Monday, November 30, 2009

Owl Alert!

The full moon shines in a cloudless sky. As I unload the car around 6:15 tonight, I hear a sound. Whoo, Whoo, Whoo, Whoo. Not sure of the source, I politely hoot back. Whoo Whoo Whoo Whooo? After a few minutes of conversation, the owl flew off to another spot in the subdivision. I am too excited for words! A real GHO in my yard, and I saw him fly off! (This picture, of course, was taken elsewhere, but it is a handsome bird.)

My yard has several vacated hawk nests, and abundant squirrel nests, which would make dandy homes for a pair of Great Horned Owls. I would be more thrilled about owlets than I was about the Cooper's Hawks, and that's saying something! Let's all keep our fingers crossed!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Creasey Mahan Projects

Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve is one of my favorite places to volunteer, or just to explore on my own. We wish that the couple who donated the land and created the preserve had kept the name on their gate post. "Hill-O-Content" is such a descriptive name! I can imagine the contentment they must have had driving down this lane every time they came home.
The Manor is really an old four-room two-story log cabin, built in the early 1800's, and later covered in clapboard, then aluminum siding. One of our volunteers spent many hours this summer caulking and repairing the 177 window panes on the home.
Natural springs burst out from the limestone in many places on the property. Most springs feed one of the small creeks. One of the early owners decided to build a spring house over a convenient spring just downhill from the house. Cool water still bubbles through the small building, ready to preserve milk, fruits and vegetables as it did almost 200 years ago. Last fall, a windstorm blew off its tin roof, and it sat there wounded, while we searched for money to make repairs. Actually, it will be a restoration, because a new cedar shingle roof is going on, much more authentic for a structure of this age.
The builders include the grounds manager, one of the members from the board of directors, and two other volunteers with terrific skills. As I watched them work, I felt the stream of time flowing through the building. When the first construction crew worked here, they had to quarry the stone, mix the mortar and place all the stones. Before putting on a roof, they had to cut the timber, make the nails, and cut the cedar to make the shakes or shingles to put on the roof. I mentioned this to our crew, and they expressed their appreciation for Home Depot which delivered all the material right to the site!
The Manor has four rooms in the original part, including this wonderful dining room. Each room has its own fireplace, since that was the only heat source in the 1800's. The hill above the spring house has been burned off and reseeded with Kentucky native plants, such as Little Bluestem grass. In the spring, the hill glows softly with wildflowers. In the fall, the Bluestem looks almost reddish, despite its name.
At the edge of the meadow, a Red Shouldered Hawk perches in a bare tree, searching for a tasty mouse for breakfast, while warming herself in the bright morning sun.
Since the first frost has not arrived yet, even though it is mid-November, a few brave flowers continue to bloom, including this Black-eyed Susan, some violets, and of course, the ever hardy dandelions.
Goldenrod seeds look like blossoms themselves, nodding in the breeze.
As you enter the main drive, stately maples line the lane. Well, they used to be stately. Now they are home to woodpeckers, insects and shelf fungus on the dead and dying branches. Maples don't give up easily though, and each tree has enough living branches to survive. Smaller trees grow between their elders, so they will be ready to take their place when the final windstorm blows down the larger trees.
When the preserve was established in 1975, there were few trees at all. Since the property was a working farm, mowed pasture for livestock was the common condition, but the donors wanted to create an arboretum, so the USDA was called in for advice. Their recommendation included planting hundreds of Autumn Olives, so that was done. Sigh... It seems that every story I hear about plants now regarded as undesirable includes the government recommendation that it be planted. Now the grounds manager is clearing the Autumn Olive out with a skip loader, simply ripping it up to clear the understory, and cutting large vines, both grape and poison ivy, which are strangling the trees. From the cutback done last year, native plants are making a good recovery already, so everyone is hopeful.

As a volunteer, I get to teach classes about fossils and birds, wander around taking lots of pictures, help plan events, and I redesigned their website. Offering is easy, but it's hard to get folks to let you work on their website, no matter how badly it needs it, so I really appreciate Tavia letting me do this. Also, Tavia Cathcart, the director, is a wonderful expert on plants and wildlife, so I have a built in resource for mystery flowers when I find them!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Falling Around

Although I haven't posted much to the blog lately, I have still been pretty busy. I realized this when I downloaded over 150 photos from my camera today, taken at four different locations and times! The fall has been beautiful this year! Yes, I say that every year, but it's always true! Now that November has arrived, most of the fall colors have dropped to the ground, but we can still enjoy them in photographs. David Sibley, of Sibley's Guide to Birds fame, was in town recently for a book signing. He's branching out and his latest endeavor is Sibley's Guide to Trees. The next day he came to Bernheim Forest for a tree walk. I have to admire anyone who spends so many years in one field, and has the courage to take on something entirely different, then go and talk to people about it in an unfamiliar area of the country. He discussed different things to watch for in the bark and buds of trees this time of year to help make an identification. Of course, when the Cooper's Hawks and Turkey Vultures flew over, it was natural to call our attention to the birds as well.
Cooper's Hawk at Bernheim Forest
The winter birds are arriving. Cedar Waxwings are still around, and I've seen several Juncos in my backyard, and heard a White Throated Sparrow. At Putney Pond, a pair of Hooded Mergansers paddled around at sunset.
The remaining scarlet leaves are breathtaking, but I've been attracted to the various seed heads left on the grasses and plants now that the flowers are gone. They are so delicate looking! Much of my time has been spent working on computer projects for my volunteer organizations. They both decided to join Facebook, after seeing recommendations for non-profits to use that as a free marketing tool along with their regular websites. I've always resisted getting into Facebook, but had to start an account to create a page for the non-profit. I got the page created, but have become completely frustrated when trying to get a username assigned to the page. It attached itself to my profile, not the nature preserve! Then I found that you can't get rid of a personal username at all. I checked with someone else who does this sort of thing, and the pages we saw for my login don't look anything like the ones she sees as administrator for her organization. Grrr! Has anyone else had any luck with Facebook? I'm about to recommend that we just use mass emails and forget Facebook altogether.