West Chester Coffee Blog

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

In 1984, when I was 23 years old, I headed off to Rome to study abroad for a year. The first thing that I remember doing on the very first day that I was there is ordering a cup of coffee. That moment can really be considered a dividing point in my life, Life Before Good Coffee (LBGC) and Life After Good Coffee (LAGC). Prior to that moment, coffee was just something you would have in the morning to get you moving. After that moment, it became ritualized. Not just any cup of coffee would do. Each morning I'd stroll up Via del Corso on my way to school, and along the way I'd take in a dozen or so cups of cappuccino. Aah. La dolce vita!

When I returned to Philadelphia in 1985 a stark reality slapped me square in the face. The thing that had become a daily sacrament was replaced by something unfit to clean the bathroom floor at the 30th Street Station. I either made my own cup of coffee or there was none to be had. Life took a serious down turn for a while. In fact, you will see a cup of coffee in many of my paintings from the late 1980's, like the one above. This manifestation of me crying on the inside. 

By the time Mary and I were married in 1991, I had heard rumors that good coffee could be found in Seattle. This left us with only one option; we packed up the wagon and headed west. For the next 20 years or so we lived in a relative state of coffee stability. In the Pacific Northwest every wide spot in the road had a drive through espresso stand. Really. As a wildlife biologist, I often worked in some very remote areas in Washington. There was never a place so remote that I couldn't find an espresso stand and get something good to start my day off well.  

It also happened that during that 20 years, the idea that "coffee was something more" seem to spread throughout the county. In our return to the east coast in 2011, Starbucks could be found from coast to coast and everywhere in-between. Albeit, the Great Plains can still be considered the great plain. I actually had to put some effort into finding a Starbucks in that part of the county but it could be done. 

Here in West Chester there is a Starbucks on the corner of the main junction downtown. It is always full of people. That is not all; Starbucks has competition. There are many cafes and restaurants around West Chester offering something better than could be found here in 1985. Some of these places seem to know what the coffee ritual is all about and some of them think that running Folger's through an espresso machine will do. 

Emily and I are here to help sort out the good and the bad for you. We plan to visit as many places in West Chester that have coffee to offer beyond the roadside diner drip swill. Every weekend or so, we plan to visit a different coffee shop and report to you what we think about it. Our first stop will be the Starbucks on the Corner of High and Gay in Downtown West Chester. 

I mention Starbucks a lot in this short blog post. In the Pacific Northwest Starbucks was considered a dirty word amongst coffee snobs, me being one of them. However, there are many reasons to like Starbucks and what they do. More on that in our next post. 

Russell and Emily. 

Harper's Ferry

This past weekend me and few of my classmates here in Frederick took a break from studying and went for a visit to Harpers Ferry. Most people might recall Harpers Ferry as the location where the abolitionist John Brown made his attack against the federal armory. Harpers Ferry was also a highly valued strategic geographic point by both the Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War, changing hands several times during the corse of the war. After the war, the economy never really returned to the small town at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and as a result left the area frozen in time. 

What is there today is a great example of what a small town in the mid 19th Century would have looked like. Nearly the whole of the downtown and the surrounding area covering the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is now a National Historic Park

On our part, we couldn't have picked a finer fall day for a visit. My roommate Jake, along with Heather, Steven, and Rubin spent the day there taking in the sights. We also got our daily dose of exercise as the walk from the main parking area to downtown then across and up to Maryland Heights was quite the workout! 

I did discover a link to my personal family history while I was there. I noticed that the Confederate General that commanded the troops in the battle of Maryland Heights in 1862 was General Joseph B. Kershaw from South Carolina. Since my family is from the Kershaw and Lancaster County area, I wondered if my ancestor William Joseph Flectcher (my grand father's great grandfather) might have been apart of this battle.  

Knowing that he was sharp shooter in the Flat Rock Guard, Company G, of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers it didn't take very long to find out that he probably did fight in that battle (As a side note, the company was also present at the battle of Antietam, Cold Harbor, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, and many others). I also found a map of troop movements before and after the battle of Maryland Heights that show that he most likely marched right through Frederick and the streets that I now ride my bike to work upon. The Flat Rock Guard was apparently a rough and tumble group of soldiers. One of it's members "cut and wore a pair of cuff buttons from a fragment of his own skull." Yikes! 

Skull jewelry aside, I recommend that if you ever get the chance to visit Harpers Ferry. It's rich history and natural beauty are well worth the effort. Check out a mix of photos taken by Jake and I here and at Stephen's photo stream here.


Finished with Furloughs


I never posted an update about my furlough status but like all other federal employees, I went back to work once congress got it's act together and passed a budget. Because I was in the middle of job training, getting me and my classmates back to Frederick Maryland was a little more complicated and it took about another full week to get back into the swing of things. 

In short, I headed back to Frederick on 21 October and have been studying government stuff ever since. In case you were wondering, being furloughed generally sucks. I should clear up any misconception that being furloughed is like an awesome paid vacation. It is not. What it is like is being let go from work with no income coming down the pike and nothing but uncertainty ahead of you. Plus, as you can see from the photo above, I didn't quite get the vacation of my dreams. I won't rant on about it all but legislators that use federal employees and citizens that depend on those federal employees as pawns in their political games really should be dealt with severely at the ballot box.  

What you do when you are furloughed is try to make the best of things. I enjoyed being with my family and tried not to worry to much about the future. And to that end, I did get to see Mary the kids off to school in the mornings, and cook diners for them in the evenings. I am pretty happy that the furlough at least corresponded with the final   games of the Philadelphia Union's season. I certainly enjoyed going to all the games this year with Steve and Paddy. I also managed to take care of a bunch of things around the house that I couldn't do while I was a way. That said I was pretty have to get back to the training center and moving on with my new career. Here are some photos of various and sundry things that went on while I was home. Also there are a few photos from Halloween. 


Frederick, Maryland


As most of you know, I started a new job in August with US Customs and Border Protection. It is an awesome job that utilizes all of my strengths and interest. Plus, it actually pays well with great benefits. Monday marked the sixth full week of work there and my third week of training at the USDA Professional Development Center in Fredrick, Maryland. And Tuesday marked the first day of furlough on account of the conservative side of the House of Representative having their heads up their anal orifices. 

So, today, six weeks and two days in to my employment, I find myself at home with Mary and the kids, which ain't all bad. Since I got to Frederick I have been trying to find the time to do a blog post on life there and now I seem to have found the time to do just that. I do expect to go right back to Frederick when the intestinal obstructions are cleared as we still have approximately seven weeks of training to complete. For now I will enjoy my mini vacation and being with my family.

Frederick is an interesting little town. Actually, it isn't that little. The metropolitan Frederick area has a population of about 66,000 people. It lies about 50 miles west of Baltimore and about 50 north-northwest of Washington DC. Established in 1745, it is an old town with a rich history. It served as a major cross road in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. The town is the final resting place for Frances Scott Key. In fact, my daily bike commute goes past the Mount Olivet Cemetery where his family plot is located.  

Frederick is the home of Fort Detrick and just outside of town you can find the presidential retreat Camp David. The town is in  Maryland's piedmont between the Appalachain Mountains and Chesapeake Bay and outer coast. Ten miles to the south is the Potomac River. Along the rive is the C&O Canal bike trail which runs from Washington DC to Pittsburg. I would love to take a few days off of training and ride the the entire trail, but since my training is a condition of my employment, I'll wait to do that some other time. My first weekend there I did manage to ride about 40 miles of the trail up to Harper's Ferry and back which was fantastic. 

Downtown Frederick is pretty neat. It has a vibrant downtown area with many shops and places to eat and there are many old and interesting buildings to see. There is a canal that runs through town that I thought must be linked to the C&O Canal in some way, or at least harken back to a bygone era when goods moved easier on little barges than on the stiff wheels of a wagon. When I googled the Frederick canal I did not find a thing about it. I ended up asking one of the instructors at our training center about it's history and he told me it was built in the late 1970's for flood control. Not the answer I was expecting. When I googled "Frederick flood" I did come up with many images showing Frederick underwater. So in the end it seems as if the Frederick Canal had more influence from a civil engineer than an urban designer. Either way, I found that the canal adds lots of charm to the downtown area. 

We are living in a Marriott Suites Hotel and the rooms are actually quite nice. Most of us share a suite with a roommate, however, we all have separate bedrooms. My roommate is Jake. Jake is from Utah but his CBP duty station the Blaine border crossing in Washington State where the Peace Arch is located. He is also a botanist, so we have much to talk about. The hotel is on the south side of town and our training center is on the north side of town. We are provided vans to get to get to and from the training center, however, I brought my bicycle with me and ride it to the training center every day. It is only about 6 miles each way and only takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to get there. I occasionally stop a the Starbuck's Coffee in downtown Frederick which adds a little time to my ride, but it sure makes me happy.  

My training program is demanding, fun and interesting. Our class is made up of 35 people from all over the United States, and I am certain that they will all be a new set of life long friends. I especially like the diversity of our group. Perhaps half of our class speaks english as a second language or are bilingual. There are even a few southerners in the class so I can speak my native tongue - Southernese. However, with no other Philadelphians in the class I generally keep that tongue to myself as it is a lexicon that most adults generally find offensive. I don't even know what you call that tongue. How about "Yo, youse got sumtin to say, din say it", or how about just "Yo?" Yes, that's it, I speak Yo!

So, like, yo, if'n youse want, click on the word "here" over dare -----> here  and check out sum shots of Frederick and my friends and stuff. Aright? Aright den, dats what I'm talkin'bout. 


The Sun Sets on Summer


It's that time of year again where a great moan can be heard across our great land as kids are pushed out of bed and shoved onto a bus and taken back to the place where joy is surgically removed from their being. For parents on the other hand it is the one time of year that we feel really good about paying our property taxes. Some parents are so happy to get their kids out of their hair for a while that you could probably get them to pay a little extra.  

Yes, the kids are back in School. Both Russell and Mary are working, which is an oddity. It is actually the first time that Mary and I have been fully employed at the same time since we were married. Our first full paychecks come next week. It will be nice to shovel money into the hole instead of shoveling it out. One difficulty that my new job has for us is that I am in Maryland for training until Thanksgiving! I'll post some photos of Fredrick, Maryland when I get the chance. 

Our final weeks before school started were mostly lazy. They involved playing with the puppy, soccer games and a visit to the zoo. Check out photos of it all here.  


Keith's Putting on the Miles

This is our nephew Keith. He is known for being...well, let's just put it out there, silly. This is a photo of him a few years ago in his beard-tastic phase. We've been told that he had something to do with the bringing Lilly into this world (sitting on Carrisa's lap). We aren't completely buying it as Lilly is quite possibly the cutest baby girl in the world and we can't figure out how Keith did that. 

Silliness aside, Keith has been on a mission since Mom-mom passed away. He's taken to walking great distances very summer to raise funds for breast cancer. Sixty miles to be exact. If you could support him in his endeavor he would certainly appreciate it. Lilly will be happy to pop down a few Cheerios as well. Click here to donate to his page. 

Good luck Keith! 

While we were at the beach...


...some one turned 15 years old. Holy cow, time does fly by.  

One of the nice things about picking up and moving across the county is that all of your possession get picked up and reorganized. I use the term "reorganized" rather loosely. You look in a box of stuff and find that long lost sock that you've been looking for the last six and a half years.  

One of the things that I found a few months ago was a little tiny Rite-in-the-Rain note book. In it were these notes from August 1998. 


0300 - Contractions began

0500 - Called nurse. Told Mary to take a hot bath which she did. When contractions get 4 minutes apart call the hospital.

2130 - Went to hospital. cervix was not dilated at all. Midwife gave Mary morphine so she might sleep.  

2400 - Went home. 


0230 - Mary slept good for a hour and half, then woke up vomiting. Was up the rest of the night. 

0700 - Called midwife. Told us to come in for a checkup.  

0745 - Christine checked Mary's cervix. She was about 1 cm. She gave Mary a drug for nausea and we went home. Need to call back at 1100. 

1100 - Called midwife. Mary was resting much better now. Midwife asked us to come back to hospital.  

1230 - Got admitted. Got blood samples and such for first serval hours. Around 1450 Mary took a whirl pool bath which really relaxed her. Came back to room and we both napped until about 1530.  

1550 - Christine broke Mary's water and gave her potussin. to induce labor. 

1600 - Contractions became much more intense. 

1730 - Epidural given. 

1830 - Epidural worked great. Mary is sound a sleep. Even with contractions. 

1930 - Diana, the nurse left, and Mary Lou the other nurse came on duty.  

2310 - I saw the baby's head. 


0030 - Emily born. 8lbs 12 oz, 21 inches. 7 hours labor.  

It seems like just yesterday. Happy Birthday Emily! Check out these photos of how to give your big sister a birthday kiss. 


Rehoboth Beach, DE


As I mentioned in earlier post, we were at Rehoboth Beach for two weeks. Pop-pop got us a nice condominium that was only a few minutes walk from the beach. For the most part, the weather was pretty good while we were here, although we did have solid rain for a couple of days. 

I enjoyed cycling down there as the landscape is flat as a pancake. The only real challenge at times was the wind, which almost always blows towards the north. The ride from Rehoboth Beach to Ocean City Maryland was about 20 miles. The ride down was always in a stiff headwind. However, coming back was awesome! Mary, William and Paddy spent as much time of the beach as they could while Emily stayed at the condo and read books all day. Timmy and Dotty, Kenny and Violetta and Kevin came down for visits while we were there. All in all it was very relaxing. Check out photos of the trip here

Meet Charlie!


Somewhere along the way I must have said something to the effect that "if and when I get a job we can talk about getting a dog!" Of course this served absolutely no incentive for me to find a job and quite frankly I don't remember ever saying such a thing.  

Now, Mary and the kids remember things quite differently. What they heard me say was "if *** **** I get a job we can **** ***** get**** a dog!" 

Ether way, the day after we returned from the beach, Mary and the kids disappeared for a few hours and returned with this little fluffy thing! As a person that has spent their life studying wildlife I would say that based on current observations and other recent data we now own a dog.  

I have been told that his name is Charlie and that he is eight weeks old. Genetically, he appears to from a pack with a very high effective population size (layman translation: he's a mutt!). He was rescued from a litter that was abandoned along with the female. He is darn cute and a very low keyed and well behaved puppy. He is responding to training very well. 

If the truth must be told, during the two weeks we were at Rehoboth Beach, Mary and William spent the majority of their time reading books by the Dog Whisper and searching the internet for puppies, how to chose the right one and how to train them. I will say that he sure seems to make William (along with the rest of the neighborhood) pretty happy!

Check out more photos of Charlie and the kids here.  


Finally some good news from the home front

I haven’t made mention anything about my search for employment, primarily because there hasn’t been anything to talk about. We knew when we left Washington State and moved across the continent to Southeastern Pennsylvania that finding work for me would be a challenge.

In my search for a job I applied to well over 100 positions. I don’t know exactly what I applied for, as I quit keeping track of them after the 84th one. Some of these were positions where I met the minimum qualifications and really didn’t have high expectations for, but I figured I had nothing to lose by applying. Most positions, however, I was highly qualified for with a graduate degree and around 20 years experience.

Of all these I had only 3 interviews, all three with the state of Delaware. I believe all the interviews went very well, but in the end, I was not the one selected for the position.

The 37th application that I sent out was back on 28 March 2012. This was for a position with position as an Agriculture Specialist with US Customs and Border Protection, which is part of Homeland Security. This position was a very good fit with my education and work experience. I figured I had a pretty good shot at that one. Also,  on 12 June 2012, I applied for a position with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service as a meat and poultry inspector. Not as great a fit, but I did meet the minimum qualifications. Both of these positions were with federal agencies and were permanent positions and had full benefits.

On 29 June 2013, I got an email from Customs saying that my application scored an 80 and that 70 was passing. It didn’t give me any other reference as to what this meant, so I had no idea if this was good or bad or what my chances were. I ultimately figured it was good, as I wasn’t rejected from the process. Then on 13 October 2012 I got an email saying that I was a tentative selectee for the position and the pre-employment process of background check, drug test, health screening, so on and so forth, would begin. I also learned at that time that I was selected out of 2000 applicants! Oinga-boinga.

Also in mid November of 2012, I got a letter from USDA stating that I was being considered for a meat inspector position in southern New Jersey. However, they had changed the position from permanent with full benefits to a temporary hourly position with no benefits. When I first applied, the commute to New Jersey would have been just barely worth it if it included health care. Without health care, this position simply wasn’t worth leaving my current position as a stay at home dad, so I turned it down.

Days, weeks and months clicked past. Just when I’d get to the point that the Custom’s position was slipping away, I’d get a message from them with a question about this or that or that they were moving on to the next step in the process. In what seemed like measurements on the geologic time scale, I passed the qualification verification, drug test, background check, etc. By the first of March I was left with only the health screening.

Let me tell you, when you are over 50, there is nothing but questions about your health. In short, I made over four trips to the doctor for this, that, and the other. Questions arose about injuries that I sustained over 30 years ago when I was a young gymnast. As aggravating as this was for me to deal with, it was probably more so for my doctor who had to address and document all these questions.

Finally at long last, on 22 July 2013, a checkmark appeared by the medical review part of the pre-employment process. Everything was completed! I got a letter stating such and that I was now being referred to the “scheduling unit.” What this really meant was that I was entering into another period of uncertainty because I know I would not be scheduled for anything unless there was a funded vacancy available for me to fill. Knowing that our legislators currently have no interest in making our government function smoothly a funded vacancy could occur tomorrow or a year from now.

Another big unknown would be if I got a final job offer where would the Duty Station be? I applied for the position because it said there was a position available in Philadelphia, assumedly at the airport. This would be a very reasonable commute from West Chester. However, applications for the position are to a region, in my case, to the Mid Atlantic, which stretches from JKF in New York to Richmond Virginia and west to Charleston, West Virginia. If a job offer was for Richmond Virginia, then all of this could be a wasted effort. I had not option other than to sit back and wait. Something I have become very good at.

In the meantime, on 3 June 2013, I got an email from USDA saying that I was being considered for another position as a meat inspector, this one in a kosher poultry processing plant in Birdsboro, PA. Shortly thereafter I had a telephone interview with the supervisor of the position. On 18 June, I got a letter offering me the position. Like the other position, this one was temporary and had no benefits. However, with Mary at home for the summer to keep the kids and the uncertainty of the Customs position, I accepted this one as something to do while I wait. Plus, I think it somewhat ironic that I got my graduate degree in ornithology and all those years studying and watching birds, that it would all culminate with a job as a chicken checker in Birdsboro, PA. What were the chances of such a thing?

Like the Customs position, this one had a pre-employment process. I assumed it would be somewhat less rigorous since national security is not involved, however, like the Customs position, this one had a health screening. And as before, it involved the body of a 50 year old male. Ergo, the process began to stretch out. Again, my poor doctor had to respond to what seemed to be an endless number of questions. Finally, yesterday at noon, my doctor emailed me and said that the final set of health forms were being faxed to USDA.

With that, I was back to waiting. Waiting for everything. We happen to be on vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. With nothing left to worry about I set out for a bike ride down the Delaware coastline. I stopped along the way to look at grasses and sedges and other interesting plants grow in coastal saline environments. At 2:00 PM, as I was standing in ankle deep mud with a handful of interesting sedges, I got a phone call.

I am happy to say that on Monday, 19 August, one year, four months, and 22 days after I applied, I start work at the Philadelphia Airport. It looks like my chance at chicken checkin’ in Birdsboro is behind me.

In the end, this was the one position that I felt was a great fit for me and only one that I really had hoped I would get as it is a great continuation of my career that I began in Washington State. The pay is good and there is great opportunity for advancement. I look forward getting started!



The rest of the summer

The entrance to the Barns Foundation. 

The entrance to the Barns Foundation. 

Besides visiting North Carolina we have been quite busy with other stuff. Back toward the end of June Mary singed us up for a volunteer day at the Chester County Food Bank where we helped removed stones from a potato field in Spring Manor County Park. 

Spring Manor is a working farm where the produce is all contributed to the food bank. We were astonished to learn that while Chester County, Pennsylvania, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, there are still over 80,000 residents here that go hungry every day. Being able to contribute to an effort to help eliminate this was a great experience. We wanted to sign up for more volunteer sessions but hey have more volunteers than they know what to do with. So, we may not be able to do that again until the fall. 

Also at the end of June I turned 30 for the 21st time. I had a nice birthday where the Fozards came over for cake and ice cream. The following day I went to see the Union play Dallas FC to a 2-2 draw, which is not a loss, which was a nice birthday present for me. Even nicer was the fact that my friend Lee Pavorsky and his son Jake joined Steve and I for the game. Lee and I go way back to Rome Italy where we shared many great adventures. His son Jake is a budding sports writer. See some of his work here and here.  

Shortly after my birthday it was our neighbor Miranda Fozard's birthday. Mary treated both Miranda and I to a day at the new Barns Foundation galleries in Philly. If you are not familiar with this fantastic collection of early twentieth century collection of art, you should be. It is fantastic. The collection use to be in Lower Marion but was recently relocated to Center City Philadelphia under much controversy. I was lucky in that I got to know the collection quite well when I was going to school at the Tyler School of Art. I have to say that former location was special and unique, the new building in Center City is world class. If you come to Philly go see it. You won't be sorry. 

We will be at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for the next two weeks enjoying a pleasant summer vacation with Mary's family. I'll update the blog with new and exciting news when we get back!  

See photos of the rest of the summer here.  



Down on the farm with Grandma and Grandpa


Back around the first of the month we all went to visit Grandma Linda and Grandpa Gene. Mary, Emily and I stayed for about a week. We came home, but left William and Paddy with Grandma and Grandpa. Cousin Ian came for a visit was well, so all of the  grandsons were there all at once. 

It was a nice stay excepting for all the rain, of which there was a lot! The trade off for all the rain was that the temperature was really cool. I also got to visit with my dear friend Laura Thomas that I grew up with in Fort Mill. She just happened to be at a potter's retreat in Spruce Pine the week we were at Mom and Dad's house. Mary, Emily and I too the opportunity to go visit her while we were there. It was great to she her after more than thirty years apart! It also rained like the dickens on that day as well. Check out photos from our visit here.  


Paddy's big weekend!


Way back in September Uncle Kevin and Uncle Rico told Paddy that he could come up for a visit as a birthday present from them. The only hitch was that he would have to wait until Kevin was done with nursing school.

Over the school year Paddy often talked about how he couldn’t wait to go spend the weekend with his uncles. Finally on the weekend of June 21 Paddy’s long wait came to and end. Basically, his trip can be summed up as copious amounts of movies and candy.

In short he had a fantastic time! Check out the photos of his weekend here.


A little catching up

IMG_3989 - Version 2.jpg

Wow, it has been over a month since my last blog post! I have been filling all of my free time mostly looking through a microscope trying to identify various and sundry little plants that most folks would call weeds. I'll do a blog post about all that later.  

For now, I'll give you an update on everything else. For the kids, the last day of school will be next Monday, June 17th. For them, there is nothing else. Next year, Emily will be in 10th grade, William in 7th and Paddy in 3rd. 

Paddy is looking forward to spending the weekend with Uncle Kevin and Uncle Rico. This is actually a birthday present from last year! Kevin was so busy with nursing school last year that he hasn't been able to take him until now. We know he will have lots of fun up in the big apple! 

Around the first week in July, we will all be going down to see Grandma and Grandpa in North Carolina. Emily, Mary and I will be there for about a week then we will return and leave the boys there. Then cousin Ian will come out from Washington State and all three grandson's will be at Grandma and Grandpa's house for a week or so.  

When the boys get back from North Carolina, we will go spend a couple of weeks at the Delaware coast with Pop-pop. Then back to West Chester for the start of the new school year. It seems to short all ready!

We have also had lots of stuff going on over the past month. Paddy played soccer this spring. A few weeks ago he asked if the Philadelphia Union had players that were teenagers. I told him that yes, they do have a few teenagers. He then said that he was going to be on the Union team when he becomes a teenager. I told him he better get practicing if that is going to happen. So, very day, he works on his soccer skills. 

William and I went on a school trip to the Baltimore Aquarium yesterday. Needless to day William was very excited! It was the first time that either of us have seen it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the exhibits from the Pacific Northwest as I was the person that issued the shellfish transfer permits that allowed them to take them out of Washington State. I was glad to see they made the trip across the continent okay. 

Check out photos of it all here.  



The Stroud Preserve, 28 April 2013


I normally don’t visit the preserve in the weekends but my son William loves water critters and wanted to go wade around the Brandywine. I figured it was just warm enough not to get hypothermia incase he fell in, so off we went.

We went down stream where it was more wooded. I let William have at it and I kept an eye out for birds and plants. I did pick up two new first of the year birds, Eastern Kingbird and Black-and-white Warbler. Again, the most common bird in the trees was Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of which I found two more nearly completed nests. I also found a couple of pairs of Rough-winged Swallow with burrows in a cut bank of the creek. Most exciting was a borrow of a Belted Kingfisher. This was just barely within the preserve boundary. I was glad to add that to my list of nesting birds.

I still looked very hard for Louisiana Waterthrush and Prothonotary Warbler. This area should be ideal habitat for these species. This habitat would also be good for Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers, which are also absent from the preserve list. I’ll continue to check the area over the coming months. Hopefully, one of the four species will make an appearance. The only new plant that I came across was a species of pondweed called curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) which native to Europe. I only saw a three or four plants along the half mile or so of stream bed that we walked along. So it wasn’t that common.

William had a great time. And as I predicted, he fell in the water up to his neck when he tried to walk across a log that broke in half when he was completely over the water, and as I predicted, he did not go hypothermic. He did find a baby snapping turtle. They sure are cute when they are the size of a silver dollar. I told William to make nice with it now because the next time he comes across it he may not have such a pleasant disposition!

Check out photos of our walk in the mud here.

Start time: 11:30

End time: 1:300

Temp: 63-68°

Wind: 5-7 mph from the south

Skies: clear

Species Total: 39

  • Black Vulture – 4
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 10
  • Canada Goose – 2
  • Mallard – 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 1
  • Mourning Dove – 4
  • Chimney Swift – approximately 20
  • Belted Kingfisher - nest in creek bank
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 2
  • Northern Flicker – 1
  • Eastern Phoebe – 4
  • Eastern Kingbird –2, FOY
  • Warbling Vireo – 2
  • Blue Jay – approximately 10
  • American Crow – 2
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 50
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – approximately 20, nesting in burrows in the creek bank. 
  • Barn Swallow – approximately 10
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • Tufted Titmouse – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Carolina Wren – approximately 5
  • House Wren – 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – approximately 15
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 5
  • American Robin – approximately 10
  • European Starling – approximately 20
  • Yellow Warbler – approximately 10
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1
  • Black-and-white Warbler – 2, FOY
  • Common Yellowthroat – approximately 10
  • Eastern Towhee – 3
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 10
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 10
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 25
  • Common Grackle – 2
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – approximately 10
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 20

Kitchen Makeover


The biggest advantage to being a stay at home dad (hopefully not for to much longer) is that I get to spend a lot of time with the kids. But, they go to school every day leaving me with the middle of the day to do other stuff. Since we have a big house to live it I have put a large amount of time into maintenance. My most recent project was to pain the kitchen cabinets.

The cabinets were the pride and joy of Mary mom. They were custom built for the kitchen back in the late 1970's. They are very nice, but they were beginning to show their age. They are stained cherry which is very dark. We thought we would go the other direction and paint them stark white to brighten the space up as much as we could. 

Starting in February I took apart the cabinets. Then sanded, primed and painted them. I last week I was able to call them done. A little paint can make a big difference! Check out the photos here

Bicycle Botany: The Strange Vine


When I first started riding my bike here I quickly learned the best routes for cycling in rural Chester County because 1), there were few cars on the roads and 2), the roads were full of cyclist. Easy enough. 

My favorite route, and apparently the favorite route for many Chester County cyclist, includes Brandywine Drive, which along the west branch of the Brandywine Creek. Brandywine Drive dead ends into Telegraph Road. If you take a left on Telegraph Road, it turns into Embreeville Road (also known by a numeric moniker Route 162), which slides past the old Embreeville Mill. As you go along on this stretch of road on your left will be the Cheslan Preserve, part of the Natural Lands Trust. This is same group that manages the Stroud Preserve, which I refer to as "my back yard."

In the winter when no leaves are on the trees one stretch of Brandywine Drive that tightly hugs the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek provides a very nice view across a low wooded riparian area. One plant here has always stood out like a giant neon beacon because it is the only broadleaved plant with evergreen leaves. It lies about 100 feet off the side of the road. I can tell that it is some kind of vine and every time that I see it I say to myself "one of these days, I'm going to stop, walk across that flood plain and see what the heck that thing is. 

Well, Saturday was that day. I finally stopped and fought my way through a large patch of multiflora rose (not an easy thing to do when you are clad in spandex) to get a better look at the mystery plant. I looked and quickly determined I had not an inkling of a clue as to what it was. I broke off a small branch, which included some leaves and a few fruiting bodies and brought it home for closer inspection. 

At home I looked at the fruit. It was divided into four parts which reminded me of another plant. I took me a minute but I finally remembered that the plant that it reminded me of was called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Now, you may remember a blog post last spring about winged euonymus. It was a plant that I had a great deal of trouble identifying with a traditional identification key. I resorted to typing in the key features of the plant into google and seeing what I came up with. I figured that if I suspect this is a Euonymus my best chance of identifying was with google and not my botanical text. 

Ergo I entered "Euonymus evergreen vine" into the little box on my computer screen. In 0.19 seconds I had over 70,000 webpages with Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei). There you have it. Mystery solved. I am very grateful that we live in such interesting times. I am especially grateful for the home computer and the internet. It is indeed a good time to be an amateur botanist! 

I tried to take some photographs of the wintercreeper from that ride, but it was late in the day and the light was bad so they didn't some out that well. To rectify this, I decided to jump in the car and bring William along with me to get a better picture of it, and look for other early spring wildflowers and creepy crawly things. I'm glad we did. We had a great time. See photos of our visit to the Cheslan Preserve here

Ride lots, stop often!


Spring time on Fisher Branch


Actually, the title is a misnomer as spring was pretty much MIA on our trip to visit Grandpa Gene and Grandma Linda this past weekend. We drove down on Thursday in hopes that a 580 mile drive in a southerly direction would hold some warmer weather than we have been having here in West Chester. However, the day before we left the mountains got 5 or 6 inches of fresh snow! Fortunately, a quick look at the weather forecast showed that things should turn around fairly quick, and it did. A little. By Friday most of the snow was melted, and we had a mix of cool rainy and luke warm sunshine through Monday.  

The tardy nature of Spring 2013 is not just a figment of my imagination. Last year we came down for a visit at the same time last year. Spring seemed a good two weeks ahead of this year. Check out the photos from last year here.

Whatever the weather, or whether spring is early or late, it is always good to get together with your family. We even got to see Aunt Teri for a day. Grandma and Grandpa are doing good and Lilly and Max still bark at everything. One thing that is a little different on the ole farm is that Circe and Aster have become escape artist and seem to find their way to the blueberry patch every morning.

Check out photos from our trip here

Russell, Mary, Emily, William, and Paddy.