A fine visit to the DMV

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The Department of Motor Vehicles, in most places, has a bad reputation. Long lines, grumpy people working there, uncomfortable seating, crazy wait times. All the stuff that makes people unhappy when trying to take care of something routine that should be easy and quick. But here, that just has not been my experience. The Vermont DMV is easy and quick.

My driver’s license was about to expire. I was going to a conference and was flying to get there. So at some point I realized I could not wait until the last day. I had a window of a couple of hours the other day, so I left work and headed to the DMV. I grabbed a renewal form when I arrived and was only half finished completing it when I got to the head of the line. The woman there cheerily handed me a clipboard and told me to come back over when I was finished. A couple minutes later we met again. I handed her the form, got a number and sat down to wait.

After about ten minutes my number was called. I went to booth 19, cleverly marked with a Vermont license plate, and was greeted, again cheerily, by a smiling man. This guy told me, after I asked him how his morning was going, that it had been expensive. His dog needed surgery so he had brought it into the vet. I suggested that it seemed expensive and stressful, but he assured me with a smile that he would only be stressed if things didn’t work out with the surgery. I mean, I gave the guy a reason to complain and he didn’t complain.

Our visit only lasted a few minutes and, after the four-year renewal was processed, we walked to the photo area and he snapped my photo. I was looking forward to getting a new license since my current one had a terrible photo. Now, I know everyone gripes about their driver’s license photo, but I had never really had a bad one until this one. After another few minutes the woman who originally helped me called my name to hand me my new license. It was really quick. And it was easy.

I was out of there in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, my new license has an even terribler photo. But at least getting it was a pleasant experience. I don’t mind going to the DMV at all. I might even say I enjoy it. Despite their lack of poor photographers. Something for them to work on, amiright?

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Some clouds on a hot day

Late afternoon heat
Piles clouds into thunderheads.
Storms might bring relief.

Then, like snow powder
kicked by a blue boot, this cloud
bursts. So much for rain.

Later, clouds help the sun
spread pink across the sky. Blue
waits for the first stars.

Critters

Saw this beauty in the driveway recently. Check this puppy out. Common Whitetail. It was chilling in the driveway when I walked up to it. As soon as I got close it fly up and hovered and then landed farther down the driveway. This happened a few times. Finally I got smart. When it flew I walked fast to catch up. When it landed I was closer. Eventually, after a few of these hopscotches. I got close enough to grab a photo.

Black patches on translucent wings, a bright white body. I mean, this little dude is cool looking. It looked like a ghost. When it flew it was hard to see it clearly. Whatever was behind it showed through its wings. Illusion, that was it had going.

Dragonflies are on the move. So are birds. And butterflies. Fall is coming. Leaves have a hint of color to them. It is still plenty hot, but summer’s days are limited. It will be nice to have some cool weather. Even if the Whitetail won’t be around to experience it.

Another Visit to Moose Bog

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Boreal forest–that’s what it is up at Moose Bog. Fir, spruce, tamarack trees. Moss, ferns, green. I went up looking for a few birds. I had only a little time. I found a few birds. Regardless of that, I enjoyed being there. The place is beautiful.

I needed to be in Lyndonville for a late morning meeting. Since I live on the other side of the state, I figured I would make a stop at Moose Bog. It wasn’t that far out of the way. It added close to an hour and a half to my trip, but I was going to be so close. So I got up early, although it would be have been better to get up even earlier, and headed north.

I hadn’t been there for a while and somebody made some improvements. Where I used to park in the small lot on the gravel road off the not-so-main road, then walk up the road to the trail, there now is a well groomed trail starting right at the parking lot.  And it is a gravel trail. It will not wear out too soon, but it was a bit loud, what with all the crunching under the shoes. Hard to sneak up on birds with that going on.

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And it was a quiet morning. Granted, it was August, and I arrived later than I might have, but still, for a damp, cool morning, there was not a lot of bird song. I did hear a Gray Jay, one of the birds I was seeking, but nothing else unusual, at least at first. I walked to the end of the trail, maybe a mile, past where the gravel ended and the single smooth dirt track picked up. Still, it was still.

One side trail heads down from the ridge to the bog/pond. There used to be multiple trails but now everyone is steered toward one. And it is improved. The first time I was there I got pretty wet trying to maneuver out to see the water. It is a bog, after all. Now, however, there is a boardwalk that leads to a platform, with benches and railings for enjoying that stunner of a spot. It was indeed nice to keep my shoes dry.

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Don’t go that way. Please.

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It was cloudy and threatened rain. I encountered some downpours on the way there, windshield wipers slapping back and forth on high speed, but, other than the soaking I got from the wet foliage, I stayed dry.

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I stayed for too long, as always happens when I go birding, and I had to get out of there. I drove slowly down the gravel road, with the car window down, just in case, you know? And I heard something. Boreal Chickadee? I stopped. Then I turned off the car. Birds were zipping about all over the place. I got out. I walked down the road.

I did find that Boreal Chickadee, plus a Canada Warbler, and a few other warblers. I kept walking further, but I really had to go. I ended on a high note there, for sure. I was late for my meeting, but my colleagues forgave me at least. If I lived closer I would go there more often. Apparently it is a reliable place to see Spruce Grouse, although I have never seen one. I will have to make the pilgrimage again. If I give myself more time, I might get lucky.

Mowing Done

It took me several days but it got done. Every year I try to mow our ten-acre field at just the right time–in the three-week window after July 4th. Completion date this year: July 13.

We mow the field because Meadowlarks nest there. And Red Winged Blackbirds. And Savannah Sparrows. And, if we are lucky, Bobolinks. If we manage it well, and grasses grow more than other plants, then Bobolinks will nest there. It is because birds nest in the field that we wait until July to cut it. Once the chicks have fledged for these ground nesters, we can pass over those empty nests with sharp spinning blades. Baby birds don’t do well with sharp spinning blades.

We have to cut late enough for the birds but we are also cutting to keep the Wild Parsnip at bay. I’ve been reading lately about Giant Hogweed. That is a similar plant that is becoming more widespread. Rub against it, get the oil on your skin, get some sun exposure and get some nasty burns. Giant Hogweed isn’t around here yet. But Wild Parsnip has been around for years.

If we keep cutting, then the stuff will be held back. Already there is less of it. And the plants are smaller. It seemed to flower later this year, too. But it won’t go away without management. The key is to cut it before it goes to seed. Cut it too late and it just spreads the seeds around. With this year’s cutting, we’ve got two years in a row of good timing. I’m hoping the field has even fewer yellow flowers next year.

I cut it over the span of a week. The first day I cut a big chunk. I would have kept going but going through the big patch of quack grass in the corner (another invasive species I’d like to reduce) I turned around to see clouds of smoke rising from the brush mower. It had happened before. Busted belt burning up. That quack grass is thick stuff.

My wife bought a new belt the next day and together we replaced it. In the past I’ve hauled the mower to the repair shop down the road. But that costs money and, more importantly, time. Thanks to YouTube, however, we felt confident enough to disassemble the machine and make some repairs. Once we tightened those last nuts back up we were back in business.

We have a few Wild Parsnip plants kicking around the edges. I’ll have to cut those manually. With some long clippers. And gloves. After the sun goes down. But mostly, project done. At least for this summer.

Mountain Birdwatch 2018

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Simple camp, including notebook for survey notes.

Last year I was unable to complete either of my two Mountain Birdwatch surveys. This is a citizen science project for which I volunteer. The idea is to try to detect songbirds, early in the morning, at high elevation areas in the northeast. It means hiking, rising early, sitting quietly, warding off black flies and mosquitoes. It also means hearing the rare song of the Bicknell’s Thrush and breathing in the lushness of spruce on a cool late spring morning. It isn’t always easy, but it is well worth it.

Last year I had some issues with weather. It rained or was too windy. One of my routes is on Mount Mansfield. I couldn’t get up there because they were paving the road at the bottom of the hill where I access the mountain. I tried more than once but just couldn’t make either one happen. Because it needs to happen in the first three weeks in June, the window is short as it is. Failure. But this year I tried again.

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The first weekend in June I hiked up to the Skyline Trail in the Worcester Range. This range parallels the Green Mountains. It is rugged and gets much less use. Trilliums were still blooming, often right in the trail. There were a couple of wind storms this fall and so there were several nasty blowdowns–trees fell over the trail, requiring a sometimes significant detour. Because the trail is occasionally hard to follow, I had to be careful to make sure I got back on it.

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How’s that for a trail?

I got my butt kicked by the hike up and the hike down, as in years past. It is not that long–3 1/2 miles in and the same out, but it is straight uphill in places, slippery, muddy, relentless. Maybe I am getting too old for this business. However, I did get the survey completed. I set up a tent, set an alarm for 4:00 am, and set off down the trail to find some birds. Success this time.

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The next weekend I was on the top of Mount Mansfield and found success again. This survey route, also about a mile long, is pretty rugged as well, but half of it is on the ridge line. This means I get to sit and listen and look out across norther Vermont while the sun rises. Plus, I get to be alone of the top of Vermont’s highest mountain. How often does that happen? I had a successful survey again and was out of there in time to grab a late morning cider donut at Cold Hollow Cider Mill. And they have this maple French roast  from Speeder and Earl’s that is just bomber. I had to get me some of that.

Since some of the survey target birds winter in the tropics, they just might be hanging out in or around coffee plants when they are down there. The same warbler that flitted over my head to the branch of a fir might have landed on the waxy leaves of a coffee shrub in its winter home. Perhaps, to wax existential, the same coffee plant that was the source of that fine cup I drank? Perhaps.

It is a treat to be able to explore and to feel so connected to the mountains where I live. And it connects me to the wider world. These birds do nest here, but they also live in the tropics. Every year they make the journey each way. That they come back is a bit of a wonder to me. Every year I smile to think that they have returned. It gives me hope that the world is still working, that despite what sometimes seems like human attempts to stop it, the world still turns.  If I am lucky I will make my own small journey again next spring, to sit at the top of Vermont and to take some time to just listen.

So, Spring…Wait, What?

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The National Weather Service forecast for our area posts a winter weather advisory until 8:00 am tomorrow. In the past 24 hours we have had freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, rain and high winds. Granted, a couple of those might happen during any spring, but still, a winter weather advisory?

It certainly looks like winter out there. Those few flowers starting to come up are coated in ice. Low clouds hide the mountains. The landscape is gray and white. Spring means green, but not today. The roads are a slick mess. A couple of Meadowlarks have been floating over the cold field. What can they do? Insects are frozen. Any potential nest sites are iced over. They are not singing today.

img_5960Last Tuesday was Free Cone Day. Every year Ben and Jerry’s offers up free cones for anyone who comes to a scoop shop. I was at Norwich University for the day and, since I was passing through Waterbury on the way home, I went to the factory store for a free cone. It was snowy and chilly and gray that day. There was a long line. I walked up to the flavor graveyard. I said to myself “oh I loved that flavor!” a couple of times, then walked back down. The line was even longer by then, snaking down the walkway. I left without getting a free cone. There were a lot of people waiting in line outside for free ice cream on such a cold day. Hardy folks like their ice cream.

It keeps raining. The rain keeps freezing on whatever surface it finds. Even the Song Sparrows are quiet, and they sing in all kinds of weather. Maybe this afternoon the weather will ease up enough that I can head out and see the world a bit. Maybe I will head to the market for some ice cream. But maybe not. I’m not sure, really, how hardy I am.