Spicebush and Paw-Paw blooming, trees starting to push leaves, frogs coming out of the pond. These are things that typically happen in mid April. Our La Nina winter has translated into an unusually mild and early spring. The foliage is about three weeks ahead of schedule. The Redbuds and Dogwoods on our website background are just getting ready to bloom. The web photos were taken April 28 last year; we are expecting them to look like that in the next week or so. It will be interesting to see what happens if we get another cold spell. For now the flora and fauna in the woods are looking and acting more like mid-April than mid-March.
Every year at this time, thousands of bird-watchers flock to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area to view tens of thousands of migrating Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. These migratory waterfowl winter in the Chesapeake Bay region and migrate north in the spring to nesting grounds in in the arctic region of northern Canada. They tend to move through quickly in late fall, but on their return trip north they stop over at Middle Creek for several weeks in late February and early March. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is operated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and provides Habitat for a variety of waterfowl, songbirds, a nesting pair of Bald Eagles, and a host of other wildlife. This year there is estimated to be 65,000 Snow Geese and 2,400 Tundra Swans. The prime viewing area is at Willow Point, which is accessible by the short, paved Willow Point Trail. Geese can also be viewed along the driving tour route that is open starting on March 1. The Visitors Center at Middle Creek offers a great collection of mounted wildlife, a touch-n-feel bin and activities for kids, as well as other educational exhibits and song-bird viewing. An extensive network of hiking trails of various difficulty levels is available at Middle Creek and the surrounding game lands.
Middle Creek is located right over the hill from Furnace Hills B&B. It’s a scenic 5 minute drive or a nice hike on the Horseshoe Trail to get from here to there. The overlook on the Millstone trail (accessible from a spur off of the Horseshoe Trail) is less than a 1/2 hour hike from FHB&B and offers a view of the lake. When the geese are here, they can be heard all the way at the overlook on top of the hill. Of course the Geese and Swans give us frequent flyovers here at the B&B, so our deck can be a great viewing location if the timing is right!
The newest additions at FHB&B are our four chickens — two Rhode Island Reds, one Barred Rock, and one Gold-Laced Wyandotte. So far only one is laying eggs, but we expect the other three to start soon. Our guests will enjoy fresh, free-range eggs for Sunday morning breakfasts. Don’t worry, there’s no rooster to wake you up in the morning — just the smell of breakfast cooking. The chickens wander in the woods around the house during the day and tuck themselves into their coup at night. They are curious, and will come over to see what you are up to — especially when we take out food scraps for treats.
We were hit with two major storms in late August and early September. Hurricane Irene brought 6.7″ of rain in a day and followed that with heavy winds. The result was that we lost over ten mature trees — fortunately not near the house or driveway, but they did block our trail in several locations. Unlike many of our neighbors, we did not lose electricity. Some were without power for several days.
A week and a half later, Tropical storm Lee gave us an unprecedented 15.7″ of rain in four and a half days. Again, we escaped relatively unscathed — just a little soggy. Lee was responsible for major flooding in the area — closing many roads at stream crossings and flooding many basements.
At Furnace Hills Bed and Breakfast, we are very fortunate to have escaped these storms with only minor inconvenience.
It is Blackberry season again. We were expecting a good crop this year, but the recent lack of rain may limit the size and number of berries. One good rain, along with the hot sunny weather that we are having will likely make the bushes explode, so we are hoping for some rain soon. Our berries are wild Allegheny Blackberries, and we also pick wild wineberries (AKA foxberries or dewberries), which finished up a week ago.
If you visit us in late July, you are likely to have plump, fresh blackberries along with breakfast. If not, you can enjoy our berries in any season, as we use them to make a variety of jellies and jams (blackberry, wineberry, and various mixes of these and strawberries), as well as Liz’s famous pancake topping, muffins, crumb cake, pies, and other baked goods.
Liz enjoys trying new recipes, and over the last year she has experimented with several differnt types of granola. The peanut butter granola has become a regular menu item (and the family loves it too!). It’s good with milk for breakfast, on yogurt, or just by the the handfull. Almond butter granola is another good variety, made with chopped almonds and almond butter. We even have vegan granola (which Ben even likes) for our vegan guests. Liz was recently featured in the local newspaper in an article about granola. If you are staying with us and would like to try our granola, be sure to mention it and Liz will be happy to mix up a batch!
We have had two successful nests on our house so far this year. The Robins have nested on the log corners in the front of our house several times over the past few years, and were successful once again this year. More exciting, however, was the Phoebe nest above our garage window, which fleged two chicks this year. The Phoebes have attempted to nest in various places on the house the last three years, but had yet to actually fledge any chicks due to interference from Blue Jays or other disturbances to their nests. We watched hopefully when the mother started sitting on eggs, and the chicks finally flew last week.
Over the course of the summer, we typically see many fledglings at our feeders, or nearby in trees waiting for mom to bring a bit of suet or bird seed. The most common young ones we see are Catbirds, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and Rose-Breasted Grossbeaks. Come visit us this summer, and you will see, and hear, a host of songbirds in our back yard.
Middlecreek Wildlife Management area offers biking opportunites for all ages and skill levels. We took our five and seven year olds the other evening to practice in the parking lot and on the back roads on the north side of the lake. The loop around the lake is about 5.5 miles of flat to gently rolling hills and makes a nice leisurly ride on which you can watch song-birds and waterfowl. From Furnace Hills Bed and Breakfast, the ride over the hill, around the lake, and back again, is about ten miles and features a couple of fairly strenuous climbs on either end of the loop around the lake. For the more serious road cyclists, the area offers limitless routes on back roads through farmland and forests on level roads, rolling hills, and some of the most challenging climbs in the region. For mountain bikers, the horseshoe trail and other connecting trails offer moderate to extreme trail riding opportunites. Bring your bike, and we would be glad to help you plan a route that suits your skill level and interests. Of course, Middlecreek offers exceptional songbird and waterfowl viewing and the museum is a great stop for the family, but we’ll write about that in another post….
A sure sign of spring is the return of our Rose-Breasted Grossbeaks. So far we have seen one pair, and we typically get at least two pairs that stay for the summer. We also have a Phoebe who has been around for the last few years. This year she has built her nest on top of the garage window by the pond. We have also seen a lot of Gold Finches and House Finches, and our typical Chickadees, Titmice, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and assorted Woodpeckers (Downey, Hairy, Red-Bellied, and Pileated) are all still here.
We took the family kayaking at Speedwell Forge Lake this evening. Speedwell is a PA Fish and Boat Commission lake and offers fishing and non-motorized boating and is located about 10 minutes from Furnace Hills Bed and Breakfast. The weather was good, but a little windy. We were fortuante to see a variety of birds, including an Osprey, many Cormorants, and a Tern that caught a fish right in front of us. Speedwell makes a nice quick evening paddling trip and almost always offers great wildlife viewing. We frequently see Great Blue, Green, and Black Crowned Night Herons, Kingfishers, Canada Geese, Red Tail Hawks, and turtles sunning themselves on logs. Occasionally, one of the Bald Eagles from Middlecreek stops by, and once I saw a beaver. If you are visiting the area, Speedwell Forge is definitly worth checking out.