Autumn in Full Swing

img_4170The turning foliage this year is brilliant. Every day it seems to get brighter. This is one of the benefits of living here. Nature creates art. We are surrounded by beauty.

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Shelburne Farms

Took a walk at Shelburne Farms the other day. Ka-pow! The lake was roiled. The wind was up. The leaves flashed their colors. The gray clouds skipped across the sky.

Lake Champlain Surf

Lake Champlain Surf

Yesterday rain fell. The sky was dark. By late afternoon the sky was really dark. But then the sun broke through and the hills lit up. Eye candy.

img_4206Suddenly this will all be gone. The wind will rush in and strip the trees. The fields will turn from green to brown. Snow will fall. The world will be beautiful in a new way. But this, this is stunning. It calls for expletives and interjections and exclamations and acclamations. And sometimes all of them in one sentence.

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Looking for Bobolinks

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Can you see that Savannah Sparrow that landed in that tree?

This morning I volunteered to help look for Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows. As part of a long-term study to learn about the health of ground-nesting bird populations, the idea today was to look for birds that had been banded in the past. A group of us met at Shelburne Farms, whose fields are a large part of the study, split into two groups, and headed out to beat the bushes grass.

The idea was to flush birds from the ground and to try to see if they had bands on their legs. There are a few types of bands so we got a quick tutorial before we started stomping across the meadows. To help flush birds before we were right on top of them we swished the grass with thin bamboo poles. Once the birds were airborne we could watch them through binoculars to see if anything bright stuck to their legs. Our group headed to Charlotte, to fields adjacent to Shelburne Farms, and right away we encountered Bobolinks. We saw half a dozen, plus a few Savannah Sparrows, but none of them had bands. We tried a few meadows divided by rows of trees and shrubs. Lots of birds but no bands. IMG_0409We then drove to another, nearby, field. Their were lots of Bobolinks here, maybe 15-20 of them. There were males and females, flying all over, the males singing like mad. The females have started laying eggs (they lay one a day for about four to six days) and apparently this drives the males a little loony. They burbled and gurgled and chirped away. We all had some great looks at these beautiful birds but again, saw no bands.

So we learned that there are some Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows in all these fields (the other group managed to find one bird with a band) but it didn’t add much to the data. We did find one Bobolink nest. That was pretty cool. The eggs in it are not being incubated yet, as there were only two of them (they lay one egg per day for four to six days before settling in to get them to hatch); seeing that made the morning worth it. Plus, on the way to one field we all saw a Blue-Winged Warbler, an uncommon bird and one that I had never seen until last week. I even got a photo of that one. No Bobolink photos–I was too preoccupied with my binoculars–but I may get a chance to volunteer again when these folks come back to survey in June. I will try to remember to get photos of the actual birds then.

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Bobolink nest

Blue-Winged Warbler

Blue-Winged Warbler

 

Maple Sap Syrup Sugar

Maple Sugaring 2014

This weekend is Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, where maple syrup producers across the state open their sugarhouse doors to visitors. The past few years we have enjoyed starting off the weekend with a trip to Shelburne Farms. They offer a pancake breakfast to support Shelburne Explorers 4-H. The kids who participate are really involved in the breakfast, taking payments and serving pancakes and helping to make sure syrup and coffee are stocked. To be sure, lots of parents and other adults are there to help as well, but I love that the kids are right in there getting their hands sticky.

This pancake breakfast is so popular that in the past we have had to wait in a pretty long line to get in. Pancakes were slid onto compostable paper plates as fast as they came off the griddle. Coffee ran out and seating was scarce. It was still a blast for us as a family, including my parents up for the weekend several years in a row. This year, however, I guess we timed it right–no line, no waiting, plenty of coffee and syrup. I think getting there a little later made the difference.

No wait for breakfast but the place was still super busy

No wait for breakfast but the place was still super busy

One of the great things about this event is that the sugarhouse is so accessible. It is designed for education so there is a platform in the sugarhouse to stand on and watch. While sap flows have been meager so far this year, they had some on hand to demonstrate the boiling process. They also scatter small discs cut from maple saplings in the area around the sugarhouse–find one and hand it in for a maple candy. Find one with a maple tree drawn on it and get a large maple candy. Find one with a red maple leaf and hand it in for a pint of maple syrup. My daughter was determined to find that red maple leaf, as she is every year. And this year she did! The mother lode baby.

They also have other activities. Help tap a tree. Try sugar on snow. See a live bird demonstration with an owl. Check out the farm animals. It is good fun indeed.

Heating maple syrup for sugar on snow

Heating maple syrup for sugar on snow

Pouring the hot syrup onto fresh snow

Pouring the hot syrup onto fresh snow

Now wait a few minutes for a chewy and sweet maple treat

Now wait a few minutes for a chewy and sweet maple treat

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Are these lambs the cutest critters around or what?

Are these lambs the cutest critters around or what?

We didn’t end there, however. We wanted to purchase some fresh syrup. Despite the new pint we are close to out of maple syrup at our house. Last year we probably went through about three gallons for the year. Assuming we get some from our farm share I figured we would need about two gallons. We stopped by Shelburne Sugarworks, right nearby, for our supply. We got a couple of gallons from them last year and so brought in the empty glass jugs. They said they would refill them if we were willing to come back later in the day, so we enjoyed some maple cotton candy, purchased some maple sugar (looks like brownish cane sugar but made maple sap–put that in your   coffee!) and watched the band set up. We left before the bluegrass started.

My dad and I headed back at the end of the day. We had a to wait a half hour while they filtered and pasteurized it. When we walked out of the sugarhouse I could barely hold the glass jars it was still that hot. I was careful not to slip on the ice. Busting open one of those on the frozen ground would have been a sad situation.

Amber treasure

Amber treasure

 

 

Sugaring

Spring is definitely around the corner when open house time comes to sugar houses around the state. This weekend was it. My daughter and I hopped over the hill to Shelburne Farms for their event. We got there late in the morning and started things off with their benefit pancake breakfast. We ate pancakes with, duh, maple syrup and sipped hot beverages (cocoa for her, coffee for me) before wandering about the animal barns. There was a passel of new lambs we oohed at for a while, guarded by a llama (it sported a hand written sign that read “I Spit!”). Then we made our way up the muddy trail to the sugar house.

Pile of Fluffiness

The sugar house was a busy place–lots of visitors and lots of steam. The sap was running and syrup was in the making.

Boiling Under Way

Formerly Maple Sap

A Lesson at the Steamer

We had the opportunity to taste the generous doses of fresh syrup that volunteers were handing out and we walked up the hill to see the lines–tubes that catch the sap and run it down to the collector to be boiled down. They tap about 500 trees (I paid attention during the lesson) so they make a fair amount of syrup, most of which gets used the in restaurant on site. I will have to head back over there at some point for breakfast.

We tried to stop at Palmer’s Sugarhouse on the way home to purchase some syrup even closer to home. We stopped and headed inside but that place was so packed we would have had to wait at least a half hour in line. Forget it. They were boiling like mad with their oil-fueled system–bigger and faster than the system at Shelburne Farms, no doubt. I’ll go back to Palmer’s some time this week and buy a couple gallons.  If they still have it.

We have enough maple syrup to get us through for a little while, but that stuff is just plain old good. Makes me want to whip up some yeasted waffle batter tonight so we can have them in the morning. But maybe I’m not quite that ambitious. The ideal situation would be if someone else made the waffles. That however, ain’t happening. Maybe next weekend.

Your Standard Fall Day Around Here

Geese are heading south. That’s what they do this time of year. We heard lots of them today. A flock honks its way overhead as I type this. We some a few large flocks of them as we did our things outdoors on this fine fall day.

Headed South, Passing Over Our House

Our neighbor came over this afternoon to mow the wet stretch of our field. We have had cattails galore, not to mention a crazy amount of purple loosestrife, plowing itself down the middle of the field since we moved in, and likely before that. We hired him to get a handle on it. The loosestrife will come back, but it we keep at it we might eventually keep it in check. Ideally the field dries out enough with the tall boys out of there that we can simply mow it and hay it.

Busting Out the Tracks for the Soggy Parts

After the Destruction

We took a walk out t see the effects of the crashing and slashing. We found a vole, hopping about, confused about what the heck just happened. Then we saw a mouse. We had a good look at both of these typically hiding critters as they tried to find a place to hide from the huge beasts on their turf. We also managed to see a small garter snake and a large frog. The latter was a bullfrog, and it was honkin’. Wildlife coming out of the woodwork, so to speak.

Um, Where Did my Habitat Go?

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at Shelburne Farms’s Harvest Festival. That always proves to be a fun event. We had corn on the cob–fire-roasted–and watched a play and took a hay ride and got some face painting and checked out the animals and ran into friends. We had a fine time and will go back again next year. On the way home we turned the corner to find the sun pouring down through a hole in the clouds.  It was, as you might imagine, stunning. So far, fall is off to an ideal start. No complaints here.

Busy at Shelburne Farms--Cars and Sheep and People

Bam! Fall Light in its Glory

Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival Entrance

Harvest Festival Entrance

We took a trip across the town line to visit Shelburne Farms today.  They were hosting their annual harvest festival.  It was fun, literally, for the whole family.  I took the two kids last year and we spent most of the day there.  They were excited to visit again and this time Mom came along as well.  I was expecting many people to be there.  The place was packed when we arrived:

Full Parking Lot for the Harvest Festival

Full Parking Lot for the Harvest Festival

You can see the farm barn in the distance.  There were lots of cars.  Maybe that speaks to our car culture.  It also says something about how many people were there.  My guess is that few of those cars carried only one person.  There were families galore there.  This was because Jon Gailmor sang and there was a play (a musical version of Romeo and Juliet) put on by the teens of Very Merry Theater and there were all kinds of fun activities for kids of all ages.  The animals were all out and one could spin yarn and pet a llama and do a leaf rubbing.

Llama Ready for Petting

Llama Ready for Petting

And there was food, too.  Maple Wind Farm of Huntington was there, serving grassfed beef and pork kebabs and hot sausages.  Island Ice Cream offered seven different ice cream pops.  And the corn line was, as last year, worth waiting in.  They had a pick up set up just to toss in corn cobs for composting.  They dished out hundreds of fire roasted ears of corn.  The one I had was, no kidding, the best I had had all summer.  Damn tasty.

Roasting Corn

Roasting Corn

A Full Grill

A Full Grill

The Harvest Festival, for the second year, coincided with Green Mountain Power’s Energy Fair.  They had a tent set up where anyone present might learn about solar photovoltaics or wind power or solar hot water or LED light bulbs or energy efficiency of all stripes.  I love that fair.  Every year it convinces me that we should heat our water with solar energy and generate our electricity from the sun or wind.  If only it didn’t cost so much to install.  I did learn that we might expect to make money if we used solar for electricity.  We really don’t use that much compared to most homes.  But still, it is a big investment…

Energy Fair Tent

Energy Fair Tent

All in all we had a great time.  Corn, ice cream, caramel apples, a fine sunny day, lots of encounters with friends and neighbors, and a good feeling about where we live and the people who live here.  I hope Shelburne Farms keep doing it. Judging by the number of people there, my guess is that it was popular enough to repeat.  Count us in next time.  At this point, we’ll stay members, and we wouldn’t miss it next year.

Sugaring Weather

It has been pretty ideal sugaring weather lately.  Warm days and cold nights.  The sap is flowing.  This weekend is open house weekend at sugarhouses across the state.  Tomorrow we will head out to one or two of them, do some tasting and watch the sap boil.

We will start off with a pancake breakfast at Shelburne Farms.  My parents are up for the weekend and we will make a morning of it.  Pancakes and syrup and some fun together.  Sunday it looks to rain all day.  It will be a wet one.

The sap should be flowing again tomorrow.  The children can hardly wait to sip those little cups of syrup.  Neither can I.