Nov 16, 2009

Friday Charly and I were leaving for school. As we left the living room door, she spotted a deer. It took me almost 30 seconds to find it. It was 50 yards away standing by the mailbox. I'm taking her hunting with me this year. These eyes aren't what they used to be, I fear.

I got a couple pics with the camera. Here is one.

Oct 26, 2009

Ten Minute Break

I took a stroll to end of the driveway tonight at 11 pm before tucking myself in for the night. I couldn't help but throw out some screech owl whinnies. I got a response first from what I think was a flying squirrel. A boxy shadow glided from the outer branches of the catalpa tree closest to the driveway to the trunk when I began to call. About a minute later, a small shadow passed about ten feet overhead, heading across the driveway and the garden to the catalpa tree with the bluebird box on it. I soon heard the high pitch whinny from the east across the paved road perhaps at 150 yards distance. After another minute a lower-pitched whinny joined in the chorus directly behind the house, perhaps 40 yards away. I kept each whinnying for a minute or so then stopped, not wanting to disturb them further. The owl behind the house moved to the south and was heard close to the pond. The other owl fell silent. I decided to leave them be and walked back to the front door listening to the lonely call of the screech owl near the pond. I'll stay out of their lives for a few weeks, but I'm sure I'll feel the urge to talk with my neighbors again in the future.

Oct 13, 2009

On the Visitor Center

I stopped at Canoe Creek State Park and helped set up an activity for tomorrow at the visitor center. Heidi, the environmental educator, pointed out a roosting bat behind the light outside of the door. After we were done, I walked around the outside of the building looking for other animals coming up with a woolly bear caterpillar, an assasin bug, and the bat. All these animals are preparing for winter in their own way. Woolly bear caterpillars are the folk weather forecasters with cinnamon red and black stripes. The caterpillars find a safe place to overwinter - under rocks, in the leaf litter, and in logs. In the spring, they'll spin their coccoons and Isabela tiger moths will emerge. This woolly bear will hopefully be moving to more sheltered location for the winter. The assasin bug pictured here is one I frequently find in my own house. These overwinter in the cracks and crevices of houses, in rocky areas, and other sheltered spots. Known for their predatory behavior, these Hemipterans are quite adept at stalking prey. Their piercing sucking mouth part acts as a tube that exudes digestive juices and ingests the soupy nutrition it creates. Assassin bug is more of a general term, applying to some 3,000 species. The bat, probably a little brown, has found safety for today. I hope after a good day's rest this bat moves to a sheltered cave or some warmer abode. Temperatures are dropping into the 30s tonight.

Aug 12, 2009

Thoughts on Tomatoes

I planted a garden this year and I am having more success than last year, but not great success. The key to my progress this year is a fence. The deer haven't eaten my tomatoes. But, I still have a ways to go. My tomatoes grew fine, and I now have red ripe cherry tomatoes and some good canning tomatoes. But now my tomato plants' leaves are turning brown and shriveling up. It starts from the lowest leaves and is working its way up. Maybe the roots are too warm. I'm going to shake off the mulch and pull up the plastic under the mulch tomorrow. Then there are the zucchini plants. I have small zucchinis developing, but the first ones produced were eaten on the vine. Not the entire zucchini, just chunks taken out of it. Then there are (were) the beans and peppers. I planted them. The beans never came up and the peppers were eaten by an insect that I couldn't find to identify.

Thank God for the grocery store.

Jun 18, 2009

Summer is Coming

This week has seen cooler temperatures and changes in the bird calls, animal behaviors and blooming flowers. Most notably, no turtles have been seen laying eggs in a week. Walking past the gravel bank reveals no new digs or disturbances that I can see. The page is turning. Many of the birds have nested and the fledglings have moved out into the wide world. Mourning doves that can barely fly, tree swallow fledglings, robins, and chipping sparrow fledglings have been seen repeatedly. We have been without rain for five days, too. Until last night. A good soaker dropped up to an inch and a half of rain on the area. A rather tall white flower has emerged along the roads and is now blooming in the yard. I hope to look it up when I go inside. Tonight, as I sit on the porch writing this, spring peepers are peeping again. Earlier I heard a toad trilling. The vernal pool along the dirt road is full again. I won't be mowing the trail through the wet meadow anytime soon.

I've been teaching 2nd through 4th graders about "Creepy Crawlies" - the overlooked and often feared spiders, insects, crustaceans, worms, slugs, and millipedes. In my quest for course materials, I found two lovely lady dobson flies near my porch light. The rich browns and delicate wings were lovely, but those formidable-looking mouthparts made me pause when I caught them. The cold has kept the ladybug invasion down, but as I sit here, I am seeing the lady bugs rising from the grass and flying about. I hope the next week brings their numbers up and we can get the "Christmas tree effect" we had last year.

Jun 16, 2009

Lightning Bugs Appearing

I noticed the first one two weeks ago, I believe it was June 3rd. Just a little yellow-green light in the unmowed grass near my flower bed. I saw several others that night. Over the past two weeks, their numbers and flights have increased, with most activity occurring after a rain on warm and humid evenings. I was hoping for more activity, but I haven't had the chance to see the trees light up like Christmas trees as they did last year. I'll keep looking.

I read in an article in the Clearfield Progress newspaper that lightning bugs are declining in some areas. In addition to beetle pesticides killing off the larva, keeping grass short can cause them problems. I'm showing my solidarity with the little night lights by not mowing 2/3 of my property. Viva la luciƩrnaga.

Jun 3, 2009

Egg-citing News From the Reptile World!

The wood turtles are laying eggs! Last week, I stumbled up the bank near the creek and spotted a freshly dug nest. I shifted my gaze a few inches higher, and found the excavator herself - a large female with a carapace length of perhaps eight inches. I left her, and thought her gone for good. Until yesterday.

A stroll down the road to the sight of last week's excavation was productive. As a peered over the guard rail to scan the gravel bank, a female wood turtle - perhaps the same one as last week - had her lower body immersed in a hole in the gravel. I left to tell a neighbor who I thought might be interested in seeing this. Upon our return, he spotted a second turtle five yards away from the first. Both had holes started.

That was around eight in the evening on June 2nd. Today, June 3rd, I found the turtles still digging, but at different locations at nine in the morning. The orange legs and torso, the slatey green-brown backs, and the pyramidal concentric rings were clearly evident. I took some pictures and left the ladies to do their thing undisturbed.

Researching these turtles has reminded me of some of the amazing attributes of their physical construction, their behaviors, and their life histories. More on those things later.

May 28, 2009

A Hodge Podge of Nature

I've been able to stay at home and work a lot more with the end of the semester. Walks around the yard, strolls up and down the road, and drives into town have provided a great deal of fun and some interesting observations.

Walking around the yard has yielded at least seven active nests. Just outside the door above the light by the driveway a phoebe has nested again. The carport by the shed has what I believe are two vacant robin nests and a vacant phoebe nest built on the handle of the weed eater left hanging there by the previous owner of the house. This year a robin is raising its young in a new mud and grass nest right above the lawnmower and a dove has raised two young not more than five feet from the robin. Near the creek, a piece of bark has peeled back to make a beautiful horizontal shelf. A robin found it to its liking, and had five eggs in it earlier this week. I put my hand in today and found nestlings, so I will let them be from now on. Moving towards the paved road, at least two pairs of starlings have nested (unfortunately). And I discovered today the bluebird box that fledged young last year has young in it. I assume they are bluebirds, because that is what has been entering and leaving the box. But the nest has feathers in it, like a tree swallow would build. Perhaps there was some competition for the box, and the nest is a composite of leftovers and new materials.

The amphibians have been active, too. I had wood frog tadpoles in the vernal pond on the east side of the property, but the pond dried up last weekend. Spring peepers went silent this week, with bullfrogs and green frogs vocalizing in the evening. As the weather has turned wetter, I heard one toad trilling this evening and some peepers are calling this evening. The pond next door has had pickerel frogs, green frogs, and bullfrogs along it.

Reptiles have been sparse, but that seems to be from my not looking, not them not being about. I believe the garter snake still lives in the wood pile. Shallow depressions have appeared in the gravel near the bridge. I was surprised today to find a fresh hole, not looking to be more than a few hours old. Shifting my gaze up, I found a wood turtle about 10" in length sitting next to the road. I left her to go about her business.

I've started to investigate the fish in the area, through fishing and putting out the minnow trap. While I know there are trout in Canoe Creek, I can't catch them with rod and reel. I did manage to trap some black-nosed dace, two 4" long creek chubs, and a crayfish there. In the pond across the dirt road, bluegill and redbreast sunfish are within my ability to catch, but the bass and crappie I have seen are not.

Each day I find something in the yard or the neighborhood that I can't identify. I'm spending some time with the field guides and song tapes I have, solving new mysteries and refreshing my memories of the flora and fauna found locally.

May 18, 2009

Jack In The Pulpit

I've been mowing between rainstorms and finally after a week reached the back of the house. Much to my surprise, the leaves-of-three that greeted me were not poison ivy but jack in the pulpit. At least two were flowering. I always enjoy finding such an unusual and beautiful flower. Having it next to my house is a pleasure. With a spathe and a spadix, the flower is shaped like a pitcher with a folded flap of striped petal over the top of a rod-shaped green "jack" sitting in the middle of the pitcher. The shade of the house should provide a good spot for them to grow and spread.

May 3, 2009

First Whip-poor-wills Heard

I stepped outside to retrieve some things from my car a few minutes ago. Above the rushing water of the stream, I could hear the "whip" note of a whip-poor-will. I cupped my hands behind my ears, changed my position several times, and eventually I could make out the complete call of the first whip-poor-will of the year.

Reptilian Guest

While cleaning up some debris from last year's construction project, I uncovered a nice-sized garter snake. Fortunately, my daughter was here to take a look at it, too. He was very nervous and struck a couple of times. I would be scared too. After retrieving a woolly bear caterpillar to look at, we covered him back up and I'll let him enjoy the debris pile for the summer. He was so lovable.

Apr 27, 2009

Heat Wave

Temperatures have been in the high 80s since Saturday. This after sleet and rain on Wednesday, April 22nd and snow and rain on Monday April 20th. Still, the migrants are back in force. I stopped at the Hollidaysburg Library this afternoon and had four chimney swifts (they were twittering long before "twittering" on phones took place) fly by in formation. I believe I heard an oriole this evening, and a hummingbird did a flyby.

It's actually hot. While I am sure this will generate some great tans and lawn work, I'm praying for a lot more rain and milder temperatures. Things are still dry. And the rain needs to come.

Other noteworthy nature stuff: toads have been trilling for two days. The peepers continue peeping. There are at least 21 great blue heron nests in the nearby rookery. And three deer were grazing in my yard last evening when I pulled in.

Apr 14, 2009

Turkey Vultures

Last night I spent 15 minutes watching the vultures come into roost. The largest count was 85 turkey vultures spiraling around in a large, wide kettle on the north-facing mountain on Beaver Dam Road. Some close views occurred as the slid across the sky over the house, but in spite of my careful looking, I couldn't turn any of them into black vultures. I am told black vultures have roosted here, too, but I haven't seen them yet. It could be I'm just missing them. It could be with the cold temperatures (in the 40s around 6:00PM yesterday and 26 this morning at 6:30AM) they simply aren't roosting this far north yet. I will continue to watch for the black heads and different underwing pattern of the black vulture. I hope they are here.

Apr 4, 2009

More Frogs and Two Bats

Thursday night April 2 found my daughter and I at Legion Park in Altoona. As dusk was settling, two bats flitted across the parking lot. I'd have to say the wingspan of both bats were about 10 to 12 inches. I saw some cream colored markings on the wing of one bat, but I can't say which species it might have been.

Getting out of the car at home, the spring peepers were at full tilt. The temperature was in the upper 50s. Then I picked up the trill of toads probably 150 yards off to the southwest. It was great to hear toads. It wasn't until the next morning at 6AM that I heard the third species, wood frogs. Their unusual quacking was a welcome edition to the chorus.

Rain and probably snow is in the forecast for the next few days. But winter is losing the battle and the advance of spring is definitely in the air.

Apr 2, 2009

Peepers, Toads, and a Red Fox

It was 60 degrees today and beautifully sunny. The past twenty-four hours have been full of springtime fun. Last night, I could hear spring peepers loud enough to penetrate the closed doors and windows of my house. Around ten in the evening, three sharp barks were heard outside of the house. From past experience, these were the calls of a red fox. He must have been a few yards from the porch, because I could hear him from inside the house.

Tonight, the spring peepers were louder than ever when I got out of the car. A new sound joined them. The trill of toads. The toads weren't present in any great numbers, but they were there. Charly and I listened to the spring peepers and toads with the door open for a few minutes, then closed it and continued to hear the spring peepers.

Rain is coming tonight and thunderstorms tomorrow. I can't wait.

Mar 30, 2009

Sixty-Eight Deer and a Red Fox

With the lengthening days, I have actually been able to return to home before dark. This evening as I drove down Beaver Dam Road, dozens of vultures were circling the northwest-facing mountain preparing to roost for the night. Driving across Canoe Creek and turning onto Scotch Valley Road, I watched as a red fox darted across the road into piles of stored construction materials. I pulled the car off the road and watched the field, quickly realizing that I was being watched by the fox. Approximately 100 yards off, his face was dark, but the large pointed ears were aligned to pick up any noise I made. Within seconds, he trotted across ten yards of open field into the lumber and pallets, disappearing from site. Last week I had heard a fox doing its scream-like bark at one in the morning. Every ten seconds or so, it would let go with this hoarse, high-pitched bark, apparently identifying its territory or perhaps courting a lady friend.

Excited by the sighting, I drove slowly through Scotch Valley towards Frankstown. First, a deer jumped across the road. Two more moved silently out of the brush and crossed behind the car. Next five more deer were spotted. Then eight in a field. The numbers added up quickly with eight here, thirteen there, five in that field, and a few more there. The last sighting was the most spectacular. I had passed the Scotch Valley Country Club and cut through to Turkey Valley. As I crested the hill, the field to my left was filled with deer. After two counts with binoculars, twenty more deer were seen. The final count was sixty-eight deer.

Mar 16, 2009

Spring Birds and Weather

This morning's walk to the car brought a sound to the ear that I haven't heard in many months. The raspy call of the eastern phoebe, returned from parts unknown, was heard 40 yards away at the edge of Canoe Creek. Herons did a fly over, leaving their rookery on Beaver Dam Road. A song sparrow performed its long and melodic song. A warm enjoyable way to start the day.

The evening was equally pleasant, while the birds were quiet, a steady light rain was falling. Warm air, gentle rain, and longer days and awakening the slumbering world, and driving us forward into a spring of returning birds and emerging flowers.

Mar 6, 2009

The Return of Old Friends

Today I stayed at home and enjoyed the last day of my spring break. The turning Earth and warming trend brought back some old friends. The early morning is now beginning to be filled with the chorus of many birds. Red-winged blackbirds, grackles, killdeer, and bluebirds are calling more and more and arriving in greater numbers. This afternoon, three great blue herons passed over the yard heading back towards the rookery near Gamelands 166. It's a positive relief to see days lengthening and the birds returning.

Feb 27, 2009


Temperatures in the 50s for several days have reawakened the world. A male red-winged blackbird was calling this morning. A thunderstorm rolled through with at least one clap of thunder that rattled windows and shook the house. A great blue heron was feeding in Canoe Creek right beside the house. The morning was filled with bird song - a Carolina wren, a bluebird, and white-breasted nuthatches. The fields are still brown, but the ground has thawed enough that the morning drive to work produced no less than 11 deer out in the fields grazing for roots and shoots. It will be cold again in a few days, but for now we will enjoy the break.

Feb 23, 2009


After an extended absence, I've returned to the blogosphere and I hope to regularly post events and happenings from Red House and the local area. The winter has been cold. Colder than usual I believe. I'm happy to be sitting in my red chair with the wood burner emanating heat from its red and orange coals and occasional tongues of flame. If I can keep the fire going, the furnace doesn't turn on and the house - even furthest from the wood burner - will hold a temperature of around 60 degrees when outside temperatures are in the 20s.

The cold temperatures and work have kept me away from my passions of birding and wildlife watching, but I squeeze in a few minutes daily walking between classes or passing from the car to the grocery store. One and maybe two snowy owls have been overwintering in Cambria County near Patton. They (or it) has also shown up near Ebensburg and between Eckenrode Mills and Chest Springs. Pine siskins have been steady visitors to bird feeders, including mine at Red House, since December. While I have yet to see them, white-winged crossbills are popping up everywhere in Pennsylvania. In spite of the cold and the irruption of Canadian visitors, spring is creeping in. Wednesday, February 12th saw the first red-winged blackbirds and grackles at Canoe Creek State Park. Dead skunks are populating our roads, indicating the mating urge is upon them, in spite of the weather. And the days grow longer. Today, I was outside at 5:45 PM standing and watching gray snow clouds move slowly from the west towards us in Altoona and daylight was still with us. I'm thankful for the longer days and the gradual warming of the year. I hope it comes sooner than later, but there is nothing I can do about it so I'll just enjoy cold while it is here.