Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year-end Red-tail

 Imitating a griffon 
Just before lunchtime, a visitor stopped by with a Red-tailed Hawk in a birdcage.  He'd passed the bird sitting on the side of the road, drove home to get a cage, drove back, caught the bird (!) getting only a few scratches on his hands in the process, and placed the bird into the cage.  He's a braver man than I!  The visitor reported that the bird flew about 25 feet when he initially approached it, but it didn't fly a second time, allowing him to effect the capture.

Though we don't rehabilitate injured animals, we still get a fair number of people dropping by asking us to take care of the injured or orphaned wildlife they've brought us.  If we can't get the visitor to take the injured animal to one of two rehab centers (each about a half-hour's drive away) him/herself, one of the staff members or I will grudgingly take the animal.
We got lucky today.  We called Victor Calozza of SkyKing Raptors who has done educational raptor shows for us in the past.  He said that he wasn't busy and would take the bird to one of the rehab facilities, sparing our staff (or me) an hour's drive.  Victor declared the bird to be an adult female Red-tail, and his cursory examination in our kitchen suggested to him that the bird might have a broken wing.

A little mid-day excitement! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chilly Sunday Walk

Kali and I took a 5-mile walk on Sunday afternoon in the city park downstream of the preserve.  The park embraces the same creek that flows through the preserve, but the stream is larger in the city, having been augmented by the flow of several sizable tributaries en route.  The day was cold (in the mid-30s F), but the sky was perfectly clear and the park was uncharacteristically deserted.  We had a fine walk.

 Cooper's Hawk perched on a beech limb over the creek
We bought a digital SLR two few weeks ago--a Canon T3i body fitted with a versatile Tamron 18-270 lens.  Kali simply could not see what she was photographing on the screen of our Nikon S10 point-and-shoot, so she desperately wanted a camera with a viewfinder and an all-purpose lens.  I want to take close-up images that can rival those of some of my fellow Bloggers, so I wanted a camera on which I could fit a closeup lens.  I'll have to wait to get the closeup lens for a while, though. The two images included in this post were taken with the new camera setup.  I was at least 200 feet from the hawk, so I'm not surprised that the image isn't great, but it was an experiment.
My holidays this year promise to be not very merry.  Most immediately, one of my cats is on death's door.  She had a good life with us, but arrived as a stray and remained nearly feral despite sharing the house with us for over 10 years.  It has only been in the last two years that I've been able to touch her (and Kali has never been able touch her).  Because she is so skittish, we've never been able to take her to the vet; if we were to try to corner her or put her in a cat carrier, she would go berserk--we've tried.  So, once it became clear last week that she was in very serious decline, we figured we were just going to have to wait it out.  She's clearly miserable.

Then, last week, I learned that my 86-year-old father, who lives in San Diego, is receiving hospice care.  He'd had heart surgery in August 2010, never recovered adequately, and has been in and out of the hospital ever since.  I'm going to California right after the New Year to bid him adieu.  Needless to say, I'm a little subdued.

Two Decades Plus of Counting Christmas Birds

I participated in my twenty-second Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, and it was  mediocre by all accounts.  Our group of 10 birders, most of whom wandered the fields and forests for four hours from 8 a.m. until noon, recorded only 38 species.  (One intrepid birder went out for three hours beginning at 3 a.m. to log owls, and came up with six Eastern Screech Owls but no Great Horned Owls, which were spotted here in two locations earlier in the week.)  On "good" count days in the past, we've recorded 50 or more overwintering species.
I've participated in this annual event every year since 1998, with the exception of 2009 when the region was in the early throes of one of the largest blizzards on record.  Most of the regular participants couldn't have counted even if they had been so inclined because they couldn't get out of their driveways let alone negotiate the impassible roads.  Nevertheless, the count must go on; our group adds our results to those of a second group that counts in the southern part of our watershed, and we report the combined results to Audubon as the count for the entire valley.  The other group somehow went out during the 2009 blizzard and reported--not unexpectedly--very poor results.  The other group is Audubon's "official" contact for the valley and so "calls the shots"; and they are very inflexible with their scheduling.  The count can be conducted any time over a two week period centered on Christmas, so I don't understand why they didn't reschedule the count in 2009.
Our "best" birds yesterday?  Six American Coots, 15 Eastern Bluebirds, and 26 Chipping Sparrows.  Such a large aggregation of Chipping Sparrows is very unusual this far north in the winter.
Why the Northern Mockingbirds hang around
The first half of the count, from 8 until 10 a.m., was so beautiful I was glad that I got out of bed early on a weekend to go outdoors.  The very low, very late autumn sun burnished the native grasslands a rich, deep golden hue.  And the sun provided enough warmth to allow us to occasionally remove our gloves to record the birds (or take photographs) with bare hands.  (During most counts, the weather is so cold that it would be foolhardy to remove gloves.  I vividly recall the 1990 count during which we had to retreat to the warmth of one of the count participant's kitchen for hot chocolate or risk serious frostbite.)  By 10 a.m., though, thick clouds rolled in from the northwest, the sun disappeared, and the day got cold.  We even had brief snow flurries in mid-afternoon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Goodbye, Ohio

On the brink, Bridal Veil Falls 
Kali's mom (my mother-in-law) is developing dementia and can't live alone any longer.  A year ago, after a plumbing accident in her house which simply overwhelmed Mom, Kali's brother flew to northeastern Ohio to gather-up Mom and a few of her things to take back to San Diego with him.  She's been there ever since, and her house has sat empty.

Because Mom can't move back to northeastern Ohio, we're getting ready to sell her house.  Over the week preceding and including  Thanksgiving, Kali, her brother, and I gathered in the house to get things organized and sort through a lifetime of possessions and memories.  It was a physically and psychically challenging seven days we spent together.

On the last day we were together, we finished up our work in early afternoon and had a few hours before we had to take Kali's brother to the airport.  I suggested a walk at my favorite natural area, Bridal Veil Falls on Deerlick Run in the Bedford Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks system.  Though it had rained in the morning, by late afternoon the wan autumn sun was shining.
I've posted images of the falls before.  When I was growing up, the falls and the tight gorge below them were my favorite summer hangout.  Back then, the Metroparks system had not yet built the elaborate boardwalk that now lets just about anyone who is ambulatory to view the falls.  Decades ago, I entered the stream above the falls and waded, slid and scrambled all the way down to Deerlick Run's confluence with Tinker's Creek.  A few hundred feet downstream of Bridal Veil Falls, Deerlick Run and another unnamed Tinker's Creek tributary each plunge over a shelf of resistant sandstone to create twin falls in an isolated hemlock-shaded glen, then course together with their waters conjoined.  It was a sacred place for me.
Bridal Veil Falls after morning rain
Northern half of Twin Falls on an unnamed tributary of Tinker's Creek
Because Kali, her brother and I were content to just explore the falls' environs and not take a long hike, we got off the formal trail (which, incidentally, is part of the state-looping Buckeye Trail) and wandered  through the woods along the lip of the gorge.  To my utter disappointment, I found that my sacred place has been desecrated--not terribly, but enough to cause me great sadness.  Many of the birches bore carvings in their bark, and a well-worn path traced the cliff edge.  The woodland understory was virtually non-existent, and all of the very few saplings and root-sprouts had been nibbled by deer.
Fungus-encrusted snag in the woods
There's a very good chance that this will have been my last visit to Bridal Veil Falls.  While my brother and his family and my sister and her family still live in northeastern Ohio, we are none of us particularly close and I have never returned to Ohio just to visit with my younger siblings.  (Nor have they ever come to visit me in 23 years, either.)
Hemlocks and sycamore
And it's not just Bridal Veil Falls; this may have been my last bittersweet visit to Ohio, too, since we have professionals dealing with the sale of the house and the transaction can probably be completed by attorneys via mail or email.  Though there are still tethers that can probably never be completely severed, I think it's time to move on.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Golden November

American beech now have their time to shine

The steep trail to The Peak

Monday, November 7, 2011

Eighth Floor: Green Roof

I had a chance to look over the 45,000-sq-foot (4,050-sq-meter) green roof that PECO Energy (the local utility) installed on its headquarters building in central Philadelphia last week.  Frankly, I thought that green roofs were mostly "tree hugger" hype, but this visit made me a believer.  The roof receives 1.5 million gallons (5.7 million liters) of precipitation during the year, only sheds 0.5 million gallons (1.9 million liters), and it sheds those half-million gallons over a protracted period that doesn't tax the city's stormwater system with excess runoff following heavy rainfall events.
The Cira Center, Philadelphia's most unusual skyscraper, a half-mile away
The roof has many other advantages.  It will last 2-3 times longer than a conventional roof, it is far cooler than a conventional flat tar roof, it absorbs air pollutants, and it actually provides some habitat for birds and insects; we watched honeybees gathering pollen.  The water management angle really captured my interest, though.
 Philadelphia Museum of Art across the green roof
The major part of the roof is planted with 12 species of orpines or stonecrops (Sedum spp.) (alas, no native species).  At this time of year, they are coloring-up beautifully.  The roof is three years old, and the designer knows and expects that some of the stonecrops will be better competitors than others, so the species diversity will decline over time, but right now they make an especially appealing mosaic.
The company also included deeper planting boxes along the edge of the roof where the building's structure could support heavier soil.  The boxes were planted with a mixture of attractive native perennials and native grasses.  Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) has "escaped" the confines of its boxes, and spread its seed into the main part of the roof.  It will be interesting to see if it persists over time in the shallow, droughty, low-density "soil" in which the Sedums are growing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tribulations of Restoring a Muncipal Grassland

The grassland to be restored delimited by fencing
Earlier this year, I was asked by a colleague to serve on an advisory committee that was making recommendations for the restoration of a meadow on parkland in a neighboring municipality.  The 10-acre park was created when the municipality's old stone-and-brick high school was demolished, leaving an open field of rubble buried under a thin veneer of imported topsoil.
Soon after the building was demolished, the municipality engaged the services of a well-respected, ecologically sensitive landscape design firm to create the meadow.  The design specified planting native warm-season prairie grasses on the two-acre meadow site.
View across meadow toward existing woodland
 For several years, the meadow performance was satisfactory (never spectacular), but inevitably the grassland was doomed to fail because the demolition debris had so sweetened the soil that the acidophilous grasses languished and were overrun with non-native grasses and weeds.

The new consultant who was chosen to re-establish the meadow did it "right" this time--she took soil samples and developed a seed mixture compatible with the shallow, rocky and lime-rich soil.  In preparation for re-establishing the grassland, the contractor fenced-off the area, and then herbicided the existing weedy patch in early-summer.  Unfortunately, the contractor used the "newest and best" herbicide, Streamline, which is formulated to kill broadleaved plants but to spare the grasses already present.  Only after the application of Streamline did an article appear in the New York Times that suggested that Streamline could be extremely toxic to conifers.  Sure enough, a huge and beloved ancient Norway spruce that had been near the old school and remained in the center of the new grassland died within two weeks of the herbicide application.
I'm so fortunate to be managing a private preserve (cf. public parkland).  At a meeting of the grassland restoration steering committee earlier this week, a quarter of the meeting was wasted discussing whose logos needed to appear on the sign describing the restoration, and which municipal bureau was responsible for giving final approval for the sign design.
Committee members reviewing plans for a native butterfly garden at the edge of the grassland

Thursday, October 27, 2011

So Bizarre As To Be Nearly Unbelievable

 A white-tailed buck in the natural area fitted with a radio collar
For the last three years, we have been working cooperatively with a wildlife biologist at a local college to track the movement of radio-collared white-tailed deer inhabiting the natural area preserve.  We provide the land and part of the financial support, and the college provides the know-how and labor (in the form of students).  It's a nice synergistic relationship because we get to learn about the movement and population size of the herd, the biologist gets publishable research data, and the students get some exciting hands-on experience tackling deer (in a trap) and fitting them with the collars.

Over the three years, the college has trapped and monitored 33 deer.  Each collar transmits data for about three months until its battery is nearly exhausted, and then the researcher drops the collar off electronically.  Once retrieved and fitted with a new battery, the collar can then be placed on a new deer.

Yesterday morning, I came to work and found one of my employees gutting a newly-killed doe in preparation for taking the deer to a butcher for processing.  Though a little disconcerting first thing in the morning, such a scene is not at all unusual here.  What was unusual was that my employee told me that the deer had been found dead in the parking lot that morning, and that it had been shot with a 22-calibre handgun.  Although we're in the midst of hunting season, it's not legal to hunt with a handgun.

Later in the day, the wildlife biologist telephoned to fill me in on details.  It seems that around midnight, the biologist and his students captured a deer.  After fitting the animal with a collar, they released it and it sprang away into the woods (as they all typically do upon being released).  Then, before the biologist and students could even clean up and get ready to go home for the night, they head a shot that came from the direction of one of the roads adjacent to the woods.  The group turned on its collar-locating electronic device and soon found the just-collared deer, dead in the parking lot.  The unfortunate animal, traumatized by the capture and collar fitting, had been shot dead minutes later by some yahoo (a kind term) with a handgun cruising along the road after midnight.

On a personal note:  I used to run along some of these same roads, and my runs were often after dark.  This incident made me realize that some yahoo could just as easily have shot me, left me to die alongside the road like this deer, and no one would ever have apprehend the perpetrator.  It gave me pause.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Creek (for Grizz)

Yesterday was the quintessential perfect autumn day here.  I had a chance to spend the afternoon assessing the survival rate of 1,000 white ash trees planted 21 years ago, and I didn't have to pushed out the door to do the survey work.  (I did end up with four black-legged [i.e., "deer"] tick bites, though, which itch like a son of a gun today.)  During the survey, I chatted with three good friends who were walking the trails, taking advantage of one of the last good days left this season; it might snow on Saturday!  One friend had just returned from a week's trip to western and central New Mexico, which is "Mecca" for me, so I especially enjoyed seeing him.

The afternoon was so spectacular that, upon her arrival at home from work, I immediately told Kali to put on her walking shoes because we were going for a stroll before dinner.  I guess I was a bit too forceful in my proclamation because she became a bit put off and cranky.  Once we were among the golden prairie grasses, though, all her gruffness evaporated.  By the time we got down to the creek, the light was going out of the world, but I managed to make this image, which I'm dedicating to Grizz because I know that all this image would need to make him happy would be to PhotoShop himself sanding in the water casting for trout.

By the way, though the survival rate of the white ashes I was assessing was high, I know that they're all doomed once the emerald ash borer gets here to the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont.  Their only hope would be if we treated them perpetually with a systemic insecticide--something we just can't afford. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Along Harper's Run

Kali didn't have to go to work yesterday, and I took left work1-1/2 hours early (hey, I had to work three hours on Saturday) in order to enjoy a late afternoon walk on a beautiful autumn day with bright sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60s.  We decided to walk at the county park downstream of the preserve for a change of scene.

Part of the walk in the park takes us alongside a modest but picturesque stream called Harper's Run.  Just after we parked and started upstream along the creek, a hawk flew in from the surrounding woods and landed smack dab in the middle of the creek, and then just sat there, tail fanned out, watching us.  We approached slowly and cautiously, and the hawk flew up out of the creek and onto the rocks alongside.  At that point, I could see that it was carrying something in its talons, but I couldn't tell what.  I pulled out the camera and cranked up the telephoto into the "digital telephoto" range, hoping to get a decent shot despite heavy shade.  I present the best of the five images I captured.  The hawk is a Cooper's Hawk (I couldn't tell in the field), and it appears to have captured a young squirrel (soggy from sitting in the creek).  As we got closer, the hawk carried its meal off to a tree and disappeared.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green Lane

The best color we saw along the shore of the Green Lane Reservoir  
Kali and I did a 6-mile hike at Green Lane County Park in the northwest part of our county.  Though we've lived in this county for 23 years, we'd never visited this 2,300-acre park.  The parkland surrounds a large drinking water impoundment called Green Lane Reservoir, and most of the parkland hugs the shore of the lake fairly closely,  so the trail system is basically a walk along the lake shore, much of which is very steep.
The parkland is located in an interesting geological area where igneous sills had intruded into sedimentary sandstones and shales.  So, it's easy to see the juxtaposition of soft, red sandstones and shales right up against very hard, erosion-resistant black igneous diabase rock.
 The Blue Trail; despite appearances, it was very muddy, even here
Fall color was not spectacular around the reservoir, the trail was frequently muddy, the guidebook did not give comprehensive directions for the hike, and the trails climbed up and down hills a lot.  Kali and I decided that (1) the experience was 25% positive and 75% a slogging trudge, and (2) we wouldn't repeat the hike.  Nevertheless, there were some pleasant spots, especially a side trail that traversed two hemlock ravines with nice, small waterfalls.  Unfortunately, my camera battery was exhausted mid-hike and I didn't get images of the best parts of the hike.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn in Miniature

The ripening Northern sea-oat seeds in my garden are a reflection of autumn, with green gradually giving way to yellows and browns.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Colors of Autumn

 Canoes brought to shore at Lake Galena
Still mostly green here on the Pennsylvania Piedmont.  I heard on the radio this morning that local prognosticators still aren't sure how brilliant our fall will be because the extreme heat of July and the endless, record-setting deluges of August and September stressed the trees.  Foliage color ought to peak in late October.
Walkers on the lake trail
 Kali and I did a 6-mile circumambulation of Lake Galena in Peace Valley County Park on Saturday.  The most brilliant colors were from the canoes lining the shore, but some leaves were beginning to color-up on the hillsides above the lake.
Canada Geese enjoying a beautiful autumn afternoon on Lake Galena

Monday, October 3, 2011

Diminished Expectations

Unless there are some unexpected surprises, I expect to retire in six years and seven months.  Because Kali and I live in a house provided by my employer, we will have to move when I retire--an opportunity to relocate to the mountainous West, we hope.  We've got many friends who are getting older and downsizing, so it's not unreasonable to begin to downsize ourselves right now in anticipation of our move; six years pass amazingly quickly.

Over the weekend, I was in the basement cleaning out files and came across a paper bag full of vegetable and flower seed packets that I had accumulated over the years.  I'm dumping the unplanted seeds into a collective paper bag, which I'll take to the compost heap when I've finished the task.  I'm recycling the paper seed packets.

I know, I know--some of the seeds may be viable, but in my experience, seed viability diminishes quickly for garden seeds, so I'm not going to bother to pot-up the seeds and then be disappointed when germination is spotty or nonexistent.  And, In fact, that's part of my point in posting this blog entry.
Some of the seed packets date back as far as 1997.  Back then, I planted lots and lots of annuals with the garden vegetables every year.  My garden was half vegetables and half annuals, and it was beatuiful, but labor intensive.

Now, I have a sad perennial garden that's overrun with weeds, into which I fit a few tomato plants each spring.  How did I ever find the time to create this extravagant annual flower garden 14 years ago--at a time when I was also still running at least three evenings a week?  I'm 14 years older, discouraged by the incessant press of weeds, groundhogs and deer, and I have a lot less physical energy (I naively never imagined this would happen to me).  It all contributes to diminished expectations in my life in general.

Friday, September 30, 2011


It's still too early in autumn to grade the season's foliage display, but this flowering dogwood is already in fine form.  Dogwoods are always the first trees to "color up" here in the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont.

The dogwoods are heavily laden with drupes this year, which will be a boon for the migratory birds that fatten up on the lipid-rich fruit.

The first Northern Harrier appeared over our grasslands earlier this week.  At least one harrier usually overwinters here, but the early arriver may move on, to be replaced by another bird as the season progresses.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Fabric of Nature

Return of the Grackle by Diane Rusin Doran
Kali and I attended the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza XVIII show over the weekend.  I made images of some of the best of the nature-themed quilts.  As Kali said, "If these pieces were made by men, they'd be hanging in museums."  Return of the Grackle, above, may have been my favorite.  

In some cases, I jotted down a note about the quilter and the title of the work.  If I did so, I have added the information to the caption.  Otherwise, you'll have to use your imagination.
Autumn Leaves by Israeli artist Eti David

Alberta Rockies #2 by Patti Morris 
(Winner: First Place in World Quilt Competition XV, Innovative Category)

Earthquake Faults by Marcia DeCamp

Detail from Celtic Cranes by Leslie Davis
(Winner: Best Use of Color in the Traditional Category, World Quilt Competition XV)
The one above is for Grizz.

On Summit Trail by Deb Brockway
And, last but not least, this one's for Desert Packrat, because it reminded me of a picture he took recently during a hike on the Switchback Trail in the Sacramento Mountains.