Willseyville Diary 2020


Hoppin John

Made Hoppin’ John for New Years Day, so here’s hoping. Had a ham bone from Christmas, and chard from the summer. Along with carrots and onions, turned out pretty good. Had enough to share around and eat for several days as well, like my mama taught me.

Caught some beautiful iridescent clouds in transit. We watched until the show was over.


Hamamelis blooming March of last year

Years ago we bought a number of plants from the TCSWCD Tree & Shrub sale. Due either to a weakness in my record keeping or lack of information from the TCSWCD itself, I don’t know whether we have planted (quite a number of) Hamamelis virginiana or vernalis. More recently we have planted large specimens of both. My clues are: I only have one witch hazel that blooms any differently from the others, and that’s the one that’s still blooming yellow flowers right now, but bloomed fully in November last year, so my guess is H. virginiana. All the others  have reddish orange flowers currently in bud and

Hamamelis blooms passing

are likely to bloom around March so I guess vernalis. H. virginiana blooms yellow in the fall, which I don’t think of as November, but perhaps now it is, as our summers are much longer. Now, H. vernalis supposedly blooms in late winter or early spring. Being native further west, perhaps that’s March here in NY? And all but the the one bloom reddish-orange. As for the weather right now-the snow is melted and the creek is flowing. Maybe we’re all just confused…

Saw some canine tracks on the middle bridge, so I set the trail cam up there. Given my luck with track ID, and considering who mostly shows up on the trail cam, it’s a bluejay.
(Later: Jokes on me-it was a dog! In my defense, we don’t get a lot of stray dogs out here.)


An extremely loud murder of crows chased a hawk off. All of the little birds in the understory were VERY excited!


Seems like winter for a day. Cold and snowy, though according to the weather report, only at our house. The nasty weather stopped in time for our friend’s birthday hike to the Finger Lakes Trail Chestnut lean-to. We started at the Comfort Rd/Bald Hill Rd. parking spot. It’s listed as an “easy” .57 mile hike in, and it’s not bad, but it is pretty hilly. If you broke your ribs recently (as one of our party had), you’ll need to take your time. You can see the elevation on this topo map.

I think the route from Michigan Hollow, though longer, is less up and down, and in fact I experienced it that way. When we didn’t make the hard right back the car. Unaware that there were white blazes going west AND east… It think we went as far along the dashed line as we would have along the red, causing someone who left 1/2 hour after us to wonder why our car was still there…

In spite of a certain amount of urgency time-wise (a gig in evening), it was an interesting route that included this rather lovely vernal pool that I would like to visit again. From the other direction. On purpose.


Amazing little visitor today. Guess it just wanted to tuck in out of the snow, and our front porch eave seemed just the spot. (Cloudiness is due to plastic over the window).

Megascops asio (screech owl)

Last screech owl that came by roosted in the kestrel house in December 2013, which since came down (along with the dead tree it was attached to). Mike quickly reinstalled it on the treehouse, just in case it was needed.


As I join my fellow financial industrial complex drones drowning in tax season, I doubt I will have much of interest to say until after April 15. Rest assured, I HAVE rented a hot tub, so I will survive with sanity intact.

Meantime Mike is moving stuff around and fixing things. I can’t keep track, but I did notice he repaired our Woodstock stove, installing a new combustor scoop and gaskets all round. Good thing, as we really tore through the woodpile waiting for the parts to arrive. The resulting burn is a thing of beauty.


Temperature dropped and the wind picked up dramatically. I expect some trees will come down somewhere. All the snow was melted as of a couple of days ago.



I never learned to sew. Or really, to cook. My mom let me read instead because that (she said) was what her mom did for her, and I got the impression that was a real stand to take. I appreciate that-I am an avid reader and believer in reading. But eventually I had to learn to cook, and it sure would be helpful if I could sew… My friend Munna gave me a lesson today, and I sewed two sleeves to attach to the back of Tibetan wall hangings we happened to have. I used a sewing machine (this is a machine that you would think just sews for you, but no, you have to be there or nothing happens) and finished with hand stitching. I believe I used a running stitch, but somehow it felt fancier,because I had to make sure not to go all the way through the hanging. Which, in fact, I did once, sewing it to itself. But not to my pants,which I have also done before. I feel a great sense of accomplishment, very Little House on the Prairie.
Can I stop now?


It’s an ill wind that blows no bird good. In this case, a neighbors headless chicken deposited n the front of the house was a bonanza for the local crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). We regularly put out  peanuts, but the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) family beats them to it for the most part, darting in groups of five to grab them the moment a crow departs, so this was a golden opportunity.

As you can see, we are back to winter.


Old chairs
New chairs

Went to the Special-Exclusive-Just-For-You furniture sale in Fayetteville. Yeah, we’re suckers, but we DID need dining room chairs. The ones we have (actually kinda cool old Stickley‘s) were literally coming apart at the joints. And despite the extra ass padding I seem to have accumulated, were pretty uncomfortable. We got four, with seat padding, loaded’em up and drove them home. On sale,they cost a million dollars. Okay, not exactly, but at least they will last a hundred years, and who needs to eat,anyway?

As for the outside,bugs are flying,snows melting, and the creek it flowing. So…expect a blizzard.




The parties over, but the good thoughts linger. I can’t bring myself to remove the greenhouse finery from it’s inauguration as a party space.

Temperature in the single digits, and an unprecedented Agelaius phoeniceus (red-winged blackbird) at the feeder.


Geese in the sky. That cheers me up!


Every year we try to spot the amphibians heading back to the vernal pool.This might be a little TOO early… Still, one good thing about winter lingering is spotting trakcs, perhaps this time fox and weasel.

Vernal pool as spring approaches

The shiitake logs outside are also still in rest mode, but the indoor ones are running.


Here we are in Marlboro NY at the sort of Fallingwater of downstate NY – The Falcon. A real labor of love on the part of Tony Falco. (Later: This was the last week of free travel we would have, maybe later in the corona epidemic than was wise. The Falcon is closed as of 3/15 until further notice).It’s built over Marlboro Falls, a double music venue and huge deck with good food and drink. Not to be missed.


Belgian comfort food

Comfort food of the day: Belgian witlof met ham en kaas (endive and ham gratin). Some substitutions were made by the cook, I think, but the result was totally authentic to the spirit of the meal. This dish appeals to everything Irish and/or Southern in my heart. I was a bit confused about the endive/chicory part, so here’s a bit of info from Oregon State U.:
“The terms “chicory” and “endive” are frequently interchanged because the “forced” product of Witloof chicory has been erroneously named French or Belgian endive. Another type of chicory, whose dried roots are used as a coffee substitute, is Magdeburgh or Italian Dandelion. Tops may also be used in cooking like spinach.”

(There’s also radicchio, which they don’t mention here.)

Eranthis hyemalis

Here come the Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite). They are so prolific, I’m trying to get them to come up in the lawn by spreading the seeds as they ripen.


Watering the garlic in the greenhouse. The snow is all melted and the spring bulbs are up. Third month of the corona virus but two weeks most intensely  for us.

Here we are hunkered down, hoping not to be a danger to anybody. Despite our best efforts, we were a danger to the titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) that knocked itself out on the window, so I switched out the faded WindowAlerts (the UV protection wears out). The rest of the flock was very disturbed by the incident, flying in and out in a flurry, but when I checked later, the victim had recovered and departed.

As for dangers to us…first tick of the season. When you go out in town, it’s other people. When you go out in rural areas,it’s ticks. How spoiled we have been!


Family group video chat this evening. We talked for hours, a report from every member, covering the whole country-north to south and east to west. Did my heart good.

Also pleased to hear the male wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) making their quacking ruckus in the vernal pool, and maybe even a ruffed grouse flying off?
There are breeding adults of Notophthalmus viridescens (eastern newt) in the neighbors permanent pond. My guess is they overwintered there, as amphibians around here don’t seem to be migrating yet. (Red efts are the juvenile phase of this species.)


Horticultural services have been declared an essential service here in New York, but we are not quite back to work. As enriching and inspiring as I believe gardens are, I know they will still be there a month from now, none the worse for wear. Maybe better, with homeowners there to putter and enjoy all day!

Here’s what I’ve done around here so far:
– Cut back the dead stems and leaves left from the fall on behalf of overwintering critters
– Cut back the tall grasses and burned the duff (which was bad, considering the spring burn ban went into effect last week).
– Pruned dead from the roses and cut the biggest stems from the red and yellow twig dogwood to promote colorful growth.
– Mike has transplanted saplings from the nursery to the woods, mainly young oaks.


Heard the peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) tonight.


Weeded the ginseng bed, and lo and behold, the ramps are well up! We seeded last year, so that may explain the clumps…


I spent today sorting blankets and sheets due to an influx of extras from a daughter who just moved. Somehow I felt obliged to have more blankets than needed, in case we had to create a bunch of extra places to sleep-the opposite of what is actually happening. Still reacting as trained by my mom…

Daughter moved to Seattle, of all places, before “New York Pause”, but just barely. She and her husband had already sent all their stuff there, including a car, and were just waiting for their flight. Back in winter, a hundred years ago, I was going to go with them and help with the move. Over time it seemed a worse and worse idea, until suddenly it looked like maybe even they couldn’t go. They did, with hand sanitizers and masks, on an almost empty plane, with two small dogs, upgraded to first class.


Another video chat this evening. We all lit candles and blew them out for our brothers birthday. I don’t know what his wish was, but I can guess.


Today I had actual work to do. Some of my clients are not going to make it, and the ones that will are scrambling.

On the plus side, we saw a northern waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis), which seemed a good sign after last years most tragic lost migrant.


Being country folk, we started out well-stocked, and a trip to the grocery store put us over the top. In fact, we didn’t even WANT to buy the giant package of toilet paper, it was just all they had. In town, they have Instacart. We, it turns out, can buy spices from Pennsylvania. And so we did.

The wood frogs and salamanders have done their thing, and left the evidence behind. I am open for correction, but here’s how I ID the egg masses:

Wood frog eggs have individual gelatinous sacks around them. The masses appear bumpy as the individual eggs glump together. Salamander eggs are enclosed in a group gelatinous blob, and so make a smoother mass. What kind of salamanders, you ask? And well you should. But enough science…

Amelanchier laevis budding


Canna rhizomes

Planted canna lilies along the back of the house. Mixed the red leaved ones with the orange flowered ones I grew from seeds I scavenged in Florida. Not on purpose particularly, but after a while I lose track of what’s where in the basement. The dahlias are in some peat moss till I see what sprouts, and the Peruvian daffodils are in the same pots as last year, all in the greenhouse waiting for good weather.

As always, the spring weeds are lesser celandine and bittercress. Put out 24 tick tubes, and plan to put out another 48 just around the house and gardens.


Corvus corax

Got a good view of the raven across the street. Poor thing is constantly harassed by the local murder of crows.


Shiitake spawn

A friends 20 year old male parrot laid an egg. A branch fell right where my husband stood the day before. And the spawn run is particularly lovely this year.


The crows (or a crow) have been doing this crazy thing where they hide peanuts in the lawn under the duff. In late winter we watched the hiding process, found the spot and added a little shiny thing, which later vanished, along with the two nuts! Today we finally caught a bird retrieving from it’s stash.

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are nesting in the kestrel house. Not nearly as exciting as the actual kestrel or screech owl we’d hoped for, but there is a ban on evictions in New York right now.

I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of starlings around, just these two.


The sound of bats in the bat house, and poop in the pup catcher. Just passing through right now, I think.

And now, here’s something we hope you’ll really like:


Windy and snowy. Hard to believe I’ve been in the garden already.


First Narcissus of the season

A beautiful, sunny today. After vacuuming and mopping the floors,Mike inoculated more logs. I repaired a fence gate, fertilized blueberries, scattered more tick tubes, and thought about the people we’ve lost and are continuing to lose. Still missed all these years are parents and a beloved nephew and, more recently, close family friends. Other friends have lost relatives to the pandemic. There is more sadness to come, but there always is.


Easter Sunday family phone call. The littlest of us had shredded paper in her hair. We had a pot roast dinner it was a shame not to share. A raven flew overhead,calling.


I just identified my first bird by the sound alone! A rather common Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), but still, much progress on my part. Ear-birding has provided helpful clues for me,adding patterns and visualization to my limited ear for melody. This bird in particular, though, I found using mnemonics (the “downward “brrrr”, and later the “tea-kettle,tea-kettle,tea-kettle”.) I have also since seen it in our front yard, which is relatively newly populated by low bushes where one of two large Norway spruces once stood.

know I haven’t said much about songs. I know a lot of musicians, and they require an enormous amount of attention, so here’s some…Not brightly colored, but one of the true scat singers of the bird world, I finally managed to identify a Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). I’d heard the mew-ish sound they make before, but now I can catch the mix n’ match of mimicked notes as he improvises for minutes at a stretch.

I also got to watch two female woodpeckers (red-bellied and hairy) fight over the suet feeder. Hairy won.


Yesterday was windy, with tornadoes in the south. Today we have snow.


Got to spend the day outside today, a bit of a break from helping folks chase money that was running away from them and into the pockets of corporations and the wealthy. Nuff said.

Sitting still for a few minutes brought a good look at a Carolina wren (maybe the one nesting in an old mailbox used to store garden tools) and a chipmunk . A very,very,very still chipmunk.

Also spotted what might be a rabbit hole, but I did not go down it.


More brief, driving snow squalls.


Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) took up position on the bird feeder, maybe hoping the buffet was open? A neighbor had reported his presence in the area, and we had earlier spotted junco feathers, sans junco. Needless to say, no other birds came to the feeder until it left.


Had a virtual paint n’ drink session with my daughter and two of her friends here in town. The YouTube instructor left a lot of information out, including how she was letting the painting dry between layers… It was actually funner that way, as we pretty much gave up following along and just winged it.

Nope, I will not by posting the results here.


More snow.


Saw a bat in the air.


Walspurgisnacht heavy rain. Our flood mitigation held up except for the grate at the road, which was overwhelmed. Dug it out some as usual, but still, it never threatened the road. Transplanted suckers from a Kerria to the creek bed. Further from the house I try to keep erosion control plants native, but near the house the hardest worker on the bank is Siberian Iris.

Picked a hundred daffodils or so. Isolation has made yellow my favorite color. Check out this post.


Moved a feeder to outside my office window and it’s proving very popular with the smaller birds that also like perching in the wild rose growing near it. Colorful show with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  and the goldfinches, in those few moments when the grosbeak lets one near.

Tempted to engage in a political argument on Facebook this morning, God help me. Deeply examining the flaws of zoom family get togethers. Primarily an issue of the inability to make eye contact, and so unable to have intimate asides,I think. The fewer the better during a cocktail hour Zoom with friends. Not that we had cocktails, alas, but we shared theirs virtually. I also got to use the outer space background which put stars in my mouth. I wish that was real.

Put some seeds in the ground-nasturtium, morning glories, more poppies, runner beans-and put the house plants out. Because our average last frost date is May 14 and that’s only…two…weeks…away.


Mike fixed a step on the side porch stoop today, and reset the stone walk under it. It is my job to reset the rest of the walk to match, or at least as much as needs it. Once I get started I’ll get absorbed, but the getting started part escapes me.

Oriole on the feeder next to the grosbeak for about two seconds. What a show it would have been if they could only get along! This week insane maskless people are protesting at state capitols. If the people who disagreed with them showed up, they would be blown out of the water. But, ironically, the people who disagree with them CAN’T show up. Ha ha ha.


A co-worker and his wife came out and walked the gardens today, while I cowered under the desk. Not really, but it did cross my animal brain. Actually it was some kind of wonderful. I was pleased by the fine show the daffodils put on for them.


I realize this is getting repetitious, but…first rain and hail yesterday. Then today snow and well below freezing temperatures. White out condition over in minutes (remember April?).


Another great visit from a friend and his son, picking a bouquet in the snow for mother’s day. Hurray for those spunky daffodils and hyacinth, and even a brave tulip or two!


Bird watching has been killer this year. Is it because I’m home so much? Partly, but also because I can see now. Got to put that cataract surgery to good use… Anyway, not only have I manage to ID some LBB’s (little brown birds), we have had the most spectacular color show up. Cardinals, of course, common but always brilliant, the rose-breatedgrosbeak and the oriole, and today indigo bunting! This is too much, I have to go lie down.

Not brightly colored, but one of the true scat singers of the bird world, I finally managed to identify a Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). I’d heard the mew-ish sound they make before, but now I can catch the mix n’ match of mimicked notes as he improvises for minutes at a stretch.


You know it’s spring when you see your first hummingbird, even if it IS snowing. I follow them on the hummingbird migration map, so we’re hardly the first in New York. In fact, they are already hitting Canada.


FINALLY we’ve had our last frost. Don’t know why it seems brand new-May 17 is always the last frost date. Guess we’ll all be startled and surprised when covid-19 crashes back in this fall, too.

Moving the plants off the porch and into the yard. Garlic is well up in the greenhouse, and the Prunus americana is just bursting with buds. Love the tulips I got last year-a much showier type than I have historically planted. Once I decided to move narcissus out of the main bed (the leftover over leaves overwhelmed the perennials), I have room for them. When I have the cash flow, I hope to plant them every year, as they are rather short lived.


Morning traffic is back. Yesterday at work landscaping, Mike said a jogger went right past him, breathing heavily, no mask. The sidewalks were full of people in groups, as though Cuomo’s message was It’s Gone. The Meteorite Missed the Planet! A Miracle!

First really mild morning we’ve had, moist and fresh.  

Later: Today became sunny and hot, but they predicted thunderstorms between 4 and 4:30 so we acted like we believe them. And by god they were right. About 4:15 the wind picked up, there were a few sprinkles and then suddenly mighty gusts and sheets of rain. 


Potted up some Virginia rose suckers, thinking they might make good erosion control (great shades of multi-flora rose, right?). The Serviceberry (Amelanchier) is in bloom everywhere, but I expect we will not get a berry. We have covered up the strawberries hoping for even one, and will cover up the blueberries as well. I like to share, but if it’s going to be EVERY little berry, it’s less work to dump a pile of sunflower seeds on the ground and have done with it.

Mike decreased the size of our nursery fence, as we have long ago pulled back from that enterprise commercially, and are also growing up fewer small plants for ourselves. That area has some nice trees that missed getting transplanted or sold, so we’ll let it segue into what we call the arboretum – an area running up the hill planted with trees mostly grown from seed.


Went for a walk in the woods today and were really blown away by the life there. Woodland flowers, varied age trees, even the ginseng patch we introduced years ago going great guns! As always, we pulled garlic mustard,honeysuckle and multiflora rose where we saw it. I am encouraged by current studies suggesting garlic mustard wears itself out after decades, that’s swell in the long haul. Meantime I am still pulling it where it appears,which is especially where water runs downhill. Still, we have very little of the above. Some places have too much black birch and wood fern,due to previous poor woodlot management, but we have have been both diligent and lucky regarding the usual invasive species. Today, though, we found a privet. The neighbor planted a row by the road at the bottom of the hill years ago, but though we were wary, this is the first sign of them spreading.


The red and gray squirrels are wreaking havoc on the bird feeders, and the raccoon makes the rounds at night. Let the wild ruckus begin! Our three weapons are: baffles, hot sauce,bungee cords and empty soda bottles… our FOUR weapons are.

Ten bats in the bat house at minimum, snakes by the barn. (Anecdotally, we’ve seen fewer and fewer snakes around over the years.) Saw a spring azure (Celastrina ladon).


Mother bear and cubs were spotted on Eastman Rd.,the coyotes are howling and the mushrooms are fruiting.


Fothergilla and Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) also blooming like crazy. The Fothergilla smells so sweet. I planted some annuals around, in case the slugs were hungry, and Mike mowed for the first time this year. There are baby Pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris) everywhere- I guess it’s summer.


Up to sixteen in the bat house now, and saw a Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus). Lightening bugs are about, though not like last year, and owls are hooting. Also has a big flock of blackbirds come by. It seemed like they were Red-Winged, but there could have been grackles mixed in.


Spotted a female Red-Winged blackbird. I rarely so, though several males hog the suet feeder and the sunflowers, too. Mike spotted a Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) pair over by the barn. Thirty eight bats!

Temperature dropped from the high 80s to the high 30s. So confusing.


Finally got a little rain on the 18th, then dried right up and in the 80s.


Turkey up the hill, purple finch,baby salamanders in the vernal pool but not much water.


94 degrees,vernal pool long dry (the devilish raccoon had already eaten the salamanders and then pooped in it) as well as the creek.


Been in the 80s, but finally we got real, honest-to-God rain. No relief from the temperature though.The raccoon revealed itself to be a mom with two babies, so all is forgiven.


Blazing hot again this weekend.