Stuff to do on hot days

It is never hot and dry here. It is always hot and humid. When we say the day is hot we mean the air is saturated and the temperature is high. My family spent most of the week in Stowe last week. A stay-cation, if you will. It was really hot. Some of the things we did:

  1. Played mini-golf. This is kind of like bowling. Anyone can do it and everyone thinks they will be the best at it when they start. I’ve got this, you tell yourself, and the first hole is fine. I mean, you need to warm up, right? Then by the third hole you think, whatever, this is just for fun. We did this late in the day so we were in the shade. We thought about going bowling, but never got to it.
  2. Watched the World Cup. With the US team favored to win, we were excited to see as many games as we could. The USA/France game was especially fun to watch. You have to root for the home team a little, but really, GO USA! Last year we watched the men’s World Cup on an equally hot stay-cation week. Of all the teams we watched both years, the US women’s team is clearly the best.
  3. Hiked and ran on trails, early. We ran on the trails at Trapp Family Lodge. There are miles of them and getting out early means beating the heat. We did some sweating, for sure, but a little shade and a little breeze and that’s what I’m talking about. One day we saw a bear cub. It was on the trail and leaped up into a tree when it saw us. We never saw its mum, but that could be because we turned around stat.
  4. Watched movies. We saw both Toy Story 4 and Spider Man Far From Home. Both fun summer movies.
  5. Read some books. It is summer and we were lazing around. If you don’t read then, when will you? I finished Lexicon while we were not so, ahem, far from home.
  6. Drank seltzer. We bought cans and cans of seltzer and drank them all. One needs to stay hydrated, and soda is just too sweet for that. OK, I had a couple of beers too, but I’m a grownup. I’m allowed.
  7. Assembled a couple of jigsaw puzzles. It was hot. We had time. We did it together.
  8. Swam in the pool. Duh.

We got home and it was still hot. I managed to do some weed trimming and some gardening and a bunch of other stuff, including a long overdue dump run. A not-too-busy weekend at home after a week away. Right now I still have a couple of outdoor tasks. It is still too hot but I am tired of waiting. Summer. I need to just suck it up and do it.

Mountain Birdwatch 2019 on Bolton Mountain

View from the Long Trail north of Bolton Mountain peak

I have been participating in Mountain Birdwatch for a couple decades now. I started with Ricker Peak, which is in Bolton. That worked out great, since we lived in Bolton and I could walk out the door and hike to the survey route. But the survey got a makeover about ten years ago and that route was eliminated. I took on a route on the Worcester Range after that, which had its own charms, but I switched it up this year and volunteered to survey Bolton Mountain instead.

This route was right in my old stomping grounds so the hike in was familiar. I hiked in mid-day and scouted the survey points along the route, in reverse order. I hiked up and over the peak, then down to Puffer Shelter on the Long Trail, just beyond the first survey point. There were two other hikers planning to spend the night there, but I sent up a tent nearby. It was pretty much a stellar day for a hike–sunny and warm with good views when I could get them.

Bunch berries were blooming along the trail

I didn’t exactly have a tent. I brought a bug shelter–really light and roomy enough to be comfortable, but not a solid shelter in rain or high winds. The thing was ideal. I had scouted the route and gotten to the shelter way early, so I had a few hours before I had to try to sleep, even though I was planning to hit the hay earlier than I usually do. There were black flies and lots of them, so I snacked and read in my handy shelter. I did hang out in the shelter for a little black-fly-swatting conversation (one guy hiked in just to spend the night there after seeing the shelter for the first time on a Long Trail through-hike last year, and the other had hiked north from West Virginia), but once out of the bugs I easily fell asleep.

I rose at 4:00 and, after packing up, walked with a headlamp to the first survey point. While I know the routine of this project well, I enjoy it every time. I heard Bicknell’s Thrush, which is just always a treat, and my first Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher of the year. Hearing those birds and, sitting in the shadows of spruces, thinking about the long journey they make to get to that spot, I am awed again and again.

I paid careful attention and wrote it all down, and reflected in between survey points, and overall had a pleasant day. I hiked all the way back to the car and was out of there in time for breakfast. Just at the trailhead I ran into a guy from Montreal (it was a national holiday weekend) who had come down with his family and was looking to hike up Bolton Mountain. I told him how to get there and he mentioned he and his wife had a baby in a backpack. While I admired that and remembered carrying our own kids that way, I also couldn’t help thinking of the black flies. They like babies. I tried to warn him but he did not seem to know what they were. I guess they don’t have those in the city. I hoped it worked out.

I stopped for coffee and a muffin at Sweet Simone’s in Richmond and made it home by late morning. It is hard not to be a little tired after rising before dawn, but I felt great. Being in the mountains does that for me. I did not do a whole lot the rest of that Sunday. I dried out the bug shelter and put away my supplies and entered my survey data. Later in the day, we all went out for a creemee. Perfect summer day if you ask me.

Mountain Birdwatch 2019 on Mansfield

I definitely got one of the plum routes. Mount Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont and surveying the Mountain Birdwatch route up there means watching the sunrise with no one else around from the highest peak in the state. Pretty sweet. I went up there a few days ago. I had a fine experience.

Mountain Birdwatch is a program to study high elevation songbirds in the northeast with citizen science volunteers. It means hiking a specific route, about a mile long, with five or six specific points. It means stopping at those points and counting ten bird species, plus red squirrels, for 20 minutes. The hardest part is learning the bird songs and calls, since they hardly show themselves in the dense spruce/fir forest. This is my 19th year volunteering, so I’ve got those songs and calls down.

One of the reasons this is a plum route is that I get to drive up the toll road, which is open for paying customers during the day. Stowe Mountain Resort gives permission to Vermont Center for Ecostudies, which manages Mountain Birdwatch, to use the road for research. Scientists from VCE go up there a few times each year to catch and band birds. They were up there a few days before I was. They set up mist nets and check out the avian critters that get snagged. So I get to benefit from the perk of using the road. It makes for a much shorter hike and I can be home in time for a late breakfast.

Stowe even allows VCE staff to stay in the ski patrol hut up there so they can get up early and get to work. I have done that in the past but this year I just rose early (2:00!) and drove over there. After some serious finagling with the lock, which was a bit stuck, I got through the gate and slowly drove up the twisting gravel road. The speed limit is 15 and that is definitely the limit on this road. I parked in the small lot by the visitor center and hopped right onto the Long Trail.

I heard few birds, at least compared to previous years. I did hear Bicknell’s Thrush, which breeds only in that habitat, but no Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher or Swainson’s Thrush, which was just odd. I always hear those birds up there. Until this year. So it was a quiet morning. There was hardly even any wind.

I have found Blackpol Warblers in greater numbers down in the valley this year; I do sometimes hear them in the spring as they pass through on their way toward higher locations, but I have heard a lot of them down low this year. I am guessing that birds are just slow to head up the slopes this year. There was still quite a bit of snow up high, although not on the trails. That’s my theory.

I have another route to survey. I traded my usual route in the Worcester Range for one on Bolton Mountain. I will need to scout that one first so it will definitely take longer. I can’t drive most of the way up the mountain on that route, and I haven’t seen it before, so I will need to find the survey points ahead of time–I don’t want to be trying to find obscure spots along the trail in the dark. It will give me another chance to find the birds I missed on Mansfield. So here’s hoping the weather holds.

Kinda Foggy

I have to go when I can go. So I went up to the town forest a couple mornings ago, when I had some time to do it. If I had total flexibility I might have gone the day before, when the sky was clear. But I have to work, and I have a family and, you know, life stuff. So I went when I had time.

May is the month to find migrating birds. And, currently, it is May. So up I went to see what is passing through, or what has arrived for the summer. There was some fog down low, but as I drove up the hill, the fog got thicker. Up at the small parking area it was a bit socked in. I could see, mind you, just not very far. Tree tops were obscured, so I had to listen more than look.

When I go birding I usually listen more than look anyway, so it was natural. I have to remind myself sometimes to look up, in fact. There is just so much sound that birds make–songs and calls and drumming and chips and peeps. On this day I heard plenty of birds–Winter Wrens and American Redstarts and Veeries and Mourning Warblers. The bird of the day was the Bay Breasted Warbler–one that passes through–peeking out from a spruce tree right next to the trail at head height. Cool looking little dude.

I wandered around in the fog for a while before I had to get off to work. It was a successful and satisfying morning. The fog behind the fresh greenery was a quiet portrait of spring. I was in awe. It was awesome. I sank into the landscape and, by observing closely, discovered some of the landscape’s details. Not a bad way to start the day.

Some Water

It has been nice enough that I have slept out on the porch several nights in a row. But it rained a couple of nights ago. A lot. In the dark hours, thunderstorms arrived. Flashing. Booming. Pounding rain. One lightning strike was so close it yanked me from sleep and I shook like a fish pulled from a pond. Can’t help but laugh at yourself for that.

All that rain filled the rivers. Right here, the river overflowed. Water filled the fields. The road stayed above it but you could take a paddle out on the new lake. Some of our neighbors did. My wife took a walk and found a family of raccoons in a tree surrounded by water. Later they were gone. I guess they decided to swim for it. My son saw an otter.

This is why we shouldn’t build in flood zones. The river needs some place to go when the rains come. It still rushed past the bridge. It stays in the channel. It just needs to also take some room in the fields, at least temporarily. The cows moved up the hill. The Kingfishers were fine–their nest in the river bank was high enough. And the ducks don’t care. Nature adapts. It is just us humans that have trouble with change.

It rained more today. The water in the fields is receding, however. More thunderstorms are forecast so it could be a bit before the fields dry out. Lake Champlain has been at flood stage for days. This rain will keep it there for a while yet. I plan to sleep out on the porch again tonight. I need to trust that the thunder claps won’t scare my pajama pants right off.

It’s May. Get Out There.

That is what I tell myself at 5:00 in the morning when I wake up and it is still mostly dark and I am sleepy and warm in bed and could use a little more rest before getting up for the day to get cracking on the usual routine. It’s May. Just get out there.

I mean, it is beautiful on a May day when the sun rises and the fog settles over the river and the green of the new buds is almost yellow it is so bright. But May is also when the birds come back. Warblers and orioles and flycatchers and sparrows. And so many more. I get out and try to find them. Every morning I try to find a bird species I have not yet found this year. Lately the birds have just been nuts.

What I mean by nuts is there have been so many birds singing in the morning. When I go out I stand in the driveway and listen. I hear ten species from the porch. By the time I get to the end of the driveway I have heard 15. By the turn in the road I’ve found 20. The past couple of times I have walked out early I have seen or heard 50 species. It is nuts.

Six years ago, when I started birding more seriously, my goal was to learn the songs of as many local birds as possible. I wanted to be able to hear a song or call and know what I was hearing. I know a lot of them. I look forward to hearing the first Savannah Sparrows or Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear my first Yellow Warbler of the year. Or my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

There are several birds that regularly show up here whose songs I don’t have nailed. That American Redstart? I should know it by now, but I have to re-remember it each year. Same with the Blackburnian Warbler. But it is a new challenge each spring. “Wait,” I whisper to myself. “What is that? I should know that.” And then smile when I get it.

These days I never have enough time. I have to rush back to the house for a shower and a clean shirt and some breakfast before we all head off to work and school. It would be easier if I had more time for that crap as well. But it is May. I need to get out there. In a couple of months, those birds won’t be singing, and the leaves will be hiding them. So I get up, I grab my binoculars and I try to remember to shut the door behind me as I start listening.

Snow in the Kingdom

Yesterday morning I got up early. It wasn’t quite 5:00. I took care of the usual morning routine–shave, shower, coffee and all that. I walked out in the dark to the car. I had not parked in the garage. I had to brush off the dusting of snow. It is still early April, so snow? I guess.

That dusting of snow was around when I headed east, down I-89 and across Route 2. By the time I got to Plainfield, however, that dusting had turned into a regular old accumulation. The temperature was just under freezing, so that wet road? I wasn’t fully trusting it did not have some ice on it.

I slowed down quite a bit once the road had packed snow on it. That is why I left so early, so I could go slowly if I needed to, and still be on time. Sliding off the road would have made me late. Then the road cleared up and I made it to Lyndonville by 8:00. There was a lot more than a dusting there. Two hours of driving on some good and some less-than-smooth roads, with a little ice and a little more snow. Not a commute I want to make every day. But beautiful yesterday for sure.

I had a good day in Lyndonville, in the Northeast Kingdom as they call that part of the state, longer than I had planned but solid. The road was dry coming home. And I did not have a deadline. In Richmond, the sun dropped below the clouds. It was the first I had seen it in a couple of days.

That sun looked like spring. It won’t be long now before the snow melts. I discovered some muddy roads and saw steam pouring out of sugarhouses on my drive. I won’t see those by May. And that is just next month.