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.  


Grapevine Birds, Spring 2013


Here is the (tiny) list of birds observed at Fisher Branch (unless otherwise noted). It is pretty minimal but it will give you a fair ideal of what was around. Fisher Branch is where Grandma and Grandpa live. It is a shoot off of Grapevine, which is a suburb of Center, which is on the out skirts of Petersburg, which is just down the road from Mars Hill, which is about 30 miles north of Asheville, North Carolina. In other words, it is out in the middle of no where. 


Please take note that the photo above is of a goat, not a bird. There seemed to be more goats on this visit than birds. Check out last year's bird list from the same time period to see the difference a year can make.

  1. Common Loon  – 2 flying over Grapvine on 29 March heading somewhat north.
  2. Black Vulture – Many seen along the way but none seen in the area of the Rogers house.
  3. Turkey Vulture - Many
  4. Osprey – 1 over Wilson Branch
  5. Sharp-shinned Hawk  - 1 on 3/30
  6. Cooper's Hawk – 1 on 4/1
  7. Red-tailed Hawk – Many
  8. American Kestrel – A few
  9. Peregrine Falcon – 1 just south of VA/MD state line on 3/28
  10. American Woodcock – 1 just before dawn along the PA Turnpike. My first in over 20 years!
  11. Wild Turkey – Several
  12. Ruffed Grouse – Many drumming around
  13. Rock Dove – Many
  14. Mourning Dove – Many
  15. Belted Kingfisher – a few
  16. Red-bellied Woodpecker – a few
  17. Downy Woodpecker – a few
  18. Hairy Woodpecker – 1 on 4/1
  19. Northern Flicker – several
  20. Pileated Woodpecker – Many! By far the most common woodpecker!
  21. Eastern Phoebe – Many
  22. Blue Jay – Many
  23. American Crow – Many
  24. Tree Swallow – 2 on 4/1
  25. Northern Rough-winged Swallow – 1 on 4/1
  26. Barn Swallow – 2 on 4/1
  27. Carolina Chickadee – Many
  28. Tufted Titmouse – Many
  29. White-breasted Nuthatch – 1
  30. Carolina Wren – many
  31. Winter Wren – 2, a fairly uncommon bird for the area despite the fact that they nest at some of the higher elevations (Mount Mitchel and Roan Mountain)
  32. Eastern Bluebird – a few, not as many as around West Chester.
  33. Hermit Thrush – 2, feeding on the front lawn of some neighbors yard with robins.
  34. American Robin – Many
  35. Northern Mockingbird – Many
  36. European Starling – Many
  37. Eastern Towhee – Many
  38. Chipping Sparrow – a few
  39. Field Sparrow – several, singing
  40. Song Sparrow – Many
  41. Swamp Sparrow – 1
  42. White-throated Sparrow – a few
  43. Northern Cardinal – Many
  44. Red-winged Blackbird – Many
  45. Common Grackle – Many
  46. Brown-headed Cowbird – Many
  47. House Finch – Many

The Birds of Grapevine

Just for the record, here is a list of all the birds I saw in the Mountains of North Carolina, 1-6 April 2012.

  1. Great Blue Heron
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Mallard
  4. Wood Duck
  5. Turkey Vulture
  6. Black Vulture
  7. Broad-winged Hawk
  8. Red-tailed Hawk
  9. American Kestrel
  10. Ruffed Grouse
  11. Wild Turkey
  12. Mourning Dove
  13. Belted Kingfisher
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Hairy Woodpecker
  18. Northern Flicker
  19. Pileated Woodpecker
  20. Eastern Phoebe
  21. Blue-headed Vireo
  22. Blue Jay
  23. American Crow
  24. Tree Swallow
  25. Barn Swallow
  26. Tufted Titmouse
  27. Carolina Chickadee
  28. White-breasted Nuthatch
  29. Carolina Wren
  30. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  31. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  32. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  33. Eastern Bluebird
  34. American Robin
  35. Hermit Thrush
  36. Northern Mockingbird
  37. European Startling
  38. Northern Parula
  39. Black-throated Green Warbler
  40. Black-and-white Warbler
  41. Yellow-throated Warbler
  42. Ovenbird
  43. Northern Cardinal
  44. Eastern Towhee
  45. Field Sparrow
  46. Chipping Sparrow
  47. White-throated Sparrow
  48. Song Sparrow
  49. Swamp Sparrow
  50. Dark-eyed Junco
  51. Western Meadowlark
  52. Brown-headed Cowbird
  53. Red-winged Cowbird
  54. Common Grackle
  55. House Finch
  56. American Goldfinch
  57. House Sparrow

Not a bad start for spring!

Ride lots, stop often


The Rest of the Trip

I ended my last post on the Family Blog with " The day was put to rest with a yummy dinner of home made pulled pork BBQ, coleslaw, and hush puppies. The boys made it an authentic southern meal by washing it all down with a coke-cola." Well later that night Paddy got to experience it all again as he started throwing up around 2:00 AM. Actually Grandma did as well as he was sleeping in her bed! Ugh. His illness was short lived and by the middle of the following day he was all better, as you can see by this photograph. 

Paddy Disapproves

Most of the rest of the visit was nice and relaxing. The kids stayed up late watching TV and playing computer games. I got up early and went bird-watching. By the time I got back they were up and feed. Afterwards it was play in the creek or computer, watch TV or just lay around time. By mid day, I would take off for a bicycle ride. Then, when I got back it was dinner time. Afterwards the kids would stay up late, and we would begin the process over again.

One rainy day Grandma took the kids to see a movie, "Mirror-Mirror." Grandma, William and Paddy gave it three thumbs up. Emily gave it two thumbs down. But she is a teenager and simply hasn't figured out how to operate her thumbs in that manor just yet.

William and Paddy did get to ride the horses one day. That was pretty exciting. They also got to help brush their hair and give the a wash down as well. Not something we get to do here in West Chester very often despite the fact that this is horse country. 

On Saturday we got an early start and headed back to West Chester. Again, we had absolutely no issues along the way. It was a nice drive back in fact. By 5:00 PM we were back home and happy to see Mary.

It was a fun trip and we are happy that we now live close enough to make move visits! We are certain to head back again soon.

Check out photos of the rest of the trip here. Also, a side not about the photos. Up till now, I've been loading photos much to large for the website and have been trying to readjust them. Some of the last photos are a little different. Let me know if you have any trouble viewing the photos or have any other issues with the site. I'll try to correct it.


Riding Grapevine, Stinking Willies, and the Land Speed of a Turkey

This post comes to you in triptych form; bicycle, bicycle botany, and bicycle birding.

Bicycle: Riding Grapevine

The kids and I are spending the week at Grandpa and Grandma's house in the mountains of western North Carolina. They live on Fisher Branch (a branch is a small stream that a healthy Appalachian resident could easily jump over. The key word is healthy. This eliminates 95% of the population of Western North Carolina), which is near the community of Center (a fork in the road), which is near the community of Petersburg (an actual cross road), which is near the town of Mars Hill (a real town), which is about 16 miles north of Asheville, North Carolina. Needless to say, they are up in the hills.

The road that leads from Center to Fisher Branch is Grapevine. Grapevine is a road that is about 7.3 miles long. It runs the length of Grapevine Valley, which is only a few miles long. The rest of Grapevine road goes up and over Walnut Mountain to Big Laurel Road in Big Laurel. Got that? Don't feel bad, I ain't got it either. What's important is that Grapevine road crest Walnut Mountain at approximately 3163' in elevation. When you ride your bike from Fisher Branch to Big Laurel it is a round trip ride of about 14.6 miles with about 2000' of elevation gain (see a map of the route here). It takes about an hour and a half. All in all it is a pretty good workout with some fantastic views. Like this one.

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Bicycle Botany: Stinking Willies

On the way up and to the pass on Walnut Mountain the pace is kind of slow. Slow enough that a cyclist can glance over and check out the flowering plants as you go. Coming up on the far side of Walnut Mountain I passed a small stream that was loaded with many different kinds of flowering plants. The most dominant amongst them was a species of Trillium.

This is  Trillium erectum . Here is a good example of why the use of the scientific name is a good ideal.

This is Trillium erectum. Here is a good example of why the use of the scientific name is a good ideal.

Scientific Name: Trillium erectum (L.)

Common Names: Wake Robin, Red Trillium, Purple Trillium, Stinking Trillium, Birthroot, Beth Root, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Birth Wort, Nodding Wake-Robin, Bathroot, Bathwort, Bath Lily, Nosebleed Trillium, Ill-sented Trillium, Indian, Shamrock, Squawroot, Lamb's Quarters, Ground Lily, Wood Lily, Daffy Downlily, Jew's Harp Plant, Milk Ipecac, Pariswort, Rattlesnake Root, Bumblebee Root, Truelove, and last but not least, Three-leafed Nightshage.

The reasons that T. erectum has acquired so many common names are many. One reason is because it is a showy plant that is wide spread in eastern North American so many people (other than plant nerds) take notice of it. It is also highly variable, coming in white, red, purple, pink, and rarely yellow and green, leading people to believe that they were different plants. It was also used for medicinal purposes by early midwives and Native American cultures as something that would induce labor or help control hemorrhaging during childbirth. And as some of those names imply, it also smells to high heaven. Like skunk cabbage it is a plant that uses the smell of rotten meat to attached pollinators like flies and beetles. The common names that caught our attention was "stinking willie." When we pointed this out to William he screamed "Oh no! Another reason for Emily to torture me!" Back in Grandpa Gene's yard there was a deep red one blooming. Same species different flavor!


As I mentioned above it enjoys a wide distribution through eastern North America. In North Carolina is primarily found the western mountains. It Pennsylvania it is found in almost every county except Chester! So, I'm going to enjoy it while I'm here.

Bicycle Birding: The land speed of a Turkey

Coming down Walnut Mountain may sound like an easy thing. However, it is almost as difficult coming down as it is coming up. The reason is for the winding road, with many hairpin turns and blind curves, that is starting to deteriorate with gravel and sand in the most unwanted places. Going up the workout is with your legs. Coming down it is with your forearms because you are applying the breaks where possible without skidding over the side.

Coming down you always want to make sure you stay in your lane because a car coming up would certainly take you out. Today, I round a curve and found something else to worry about. A male (tom) American Turkey jumped in front of me with on a few feet to spare. I was able to slow down enough as to avoid and negative outcome for both the large dark chicken and cyclist alike.

Once the situation was under control the turkey did the oddest thing in that it ran straight down the road about 10 feet in front of me. We rounded a bend and it kept on running. I laughed out loud (lol) at the way it dashed down the road; a view of a turkey that I have never seen. I glanced down at my speedometer and was impressed that this bird that I always thought of as clumsy and somewhat gangly moved along at a steady 16+ mph! After about 100 yards of this we got to one bend and the turkey simply ran off the edge of the road, spread it's wings and flew up into a tree. I chose not to follow suit, made the turn and continued down the mountainside via the road.

Ride lots, stop often,


Spring Break

Image 40.jpg

This week is spring break for the kids in the West Chester School District. If the rest of West Chester's kids are as happy about this as our kids are then the area is a utopian paradise like none other at the moment. Except for Mary. Mary doesn't work in the West Chester School District. She works for the Catholic Church. Which as (un)luck would have it has classes Monday through Wednesday. With the kids off for a week and dad being unemployed we seized the opportunity to strike out to the open road for trip to North Carolina to see grandma and grandpa.

At 5:30 AM on April 1st we woke the kids and told them that we were really off to Disney World! Then we reminded them it was April 1st. Parents are mean sometimes, but such is the way of the world. By 6:00 AM sharp, we said our goodbye's to Mary and hit the road. Mary, by the way, isn't to broken up about this. She will have the week free of any parenting duties and on the day's she has off she is planning to visit her brother Kevin up in Jersey City.

We are very, no, extremely happy to report that our trip down to North Carolina was completely uneventful. As you may remember when we did this trip last year we got half way there and we ran into engine problems with our old Honda. The kids slept for until about 8:30 when we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Then we drove until we needed gas, which was also lunch time. We stopped and made sandwiches, used the potty, and ran around for about 30 minutes. Then we got back in the car and didn't stop again until we got to Fisher Branch, North Carolina. We did the trip in 10 hours and 45 minutes.

We pulled up to the house just as a gully washer of an afternoon thunderstorm set in. Wow. For all the rain that western Washington gets we never got rain like that. Fortunately, it was short lived. We were all pretty worn out, but a yummy dinner of fried chicken helped rejuvenate our spirits.

Today we woke up to pancakes. Actually, I should correct that statement because Emily didn't wake up until about 11:30. I suspect she watched a lot of TV last night. After breakfast I don't know what the kids did as I headed out into the woods to look for birds and wildflowers. It was mostly a pretty lazy day. The kids did some fishing in the pond. Emily wore surgical gloves so the wouldn't have actually touch a fish in the off chance she actually caught a fish. I went for a bike up and over Grapevine (the mountain ridge at the end of the road). When I returned from my bike ride, William and Paddy were having a contest to see who could get the dirtiest. Paddy won by a wide margin. Grandma and Grandpa's friend Sean down later in the day and did some horse grooming, which the boys enjoyed.

The day was put to rest with a yummy dinner of home made pulled pork BBQ, cole slaw, and hush puppies. The boys made it a authentic southern meal by washing it all down with a coke-cola.

Check out more photos in the album here.

More later!