Saturday, May 23, 2015

Heaven on earth?

This is pretty close, at least for within 20 minutes of home :)

Every year, the Lancaster Library system holds a humongous book sale in the gym of a local college.  I can't always make it every year, but I did this time.  This is also the first time I was there as the doors opened on the first day of the sale.  Let's just say that things were a little ... intense.  lol.

This is the kind of sale people bring wagons and carts to.  But I was happy with my two grocery bags' full  :)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mothers Day Bird Fest

Mothers Day weekend always lines up with the Pennsylvania Annual Migration Count (PAMC).  This is nice, because I'm usually back in Fulton County, which is a place that isn't birded much in projects like these, and my Mom's into birds, too, so this makes something nice we can do together.  Here's some photos from two Saturdays ago:

Mom got up super early with me to head out before sunrise.  I have to say, late spring mornings like these, tucked up against a mountain with hundreds of birds singing their hearts out, well, there's just not a lot that can beat it.

The warm early sun streams through trees, making the fording of Licking Creek almost fairytale-like.  My plan was to bring my flip flops and wade through, but I managed to catch a four-wheeled ride a little later :)

I have a lot of pictures from this weekend of birding, but not-so-strangely, most of them are not of birds.  They just don't sit still long enough ;)  But, I did catch a few loafing around.  Above is a Baltimore Oriole.  Sometimes, it seemed like there were a pair of these in every tree.

At the family's farm, this Song Sparrow was up and singing loudly. Not one bit of shyness to this guy.  Walking from the Farm to my parent's house is always a good bird walk.  Part of the way, it gets steep enough that you can easily see into the tops of the trees just down the bank.  Great for warbler-watching, although I didn't see any!  (Did hear a Prairie Warbler.)  But, plenty of the normal denizens were out.

Here's a good example of a common bird that looks a little unusual from a particular angle.  This guy was clearly singing the "drink your tea" of an Eastern Towhee, but from the front and high up in a tree, I had to double check his identity.  Usually you see these guys scratching around in low brush.

As I walked down the hill to my parents', I had to do a double take.  There was a Turkey Vulture perched in a dead tree behind their house, sunning its wings.  Some trick of perspective made the vulture look HUGE.

Later that day, we went to the Rosebud Area of Buchanan State Forest, also known as the Kerper Tract.  It's funny how some patches of woods have their own distinctive mix of birds - here you are guaranteed to be awash in American Redstarts, find Wood Thrushes under every bush, and see or hear Acadian Flycatchers, Ovenbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and a bunch of woodpeckers.  Here's a Wood Thrush, singing.  One of my all-time fave singers :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

River Walking, Part Two

After we did the Enola Low Grade Line, we decided to do another part of the trail the next day.  Monday evening, actually.  I had heard that a pair of Bald Eagles were nesting close to the trail.  And yeah, they were CLOSE!

I think the sun had actually set at this point, so the photo is a little wonky.  But you get the gist.  

This walk is along the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail.  What's interesting about this trail is that it's not complete.  Different sections of it have come on line over the last decade, and even more will be completed soon.  By the end of this year, we should be able to walk down the street to the River, then go over 10 miles north.  Soon to be even further.  The very long term goal is to connect the trail south to the Enola Low Grade line, of last post's fame.  

Anyway, the rail trail has finally connected up to Shocks Mill Bridge.  This is a rail bridge and is difficult to see from any road.  So the trail really has opened this view up to the public.  The central portion looks different because it was damaged in an ice jam and had to be rebuilt.

We also found the other Eagle, out on a bar in the River.  Very far away, but you can't really mistake one for anything else, at least not in these parts :)

The last thing that was really neat was getting to check out an art project I'd heard about.  Turns out an artist, in conjunction with a local elementary school, has designed a tile mosaic for the long retaining wall at Donegal River Park.  

It's not complete yet, you can see where tiles still need to be placed.  But it's so neat!  The design seems to be the River, connecting various scenes from the countryside.  This is the big arches of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, close to home and lovely.  I'm not sure if the sun is a play on the Rising Sun Hotel building here in town, or whether that's a happy coincidence :)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

River Walking, Part One

When we're going for distance in hiking, we tend to stick to flat trails.  Fortunately, there are two big rail trails in our area.  We did a portion of the York County Heritage Rail Trail in April, and now we explored some on the Lancaster side.  

The Enola Low Grade line and the Turkey Hill trail start in the same parking lot.  Neither one of these trails existed as such when we moved to the area, so things have come a lot way!

The Turkey Hill trail is interesting.  It takes you up the river bluffs to the edge of Lancaster County's large landfill facility.  There's a nice overlook out over the Susquehanna River.  What you can't see in this shot is that there are two large wind turbines immediately off to the right.  The islands out into the distance mark the Conojohela Flats, an important area for migratory birds.  

While we were on the Turkey Hill trail, we could hear a bird singing intermittently.  I didn't know what it was, but thought it had a warbler-ish sound to it.  What's really neat is that, once we finished the trail and decided to walk part of the Low Grade Line, we found the bird again.  And I was right, it was a Prairie Warbler!  This is the first of these I have ever seen.  And it came in handy because I was able to recognize one singing the next weekend, during the PAMC.  I would have missed it otherwise!

The part of the Low Grade Line is just beautiful.  The trail follows an old rail bed situated on a bench above the River.  The views from this section are much wider and open than on other parts of the rail trail.  We noticed that a large number of Mennonites were out this lovely Sunday afternoon, and this lady with her bright blue dress caught my eye especially.

This is Mann's Run, as it gets ready to enter the Susquehanna.  And below is a restored rail car, painted to represent a particular scheme that actually was used on these rail lines at one point.  Neat stuff!

We definitely want to come back again, and walk the whole stretch from the parking area to Safe Harbor Dam and back!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alias Grace

Oh, Margaret Atwood.  It's just not fair.  How good of an author you are, I mean.  This is the fourth book of yours I have read now, and you seem to be seriously gunning for the top of my personal 'best of the best' list.  

Actually, this was one of two books on my 2014 Challenge List that I had to hold over to this year, and it is is something of a departure for Atwood - a book based on real events, with a fictionalized account filling in the gaps but not giving us clear answers.

The Grace of the title is Grace Marks, a girl not yet turned 16 when she became involved, to some degree, in the 1843 murder of her employer and his mistress.  All within about 2-3 weeks of starting work there as a maid.  She and a male hired hand named James McDermott were convicted of the crime, and both were sentenced to death.  McDermott was hung, while Grace's death penalty was commuted and she was eventually pardoned.

None of these things are spoilers, they're all facts of the case and a matter of historical record.  What Atwood does so wonderfully is give life to Grace and her peers, and make a case for their motivations.  In Alias Grace, Grace has witnessed the death of her mother, the disintegration of her wastrel father, and the loss of all her family, either to death or distance.  Despite this, Grace's voice is wonderfully practical, and capable, and at 15 she can run a household far better than I can.  And yet she, at the very least, fails to so much as try to prevent the murders, and may have even fully participated.

Atwood creates a few other characters to frame the story, and allow Grace to tell hers.  In doing this, we see that the societal attitudes of the era were truly terrible toward women, but that men were harmed, too, although usually in more subtle ways.  Which, I think, is the point of the book, at the bottom of it all.  Crazy, out-of-whack gender crap is bad for everybody.  

In any case, it's amazing when you can read a book like this, come away with very few solid answers about the level and nature of Grace's involvement, and still think its one of the best books you've ever read.  But that's what happened!  There are eerie and beautiful pieces of imagery, particularly dream sequences (which I usually find awkward and a slight turn off).  Images of sheets, and quilts, and beds and women.  Souls stuck in rooms, unable to ascend.  Wonderful descriptions of the Canadian countryside.  Haunting, just haunting.

Final call:
I could quibble with a few things, here and there, but I'd feel like I was complaining that no one plucked the seeds from a big delicious red strawberry.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Trouble with Troubles

This is the second of two books with Irish connections that I wanted to read prior to our vacation there later this year.  Now that I have read both, I'm thinking there are probably better ones I could have picked, lol.  Neither particularly make you want to go to Ireland, that's for sure.  I have to say, the edition I have has a goofy cover.  I don't know why but it just hits the wrong note with me.

I guess then maybe its not too surprising that the rest of the book went on to be slightly off key, too.  The first issue was just that it took me a long time to figure out the tone of the book.  It's pure farce, but its slower and more detailed than most.  The setting and the people are all symbols, and don't really act as you would expect.  The second issue is the dark humor.  Now, I love dark humor, but hoo boy, this was DARK.  Imagine Three Men in a Boat with guerrilla warfare, abundant animal cruelty, and near-rapes.  I have to wonder what cats ever did to Farrell.  I'm sure they were symbols for something, too.

But on the whole, this was a timely read.  This book follows a group of Anglo-Irish living in a crumbling hotel in Ireland during the years (1919-1921) that Irish Nationalists were clashing with the ruling British in extremely violent ways that eventually led to Irish independence.  The violence is mostly a backdrop, which becomes illuminated by the attitudes and actions of those in the hotel, those of the British "status quo."

This is perfectly illustrated when the hotel's owner grouses about his exceedingly poor tenants stealing from his field crops.  The protagonist of the book, the Major, then points out that you can't expect people to willingly starve themselves to death to appease the owner's sensibilities.  Of course this falls on deaf ears.

All in all, a lot of the attitudes and actions remind me of current recent events in the U.S., although of course the political context is different.  But a privileged and powerful group not understanding why a disenfranchised and impoverished group might resort to violence, that sounds awfully familiar.

Final call:

Troubles is clever and insightful but still didn't win my heart over.  I certainly wouldn't tell anyone to not read it, though!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


It seems like a long time ago now, but two weekends ago we were at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, affectionately known as 'the Brig' (its old name was Brigantine NWR).

The Brig has an 8-mile auto tour route.  But this time we walked it.  Twice!  We have walked a portion of it before, two winters ago, when snow closed the roads and we REALLY wanted to see a Snowy Owl.  This time we hiked the auto route on Saturday, then came back Sunday and did it over with a few trail segments to up the mileage.

First up was a pair of white egrets:  a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret.  These guys actually look fairly similar, but the size differential is huge:

Another treat right at the start of Saturday's walk was a flock of 40+ Glossy Ibis.  In the right light, they are a surprisingly warm shade of cinnamon, for a bird that usually looks iridescent black.

Some other highlights from both days included a White Pelican.  This guy was faaaaar out in one of the pools, but was unmistakable.  They're huge!

We also saw 6 American Avocets, but they were even farther out and required a scope to even see them.  Even so, we were surprised to find both unusual species with so little heartache :)

Ospreys were everywhere.  Many couples were taking advantage of the nesting posts located near the drive.  This one has a fish, or at least, part of one.  

Near the end of the loop, or the salt marsh part of it, anyway, we found an American Oystercatcher.  This is a comically striking bird, and I can't remember seeing one up and out of the water like this before.  

Lastly, we found this directional sign that had a sticker attached.  It said, "I'd rather be birding."  It cracked me up because, geez, what else would you be doing mid-way through a big wildlife refuge like this!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Do you know your baby ducks?

I found out I don't, if Mom's not right there.  I was out taking photos and not purposely birding this past Friday, when I happened to hear some flustered high-pitched cheeping.  It was coming from these guys:

It took a bit of searching and some help from Facebook for me to figure out that these are Hooded Merganser ducklings.  So there's your dose of cute for the day :)