Birds, Lugnuts and an ’89 Caprice

From Joe, this and he is a doctor, too.

Wednesday May 6th, 2015  I went to the Malden Public Service District Office and paid the sewer bill, then parked and walked along that road and looked for wildlife in the swamp.  It was about mid day and things were slow.  I saw the same shorebird flying twice, but I did not identify it.  Otherwise, I  saw a few Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, and Starlings.  There was substantial evidence that beavers are still in residence in the swamp.

I went to the Daniel Boone park and looked at the river.  I saw a dead Canada Goose on the Boulevard as I pulled in.  I saw an odd number of geese on the river (eleven) and wondered if one of the geese was missing its mate.  A sole male Mallard swam upriver. There were several Grackles in the area.  I saw a couple of Tree Swallows and three Rough-winged Swallows.

I went to town and took care of business, then came back home.  I stopped and chatted with a neighbor. He does not care for nature: he refers to trees as dirty or not, and does not like dirty ones. Dirty trees make seeds or any other biological thing that he feels compelled to clean up.  I got him to take a look at an adult Tree Swallow sitting on a nearby power line with binoculars.  He pointed out that it was beautiful. I pointed out that they eat insects, which he liked. He maintains one of those night time bug zappers (that are reported to kill mostly beneficial insects while not being particularly effective on the kinds of insects that he does not like (biting insects)).  I was glad that he had a favorable look at the Tree Swallow.

Sue came home.  We went to the airport and picked up a couple of travelers that had returned to a new car (in long term parking) that would not let them in (something about the fob). We took them home, then came home ourselves.

I checked the torque on Sue’s wheels again. Today, the front lug nuts remained tight, as they did on one rear wheel, but the other rear wheel had three nuts (of four) that tightened (which means that their tightness was below the specified value in the owner’s manual, despite being tightened yesterday). May 7, 2015.

I walked up the hill in the mid afternoon, despite that it was above 85 degrees.  I had plans to mow a yard there, but I walked slowly and birded as I went.  I saw the first Acadian flycatcher of the year; I subsequently heard it calling.  I saw several Cardinals moving about, but I checked each of them and indeed, one, perched a bit higher in the understory than the others, was a spectacular male Scarlet Tanager.  I saw a male and a female Redstart, Carolina Wrens, Chickadees, Titmice, and a male Goldfinch.  I heard several Wood Thrushes today; I saw a couple of them.  I heard, then saw, a Red-eyed Vireo.  I saw two warblers: one got away without being identified, but the other provided several good looks.  It was a Canada Warbler, which I do not remember seeing for many years (my fault, not the fault of the migrating birds).  I do remember seeing them in the 1960’s and 70’s and perhaps later, but I cannot remember the last one.   I saw a pair of Phoebe’s, a pair of Goldfinches, Robins, a Red-eyed Vireo, a Parula Warbler, Redstarts, and a Waterthrush up the hill. The Waterthrush was too far away to distinguish a Louisiana from a Northern Waterthrush, but I see many Louisiana Waterthrush sightings here and have never seen a Northern Waterthrush here, so I presume that it was a Louisiana Waterthrush. In fact, the only Northern Waterthrush that I’ve identified was dead in a rest area along side an interstate highway half way up through Michigan. Migration is on though; I seldom see Canada Warblers either.  I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Pileated Woodpecker, and Crows in the woods.

While up the hill, I saw three deer running away.  I heard and saw several Chipmunks.  I heard at least one squirrel.  I got a glimpse of a squirrel that I thought was a Fox Squirrel. Fox Squirrels live here, but I generally see dozens of Gray Squirrels between each Fox Squirrel sighting.  Both of the houses up the hill had a dead native mouse in a snap trap; we had just checked them a few days ago.  One mouse had become rather noted to Sue, in that it had gotten the peanut butter from the bait area of all three traps in that house on several occasions without getting caught.  Most West Virginia mice eventually succumb to peanut butter on a Victor snap trap.

I had good luck with the riding mower; it had not been started nor used this year.  I knew that the tires would be dramatically low, and the tire pump that is up the hill did not work so well the last time that I used it.  I looked for a different tire pump at the bottom of the hill, but did not find it.  I had hoped to find that second tire pump up the hill, but such was not the case.  I tried the tire pump that I thought would not work, but it did work.  I pumped the three tires that were low, then had no more trouble out of the mower.  I got most of the upper yard cut; in fact, I got more of it cut than I have during any one session before.  I quit as darkness neared.

I got my things and started off the hill, but I noticed that one of the two bulbs in a motion light on an outbuilding was not working. I went back inside the house, got a light bulb, and changed the bad bulb. The consequence of that action  resulted in my hearing the first Whip-poor-will of the year. As I  listened, I realized that there were two.  Great news, as Sue announced some years ago that if the Whip-poor-wills ever fail to return, we will have to move. I do not like to move. I texted Sue and told her about the Whip-poor-wills; she said that she would be right there. Unfortunately, it seemed that they quit calling for the evening; I texted her and told her that, but she came anyway.  I saw a Rabbit at the edge of darkness as I walked off the hill. I met Sue half the way up the hill and told her that the performance was over for the evening. We went off the hill.  Perhaps they will call again at 8:30 tomorrow evening.

I rechecked Sue’s lug nuts; all were tight  tonight.  I’ll check them a few more times, then drop back to every few months. May 8, 2015.  I saw a Pewee taking a bath today in the creek of our hollow.  Unlike some birds that just get into the water and bathe, this bird sat on a limb just a couple of feet over the creek, then flew down and got wet, then went back to its perch, over and over. Each trip away from the perch just took a few seconds.  House Finches visited the hummingbird feeder this morning.  Song Sparrows, Goldfinches, Titmice, and Chickadees were in the yard today.   It was hot today.  I stayed in and took care of some paperwork until it started to cool a bit.

I walked up the hill to finish mowing the upper yard.  On that trip, I saw and heard Redstarts, Towhees and Cardinals, but only heard Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes.  I saw Robins, squirrels and chipmunks as I walked, then saw three deer in the yard once I arrived.  I checked the mouse traps: we caught another mouse in a snap trap.  All the mice that we catch are natives: either white footed or deer mice.  In every case, they have a bi-colored tail (dark above and light below). Incidentally, I cannot tell a deer mouse from a white-footed mouse.   I finished the mowing.

Sue came up the hill by 8:30.  The Whip-poor-wills accommodated her efforts by calling at about 8:40 (p.m.).  We heard two Whip-poor-wills.  Sue saw a rabbit as she came up the hill. We came off the hill and were home by 9:00 p.m.  Sue said that she saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the yard and identified it while still in the car. May 9, 2015:  There was a pair of House Finches at the hummingbird feeder this morning.  A doe deer walked up the driveway past the house at about 10:00 a.m.; I thought that unusual and wondered if it had not been chased hard during the night or earlier in the morning.

Sue and I drove to northern Ohio today for a family birthday event.  We left the house at about 10:50 a.m.  We saw a Red-tailed Hawk circling over I-77 near Kenna. We saw another Red-tailed Hawk near Parkersburg, then saw several more as we traveled further north during the day.  We saw scattered Turkey Vultures and lesser numbers of Crows, Grackles, Starlings.  We saw a few Blue Jays and one Pigeon flying as we drove, as well as a Great Blue Heron while still in West Virginia.  We stopped for gasoline at the Lower Salem exit (just north of Marietta), where I saw one Mockingbird. We spotted a few Red-winged Blackbirds from the interstate in both states.  We saw a few Canada Geese standing at the edge of a golf course in Ohio, then I saw another Great Blue Heron standing in a wet area somewhere south of Strasburg.

We got to the relatives’ house, in the rural countryside near Medina by about 4:00 p.m.  After visiting for awhile, I walked outside and looked around.  Two Canada Geese flew over the nearby river.  I saw a family of Eastern Kingbirds, flying about noisily over an area about 150 yards in diameter.  The Kingbirds were rather vocal; I presumed it was an adolescent phenomenon.  I saw and heard Chipping Sparrows, Cowbirds, Cardinals, and a  Chickadee that I suspected was a Black-capped.  I heard Crows.  I twice glimpsed a flying Baltimore Oriole male.  I saw on Fox Squirrel.

At about 9:30 p.m., we left for a motel in a town called Westlake. We checked in and soon went to bed. May 10, 2015.  We got up early, before7:00 a.m.  I was particularly slow to rally today; showering did not even help, nor did breakfast, despite that the hardest thing that I had to drink the evening prior was a half of a beer, followed by at least three glasses of chocolate milk.  On the grounds of the motel, we saw Eastern Chipmunks, House Finches, Robins, and English Sparrows.  Sue heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker. After checking out of the motel, we went to the Huntington Beach (on the south shore of Lake Erie) in a town called Bay Village, then crossed Lake Road to the Huntington Reservation.

The Lake was foggy this morning.  We did see a Great Blue Heron flying parallel to the shore, as well as a few Red-winged Blackbirds, Robins, and English Sparrows.  Birding was slow at the beach side of the highway, so we drove across to the Reservation.  We went to a Lake Erie Nature and Science Center for a look around.  A receptionist pointed out that the science center is not part of the Metropark system; it is just on the Metropark property.

The science center has a variety of displays and aquariums with local creatures, as well as a few creatures of the world. Among the more interesting exhibits are enclosures with the poisonous snakes of Ohio, including a large Copperhead, a large Timber Rattlesnake, and a Massasauga (small native rattlesnake).  This is the only exhibit that I can recall that has a Massasauga on display.  They also have displays of native turtles (including Softshell Turtles, a Musk Turtle, Red-eared Sliders, and Midland Painted Turtles) and various fish.  Not all the displays are labeled well.

We took a walk on a trail of the Reservation.  We heard turkeys, but decided that the turkeys may have been captive, as the turkey noises seemed to be coming from the direction of a barn.  We also heard a Barred Owl; it mayor may not have been captive.

We walked on part of the Hemlock Loop Trail and saw a Catbird, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, an Eastern Bluebird, a Flicker, a male Black-throated Blue Warbler, a male Magnolia Warbler, a Pewee, two Turkey Vultures, a Hawk, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Grackles, and Starlings.   We left the Huntington Reservation and went west along the south shore of Lake Erie. We stopped at a bakery (Fragapane Bakeries) in Bay Village; Sue got some custard cups and cream puffs, as we were going to visit her aunt and Sue remembered that her aunt liked those.  I got individual servings of three kinds of meatless salads (pasta, artichoke, and tortilini); it was no small feat to get meatless foods at this bakery, other than pastries, despite that it had a deli sandwich shop toward the back.  They were big on various types of meats on sandwiches.

We stopped at the Spitzer Marina in Lorain and looked around a bit.  We have often seen good birds there, but we hardly got out of the car; I was excited to get to a park with a gazebo and eat salads.  We only saw one male Mallard, a few gulls that we did not identify, and a few Caspian Terns, which were diving into the calm waters of the marina.   We drove by the pier (a.k.a. Hot Waters, as a power plant exhausts coolant there), despite that it has long been one of our frequent stops and is often rewarding.  We went on to the Lorain park on the shore of Lake Erie.  The east end of the park has a private residence next door that has long had a colony of Purple Martins.  I drove straight to the east end of the park, only to discover that the owners have greatly upgraded their Purple Martin houses.  The Martins took to their new accommodations, in that there were many Martins in residence.  We looked at them for a while, from about one or two car lengths away.  The old houses had been getting a bit degraded by a couple of years ago, but the new ones are particularly nice.  There are three clusters of large white plastic gourd-like houses.  I believe that the poles are square aluminum tubing; there is a pulley near the top of each pole with ropes that lower the entire cluster.  Each house has an entrance, as well as a clean-out with a seemingly secure lid.

We drove through the park, which was busy with beach goers, but the far end of the park was very slow and had empty gazebos.  We sat and ate, stopping occasionally to pick up binoculars and look at some movement. We saw Fox Squirrels and Baltimore Orioles (which we had been wanting to see), as well as Robins and various black birds. There was another family of Eastern Kingbirds here, flying about, being rather vocal, much like the other family of Kingbirds that I saw last evening.   We left the lake and went south toSue’s aunt’s house, where we visited for some time.  We saw House Finches and English Sparrows at their feeders.

After this family visit, we left for West Virginia. We saw another Red-tailed Hawk near Canton and the occasional groups of Canada Geese, both on land and in the air.  We went through one intense rain with very poor visibility, but it was a very narrow band of hard rain. We saw a young Raccoon walking at the edge of a rest area in Ohio.  We saw the occasional dead Deer and dead Raccoons beside the interstate highway.

We stopped at the Schneider’s Crossing exit of Interstate 77, just south of Strasburg, and went to the Beuhler’s Grocery.  In the past there had been a substantial colony of woodchucks in a large drainage area next to that store, but there were none today (nor were there any woodchucks there when we stopped at the same spot and looked yesterday).  I fear something dreadful has happened to the woodchucks.  We bought gasoline and a few groceries;

I checked engine oil and the lug nuts (again), then we went back to the interstate and continued south.  I did see one woodchuck near the railroad crossing between Beuhler’s and I-77.  We arrived home and had the car unloaded by about 10:30p.m. May 11, 2015.

Sue got up and went to town.  We heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling as she was leaving.  We got a new niger seed feeder while we were in Ohio; I filled it and hung it outside. We saw a Pewee and Parula Warblers after Sue returned from town.  We mostly did chores today. I went to town and got exhaust parts for the ’89 Caprice; I had ordered them last week. I partially dismantled the exhaust on the Caprice today.  I helped the neighbor dig up a lengthy 4X4 (previously a telephone company utility pole) so he could use it as a support for a night light in his yard.  As we worked, a Black Rat Snake came out of the undergrowth and out onto the lawn nearby, just as though we were not there.  This neighbor is not terrified of snakes, but the only time that he interacts with snakes is to avoid them or to kill them. I explained to him what I was going to do, then I caught that snake.  It was an unusually large Black Rat Snake.  I put it into a five gallon bucket (with lid) until Sue returned home.  Sue and I extracted the snake from the bucket and measured it, then released it.  It was 63 inches long, which was my adult height (likely I have gotten shorter by now).  This was a strong, feisty, and apparently healthy snake.

May 12, 2015. I reassemabled the Caprice exhaust with good result (no further leak).  I helped the neighbor mount his dusk to dawn light to the 4×4 that we recovered yesterday, then we placed the assembly vertically into a hole that he had dug with post hole diggers.  We tamped dirt and rocks around that 4×4 to hold it in place. Mockingbirds chased each other in his yard as we worked; Parula Warblers, Redstarts, and Wood Thrushes remain vocal in the area.

May 13, 2015.  We had dinner at a restaurant on the river at a town called Chesapeake; the restaurant was the Kanawha River Cafe, which is built over the water of the river and is associated with the local marina.  We saw a male Mallard, a few Canada Geese, Barn Swallows, Purple Martins, a Pigeon, and Grackles from inside the restaurant.  The staff and patrons were friendly; the food was fine, as it was on a previous visit.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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