This year the hike was at a local nature preserve, a mere 4.3 miles from my home, but one I had never visited. Nor even knew existed.
It was a surprisingly nice day as we headed out down the trail. Our nominal leader is Mark, the guy in the red shirt. but he is a plant geek and was soon left behind, looking at whatever was growing along the way.
Not to worry, as it was a rather straight trail ...
... along a former railroad right of way.
Which is good, as it was not a particularly well marked trail. Although it may soon be?
Approximately 1.7 miles after we started we came to trails end, at the US Post Office in Birmingham, NJ. Which serves all 33 residents of this village, which is coincidently 33 feet above sea level. (I didn't know this place existed either.)
We relaxed and waited for the rest of the first day hikers to reach the post office, slowly increasing the population of Birmingham by over 100% for a short time (we had 44 hikers).
This is Terry (shown here with a 'wood duck' head she found):
She is the coordinator of this particular first day hike; Thanks Terry! It is one of nineteen hikes, one horse back ride, and one mountain bike ride hosted by the NJ State Park Service. Such events are held in all fifty states, and not just by state park services. Other groups are now getting in on the action. I'm sure you can find one in your area.
This is our third time joining the first day hike festivities and as is our custom, we bring food and drink to share at the end. As this hike did not have a nearby picnic area we decided to host the after hike gathering at our place. And while we may not have topped the population of Birmingham we did have a nice turnout. With four crock pot dishes, plenty of liquid refreshments, and a variety of salads, dips, appetizers, and deserts.
An appropriate beverage for the NJ Pinelands methinks.
It was a very nice way to start 2017.
About that 1000 mile journey ...
A couple of weeks ago we were at Whitesbog for an owl prowl for which Patty was co-leader (with this guy). This owl prowl was coincident with the monthly full moon hike (it was cloudy, so no moonlight on this walk; no owls either). And Patty was speaking to a women who regularly attends the full moon hikes. And this women told Patty about the '1000 mile challenge', where you walk one thousand miles in a calendar year.
We have three cats. But only one, Max, has any interest in going outside. To satiate this desire, we've fitted Max with a harness and take him out everyday, attaching the harness to a length of strong twine attached to our deck railing.
But Max on occasion will, when we aren't paying attention, run out the door and go walk about in the yard. And one recent night he did just that.
We also have a trail cam, which took the above image of Max, in his harness, lead to face with a Virginia Opossum. Alas, this is the only image the trail cam took of the encounter. So we've no idea of what went down that evening.
Max enjoys looking out the window each evening as the opies visit the feeders. I can only wonder what he is thinking.
Max is still young, less than two years old. The other two cats, Pumpkin and Alister, are much older. No doubt this is why Max wants out and the other two are content to remain inside the house. This is a good thing, as cats belong indoors. Cats are instinctive predators and even well fed cats will kill small animals. There are also dangers about such as Great Horned and Screech Owls, Coyotes, and Bobcats that could easily take a domestic cat. And an encounter with an angry opossum or raccoon could result in significant injuries.
We have Virginia Opossums, 'Opies', who visit every night, but we don't really know how many may be out there. Last night we had three at the same time. So we know there are at least three!
This is Opie # 1, high up in the tree.
This is a small-ish creature, apparently from the second brood of the year.
Luanne and Dan Weekes, who live just down and around the bend from us, are the proprietors of Pollination Station. And among other things they rehabilitate Virginia Opossums. Through them we recently learned that Virginia Opossums have two litters a year. It appears that both Opie #1 and Opie #2 are second brooders.
This is Opie #2, on the makeshift flying squirrel feeder platforms.
We put peanut butter on these feeders, and on the tree, each evening. And watch the wildlife that comes to call.
Here is #3. It is a bit bigger than the first two.
Other than size and overall grayness of their fur, we've not learned to tell them apart.
It is a small gray one that likes to go high in the tree, seemingly to get away from the others, but as you can see these two are both small and gray.
Is it always the same one that is up high? Or does it depend on the order that they arrive?
Perhaps there are several small grey opossums that are visiting, and a few like the view from on high. We just don't know.
We've had up to three visit on several occasions. But they are solitary creatures, arriving and departing alone. With few direct interactions. And those I've witnessed seem to be aimed at determining "who are you" and telling each other to "leave me alone". So it is difficult to develop a 'personality profile' that might help identify individual opossums.
But we'll continue to watch and learn what we can about these and all the creatures that visit our yard. And maybe we'll yet figure out how to tell them apart.
Adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor so that you can view each of the 17 grayscale steps from black to white. Special attention should be given to the black end of the scale. The darkest step should be made as dark as possible while you are also able to distinguish it from the next lighter step.