Paddling Lake Attitash

After four days of rain showers with some thunderstorms, we finally are getting a day or two of muggy but cloudy weather. Yesterday morning, I asked our grandson Mac if he wanted to paddle for a bit and when Mary graciously offered to watch the dog, we were off to the local lake.

Lake Attitash’s chief feature for us is that it is only a few miles away. It is shallow, small (360 acres) and extensively developed; roads and cottages, two or three rows deep in places, virtually ring the entire lake, as well as a summer boys’ camp, and at least two boat docks. There are literally hundreds of boats of all types and sizes but most just are active in the evening and on weekends. It was rather quiet today but the south wind gave us a steady chop to deal with.

Mac used my boat and I squeezed into Mary's ten-footer.

We just had launched when we saw a Bald Eagle cruising past. The waves were hitting us from the stern quarter so I was more focused on paddling than grabbing for the camera. Ten minutes later, a Great Blue Heron lifted off from the bushes right in front of us, followed by an active Belted Kingfisher who delighted us by diving rather close by the boats.

There is a long inlet that is very shallow and full of water lilies, water hyacinths, and many aquatic weeds. It is protected from the wind and often has a lot of waterfowl. We spotted our Great Blue Heron, or his brother, fishing in the shallows.

This may have been the GBH that we flushed earlier.

Further ahead, I spotted this trio of young Mallards cruising just so they kept ahead of us.

These ducks were wary but never flushed as we kept our distance.

The inlet has a protective boom to supposedly keep nutrients and algae out of the lake. It once may have been a good idea but as Mac says, "Doesn’t look like they maintain it." Sticks and branches pushed sections to allow water to just move over the top – and looking at the lake, it appears to be a lost cause. This lake is eutrophication with a capitol E.

The Gunderboom may have seen better days.

Heading back down the inlet, we saw a Mute Swan family again – having seen the adults earlier. The cygnets are nearly full-grown but still grey and fuzzy-looking.

MSwans1W

 

MSwans2W

Heading back into the wind, the paddling was a little slower but the boats tracked better. We ended the outing with a flyover by an Osprey. It was a fun outing with my fourteen-year-old grandson who is a pretty good paddler/birder. Good birding.

 

Posted in Canoeing, Hornbeck boats, Jennifer's, MA Birding | Leave a comment

Our Hornbeck Boats – What’s Not To Like?

I was on the shoreline at Falcon Lake State Park in Texas, hoisting my kayak up on to the truck, when a gust of wind caused the boat to twist and head toward the ground, with me fighting it to a soft landing. I got it up and in place the next try but thought, “This getting harder every year – lifting a 50-60 pound kayak eight feet up to a rack on the F-150. It was easier when it was the Saab and I was ten years younger.”

I woke up the next morning with chest tighteness but attributed it to the wrenching that my torso got from the kayak. However, I do have some heart issues (Afib) and when our daughter, who was 2000 miles away and very concerned heard about it she texted, emailed, and I think left a message that she felt I should get it checked out.

So the next morning, I drove the 40+ miles to the Starr County Regional Hospital, which is a tiny rural hospital, and went to the ER. Since I was feeling OK, I was sent next door to the clinic for testing.

It was interesting: I was one of the only Anglos there – most go to the larger facilities down on the Valley. My Hispanic PA was good – as was the whole staff. I got an EKG, blood work, and a thorough exam and they felt everything was fine. As it has turned out to be.

But this episode was the stimulus to get serious about replacing the Eddyline boats with something more manageable. I put them on Craigslist a month after we returned and had a buyer at once.

I had heard about some light-weight canoes made over in New York State several years ago and met a guy in Texas with two Hornbeck boats strapped on his car. He raved about them.

So, several months ago on a Saturday, Mary and I and the dog headed over to Olmsteadville, New York and after trying out several boats on their small pond, bought two Classics, one ten-footer for Mary and a twelve-footer for me. We loved the lightness (16 pounds and 18 pounds), the ease of paddling, and the stability.

The boats are easy for one person to handle but if you have a helper, go for it.

Waiting, along with some slower cousins, for a paddler.

The boats are great for grandchildren to paddle — immediate fun.

I bought some custom boat covers to protect the Kevlar from sun damage and road rash from Sue Audette aka The Bag Lady who sold me a cover for my racing canoe years ago.

I love my Hornbeck for its ease of loading and its stability for birding and photography. I suspect that we’ll use them a lot more than our kayaks since they are great for a wide variety of ages, sizes, and abilities. I’m debating whether to take one with us this winter – we’ll be near water about a month out of the three. Stay tuned.

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2016 Trip Planning

I was watching the clock on my computer, waiting to try to reserve a site for our February visit to San Diego, as the February sites opened up at 8:00 AM August 1st (11:00 EDT). I knew that the South Carlsbad State Park was closing for repairs in mid-February so had planned a week’s stay just ahead of that closure date. What I did not know was that much of the park was already closed and that very few sites were open.

As 11:00 clicked on, I counted to ten and loaded a page I had pretty much ready-to-go but could not find any sites in the area we had stayed before. There were only about 30 sites available and as I selected one and hit return, it would be gone. I lost about five along the beachside this way and soon only a couple on the opposite side of the road were available. I got one and locked it in and took a deep breath.  I had heard of folks fighting for Florida sites as soon as they became available but had not run into this before — too much tension but ten minutes later all were booked and I felt fortunate to get one.

This site is closed during our February visit but we'll be rather close and happy to have a campsite.

This site is closed during our February visit but we’ll be rather close and happy to have a campsite.

It turns out that California has a restriction that you can not reserve a campsite more that seven months away. New Mexico has a six-month restriction. Most other states we visit do not.

I have locked in a couple of weeks at Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona prior to our California visit and then about ten days at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park after we leave Carlsbad.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is great for birding, hiking, and desert flora and fauna. Photo courtesy of Roger Smith.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is great for birding, hiking, and desert flora and fauna. Photo courtesy of Roger Smith.

 

We wanted to get back to Arizona for birding and see the kids in San Diego so that formed the backbone of our first half. Then we need to ride out Texas school spring break which ties up their parks and hopefully visit our Ohio gang on the way home. The trip is pretty much planned (Mapquest routes, spreadsheets, some reservations) leaving in early January and returning in mid-April but very well may change. It’s nice to have a game plan and to have locked in those crucial California dates. Stay tuned.

Posted in Arizona Birding, CA birds, CA camping, Southwest trip 6, Trip Planning | 1 Comment

Geocaching Revisited – or – My Vizsla is in Spain

As I have noted in previous posts, I am an “on again, off again” geocacher who goes months between activities, then gets a spurt of activity for a bit, and then goes on to other things. I have about six trackables in circulation (see below) and every time one gets moved, I get an email.

Two of my trackables have logged over 5,000 miles.

Two of my trackables have logged over 5,000 miles.

Enroute to Bovina, I got an email telling me that my Roaming Vizsla trackable was heading to Spain. Here’s the goal that I set:

To sniff out caches in all 50 states (plus overseas if I get a long ride).  Keep me moving along and log my activity.

So Pablo, who found the Vizsla tag in a cache in New York state wrote these comments in the electronic log:

Although this traveler hasn’t made it to all 50 States, I think she might like to come home to Spain with me and visit my dog. We shall see.

I left your Visla in a beautiful, wide open area of Madrid, Spain. Hopefully there is enough room to roam!

Here is the tag and the goal picked up by a Spanish geocacher in Madrid yesterday. He said: Nos lo llevamos para que diga viajando. (We took him traveling.)

Here is the tag and the goal picked up by a Spanish geocacher in Madrid yesterday. He said: Nos lo llevamos para que diga viajando. (We took him traveling.)

I looked at the map to see the travel and as you can see, the trackable made a number of stops in the Northeast before leaving for Spain.

I looked at the map to see the travel and as you can see, the trackable made a number of stops in the Northeast before leaving for Spain.

That night at supper, I mentioned the email from Spain and explained a little about geocaching. I had forgotten how enthused our y0ung friend Julie can get but she was all over it – having heard a little about geocaching but always up for an adventure with her kids. I remarked that I didn’t know if there were any caches nearby but after supper, got my iPhone out and saw that there was one across the street and another a few hundred yards down the road at their church. That started things rolling.

Julie bought the app at once and while it was too dark to go out and search, she went home and did some reading and studying and first thing the next morning, both she and her two older kids were ready to roll. They found a two-part cache at the fire station and then had breakfast and with me, found the cache at the church. By now, they had enlisted two more friends who were psyched.

The two geocachers with me as they pause before their next venture. Photo by J. Hilson

The two geocachers with me as they pause before their next venture. Photo by J. Hilson

So, as we were leaving with the Airstream, Julie and her baby in a running stroller along with four kids on bikes were heading down the road on a half-mile to trek to a local cemetery to try to find the next cache. I think we’ve got another family of avid geocachers in the making. Meanwhile, it’s got my interest kindled again and I suspect I’ll crank up my searching in the next month. I’m at 88 caches found and would like to hit 100 before we head out for the Southwest. Check it out — it’s fun for all ages.

Posted in Friends, Geocaching, visiting | Leave a comment

A Mid-summer’s Trip

Our excursion with the Airstream to the Catskills to see some dear friends didn’t start well. Not only did I drain the truck battery by leaving the ignition on all day (a last-minute run to put up windows before a rain squall, and then forgetfulness) but then, after getting the battery going, I ran into problems again with the tongue jack. I had the Airstream about halfway up to slide over the hitch ball when the whole system died — and all the banging, twisting tricks I had used in the past did nothing.

I used a socket wrench to manually lift the rig — not a tough project but time-consuming and sweat-producing, and got the trailer elevated enough to install the weight-distribution bars, and then lowered things and we were ready to go in the morning. I put a trickle charger on the truck battery and did not look forward to a trip of manual jacking to unhitch and hitch.

I fired off an email to the manufacturer, running through the history I’ve had of intermittent operation and asking for advice, figuring hopefully I would hear back next week.

Friday morning was a beautiful day to travel. Vermont’s scenery was lush and green and the alto-cumulus clouds and unlimited visibility promised great weather ahead. We go down through Rutland, over to New York state and pick up the Northway south of Lake George. It was easy cruising until we came to a dead halt in a tough traffic jam at the intersection of NY 149 and Route 9 – where there is a dismal strip of high-end outlet stores. I had forgotten that it was a Friday in mid-summer and half the world would be there looking for “bargains.” We sat, crawled, stewed, and finally chilled with air-conditioning for a half-hour or more but finally we were on our way south to Albany.

Our friends live in a small community called Bovina Center. It is about 1.5 hours from Albany and three hours or so from New York city, so there are lots of “city people” buying up old homes and farms — but the area is still very agricultural and lovely. The roads are winding, many of them red dirt, and some of the hills are a test for the Ford F-150’s ecoboost engine.

Our friend Jim grew up in Bovina and has a brother, cousins, and a host of family and friends scattered throughout the town. He and his wife, Peg, moved back after retirement and they now have  most of their immediate family within a stone’s throw. Their daughter and family are next door, a son lives another door down, and their other son and his spouse live a short drive away.

The front porch of the house on the right is an informal community gathering spot.

The front porch of the house on the right is an informal community gathering spot. 

There’s a neat spot out behind their houses to park the Airstream. They run an electrical line out and it’s quiet, shady during the day, and a perfect place to stay.

We are close enough to be part of their activities and meals without being too intrusive. We first were here last year and loved it - and were invited (our invited ourselves) back.

We are close enough to be part of their activities and meals without being too intrusive. We first were here last year and loved it – and were invited (our invited ourselves) back.

BovinaSite1WI’m sitting in the shade out by a tributary of the Delaware River as I write this. I can see a Belted Kingfisher on a branch near me, shaking out his feathers after a dive, and here’s the view back toward the trailer.

Not a bad place to sit and write.

Not a bad place to sit and write.

Now, back the Airstream jack issues. When we stopped for lunch enroute, I saw an email back from Randy, the technician from the manufacturer. He told me that based on my description, he thought we had an electrical grounding or connectivity problem and outlined a number of things to do to try to correct things. When we got to Bovina, I decided to work on it before manually operating the jack. I tightened up the jack’s bolt connections, checked the fuse again, and then looked at the leads to the fuse. The connections had some green corrosion on them. I fished through Mary’s purse for an emory board and smoothed off both leads, replaced the fuse whose ends I also polished, and sure enough there was power to the lift. I used it to get set up, wrote a quick email of thanks to Randy, and went on to enjoying the weekend.

The next morning, while taking Penny for a walk, I took some photos of downtown Bovina.

The Bovina Historical Society

The Bovina Historical Society

The old Bovina First Station with antique equipment inside.

The old Bovina First Station with antique equipment inside.

An old mill stream with the  photographer's shadow in the middle.

An old mill stream with the photographer’s shadow in the middle.

An old tractor with a rusted milk can and strainer.

An old tractor with a rusted milk can and strainer.

Penny enjoying the river

Penny enjoying the river

This is one of those trips that you want to do, but if you put off too long, the summer is over and schedules are crazy again. We’ve done some birding (not bad for mid-summer), some local sightseeing, attended a benefit concert, and gone to the local church (whose congregation and services we love.) This is a special time of year at a special place and a good Airstream trip to see good friends. I hope that your summer goes well.

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Ah Vanity, Thy Name is: Goshawk

For several years I have been taking photographs of birder license plates, starting with a couple here in Vermont. I have written about birder plates in a number of blog posts and they have a spot of their own on the web site. It got me thinking of what would I choose for a name if I decided to get one — and during our last SW trip, I started a little list of seven-word birder-related words — and then lost the list. A few months ago, I began again, hampered by the fact that the state does not have, to my searching, an online listing of taken names.

I’m not quite sure why, but I settled on Goshawk as my first choice. The pilot in me likes the soaring, hunting nature of hawks (Buzzards aka Turkey Vultures also are wonderful soarers but ….) and I’ve not yet seen a Northern Goshawk in my travels — so I submitted it. I figured I’d see a Goshawk every time I went birding with the truck and perhaps that would be the charm.

Plate2W

So I didn’t know until the plates arrived yesterday whether I had gotten my choice. I’m a little undecided; I’m really not a vanity plate guy. The only one I’ve ever had was very prized — CFI — for certificated flight instructor back in the ’70’s.

We’ll give this a try for a year and see how it feels — and if it brings me luck. Plus, it gives me another plate photo for my collection. Good birding.

Posted in License Plates | 2 Comments

Ricker Pond Camping

We do most of our camping in the winter but usually take a couple of local trips each summer to check out Airstream systems and enjoy some of Vermont’s state parks. This past mid-week, we reserved a spot at Ricker Pond State Park in the Groton State Forest and had a wonderful three days.

We headed out Wednesday morning ahead of some thunderstorms.

We headed out Wednesday morning ahead of some thunderstorms.

Ricker Pond SP is like essentially all Vermont parks — aimed more at tent and lean-to campers than RV’s. There are no hook-ups nor is there any internet — wifi or 4G. There are only about five sites where we can fit our twenty-five foot Airstream in.

One thing Vermont parks have going is great attention by the staff.

One thing Vermont parks have going is great attention by the staff.

The flags were at half-mast for the servicemen shot in Chattanooga.

The flags were at half-mast for the servicemen shot in Chattanooga.

We infrequently camp when school is out and when we do, we avoid the weekends. Even so, there were tons of kids around. It’s a pretty-safe park for them, with limited traffic and long smooth dirt roads for bike riding, but because of all the recent rains, the bacterial level at the swimming area was high and the beach was closed.  We enjoyed the squeals and yells of kids although a few carried on rather late. It was nice to see no electronic devices — we had Kindle books on our iPad but other than that, radio silence. It didn’t kill us.

Our site was #17 which is probably the best for a trailer. We even good decent solar inspite of all the trees.

Our site was #17 which is probably the best for a trailer. We even good decent solar inspite of all the trees.

Here are some shots that I took while out on birding/dog walks.

I love this big piece of granite. I tried to get Mary to put her head inside for a photo but she declined.

I love this big piece of granite. I tried to get Mary to put her head inside for a photo but she declined.

This young angler had a small bass on the other end of her pole.

This young angler had a small bass on the other end of her pole.

There were a number of first-year Mallards which have been tamed by feeding by the campers. Penny was quite interested in these two.

There were a number of first-year Mallards which have been tamed by feeding by the campers. Penny was quite interested in these two.

This park has 27 campsites, 23 lean-to shelters, 5 cabins and a couple of waterfront cottages. The lean-tos are very popular and people reserve the same one year after year.

Many of the lean-tos have great locations right near the water.

Many of the lean-tos have great locations right near the water.

I did a lot of birding and in spite of mid-summer and heavy foliage, heard and/or saw most of the usual suspects. Red-eyed vireos seemed to be holding a convention there. The highlight was the pair of Common Loons who have nested there and have a couple of chicks. I took some photos from the canoe but stayed well away from them. You can see one of the youngsters in the photo.LoonsWIt’s a pretty little body of water and it is easy to see why so many folks, many who have camped all over Vermont, come back. If you have a larger RV, there are several sites up at the next campground, Stillwater, which can handle large units. You’ll need a generator or solar system — it’s boondocking at about $20 a day. But look at this shot of Ricker Pond – it’s pure Vermont.

UplakeW

 

Posted in local camping, Safari, Vermont Birding, Vermont State Parks | 1 Comment

A Morning Surprise

This is the time of year when I spend several mornings a week in the woods cutting up firewood from trees I have down the year before. Yesterday, I got going early while it was cool (46 degrees) and was just starting on the branches of a soft maple when I noticed what looked to be a cow patty in the ferns just under my chain saw. We have no cows on our land so I shut down and took a closer look. I was surprised to see a big turtle, just lying there dormant in the morning chill. Here’s a look:

We have lived here 15 years and this is the first turtle I have ever seen in our woods.

We have lived here 15 years and this is the first turtle I have ever seen in our woods.

I took a stick and moved the ferns aside for a photo. The guy/gal was not very interested in me.

That's a quarter on its back for scale. This was a pretty good sized terrapin.

That’s a quarter on its back for scale. This was a pretty good sized terrapin.

I moved the ferns back in place and went on with my work, cutting up a couple of loads of maple chunks, bringing them up to the wood lot, splitting them with a maul, and stacking them. It was a good workout and I decided to cool off and do some turtle research.

At first, I thought it was a Wood Turtle since we were in the woods and pretty far from any water. But they only grow from 6 to 9 inches and the pattern on the shell seemed wrong.

After lunch, I decided to go back out and measure the turtle if it was still there. Sure enough, it had not moved and I got about 11 inches in length for the shell – just using the rule in the air over the guy. The lighting was better so I took another iPhone shot.

From the size and the shell pattern, I'm calling this a Snapping Turtle.

From the size and the shell pattern, I’m calling this a Snapping Turtle.

Just before I left him, I took a close-up of him/her eyeballing me.

"Hey, don't you have work to do?"

“Hey, don’t you have work to do?”

It was a neat encounter and pretty low stress for both of us. I suspect he wandered off in the night but in any case, I always wear steel-toed boots when wood cutting and should feel more comfortable tromping through knee-high ferns. I suspect I’ll not see him again but it is cool to know that he, or she, is out there on our land.

Posted in Critters, Turtles, Wood cutting | 1 Comment

A Morning Paddle

Friday promised to be a pretty day so in spite of a pretty good list of tasks to do: mow lawn, split and stack wood, exercise the dog, and so on — I headed out early for a paddle on Wrightsville Reservoir with my new Hornbeck boat. (More on that in a future post.)

There was no one on the water as I headed out to the calls of a Belted Kingfisher and a host of Common Yellowthroats and Song Sparrows. I had my binoculars and instead of my camera, my iPhone 6.

I am experimenting with the zoom on the iPhone and finding that the quality degrades fairly rapidly. Coming upon a family of nearly mature Mallards, I coasted toward them, getting this low-res photo.

Moving slowly with the boat, I never startled this group, even though they certainly knew I was there.

Moving slowly with the boat, I never startled this group, even though they certainly knew I was there.

A little further up, another family, less the daddy, cruised along. These were younger.

Mallards1W

Since the reservoir is a flood control unit, the water levels vary greatly throughout the year. There are many old pine trees that died but still stand starkly along the bank.

Since the reservoir is a flood control unit, the water levels vary greatly throughout the year. There are many old pine trees that died but still stand starkly along the bank.

Heading back, I came across three River Otters out for breakfast. Mom was chirping away at them as I nosed over toward them and took a few video clips with the phone. I’m learning IMovie to edit but am still low on the learning curve. These guys were neat and again, I never disturbed them.

It was a nice way to spend an hour or so on a perfect Vermont morning, and get a bit of exercise in the bargain. Good paddling.

Posted in Vermont Birding | Leave a comment

A Summer Walk in Our Woods

It’s nearly 80 degrees, muggy under a hot sun, mosquitoes everywhere, and trails just soggy with rainwater. It feels like birding in Alabama or Louisiana but I’m hearing Hermit Thrushes and White-throated Sparrows and not worrying about snakes or alligators. We’ve had days of rain, interspersed with sunshine, but the ground is as saturated as I seen in mid-June.

After loading up with insect repellant, I took the dog for a walk this afternoon to do a little mid-day birding. We are loaded with Chestnut-sided Warblers and one was singing away as we headed out. Here’s a guy that hangs out along our driveway.

Distinctive song, easy markings, stays low. My kind of warbler.

Distinctive song, easy markings, stays low. My kind of warbler.

We have several families of Common Yellowthroats living in the brushy areas around our house. This time of year, there is a lot of chipping but few calls. They move fast around the heavy foliage and are hard to photograph. Here’s one with a caterpillar.

You can run but you can't hide, completely.

You can run but you can’t hide, completely.

The mosquitoes attacked in force as we entered the woods – Deep Woods Off kept them from landing but they were hovering about an inch away from eyes, ears, nose etc. I remembered that birds need insects for food so tried to spin it positively, but it was not fun. I could hear Blackburnians way up high in the pines and Hermit Thrushes far off, and then Penny flushed this little guy who sat, hidden by branches, and finally flew off. I took a photo and believe it is a young Ovenbird. There was no call — I did hear several later on — but I’m basing it on the fact that it was on the ground, and then sat on a low branch, like Ovenbirds do — but the lack of striped chest or chestnut crown make me think it is a juvenile. Any thoughts — feel free to comment.

OvenbirdW

Of course, Penny, having been cooped up with rain all day, was ready to rock and roll. The red squirrels were out in force and she felt she had to tree and bark at each one.

Maybe if I stand here and bark you'll come down and play.

Maybe if I stand here and bark you’ll come down and play.

As we came back up toward the house, I spotted the three deer that we’ve had around all year. They have their red summer coats and were glowing in the afternoon sunset, but deep in the foliage, watching us carefully. There may be a fourth one — I’m hoping that there is a fawn among them. They’ll be out and about tomorrow.

Approaching the house from our pines, I noted once again how lush everything is. I thought for a moment about the times when we’ve been on these trails, now squishy with water, when my fingers were too frozen to operate the camera. Seems like a long time off but this is Vermont, hang a month or two.

As we approached the house, one of our resident Purple Finches was singing away from the top of our maple.

As we approached the house, one of our resident Purple Finches was singing away from the top of our maple.

We have several families of Purple Finches that provide us with flashes of color and wonderful music.

We have several families of Purple Finches that provide us with flashes of color and wonderful music.

The dog and I came home thirsty — I was sweating, she was panting. She’d seen a lot of squirrels, I had heard and seen a nice mix of birds. I’ll try to remember these days when I’m on out snowshoes with hand warmers not doing their job, with only chickadees and nuthatches in sight, and wonder why I whined about a little mud and bugs and heat. Good summer birding to you.

 

Posted in Local Birding, Penny, Vermont Birding, Yard birds | Leave a comment