Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas at Tick Hill Farm

Christmas morning at the ol' homestead.  Look at all that snow!

Okay, so it wasn't terribly winter-y out, but it was a beautiful morning.  We headed out first thing to feed the birds and go for our morning walk. Here you can see one of the brush piles I've been building at my bird feeding area.  It's practically a windbreak now, but, oh, the birds to love it.  This is a classic case of "build it, they will come."

 As we turned the corner and headed up Fishville road, Nino, the yip-yap next door, came charging out to greet us.  He thinks this corner, including our yard, is his.  Notice the ridiculous PJs he's wearing (covered with candy canes).  He's an annoying little pooch, but essentially harmless.

Now here's something you don't see every Christmas:  a spider headed across the road!  Yes, it was that mild out.  I wonder if Christmas spiders will become a tradition, thanks to climate change.  Hm.

I had some time off this week - thanks to holidays falling on days off.  So, to alleviate the boredom, did I work on the walls, removing the remaining wallpaper and wallpaper glue, repairing cracks and holes with new plaster?  No, of course not - I rearranged furniture!  My "front room" has this lovely bay-like window, which I immediately filled with houseplants when I moved in.  I've had many visions for this room, but it is now my sitting room, with the sofa arranged so I have...

...Bird TV!  Bird TV is what we call the big window at work, which faces our Wildlife Viewing Area, all delightfully arranged with bird feeders and pond.  We often eat our lunch in front of Bird TV - it is great. Well, since I don't have TV at home, I decided to create my own Bird TV, for this window looks right out over the bird feeding area I put up.  Depending on where I sit on the sofa, I have a great view of the feeders.  And you just never know what will show up - I had a bluebird (not a blue jay) sitting at the feeders this very afternoon!

Here you can see one of the recent attractants at the feeders:  the carcass of the Christmas Chicken.  This is a GREAT way to utilize your leftovers.  Let's face it - most of us don't do a great job cleaning the remaining meat off the carcass, so instead of wasting this largess, put it outside for the birds!  They will love you for it, for it will provide them with much-needed winter protein, as well as fat.

I was very excited last night when Toby and I came home from our walk to find some opossum tracks in the driveway, going to and from the feeders.  We have a  'possum!  I hope to see him (her?) one of these days.  Although 'possums are essentially nocturnal, they do wander around during the day sometimes.  My neighborhood is rife with 'possums, based on the number permanently sleeping along the roadsides, so I shouldn't be surprised to have one here.  I wonder if it lives in the garage (that's where the tracks were heading).  Hm....

Happy Holidays!

Here's hoping everyone had a wonderful holiday!


 Thank you, Uncle Tom - they are my favorites!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Bird Count

A hundred plus years ago, one of the big holiday experiences, especially among the gentry, was to go out on Boxing Day and shoot birds (and mammals).  Teams were chosen and the one that came back with the biggest pile of fur and feathers "won."  It was the sport of the time there in the late 1800s.  This, combined with the growing penchant for birds and their various parts on hats, led to the nearly catastrophic decline in many bird species. 

It was in 1900 that Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, proposed a new bird sport to replace this holiday tradition:  a Christmas Bird Count.  Teams would go out and look for birds, recording on paper how many they found of each species.  That first year, Christmas 1900, the CBC had a total of 27 participants and logged in over 18,000 birds of 89 species.  The 111th CBC (last year) tallied 2215 areas that had teams out counting birds:  1714 in the USA, 394 in Canada, 107in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands.  How many people?  62,624!  That's a long way from the original 27.  I think Mr. Chapman hit on something.  And how many birds were counted?  61,359,451.  As impressive as that is, it is down over 4 million from the count two years earlier, and that was with more eyes looking and more areas surveyed than in 2009.  Not good.

Well, this year is the 112th annual CBC, and it was my second.  Last year, three days after starting my new job, I headed out with two of my new coworkers to help tally birds around a section of the Waterloo Recreation Area.  This year, I was asked to help out again, so I joined one of my coworkers and one of our volunteers as we drove around a smaller section, hoping to find some birds.

It was a chilly, grey, damp day.  It snowed off and on, but I think that snow really wanted to be rain.  Gary thought the weather would be in our favor, keeping birds low and from flying around.  Well, the birds must've really been keeping low, because we were having a terrible time finding any!  We drove by wetlands...

and walked down roads.  Oh, we heard the birds chuttering to themselves, but they just weren't sticking their heads up.

We got out and walked the Hoffman Trail.  This is great habitat for red-headed woodpeckers.  We saw four (last year we had seven).  A couple kingfishers were quite vocal, and one put on a really nice show for us.  The trail out to the wetland, however, was a bit wet - only Gary forged across.

Paul was our official tally-man.  After a while, we began to wonder if we really needed to add another blue jay.  Blue jays were quite numerous - and vocal.  They were elbowed out by mourning doves in  number, though, but this was only because we came across two large flocks of doves snoozing on utility lines.

We found these wonderful woodpecker holes - fairly fresh.

The woodpecker (pileated) was not only drilling for insects, it was flipping off pieces of bark to look for food underneath.  Can you see the horizontal scratch were the beak skidded sideways?

Partway through the day, we headed back to Gary's house for bathrooms and lunch.  

Lucy was there to greet us and make us feel welcome (as was Gary's wife, who had a lovely pot of stew bubbling away on the stove to help us warm up).

Nancy joined us for the afternoon search.  The temperature remained at the borderline level, and the air remained damp and chilly.

Since the birds were not offering themselves up for photography, I fell back on my usually photographic subjects:  plants.  Here we have a lovely white bush clover with its white snow caps.

Milkweed looks lovely regardless of the season.

Our final site was this stand of conifers.  Gary was hopeful that we might find some owls roosting here:  short-eared or saw-whet. 

We looked around the bases of trees for pellets, and stared at trunks in hopes of finding some "white-wash" - both signs that an owl has been roosting there, but had no luck.  Gary even crawled through some thick brush to peer into low conifer branches, just in case a saw-whet was hunkered down there.  Nada.

We did find some lovely clubmosses, though.  I haven't seen clubmosses since leaving the Adirondacks.  My clubmoss ID skills are a bit rusty, and I don't have a clubmoss ID book.  I'm hoping my botany buddies will help me out with species here.  I think this might be prince's pine, but I'm not 100% convinced of it.

Update:  These are ground cedar.  Which ground cedear, though, I'm not sure.  They could be Lycopodium tristachyum or L. digitatum.  Of course, the details I need to tell them apart are not available in the photographs I took.  I may need to make another trip out here.  (I still don't know about the one climbing the trees, though - it could be the same species, just out for a stretch.)

And this one, with the long runners (some of which were actually climbing up the trees) I think is a new one for me.  At least it doesn't look like any of the species we had at the Newcomb VIC.

It was nearing 4:00 when we decided to wrap things up.  Our last new birds were kinglets - golden crowned.  

All in all, it was a good day spent outside participating in a one-hundred-plus-year-old tradition.  I haven't seen the tallies yet, but I hear we did pretty well.

Walk Around the "Block"

A couple weeks ago Toby and I woke to a lovely sunny morning, and since it was my day off, we went for a 2.5 mile walk around "the block."  This section of real estate includes rural houses, state hunting land, and a bit of farming.  

When we first headed out, and were cutting across the yard, the neighbor's dog, Nino, came bounding across the road, yapping away, to greet us.  Nino is very keen on Toby, but won't let me anywhere near him.  A very nervous little dog.

Soon we were beyond the houses and McMansions and walking along the dirt road, with state land to either side.  Normally I'd be very excited about all this state land, but it's not like the Adirondacks, where there are trails and hidden wonders to discover.  Mostly this land is forested and full of invasive species, and it's primary purpose is for hunting. 

 Even in the summer, when hunting is pretty much not happening, I'm not going to be wandering these lands because the numbers of ticks are simply unbelievable.  Michigan is home to 20 species of ticks.  Twenty!  About five of these are of concern:  the black-legged (formerly known as the deer tick), the American dog tick (aka: wood tick), the lone star tick (not strictly a Texan, despite the name), the woodchuck tick and the brown dog tick.  That's two dog ticks!  Toby and I are steering clear of tall grasses during the warm weather.

I may have posted a photo of this place (below) this summer.  I'm not sure what it is, but it does have "refinery" written on it. Last night when I was driving home, I saw a raging fire about two miles down the road from my house.  The structure was behind a lot of trees and several hundred yards from the road, so I couldn't get a good look, but it appeared to me like I could see a door that was ajar and the whole downstairs glowing from the fire.  "Upstairs" large gouts of flame were spewing forth, perhaps from a window, or a chimney, or a hole in the roof.  After knocking on doors and getting no response, I found a driveway that went toward the inferno, and two truck were driving out.  I stopped and asked if there was a house on fire - I was ready to dial 911 for help.  The man told me it was an oil refinery and they were just burning off whatever it is they burn off at such places - nothing to worry about.  There are a lot of small oil wells all around this area where I've purchased my home.  I wonder now if this structure below was another oil refinery - the green "chimney" certainly suggests this might be so.  Do they also have fires burning off "stuff?" 

Tracking is pretty poor around here.  No fishers, no martens.  We do have coyotes - I've heard them calling.  Maybe I'll see some tracks once we get some real snow.  And weasels and foxes.  About the only tracks I've encountered so far, though, are dog, deer and rabbit (see below).  How small cottontail rabbit tracks look after ten years of following snowshoe hares!

I'm not sure what this gated road leads to.  It looks like it should be a ranch somewhere out west.  We do have a number of farms around here - mostly soybeans and corn.  I've seen homes with sheep (not quite farms - just small holdings), and one place down the road from me has a handful each of Holsteins and pigs.  A few places have chickens.  It's certainly not dairy country like where I grew up.  Oh, and there are horses - quite a number of horses.  Up in the Waterloo area, just north of me, we have the upper crust horses that are attached to the country club and go on fox hunts, but down here we have rural horses, most likely family pets.

This part of Michigan is just starting to get bits of elevation - here we have a genuine hill!  Mostly, however, things are pretty flat here.

And, as we come down the home stretch, we see the source of the tree-of-heaven saplings found on my property:  full-grown trees on state land.

It's no wonder they are such prolific spreaders - just look at the amount of seeds still clinging to the upper branches!  I wonder if anyone would really object if I girdled these trees.  Hm.  I guess that since they are on state land I probably shouldn't - but it sure would be tempting!

All too soon we were back home. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time Flies

It seems I never get around to posting stuff anymore...and certainly not like I used to!  Even content-wise I feel I have slipped a long way from where this blog was back when I was in NY.  Partly (mostly) this is due to time.  At my last job, since we were closing down, I had plenty of time to research and write.  Now my days are full at work - busy busy busy doing a bi-monthly newsletter, working on interpretive plans, doing weekly programs at the local middle school, attending meetings, etc. etc. etc.  I don't have internet at home (can't afford it), so I have to make do at work or at hotspots on my days off (which doesn't happen very much - I do so miss the Crandall Library in Glens Falls).

Right now, however, I have misplaced my camera cable, so I am unable to download photographs.  Photographs of exciting things like the annual Christmas Bird Count this last Saturday.

And I also neglected to post a major milestone:  one year, one week and one day ago I moved to Michigan.  Two days later I started this new job.  It's been a whole year!  Tempus fugit!!!  Sometimes it feels like it can't possibly be a whole year already, while at other times I feel like I've been here so much longer.

With a whole year behind me now, I can no longer take advantage of "I'm the new person."  I've now seen and done just about everything here, so there are no more excuses.  Time to forge ahead and make my mark.

Today also marks another year completed in my own life - and for the first time, a birthday doesn't really seem like such a big deal.  It was starting to feel that way the last couple of years, but this year it is truly so.  Is this a sign of having finally grown up?  Hm....can't have THAT happen!

But it is the Winter Solstice - a time of celebration around the world.  I guess officially it isn't the Winter Solstice until 12:30 tonight, EST (or tomorrow morning, if one wants to be really correct).  In my mind, however, December 21st will always be the Winter Solstice, just as March 21st will always be the Vernal Equinox, June 21st the Summer Solstice and September 21st the Autumnal Equinox. 

I really kind of like the idea of this being the longest night of the year, where the community would gather around a roaring fire and keep it burning (Yule log) until the sun rose the next morning, ensuring the turn of the seasons and that light would return to this good earth.  I imagine this was really a lot more significant in those far northern climes where daylight at this time of year only lasts an hour or two.  While I may begrudge the morning darkness (I hate getting up before 5:30 and not seeing the sky lighten until after 8:00 AM), we still have some daylight here until almost 5:30 in the evening.  A wee bit more light than we had in the Adirondacks.

So, enjoy your holiday this season, whatever it may be.  And when I find my camera cable, we will once more be back in business here.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Step Back in Time

Sunday dawned chilly, grey and rainy.  Bleh.  But I wasn't about to let this keep me in.  I called my friend Carrie and off we went to the Waterloo Farm Museum to see what they had to offer for their 1880s Christmas Celebration Weekend.

It took some hunting along the backroads around Waterloo to find the place, but find it we did.  As you can see, things were a bit wet and muddy.

The fence was decorated for the season, and after we stepped into the barn, paid our $5 fee, and grabbed a homemade cookie and some cider, we went exploring.

Most of the buildings here are small.  One was the gift shop, and another had wreathes and swags for sale.  The rest, however, were set up to demonstrate their original uses.

For example, this was the bake house!  What a wonderful oven, and along the sides were shelves where no doubt various grains were kept and loaves were set to cool.

Carrie moved some props around so I could get a nice photo.


The floor housed an old grind stone.  We pondered on this for a while.  Why was it put here?  Was this stone removed because it was worn out and subsequently installed here as a decorative floor?  Had the original mill gone automatic? We didn't find an answer.

We were equally fascinated by the roof of the bake house.

What a wonderful collection of mosses and lichens!

One of the buildings was the original farm cabin.  Inside they had three volunteers on hand to do some interpreting.

A toasty fire was crackling away and the lady of the house was cooking up some lunch.

They had decked out the place for the holidays.  Their tree was decorated with various dried fruit ornaments.

I, of course, was drawn to the bed, with its three quilts! 

The tall "barrel" you see just to the right of the door is a section of hollowed out sycamore.  The story goes that one winter the folks who lived in the cabin rescued a native woman and her child from a blizzard.  The family cared for them and when their health returned, they headed back to their people.  The following year, people from the tribe returned to the cabin with this barrel, which was packed full of dried meat, to say thanks for taking care of the woman and child.  The family kept the barrel (and apparently stored flour in it).  

A few pictures up, you can see a windmill.  It is attached to the well, and was the family's source of water.

It was a looooong way down to the water.

Next to the spring house (water pump) was a very short building...mostly under ground.

This was the milk house.  Often these buildings were built on, or next to, the spring house, which provided natural cooling inside.  The family's milk and butter were stored here.  I'm thinking it might also make a pretty nice root cellar.

Next, it was on to the big house, which the family built after living in the little cabin a few years.

Before entering, we had to don blue booties over our muddy shoes - a pretty effective means for keeping the house a little bit cleaner on a wet and muddy day.

In the front parlor we were told all about the many ways folks of this era might have celebrated the holidays. I was most taken by the feather tree, a tradition brought over from Germany in the late 1800s and which became quite popular in the US by the early 1900s.

These little table-top trees are made from feathers, twisted and attached to the branches.  The stiff feathers look very much like spruce or fir needles.  Candles, of course, were the traditional way to light one's tree.  If done correctly, candles on a tree are safe.  One should just never leave the room while they are lit.  My grandmother used to put candles on her tree (she was of German descent), but I don't recall her ever lighting them.  I've only once seen a tree lit with candles, and that was at the house of the family of one of my classmates when I was a kid.  It is lovely.

We toured through the second parlor, which was the domain of the woman of the house, and one could only go in there if invited.  They had an old pump organ there and a woman played it for us as we passed through. 

Continuing around the rooms, we came to a small one where a woman was making socks on an antique sock-knitting machine.  The story behind this machine was that there was a woman who was married to a minister.  She spent a lot of time knitting socks for her family, time that her husband would be better spent in prayer.  So, he invented this machine that turned out socks in a fraction of the time it took to knit them by hand.

While I was quite taken by her socks, and interviewed her at length about her machine, I was also enthralled with the crazy quilt that was on the bed.  It had a lot of wonderful embroidery on it, including some great phrases, like the one below ("Laugh and grow fat").


Feathers also featured in artwork upon the walls.  This lovely framed arrangement of flowers was made entirely of feathers.

Things were cooking in the kitchen.  Although it was a chilly and damp day, it was toasty warm in here.  They had bacon frying on the stove and a stew going in the Dutch oven.  Next to the stove, on the left, is the wash tub - it was bath day.  In fact, one of the women in the kitchen was telling us how that was how her family bathed when she was a kid, and she couldn't have been older than her 60s.

The gentleman in the kitchen regaled us with tales of butter-making.  They had a small table-top churn set up to make butter, and they also had this "machine" with some butter on it.  The key, he said, to making good butter was to separate the buttermilk from the butter, otherwise your butter would spoil.  This could be done in a big bowl, pressing the butter up the sides and pouring out the buttermilk, or in the machine below, which would force the butter up between the paddles, leaving the buttermilk in the pan below, from which you could easily pour it off.

By the time we got upstairs, it was after 3:00 and things were getting dark, thanks to the overcast day.  But over all, I had a great time - well worth the price of admission.  In fact, I was so taken by this place that I might even consider becoming a volunteer...after all, I love this period of history.