow enough to recognize.

Of course, all that will also have to wait until the blackflies dwindle in numbers. Only the breeze blowing this evening kept them manageable. There was more risk of inhaling one than being bitten. But I just know that the blackflies up in the Adirondacks are out for blood. They have certainly gotten enough of mine in the past. So I will bide my time. I will have to cut the grass up there in a week or so, but that's what the mesh bug suits are made for.

Deck birding at the Aerie.

I did a stationary bird count off the deck of the Aerie this morning. Starting at 7 AM and listing all the species I could see or identify by ear until 10 AM, I came up with 24 different species. I did not count individual birds since there’s a good probability that I would see the same bird more than once as it came to the feeders.

I will say there were many, many blue jays and rose-breasted grosbeaks hanging around. Between 8 and 12 blue jays swept in like Viking raiders, terrorizing all the other birds, pillaging the feeders for what they wanted and then disappearing into the woods again. They did this over and over.

While the rose-breasted grosbeaks were a little more dignified in behavior, they too swept in as a bunch. There were 6 or 7 males in their jaunty black and white with red triangle around their neck like a bandana or like a flashy ascot. The females looked very much more subdued in their camouflaged coat of streaked browns and tan. To look at them, you’d hardly think them related if not for the overall similarity in body shape. While most activity was at the sunflower dispensers or on the ground beneath the feeders, I watched one female rose-breasted grosbeak simply dig into the suet feeder and truly pig out on the greasy goodness. She held several downy woodpeckers at bay for a good 10-15 minutes until she had her fill and flew off.

Here's the full list of bird species seen/heard this morning:

Location: Aerie
Observation date: 5/10/08
Notes: Cold, damp, overcast morning following a light rain. Temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
Number of species: 24

Canada Goose X
Mourning Dove X
Ruby-throated Hummingbird X
Downy Woodpecker X
Hairy Woodpecker X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Black-capped Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
White-breasted Nuthatch X
Wood Thrush X
American Robin X
Black-throated Green Warbler X
Eastern Towhee X
Chipping Sparrow X
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) X
Northern Cardinal X
Rose-breasted Grosbeak X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird X
Purple Finch X
American Goldfinch X
Evening Grosbeak X

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Day

I woke up at 2 AM this morning expecting to hear all sorts of rain falling on the roof of the Aerie and dripping down the gutter spouts. At first I could hear nothing because the hacking and coughing of blocked bronchial passages kept me busy. When I was able to catch my breath, however, there was no rain. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep.

For nearly an hour I tossed and turned and occasionally coughed before I finally gave it up and got dressed and headed downstairs where I was beset by three kitties who demanded to be fed even if it was just 3 AM. To preserve life and limb, I fed the hungry little buggers and then sat down to the computer. There wasn’t a whole lot of new material on the web sites I usually visit and in looking over the news sites (Yahoo, Google, NY Times, Newark Star Ledger, etc.) I could find precious little to excite my blogger bones. Even Drew Curtis’ FARK, Lucianne, and the Drudge Report had no real grabbers. (Although I did spend time reading an article or two here and there.)

On the off chance that some of the bloggers were out and about early I went to search out some of the New Jersey/New York cadre.

First I went back to a nauseating post by Jimbo of Parkway Rest Stop: Al Gore’s Dog, Pony and Global Warming $how.

Any time you want to unearth the truth about a scam, just follow the money. An awful lot of it seems to be finding its way into Mr. Gore’s increasingly tight-fitting jeans. Way too much for a person who is supposed to be pouring it all out to “Save the Planet”, if you ask me.

(The temperature at that time was a very modest 43 degrees at around 6 AM. It would eventually start raining but the temperature would only rise to around 47 degrees until the rain stopped and the sun came out at 5:00. Then the thermometer would register the high for the day: 53 degrees, before it would again begin to cool as the sun sank in the west. According to, the average high for this date and location is supposed to be 66 degrees.)

Poking around a bit more I came upon the information that was painfully obvious: This last April was one cool customer. According to NOAA, the US experienced the 29th coldest April in 114 years and the coolest in 11 years.

Searching some more amongst my NJ acquaintances, I found TigerHawk up and at ’em early and posting about A climate change skeptic goes to Greenland I clicked though to see what Greenland was all about and found the Climate Skeptic (he deserves the capitals) to have a web site documenting all sorts of hanky-panky with the scientific data and lots of references from other Skeptical Scientists. I spent lots of time there just checking out the “settled science” unsettlers. I Love My Carbon Dioxide Trust me, he’s posted lots of stuff and it will take you a good long while to go through it and you’ll be pretty peeved at the end.

Finally, I ended my morning at Ann Althouse’s site where she asks: ”Why bury trees?” The question is in response to this article in The New Republic about a report coming out of the University of Maryland suggestion just such an action (burying trees) as a means of sequestering carbon dioxide. Ann also asks: “But wouldn't it be much better to bury paper — like all that newspaper and office paper that we've been wasting energy recycling?” I believe she’s got a point.

I surfed the net for a few more hours, hung some drapes in the downstairs bedrooms, went to a church dinner with Terry (great chicken and biscuits) and now It’s getting dark, the Mets may never start play and I’m ready to hit the sack.

Good nite all. Try to stay warm.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

How to win in 2008

Victor David Hanson details the platform the Republicans can win with in this piece.

A summary:
In short, low taxes, secure borders, moral governance, sober government spending, ethical leadership, exploration and conservation of petroleum, and strong defense is what the American public wants — but those core principles have to be articulated hourly and can't be compromised. In an honest debate, Obama's alternatives to the above would be to turn toward more government, higher taxes, more bureaucracies, more dependence of the individual upon the state, etc. And I can't believe the public wants a prescription that historically simply doesn't work.

Go on over and read the entire piece. It sure makes good sense to me. If any Republican--hell, any politician--were to espouse this platform he or she would be in like Flynn.

A peaceful, pleasing day at the Aerie

Despite the dreadful predictions of torrential rains--which may still arrive here tonight and into tomorrow, but are currently sliding up the eastern third of PA--today has been a very pleasant spring day here at the Aerie. The temperatures have been in the mid 60s and there's been a very slight breeze out of the north.

That slight breeze has been carrying a constant drift of poplar/aspen seeds up the hill past the windows of the Aerie. These fluffy, wind dispersed seeds look like very large snowflakes except even more, well, gauzy and insubstantial. They move by at a slow, languorous rate of speed that contributes to the feeling of relaxation. By following the drift of one of these little puffs of fluff, you can get an idea of were every wind current and eddy is in the yard and around the house. It's an amusing way to spend the afternoon.

At any rate, it beats getting rained upon. The forecasters are predicting from 1.5 to 2.25 inches of rain from this evening through Sunday night. And the long term forecasts show even more rain over the next two weeks. Pretty much two days of rain for every one of sunshine. If I were lower down on the hill, I might start building an Ark.

Say what?

Estonian farmers face flatulence tax on cattle

Note to Estonian farmers:
Tar. Feathers. Tax man. Some assembly required.

(h/t to Jungle Trader.)

He’s become an object of pity

Al Gore Calls Myanmar Cyclone a 'Consequence' of Global Warming

I certainly hope that at least one room of Mr. Gore’s huge estate has padded walls and floors. It sounds like he may need to use it.

I see this as desperation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes once more!

Cleaner air to worsen droughts in Amazon: study

Curbing a notorious form of industrial pollution may ironically harm Amazonia, one of the world's natural treasures and a key buffer against global warming, a study released Wednesday has found.

Its authors see a strong link between a decrease in sulphur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and a rise in sea temperature in the northern Atlantic that was blamed for wreaking a devastating drought in western Amazonia in 2005.

Quick everbody! Forget ethanol, wind power or nuclear plants. Go out and build coal fired power plants to save the Amazon!

And no scrubbers on the stacks, ya hear! We need to get those sulphur dioxide molecules up there and the aerosols too.

We really need to try--at least try--to think these things through before we make emotional rather than scientific decisions. This world is a complex place and no one knows the effects of the winds caused by the flapping of one butterfly's wings. And anyone who trys to tell you that they do, is a frelkin' liar.

Chile gets hot!

Chilean volcano could spew for months

There was a time after my sister-in-law’s wedding back in '76 I felt like that. But by noon the next day I was inside out and it was over. Oh, the memories!(Thanks again to Aunt Margie, the Nurse at Bellvue’s Criminal Psych Ward for pulling me through. Then again, she had lots of experience—personal and professional.)

But back to the volcano.

All that ash and soot in the air. Bound to block some sunlight while aloft and absorb same once it settles on the snowcapped peaks nearby. Guess the outcome depends upon how much CO2 is also being spewed out and what sort of upper atmospheric winds there may be. Remember, Mt. St. Helen’s ash landed east of Chicago.

Koalas are DOOMED!!

Australia's Koalas at risk from climate change

People, as cute and cuddly as they want to make the koala out to be, it’s also bound to be an evolutionary and ecological dead end. Like the Chinese panda that subsists only on bamboo shoots and nothing else, the koala eats only one kind of plant—the eucalyptus. Whenever an organism becomes so specialized that it can derive sustenance under very narrow conditions, its fate is sealed. From the moment it becomes that specialized it’s a matter of when not if it will become extinct.

Unless the bloody little furballs wake up soon and can suddenly eat a whole range of leaves and things and derive energy from whatever they put in their maw, they are merely passengers on the S.S. Titanic of evolution. Wouldn’t matter if there was Climate Change or not, they are doomed, I tell you. DOOMED!

Bear with me for awhile.

Shortly after noon today, we had another summer visitor show up at the Aerie. Yesterday it was the first hummingbird, one of the smallest visitors, today it was one of the largest as a black bear came sauntering out of the woods at about 12:30. I didn’t get any pictures of him at that time and he spooked quickly when I stepped out onto the porch. But the lure of sunflower seeds and suet in the bird feeders had him coming back in less than an hour. This time both Terry and I grabbed our cameras. As she shot through the sewing room window—screens and all—I went out the front door and edged around the corner of the house to get some snaps of our woodland neighbor.
First visit of the year
It’s probably the same bear that was here last year. I’m guessing it’s a two year old that has spent its first solo winter and is looking for some fattening up.

Last year he bent one of the poles to reach the sunflower and suet and also put a hole in the hummingbird feeder to get to the sugar water.

A jolly two year old

But he's clumsy, too.
There’s supposed to be sunflower seeds on the tray, but it was empty when he got here. Maybe that’s why he knocked it over.

"Hey you!"
He finally caught on to my presence on the deck and started heading into the woods. When I shouted, “Hey you!” he stopped to look at me one last time and then tore off at a run up the slope.

Despite being shot through the glass and screen, Terry’s pictures came out very good. Her windo was much closer to the bear than I was.
"Here he comes..."

"Here he comes..."

They're here somewhere.

Hey? What's that up on the deck?

I guess we’ll be bringing the feeders in at night for a while.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Happy returns!

While taking a break this morning I happened to look up just as a humming bird flitted by to check out the flowers of the apple tree. (Too early, come back in a day or two!) It was the first I've sighted this year. I went into the basement and told Terry to mix up some sugar water for one of the feeders.

As I turned back out side, there was an Indigo Bunting singing in the top of one of the poplar trees. (At least I think it was an Indigo. I've been looking for him to return to those very trees again since he was there last year and the year before. Without binoculars I have a tough time picking out the blue coloration.)

Farming at the Aerie

Today was a farming day. I even got Terry out to assist with some of the planting and we both got to bitch about the black flies.

We started with the area next to the main entrance to the house. The tiered beds that I built behind the retaining wall that are next to the driveway. There’s a bit of a challenge with these beds as there’s a wide range of sun light here. The bed next to the door gets very little light while the one at the bottom end gets quite a bit.

Tiered entrance
This photo, taken at 4 o’clock, gives you an idea of the difference. The top is still mostly in shade while the bottom has been in sun all day long. We could have put some shrubs here but this is where snow gets piled during the winter and anything growing too tall would be damaged by the weight of the snow.

Bottom shelf
The sunny bottom shelf got a day lily and several hosta and still there’s room for more.

Middle shelf
The middle shelf, which gets a little shade during the day as the sun moves behind the chimney, got salvia, and mountain pinks in white and blue. The pinks will, hopefully spread to occupy much of this bed.

Top shelf
The top bed, the shadiest plot of all got some bleeding hearts, liriope and some caladium bulbs.

Terry did some of the planting of the pinks and the caladium bulbs (I can never tell which end is the pointy up end) in the three beds here. But she really went to work on the raised bed.

Terry at work
She planted a euymonius (a white and green variegated shrub), a pair of heather, chives, basil, oregano, and thyme. Dill seed too.

There were some strawberry sets too, but I put them in on the other end of the raised bed. There's still room for some lavender or more heather.

Raised bed
The left end of the raised bed has the 10 strawberry sets. The middle and right end have the heather, euymonius and herbs.

Terry also planted two deck boxes with pansies and geraniums. She has a couple of tomatoes to put in to deck pots and a six pack of pachysandra to put under the west end of the deck.

There’s still a sizable pile of soil in the yard that I have to move but after hauling ten or twelve wheelbarrow loads today, my back protested.