A few August mornings

I have been up early these past couple of weeks. The sun rises later than it did at the beginning of the summer. Fog settles over the river most mornings. Sometimes a Great Blue Heron quietly flies past. Or two Great Blue Herons. Here is a sample of what it looked like when I went out.

August 18, 2019
August 19, 2019
August 21, 2019
August 24, 2019
August 25, 2019

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.

Not the Ideal Painting Day, but Whatever


I sat looking out at the sunrise, waiting for it get light. Yesterday afternoon my daughter moved everything out of her room and we prepped it for painting. It was cold out, in the teens. But she really wanted to paint her room this weekend. She asked plenty of time ahead, and was willing to put in the effort. How could I say no?

She had a couple of friends over yesterday and we got to it–taping and cleaning and then painting. The problem is that it was really too cold to open the windows and air the place out. Thankfully, we had gotten low emission paint from the hardware store. This was intentional, due to the season, and it worked like a charm. It smelled a bit paint-ish but was not all that bad. We cracked a window and ran a fan and it cleared right out.

Her room was a mess last night, of course so she spent the night at one of those friend’s houses. All three of them did. The plan was to head back home and paint together in the morning. I, however, as an adult with some time management skills, as well as some experience with teenagers, knew that that was an unrealistic plan. There was no way they could get up in time to paint a second coat and put the whole room back together in time for bed tonight. So I painted the second coat myself before I picked them up.

I admit I like to get it done right. It is an excellent learning experience, however, to let your children take on a painting project. It is a good skill of itself and it is empowering. My daughter can now look at those walls and say “I painted that.” That feels pretty good. My dilemma is that I prefer, if possible, to avoid paint on the beams and the rug and the windows. The second coat was a little more thorough and tidy, but the first coat was more powerful, despite the messiness.

So I sipped coffee until the light rose. Then I put on old clothes and got the job done. I picked up the three girls late in the morning. They painted a dresser themselves, and then I helped them get started on reassembling the room–bed returned to the corner, clothes back in the closet and so on. They took care of the rest.

No, it wasn’t the best time of year to paint. We had to suck in some paint fumes (although not too many) and clean up with less room to work. They had to paint the dresser in the basement rather than on the porch or in the garage, but easy enough. And it is one more project not to be done in the summer. If my daughter had not insisted I would not have done it that way, but it got done, and I got to watch the sunrise, and she is happy. I guess that last one was the priority.

Stars, Sunrise, Headlamp

I rose early yesterday morning to run. This time of year it can be hard to do that. My wife had to leave by 7:00, which meant I had to get up, change quietly in the dark, stretch, run, and then be back in time to be in charge of the children before she split. Problem is, the sun doesn’t rise until about 7:30 these days.

It was, as you might guess, dark when I got up. I planned ahead, as I tend to do when I want to run early, by laying things out the night before. Changing and stretching and donning the reflector vest wasn’t too much of a chore. It was about 29 degrees outside, so I added gloves and a hat to my outfit.

It was dark but I had my headlamp. It is an LED headlamp and I have had it for a year or so. The thing is a winner. It is bright, easy to turn on and off with gloves and the batteries last forever. In fact, despite hundreds of hours of use, the batteries were the original ones. That, it turned out, was a mistake.

The stars were at their brightest. It was just before the sky got light but after many artificial lights had been turned off. Plus, the moon was down. So the stars stretched across the sky, the constellations chasing each other in their endless evening game. I was, although I have seen this many times, stunned. I do not see the night sky enough. Some people almost never see it. It makes me feel small in the scope of the universe, yet it also makes me feel a part of that universe. It isn’t a bad way to start the day.

As I ran in the dark, the sky gradually grew brighter. I ran without a light most of the time. In fact, what blinded me most to seeing my way was light. There are two street lamps on my route and both of them make it difficult to see, since they ruin my night vision and create a black hole on the far side of their glow. i wish they were not there. I can imagine why they were installed, as they are both next to barns. I don’t know why we need to burn electricity for them all night these days, however. It seems like that isn’t necessary. I sure wouldn’t want to be trying to get to sleep in one of the houses beneath them.

It was early enough that I actually passed no cars. That is rare. Typically I turn on my light so cars can see me better. I turned it on at a couple of key points to make sure that anyone out with an unleashed dog might see me, but not for cars. I also turned it on when I passed the street lamps. It did not, however, help me much.

The light produced by my headlamp was pretty much doodly squat. Twice I thought it was off and discovered it was on when I put my hand up to the bulb. The batteries, AAA, a year old and well-used, were at their end. That is pretty amazing if you ask me. Heck, even if you don’t ask me it is pretty amazing. Imagine if we switched our home light bulbs to LED bulbs. Forget those twisty fluorescent jobbers. LEDs would last even longer and use even less energy. One of these days they will be cheap enough.

As I got close to home the glow in the east was gathering. It was still dark but not as dark. The sunrise was not far off. I have not been running early lately. I finally am ready, physically, to get back to it. It isn’t easy. This is, after all, the darkest time of the year. But I will do it. If I want to run enough, I don’t have another time that will work.

Tomorrow I will go out early, but not as early as yesterday. I may just see the sunrise, and the early glow on the brown fields. On the other hand, I might just get rained on. Either way, I will get in some miles and feel good about it. And it will be a safer run now that I have a new set of batteries in my headlamp.

Pumpkins and Sunrise

Right around the equinox the sun rises over Camel’s Hump.  That is about the same time we harvest the pumpkins.  By the end of September we are getting frost so by early October we want to have the pumpkins off the vine.  We have a handful of pumpkins on the table, a few on the kitchen counter, and some on the deck railing.

The orange fits in nicely with the orange spreading over the hills.  In the next couple of days I will pull the last of our carrots from the ground.  More orange.  I planted lots of carrots this summer but much of the early planting turned to mush with all the rain.  The second planting did great but we ate it rather than saved it for the short days.  We’ll have to eat pumpkin.

Tomorrow morning I will make pumpkin muffins. At the moment I wait up for my parents, visiting for the weekend and arriving late.  I will probably start the muffins after the sun has risen.  By now, it rises south of Camel’s Hump.  It rose about 7:15 this morning.  Once the sun does make it over the mountains, it floods the house with light.  And warmth.  If there are no clouds, the house warms quickly.

While I grow wearier and wearier, hours into the dark part of the day, an IPA under my belt and a long day behind me, I question whether I should just hit the hay.  They advised I not wait up, and the rest of the household has left for dreamland already.  I wouldn’t mind making muffins and watching the sun rise at the same time, so maybe I will dive into the snooze box after all.

I will leave a note, perhaps, to be at least minimally polite, and suggest they wait to eat any of the pumpkins.  At least until I can cook them into muffins.