Sunday, January 21, 2018

Unbelievable Birding!!

Five of us from Elderberry took a weekend excursion to Lake Mattamuskeet and Pungo Lake this past weekend to see the tundra swans and snow geese.  Thousands of them migrate through these two NC wildlife refuges in January and February, and they are an extraordinary sight.  We saw hundreds of swans, congregating on the wetlands and hooting softly, an enchanting sound when coming from so many birds at once.  At sunset, swarms of snow geese came into the fields.  They looked like glowing bumblebees in the sky - dark wings set off by a white chest that glowed orange in the setting sun.  We were awed.

In addition to the swans and snow geese, we saw 41 other species of birds.  A very special treat (thanks to our friend Glaeshia) was the black crowned night heron.  We saw an adult at Mattamuskeet and we saw a juvenile in the Swanquarter refuge.  We saw many great blue herons and egrets, and seven bald eagles.

AND, we had so much fun together!  We rented a house for the weekend in Swanquarter, ate some delicious meals at cozy restaurants, enjoyed relaxing mornings together at the house, and ate 2 meals at gas stations (not quite as bad as it sounds, but almost).  We are already planning next year's trip, and would like to add in a ferry ride to Ocracoke and a visit to Pea Island refuge.

For those who really want to see the list of birds (and I know some of you are out there.... Dick's son Rick for one) you will find it at the end of this post below the photos.

Dave, Cheryl and Joyce at one of the viewing platforms at Lake Mattamuskeet

The tundra swans.  There is no way to capture the immensity of the groupings of swans in photos.  Just look at these photos and multiply by hundreds in your head!

An great egret in the little canal in the front yard of the house we were renting. 

Dave getting a better view of the swans.  Can you tell that 4 of us had our stuff crammed into Dick's car?  The roads were SUPER muddy, especially the first day. In addition to chipping in for gas, we all chipped in to pay for Dick's car wash!

Dave, Mary, Joyce, Cheryl and Dick at Lake Mattamuskeet

We heard that the Visitor Center was great, and Mary and Cheryl LOVE visitor centers.  Unfortunately, it was closed due to the government shutdown!  This is Joyce and Cheryl making their saddest faces.

Swans, swans and more swans.  So elegant.

At The Tavern at Jack's Neck in Belhaven.  On Friday night we had a cozy table by the fire, so on Saturday night we called ahead for the same table and went back!

We almost didn't get out of town after the big snow, and there was also a lot of snow in Swanquarter (and they don't have snow plows!).  But driving was not a problem.  This swan didn't seem to mind the snow.

This black-crowned night heron apparently calls this post home.  Glaeshia told us where to look for him and said she sees him there every year.  Pretty amazing!  Most of them leave for the winter, so we were lucky to see this one, and also lucky to see a juvenile one the following day.

Thanks to Glaeshia for use of her spotting scope!  We are checking out a bald eagle here.  On a different hike, we saw three juvenile eagles together in a tree very near to us, and the three took flight together.  Stunning!  Joyce could tell you another story about the eagle experience!

 Lake Mattamuskeet

OK..... Here's the bird list!
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Greater Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey
Double-breasted Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
American Kestrel
American Coot
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
House Sparrow

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Still Enjoying the Snow!!

Today we woke up to beautiful sunshine and 12" of snow.  So lovely!  A handful of us headed to our favorite sledding hill on Potluck Farm Road and packed down a good sled run.  The snow was still a bit soft and fluffy for really fast runs, but tomorrow morning when it's below freezing again the run should be icy and fast.  The snow and the fun should last a couple more days!

Tromping up the hill with the sleds

Cathy and Rosie

Karolyn loved it when Richard crashed after her flawless run - she said he has always been better than her at all things sports.  But she was queen of the hill!

Mary on a good ride

Karolyn on her way down

Michael, Karolyn and Jack.  The hill is steeper than it looks, especially when you are walking up it!

Jim giving Richard a starting push

 After several runs the track was getting well packed

Carl opted for cross-country skis rather than sleds!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Glorious Snow!

We usually brag about our wonderful climate here in the piedmont of NC.  Sept through June are lovely.  July and Aug are hot, but we are situated on a high point and nearly always have a breeze.  And snow?  Maybe a few inches once or twice a year.  But TODAY, oh my gosh.  We got about 10 inches of soft, sticky snow that clung to everything.  In most respects it was wonderful - extremely beautiful - and it encouraged most of us to just stay inside and relax, or take a hike in our magnificent woods (over 140 acres with stunning hiking trails).  But for a few of us, it was also a hardship.  Our members Diana and David had to brave the roads to get to Duke for a radiation treatment, and Kelly had to get into Durham to work, and didn't quite make it back (parked in a neighboring subdivision).  Still, we were grateful to have power when so many are without, and a group of us had a potluck dinner together at the common house, followed by some game playing, puzzling, and just sitting by the fire.

The north row of homes, blanketed in snow

Our path lights were domed in snow - they looked REALLY cool after dark!

The woods were a winter wonderland

The streams had a little sheen of ice

 One of our bridges between the S-Curve Trail and the Sacred Circle Trail

No sign of beaver today - they must be having their own little snow day too!

Mary's barn and fence at Potluck Farm - shows how much snow there is, sitting atop the fence rails

The Elderberry chicken coop - Cheryl had to feed them inside the coop today because they wouldn't come out, but they did lay eggs!

The common house

Along the Little Creektop Trail

The bridge along the Perimeter Trail

Looking west toward the beaver dam

We trudged through the snow to meet up in the common house for a dinner of cabbage soup and brownies

Chuck, Karolyn, Dick, Nancy, Richard, Marj, Mike and Cheryl.  You can tell it's cold - people are still in their coats!

Mike getting the common house wood stove cranking

Enjoying some hot soup!

 Meg looks ready for the weather!!

 Richard and Chuck just hung out with a drink in front of the fire.

Dick, Cheryl, Nancy and Mary decided to play a game of Euchre (if you are not from the midwest, that is "YOU KER"!)

Chuck keeping the fire going

Marj and Mike working on the current puzzle.  Karolyn joined in later.  Apparently this one is not easy, since Mike and Marj gave up, and Karolyn WISHED she had given up.

Mike, making some hot cocoa - SOOOO good on a snowy night

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter Workday

After some VERY cold weather 2 weeks ago and some surprisingly warm weather last week, we got back to a more normal winter day here at Elderberry.  It was in the 40s today and pretty windy.  We climbed a mountain today..... a mountain of great topsoil that had gotten overgrown with brush.  A team of busy bees cut away all the brush and we used the tractor to top up the pile.  We also had a team of Berries working to clean the common house, and we fired up the outdoor pizza oven for some wood-fired pizza on our lunch break.  A chilly but productive day!

Karen with handfuls of brush!

 Karen and Karolyn making a path to the wood storage shed.  Dick visited the shed today for wood for the pizza oven - he got it to exactly the right temperature at noon!

Karolyn and Karen

Stuart in the mess of brush

Richard, Stuart and Mike move some big boulders to a different location by rolling them up onto the front end loader.

How many men does it take to roll a rock?

Mike, Stuart, Karen, Karolyn and Dick tackle the brush

Richard had a list of tractor chores and Mary womaned the tractor

Front end loaders are a god-send!

Mike, Stuart and Karen tackle Brushy Mountain (there is some really great topsoil under that mess; it was piled there when the land was graded for our homes)

Karolyn looking very Christmasy in her green hat and red scarf!