Squirrely Weather

It was way too mild for a while. Warm, no snow. Even rainy for several days. That is pretty lame when it comes to winter. Last week I drove to Rhode Island for a couple days. Of course it snowed then. It was not a full-on storm but it made for some slow going. Then it cleared and snowed for me again on the way home. When I got to Bolton on I-89, close enough to home to think I would be there soon, traffic slowed, then stopped. Car off the road? Some slipping and sliding? Hard to tell as it was too far beyond the long line of cars ahead. And so I waited. And kept waiting. We all inched forward a few times but mostly just sat there. A few people got out and walked around. One guy stood on his roof to try to see what was ahead. Another guy walked down the hill to take a leak.

A flatbed came up from behind and so everyone pulled to the side to let it pass. Then another came, led by a state trooper. And we waited. I have no idea how long I was there. I did get out to stretch once. Luckily I had gotten gas and some coffee back in Barre, so I was pretty set. Eventually we did get moving and I finally passed a pickup getting pulled onto one of those flatbeds. The thing was completely burnt–fire ate it right up. Another car was on the other flatbed, front end all smooshified. I found out later that no one was hurt. That could have been bad.

The weather has been seasonal since then. Yesterday and today were cold and windy, like way windy. I went to the lake both days to look for wintering ducks. There was surf at the Charlotte Beach and again today at Chimney Point, waves crashing on the shore and throwing spray. It was hard to stay out long. I was bundled but that wind sucks the heat away right quick. Taking a walk close to home was bitter too. It felt good to get out there and move but good lord that wind tugged at the cheeks. We had snow flurries most of today. More are on the way.

We may get a storm later in the week. I’ll take it. While we have a couple inches of snow on the ground, drifted in spots and bare in others, I would love to see the ground covered. Can’t beat some quality snow in January. The Snow Buntings might appreciate it. They came back today. This is about when they arrived the past two years. We watched them swirl in a flock over the field and loop around to the neighbor’s fields, little white fluffs of fluttering. I spread some seed on the ground to let them know they are welcome. I am sure they will find it, hopefully in time for the storm.

I don’t plan to travel too far this week, so my chances of getting stopped on the interstate are slim. If we get a big old dump of snow, I won’t mind working from home. I need to stay safe, and it is easier to watch the snow fall from my home office, not to mention the Snow Buntings.

Tree Down, Tree Cleared

The wind picked up over the course of the day. It blew harder, then harder. By dark it was dragging chairs across the porch. The corners of the roof whistled. The weather vane creaked as the wind yanked it back and forth. Trees roared as wind hammered their branches. Once in bed, I could feel the wind battering the walls.

We had no damage at our house, just a few small branches down. Nearby, a few trees had fallen–into a ditch, into the river. Walking early we encountered the biggest blowdown–an ash, already dead, stretched across the road. We hopped over it. The dogs hesitated but they too managed to get past. We turned around later and met it from the opposite direction. We hopped over it again.

The day before, a crew had been trimming trees to make sure the power lines are clear. Our power company is good about that. We rarely lose power and I credit them with making sure the lines do not get hot by falling branches. After our walk we watched the truck go by and turn down that way. Their trimming had ended the day before well beyond our fallen tree but they could not get there without addressing that prone timber. They addressed it.

In the afternoon, on a run, I passed closely enough to see that the fallen tree was gone. This morning I walked past, binoculars at the ready to see spring migrants. The tree had been neatly attended to–logs laid beside the road and a pile of brush on the other side. That was timely work to be trimming just when a tree falls across the road that leads to the trimming zone. Fate, I suppose, sometimes throws us a bone.

Still Some Color

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Peak foliage has passed. Around here it was about three weeks ago. Earlier farther north. We have had some wind, plenty of it in fact. And lately it has been raining. A lot. Wind and rain tear down the leaves, especially after they have reached their peak color. And so it has been. But there is still plenty of color to be had in the trees.

This morning I went down to the lake. I was hoping to find ducks. And maybe a late shorebird. Shorebirds have mostly migrated through, but there are always a few stragglers. But I didn’t see any today. I did see ducks from up north, however. Some of them will stick around for a while, as long as the ice stays away. I saw Buffleheads and Goldeneye and even a Black Scoter. Even if I hadn’t seen any, however, it would have been worth it.

The Adirondacks across the water were lit up with scattered sun. Clouds skittered across the firmament, but broken. So the sun popped though onto the mountains. The brilliant leaves remaining, and the fresh snow up high, were glowing. I started in Shelburne, with some birding success (Black Scoter!). I kept going south after that to the Charlotte town beach. I struck out there–the wind was fierce. There were a few Mallards in the cove and some gulls circling in the air currents, but otherwise it was a dud.  But those mountains…

Even on the Vermont side there were a few gems. One oak was ka-powing right next to my car. And there were maples lining the road in a couple of spots–yellow and red and orange.  I mean, it isn’t what busloads of visitors come to see. It wasn’t whole hillsides of brilliance. But still, there is some color sticking around. By Thanskgiving it will all be gone, but I’ll take it for now.

Road Hazard

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Back in the fall we had a big old windstorm. Lots of trees fell. Power was out for a while. It made a general mess of the usual tidiness of human daily life around here. But then things got cleaned up. Power was restored. We got back to the day-to-day.

But some remnants can be found yet. This afternoon my kids spent a couple of hours manhandling the tops of two white pines that snapped off during that storm. They made a fence of sorts at the edge of the field. They managed to get covered in sap. Then they got covered in mud. They took advantage of the messiness of spring.

Up the road there is maple that almost fell. It broke near the ground and leaned out over the road to the other side. A beech caught it. It hangs there still. Every time I go by it seems the trunk is more rotted or torn. That thing is going to fall at some point. We rush whenever we have to pass beneath it. It hangs there, patiently waiting for a strong enough breeze. Or maybe an elephant. We don’t have elephants around here so that isn’t much of an option I suppose.

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Today was a warm one. When the sun rose over Camel’s Hump I headed up the hill. A flock of Snow Geese was pecking away at the muddy field. I thought I heard a Phoebe but that could have been wishful thinking. I went to the lake and watched the ducks. I got coffee at the corner store. Later, we went for a walk. We avoided the danger zone this time.

Easter tomorrow. We will hunt for some eggs, eat some candy, have a good meal. Likely, we will go for a walk at some point. I am guessing that leaning maple will still be leaning. But one of these days it will slide to the ground. Or crash to the ground. Tomorrow is as good a day as any. But I’m not betting it will happen so soon. Even if it is a day of new beginnings.

Another Windy Day

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Our one fallen tree, toppled into the woods

Last Sunday we had some wind. Lots of people had some wind. OK, lots of wind. Strong wind. Hurricane-force wind. It didn’t really start up until after dark. We went to bed. We slept little.

Wind buffeted the house. Meaning, the house literally shook. I have not felt wind like that here before. It whistled through windows and any other crevice it could find. It blew stuff around outside. We tried to sleep, but it was just too dang loud.

In the morning we saw our aluminum porch chairs scattered on the lawn. Another chair, plastic, was in the neighbor’s field. While searching for it, my wife discovered the flipped trampoline. The wind lifted that puppy up and tossed it against the garage. Imagine what would have happened if it had blown into the field. It might have rolled right into town.

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Unfortunately, it didn’t fare well. It’s frame is made from steel tubes. Several of those tubes are bent and ripped. Not safe. We managed to right the thing, four of us leveraging it to standing again. It looked, however, pretty sad.

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Sad trampoline

The thing is, it is still windy. The wind has not kept up constantly but we have had some stiff winds every day for a week. Right now, trees wave back and forth. Hang on to your hat. I have been to the lake a few times this week to look for shorebirds and waterfowl. Whitecaps. Rain has fallen frequently among all this wind. At least the convection is keeping things somewhat dry.

Some of our neighbors had their power restored only yesterday. We lost ours for less than a day. That makes hygiene easier. Plus checking the weather. I baked blueberry raspberry muffins this morning. Electricity makes that possible. Eating a hot muffin and drinking hot coffee while looking out over the windblown field makes for a fine Sunday morning. The wind keeps blowing and the house still stands.  On to next week.

Wind and Hawks

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Last night the wind picked up. My daughter and I started today with a 5K run in Shelburne. There were not that many runners but it was a perfect day for a run. The temperature was mid-fifties when we started, clouds puffed their way across the morning sky, and the wind kept at it. A wind jacket was just enough with a pair of shorts and short sleeves.

We were done early, home by 9:30. We got to see some fine views of the Green and Adirondack Mountains, as we often do here in the Champlain Valley. The trees still donned their colors, but the wind muted things a bit. The leaves are doing what they do this season–falling. So the hills are losing their luster, but still, it is hard to take in all the glory.

Just before we started the run, a Northern Harrier caught the wind. It soared and dipped and cornered and curved. Its white rump flashed in the high sunlight. It flew north. Then another Harrier appeared, chased by an American Crow. The crow dove to harass the hawk, missed, then rose up to try again. The Harrier seemed to shrug it off. If birds could roll their eyes, this one might have.

Later, at another spot on the lake, I watched a Red Tailed Hawk fly past, high overhead. The wind was strong enough that its wings were tucked tight. Twice I saw it spread its wings to turn a bit, then it pulled them in again and made a bee line south. It looked like it was diving while horizontal. It was a stiff wind. A moment later I watched a second Red Tail follow the same path. It was a good morning to make some distance.

Late today rain started to fall. I had just washed out the birdfeeders. I pulled them apart and scrubbed them with soap in a bucket. It want them clean so I can start putting them out again. Wind tossed the branches around while I dunked my arms into soapy water. I left the parts out to dry. The wind should help make that happen quickly. The rain will hinder that. Good thing I put everything under cover of the porch.

Soon the leaves will be off the trees. Winter will feel close. Already we have had frost. The other day I pulled in the basil and made a batch of pesto to freeze. I started a fire outside late yesterday and we spent a few hours in the autumn colors with the warmth of a fire. It got dark early. Again the seasons turn. Around here, they make a show of it.

Cold Wind and Drifting Snow

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The high temperature today was 2 degrees. Cold. The wood stove did its work. The chickadees and tree sparrows and woodpeckers kept busy at the feeders. Snow fell early and clouds passed in and out the rest of the day. It wasn’t summer.

And the wind blew. It howled. It battered the house. It buffeted the windows. It whipped the snow. Snow eddied on the porch and piled against the door. Snow gathered on the lee side of snow banks. It formed drifts in the road. The wind-chill adjusted temperature was about 25 degrees below zero. Not a day for sunbathing.

The driveway drifted in. That does not often happen but this is the kind of day it would drift in. It is a long driveway, next to a meadow, so I suppose it is to be expected. The house came with snow fencing when we bought it. We have never put it up as it hasn’t been needed. Our plow guy made an extra trip today.

This afternoon I took a few laps around the field on my skis. The track that my son and I made yesterday afternoon was almost totally hidden in drifting snow. We had to make that track because the previous one got snowed in. So I followed the track I could  find and broke a new one where the track had disappeared. Snow blasted against my jacket, although I was well covered. My eye lashes froze from my breath’s condensation.

The second time I looped around, much of my track had vanished again and the rest was hard to see. This happened each time. It was not fast skiing. The day, however, was beautiful. The landscape changed by the moment. Snow swirled in misty towers and sped low across the road. The sun shone periodically and the world glowed when it did. I stayed out for while before filling the bird feeders, hauling in more firewood, and settling inside again.

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Ski tracks after fewer than ten minutes

Tonight the low is forecast at -13. That’s exciting. It likely won’t get out of the single digits tomorrow. It has been three weeks since the temperature got above freezing. Looks like that won’t happen again for a while. Still, I’ll get outside and enjoy the snow. Meteorological spring, after all, is a mere five weeks away.

 

Windy Enough to Blow Me Over

IMG_5671 I worked at home today and was remarkably productive. By 11:00 I had gotten most of the things on my to-do list completed. I can’t say that happens every time I work at home. Today, however, I managed to crank it out. Mid-day I took a break, suited up for the weather and headed to the lake. I was hoping to see ducks on the open water.

The first spot I stopped was a no go–it was frozen solid as far as I could see. No ducks to be found there. So I headed south and found some water that was less solid. The Shelburne Town Beach can be iced in early, depending on the wind and the temperatures. If wind blows into the bay it can be iced over; if not it stays open. Today the wind was blowing right toward shore but the ice was hardly piled up. It has been cold lately so there is plenty of ice on the lake. There just wasn’t much ice right there. I did see some birds. There were scores of Mallards and several Common Goldeneye but it was hard to see them well. The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to keep my spotting scope steady. It was even a challenge to keep binoculars steady. I had to lean into the wind to keep from blowing over. I got to see a Bald Eagle soar overhead a couple of times. It was a beautiful mature bird. Unfortunately, it scared away most of the ducks.

I got cold, as you can imagine, but only partly. My hands were getting numb but the rest of me, thanks to my awesome down jacket, was toasty. I moved on to another site and saw even fewer birds. I tried to stick it out but the wind was fierce. Even the birds were having a hard time. Mallards were surfing and getting dunked under the waves curling at the shore. It was a harsh situation. I didn’t see any new birds for the year but it was pretty amazing to see the lake like that. Every time I go it looks different–blowing one day and calm the next, green sometimes, clear others, frozen water or calm water. It is never the same so is always amazing to see.

My year list stands at 33, not terrible for mid-January in Vermont. I missed the Harlequin Duck when I went up to Grand Isle briefly to find that rarity, so bummer for me. I do plan to head to Florida later this month. I am sure that will prove to be a birding foray to write about. Until then, I don’t expect much. If I could get out there every day and really explore, maybe I might find all the avian treasures. But I do have to work.

After I got back home today I tossed a log into the woodstove and got down to some email. I did some scheduling and printed a letter to mail and generally got some more office-type stuff done. It was a lot warmer at my desk. But not nearly as fun.

Not Spring Now

Snow coming down hard

Snow coming down hard

It started snowing early in the day. School was cancelled. Then the snow let up. I went to work. Luckily I only was in town half the day. The drive home was slick and slow. Then it really started to snow. By late in the day it was coming down and the wind picked up. And the temperature dropped. We had ourselves a snowstorm.

I went for a ski around the field. It was fine when I had my back to the wind but heading into the wind–ouch! Those little crystals of ice are painful when they slam into one’s face. My hood was a handy tool. By my second lap my ski tracks were almost filled in.

Skiing in the blowing snow

Skiing in the blowing snow

This morning the snow was still falling. Drifts piled against the house. I could only see out half the bedroom window. No school today. I will get some work done from home. First, however, I plan to rekindle the fire in the stove and to brew some coffee. And to appreciate being warm inside.

Up There Early

I have to complete my surveys for the Vermont Center for Ecostudies‘s Mountain Birdwatch program in the first three weeks of June. Today is June 15 and I hadn’t gotten out there yet. The days when I could have done it we had rain. Birds don’t sing much in the rain, and I wouldn’t hear them anyway, so today I finally got one in. I had to work today but I’m down to one week left, so I didn’t want to take any chances that the weather would turn again. It will rain more soon and I have two surveys to do.

The survey consists of observing for five key species of birds at high elevations in the northeast. The route I did today is the one I have done for 11 years now, since the first year of the program.  The deal is to observe them between 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM as they tend to be most active during this “dawn chorus” time. That means getting to the first of my five survey points by 4:00, which means hiking by 3:15 if I hoof it, which means hitting the road to the trailhead by 2:30, which means getting up at 2:15, assuming I have everything ready the night before, which I did.

I made it up there in time and sat in the dark for about 15 minutes before any birds sang. I heard a White-throated Sparrow first, as I typically do. I also recorded Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpol Warbler and Winter Wren. The most important species, Bicknell’s Thrush, was silent. I got to the end of my muddy and wet one-mile route, sat at the last survey point, and got nothin’. This is terribly disappointing, of course. Hearing that they are still up there gives me hope. So I went to Plan B.

Plan B is to offer an audio playback of Bicknell’s Thrush calls and songs, in hopes of attracting them, to see if they really are out there. This did the trick. A little brown thrush did come in at the first point I tried the playback, but I couldn’t tell for sure that it was a Bicknell’s, so I tried again. This time I heard the distinctive buzzy call and, to borrow from Wordsworth, my heart leapt up. Satisfied, with some data that will hopefully be enough for now, I headed back down. It was 6:15 and the sun was up.

I hiked past Bolton Valley Resort to get to the survey route and got to see the wind turbine they put up in the last year for a new angle. I got some first had experience with how a large turbine sounds. It did make some noise. Not so much that it would be a nuisance in a city with lots of noise anyway, but some. It was good to see it up there, presumably creating electricity while its blades spun.

So I was successful. I am now tired. When I do this thing on a weekend, I take a nap at some point. I’ll have to head to bed early tonight. Hopefully my children will do the same.

Muddy Trail

Morning Fog in Waterbury

Bolton Valley Wind Turbine

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