2023-06-07, A Week In Wernersville, PA

Brown Thrasher - Toxostoma rufum
Traveling south from my 2023 stay in Canada, I enjoyed a visit with old and dear friends in Pennsylvania. Theirs was a bird-friendly yard, and I took advantage of the opportunity to meet the local avifauna.

Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis

I left Canada five days ago without a clear plan for my drive south. After all, I had Nova Scotia in my sights when I left San Diego last March. But the universe placed some obstacles in the way. The fires in that province convinced me to steer clear of the region. I weighed my options, and the best ‘Plan-B’ that occurred to me was a journey south through the Appalachian Mountains.

I have several friends living in Pennsylvania, but I couldn’t visit with them all. So I chose to spend time with my friend Jeff and his wife Kathy. Not only were they living close to the route I’d planned, Jeff and I operated our own businesses, and worked closely together, beginning over forty years ago. I have had some great teachers come into my life, but no one has been so instrumental in my career as Jeff.

Normally I avoid interstate driving, and long hours of white-knuckle rumbling down the road. But because of the long distances of this 2023 expedition, I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone and push myself harder than I normally would. So after an overnight stay in upstate New York, and a stop for breakfast in Watertown, I gritted my teeth and began my journey south.

The route to Jeff and Kathy’s digs required crossing two states. The I-81 freeway through New York and Pennsylvania had several long sections under construction. All of us travelers were squeezed into a single lane. Tired and bleary-eyed, I finally reached my friend’s home early Saturday evening. 

During my visit, Jeff had a few projects planned for himself, and I enjoyed working with him on a couple of them. I also had an unexpected RV repair of my own to attend to. Prior to last year’s expedition, I augmented my RV’s propane storage by adding two 20 pound tanks to the rear of the vehicle. The system has a switching regulator that automatically connects to the plumbing from the primary tank to the secondary tank. Less than two years old, I did not expect a failure so soon. But a leak developed in the regulator and a tank that I filled only two days earlier, was empty. Normally, even in cold weather, the 4.5 gallons would last a week to ten days. Now it was empty. After I did some troubleshooting, I found the leak in the regulator. I ordered a replacement on Amazon, and it arrived late the next day. The following morning, I repaired the system and, and it was good-to-go once again.

During my visit here in Wernersville, there was plenty to keep me busy. Catching up with my friends of over forty years and sharing memories was a priority. But there were two bonuses worth mentioning. Jeff and Kathy had an eighteen-month-old Sheep-a-Doodle (Sheepdog-Poodle mix) and an enormous grass-covered yard. It was perfect for games of fetch. I am a sucker for joyful dogs to play with, and I spent many happy hours doing so.

That big yard was surrounded by trees, and that meant an opportunity to meet the local birds. So on Sunday I squeezed in a few hours to capture images of the birds in my friend’s yard. I repeated the drill on Monday, and though I didn’t get pictures of every species, I tried. The critters I photographed were American Goldfinch, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Chipping Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, Gray Catbird, House Wren, Northern Cardinal, Purple Finch, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Song Sparrow, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and White-Tailed Deer. Those I saw or heard included Red Fox, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red-Tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Northern Mockingbird, American Crow, Great Blue Heron, Tufted Titmouse, and Pileated Woodpecker (heard only).

For me, the birding highlight was meeting the Brown Thrashers. During the last days of my 2022 tour of Canada’s Grasslands National Park, I glimpsed one of these birds. But a Loggerhead Shrike ran it off before I could capture an image. But here in the friendly confines of my buddy’s backyard, they danced on the fence lines and hedgerows. 

It seems I can’t get caught up with my story-telling as I roam North America. Even putting on blinders and hunkering down in the RV doesn’t seem to clear the backlog. Sometimes I feel as if I’m trying to paddle up a class-five river in a row-boat. Taking pictures is fun, but processing the images and weaving the words is more like hard work. But without the ‘work’, the stories would not get told.

Rainy days can be a blessing when they slow my picture taking down, giving me a chance to knuckle down to the business of story-telling. There were a couple of days of wet weather during my week in Wernersville. But it wasn’t enough to clear the table. I left, bound for my Appalachian adventures with yarns still left to spin.

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