A hint of fall in the air

When I walked the dogs Wednesday morning it was possible to believe that it was not going to stay hot and humid forever. Although we have had a few relatively cool nights this summer, this felt like the first real hint of fall.

We’re used to July and August being hotter than June on average, but it does seem odd when you think about the fact that the days have been getting shorter since June 21.

I made a plot of average monthly high (in red) and low (in blue) temperatures for Rome. I made it for two years so you can see how the ups and downs cycle through the year. The green line is an arbitrary number that shows how the incoming sunlight varies through the year, normalized so that the values are similar to the temperature values. What this plot shows is that temperature lags the change in heating caused by the change in incoming sunlight, both in summer and in winter.


So, the warmest days are not the longest days and the coldest days are not the shortest days. That’s because the Earth acts like a pot of water being heated on the stove; it takes a while to bring it to a boil. But in July, even with days that are shorter than in June, we’re still getting so much sunlight that the Earth wants to be warmer than it already is. We’re lucky the seasons are as short as they are. If they were longer, it would be so hot that we’d probably all have to move further north. But we’d still have to keep a winter home somewhere even further south.

In the meantime, we have opened all the windows in the house, because it’s finally cooler outside than inside.

They’re back

The two persimmon trees next to the road are heavy with fruit now.

persimmons on tree

A few days ago the fruit was almost all green, but there were a few that were getting close to ripe Here’s one that something tasted.

eaten persimmon

You might remember that I found possums pruning our persimmon tree last fall. They’re back.

This branch lying under the tree was the first indication.

branch on ground Here’s the end of the branch. This branch is about a thick as my little finger (in fact, you can see one of my little old fingers at the left). It looks like a miniature beaver chewed it.

cut persimmon branch end

The green persimmons are now starting to turn slightly yellowish. If things go like they did last year, there will still be persimmons on the bare branches even into December. But I expect to find a possum up the tree any night now when I take the dogs out for their walk. Zeke will let me know.

Friday Felines

Smokey and Sylvester start playing and then one of them get too rough. That’s what happened here. Sylvester jumped up on the back of Mark’s truck but Smokey can’t get to him because Smokey doesn’t jump. Sylvester is lean and mean, so he doesn’t have any trouble.


Smokey stared at him for a while like he was going to get him, but when Sylvester jumped down, Smokey ran.

Pileated woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus) is one of the most impressive birds in the forest. Crows may be slightly larger, and eagles may look more imposing, but nothing thrills me more than the cry of a pileated woodpecker. To me, they symbolize wild nature more than just about anything else in our woods.

Pileated woodpeckers are hard to see in the forest, but it’s not so much because they’re shy as the fact that they seem entirely uninterested in anything human. They mind their own business, and that rarely has anything to do with people.

According to various sites, they feed largely on carpenter ants, which they usually find in standing or fallen dead trees. That means they need a mature forest that isn’t cut or managed to eliminate dead trees. That tends keep them away from large population centers, since most people don’t want dead trees nearby. Despite this limitation, their range is large. Here’s the US Geological Survey map showing their range.

US Geological Survey figure

US Geological Survey figure

According to the USGS website, the pileated woodpecker averages about 15 inches long. It has a prominent red crest and a white throat. It’s almost entirely black, with white on the under side of its wings. But if you’re looking for a pileated woodpecker, I don’t think you will have any problems identifying it. Here’s what the USGS says: “No other living woodpecker could be confused with the Pileated.”

The best view I ever had of a pileated woodpecker was many years ago at my parents’ house. My father had cut a small pine and laid the trunk along the edge of a terrace in the back yard. After it had dried and started to decay, a pileated woodpecker lit on it and started pecking at the bark. When a pileated woodpecker pecks, it hits like a hammer. This bird means business when it feeds.

They are not rare in the woods around the mountain. I hear their call quite often, but although I have looked for an opportunity to photograph one, I haven’t been able to do it. I see them at a distance, too far to photograph, or maybe flying over the road, there and gone before I can even think of getting my camera or phone out.

Since I don’t have one of my own photographs, here’s one from online:

"Pileated Woodpecker male" by D. Gordon E. Robertson

“Pileated Woodpecker male” by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Wednesday I was able to get a poor quality recording of the “wuk” call, along with dark and shaky video of some trees where the bird seemed to be perched. I was with the dogs, and I kept walking while videoing, hoping the bird would fly. I was holding the phone vertically because I wasn’t sure where the bird was and I wanted to catch it if it flew. That’s why there are black bars on either side of the image.

I normalized the volume of the clip, which brings out the call, but unfortunately, it also brings out the jingle of the tags. Sorry about that.

Cornell University has a website with good examples of pileated woodpecker calls. If you have never heard a pileated woodpecker, go listen there and imagine yourself deep in the woods.

Climbing the walls

We get a lot of bugs climbing the walls of our house. This is probably the most common sight.


I think this is a carolina grasshopper, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure it would make a tasty treat for this wall climber.


The praying mantis is one of my favorites. I like they way they turn their heads to follow you, maybe trying to decide if they could take you down.

I saw this little green anole on the wall outside the front door.


These little lizards are not as common here as the blue-tailed skink, and neither is as common as they were before the cat population boomed. This one will be safe as long as he stays on the wall.

I saw a walking stick but I didn’t get a photo of it. It wasn’t the cool blue of the one Pablo saw.