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

Replacing the Airstream’s gas range

Several years ago, a metal brace in the Airstream’s oven snapped, probably from the fatigue of a decade of travel over bumpy roads. I got it welded but then found that the collapse had also damaged parts of the propane dispenser — and ended up disabling the oven completely. It turned into a great storage space for pots and pans and the range continued to work fine. And since lighting the oven was always a scary proposition — nothing, nothing, then woosh — Mary certainly didn’t miss it.

We lived with that for the last couple of years, using a small toaster oven to “bake.” Of course, it only worked when we were plugged in to a power supply and even then, left a lot to be desired. (Sawing a frozen pizza into sizes that fit was fun as was cutting cornbread recipes in half and then still having them ooze all over the place.)

I considered a lot of options — replacing just the stove top and putting a microwave underneath (again, you need power to use it), continuing as we have been (it detracts from selling the rig), or replacing it. That’s the option we chose and I found a replacement unit which came by Fedex yesterday.

Even though it’s not a difficult job, there were challenges. Pulling the old stove out was easy – just a matter of unhooking the propane line and four wood screws. It’s not heavy, about 70 pounds, and so I got it out the door and up into the pickup without problems.

The opening was a bit too large for the new unit but shims solved that.

The opening was a bit too large for the new unit but shims solved that.

We are fortunate to have a metal recycling operation just a few miles away so since I was going to town yesterday, I swung up there early. I drove on to the truck scales for a “before” weight, tossed the oven in the big pile of light metal objects, and got weighed going out. The attendant said, as I walked into the office, “Well, maybe you can get a cup of coffee.” The payoff was $1.95 but he rounded it up to two dollars. Just about what I expected but the stove is on its way to reuse – perhaps I’ll be shaving with it next year.

The opening for the old stove was a bit too large for this one so last night, I cut some shims to tighten things up, slid it in, hooked up the propane and tested for a leak, and lit her off.  The burners worked fine – the oven, which should be easier to light than the old one, will get tested soon.

The new Atwood gas range ready to go.

The new Atwood gas range ready to go.

It will be nice, wherever we are, to have the capability of baking or even broiling — and we can still use the oven for storing our cookware. Off to new maintenance/repair ventures.

Posted in Airstream, boondocking, equipment_issues, propane, rig maintenance, Safari | 1 Comment

A Short-lived Spring Romance – with Class B’s

My brother and his spouse, who sort of got us into Airstreams through their tales of adventures in the South and Southwest, now have purchased an older model Class B (van) Airstream called the B190.  Here’s a shot of one, not theirs.

B190W

Photo credit: Helle Gowan

Barry and Mica love their rig for it’s compactness and how they, being free of towing their Airstream trailer, can get into smaller sites and navigate the roads of New England and Atlantic Canada more easily. They are considering leaving their towed rig home this winter and taking the 190 out West.

So, it got me thinking. I should note that virtually every spring, I start considering options: a newer trailer (cost doesn’t justify getting the same features we now have), longer rig, perhaps with a slide out (have trouble getting our 25-foot unit up our driveway and parked — and would likely need a new tow vehicle), or even an Airstream motorhome.

I have been intrigued with the Airstream Interstates, built on a Sprinter van body, with their diesel power and easy of maneuvering. Their price, now about $150K new, is outside our pay grade but there are some older units that are a little more reasonable. I knew they were tight on space, being a 23 to 24 foot unit, but decided to do some more research. For about three days I was psyched to sell our rig and truck and go for it.

airstream15a-2

Then I looked at bed lengths. We need twin beds, which are available but rather scarce. The beds appeared to be 74 inches long — and I’m 73 inches long. I then started looking at specs for Class B+ rigs, which add a bit of width to the Sprinter van and sort of quickly morph into Class C’s. Many of the major brands have these options but many are new and quite expensive. I also am not to keen on driving down the road with swirls and other graphics on the rig.

As I do when I get on a project, I joined several Facebook groups/pages and also some Class B forums. I saw discussions of what kind of car to tow (sort of defeats the “freeing up” of a Class B), how to hang tool boxes and bikes off the back, and many issues with some of the equipment, especially the macerator for waste water.

So for several days I was looking hard online for options – running the numbers and finding that we could do it financially but not easily and then one morning last week, I woke up and the flirtation was over — the old Airstream down by the pine trees looked mighty fine. The beds are long enough, there’s plenty of storage with the truck cap, we know where the “warts” are, and the rig and tow vehicle are paid for. Rather than fix things up so that I can sell it, I’ll fix things up so that we can enjoy it. And we won’t have to leave a hose and a “This site is occupied” sign every time we leave a campground to go birding.

Airstream1W

 

Posted in Airstream, Interstate, Safari | Leave a comment

Caution, I Brake For Goslings

Yesterday, I had to take our living room couch up to Hyde Park – about an hour north – and drop it off for the upholsterer. So bright and early, Penny and I started up Route 12 toward Morrisville. It was a beautiful Vermont morning with the temperature in the 60’s, light traffic, and lots of bird song as we cruised along with the truck windows down. I had not birded Lamoille County, my target county last year, at all so it was nice to get back into parts of the state I explored in detail last year.

I gave myself plenty of time to get there which was just as well because while only one school bus stopped me, this parade of Canada Geese took their sweet time letting me get past.

These CAGO's were adjacent Lake Lamoille. The goslings sat on the roadway, waddled a bit, walked some more. They seemed pretty accustomed to vehicle traffic.

These CAGO’s were adjacent Lake Lamoille. The goslings sat on the roadway, waddled a bit, walked some more. They seemed pretty accustomed to vehicle traffic. The last one seems to be saying, “I’m tired!”  (Taken through truck windshield)

There is a wonderful country road leading to the turn for our upholsters. Part way along, I came across this line of old bicycles, each with a planter in a handlebar basket or on the frame, and stopped on the highway for a couple of iPhone photos. “Only in Vermont”, I thought.  It was certainly unique and rather lovely.

BikeplantersW

I dropped the couch off without problems and we did some more birding – sometimes just stopping at turnouts and listening. Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, even some Wild Turkeys graced one field. I got about 25 species for the county including a couple of Osprey on a platform nest and many warblers and vireos.

Heading home, I stopped to take this photo of a round barn just south of Morrisville which was restored by the Welch family. Over the years, we had watched it age and were excited to notice and hear about renovation work, which was mostly done by the family over a long period of time.

The barn was painted yellow 45 years ago but the Welch's matched the original red stain that was there when it was built in 1916. It is a wonderful structure saved through a lot of hard work and is now available for weddings and other functions.

The barn was painted yellow 45 years ago but the Welch’s matched the original red stain that was there when it was built in 1916. It is a wonderful structure saved through a lot of hard work and is now available for weddings and other functions.

 

Posted in Lamoille County, Nesting, Vermont barns, Vermont Birding, Vermont roadside | 1 Comment

Sorry, Mama Robin

I cut the firewood we use to supplement heating our house. Each year, I drop 15 or 20 trees, mostly soft maple and cherry, let them dry on the ground during the summer and fall, and then the following year, cut them up, haul them in, split them by hand, stack them, re-stack them when the pile falls over …. etc. It’s a Vermont thing. Unless I get hurt, cheaper than a health club.

This time of year, I never drop leafed-out trees fearing that I will destroy songbird nests, so it was surprising today, while cutting brush, to disturb a mother bird.  I was clearing out brambles and small trees, mainly with the brush hog on my tractor but also with the chain saw. There was a clump near the base of the electric company’s guy wire for their pole on our property corner, and I cut one small spruce seedling and then noticed that the larger spruce tree was growing right through the fitting that anchored the wire. I peered in to check it out and here’s what I saw:

You can see the yellow shield for the support wire as it passes under the nest.

You can see the yellow shield for the support wire as it passes under the nest.

I shut things down, ran up to get my camera, and grabbed the above photo and a closeup with the telephoto. It was a gorgeous nest with one pretty egg.

A quick zoom in and time to leave.

A quick zoom in and time to leave.

I backed away and stood partially hidden as I heard the parent chipping away in the nearby apple tree. Pretty soon, she approached, arrived in a flourish of orange and red, and settled. I snapped a few long-distance shots.

She blends in well - if I had not found the nest, I'd never spot her.

She blends in well – if I had not found the nest, I’d never spot her.

The tree is just off our driveway so it’s easy to check. Three hours later, when I walked down to get mail, I could see her tail silhouetted in the shadows. Don’t think that I disturbed her too much, but it was close. I was seconds away from dropping that tree.

Posted in Local Birding, Nesting, Washington County | Leave a comment

Spring Break is Over – for the Airstream

When we get home from the Southwest, after negotiating our driveway and doing some unloading, we wait until the ground firms up and then park the rig — and forget it for a month or so. About two weeks ago, I moved it down to the only semi-level spot we have and now it time to start to tackle some of the many niggling items that I wrote down as we spent fifteen weeks living in it.

 

The Safari waits for repair work and local travel.

The Safari waits for repair work and local travel.

Of course, I’m always thinking about alternatives to the ’99 Safari and read advertisements weekly for newer and larger units. One week it is a longer unit with a slide out, for which we’d need a new truck, and likely, given our driveway, a new home. Then it is upgrading by about ten years to get more windows and less repairs but it seems that it’s mostly the same, just more expensive. So, we sit tight with our budget rig where we know it’s problems and attributes, and keep fixing and tuning things up.

We have had a vent/fan in our bathroom that has not worked for several years. The fan blade disintegrated after many years of use and the motor sounds a little suspect. So today, I visited our local parts dealer, Vintage Trailer Supply, to see if they had a replacement. This is not a “vintage” part per se but they had one in stock and I was in business. We are very fortunate to have this great outfit right in town — most of their sales are online but it’s neat to be able to talk with them in person.

This replacement fan unit should slide right into the opening for it.

This replacement fan unit should slide right into the opening for it.

My list of tweaks is fairly long: leaky faucet, loose shower stall, cabinet that needs gluing, new hangar for paper towels, and perhaps, a new back bumper. I’ll peck away at them this summer — and stop wasting time on want ads. This rig is just what we need for most of our traveling and is a known entity.

We plan to take it to Massachusetts this weekend while we visit Jen and her gang after too long an absence. Penny and I will boondock in the woods — it will be a good time to see what other fix-it items show up.

Posted in Airstream, boondocking, Jennifer's, repairs, rig maintenance | Leave a comment

The Kindness of Birders

A “boreal grand slam” in Vermont, and perhaps elsewhere, is to see the four boreal species (Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Spruce Grouse, and Black-backed Woodpecker) on one birding outing. Or for others like me, it’s to get them as life birds, period.

I had seen, quite some time ago, Gray Jays and a cooperative Spruce Grouse but had never seen the other two species. Monday, I hoped to remedy that with a trip to the Northeast Kingdom with my faithful hound.

It is about a 1 plus 45 trip to the Victory Wildlife Management Area but it was a beautiful drive – trees showing red buds, some patches of snow, warm temperatures. The dirt road into Victory was in great shape with no traffic and I could hear Winter Wrens, Blue-headed Vireos, and Black-capped Chickadees as we cruised in with the windows down. Did I say that it is too early for bugs — which are treacherous in later spring.

Our destination was a pipeline crossing which had recently been described by a local birder, Tom Berriman of Lyndonville, as one of the good spots for Black-backed Woodpeckers. He wrote on the list serve that they had paired up and building nests and included a digiscoped video of one at work.

I had never met Tom but “know” him through postings, Facebook, and his great photos on the NEK Audubon page. When I got to the crossing, sure enough, his truck was there. Penny and I trekked in for about a half mile when way up ahead, returning, was this guy with a telescope slung over his shoulder. I watched a young Red-tailed Hawk thermal as I waited for him. I knew it was him and he recognized me, from having Penny on a leash, as we shook hands and talked for a bit. It had been a quiet morning for him as well.

When I mentioned that I was looking for a Black-backed Woodpecker he immediately said, “Do you want me to take you to where I saw the two yesterday?” I thought that he was going to give me good directions but as we walked back to our trucks, it became evident that he wanted to take me there.

So, after shedding some layers (it was getting warm), we walked in on an adjacent gated jeep trail quietly talking about all sort of topics and listening for drumming. He has better hearing than I do, or recognizes the light tapping of the Black-backed, and he heard a couple that were off a ways. Soon, we got to the spot where he had seen them.

After a short wait, he motioned and we moved into the woods a bit, through tangles and dead trees (I had Penny on a leash which got tangled here and there) he pointed and climbing a spruce tree was a female Black-backed Woodpecker. I got a great look but no photo with the trees and dog to deal with. She flew shortly and that was it.

Female  Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo credit to sfitzgerald86

Female Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo credit to sfitzgerald86.

As we waited a bit, I asked Tom how he knew she was there. “I heard some light tapping,” he said. I would have likely walked right by the bird.

He’d been tramping for four hours or so but still went out of his way to walk another half mile or so to guide me to this life bird. It is an example of his hospitality – he’s well-known and respected for taking birders to his favorite spots – but also of the kindness that I have found in the birding community here and in other states. It is a wonderful aspect and one more reason why birding can be so rewarding. Thank you Tom for life bird #428.

Posted in Birding With Penny, life bird, Life list, Love_of_birding, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments