Bird-Friendly Bird-Lovers, Bordering on Bird-Voyeurs…   4 comments

24 February 2018

We have a number of bird nesting facilities at the Ballot Box, and I suspect we’ll have even more once we move up here permanently.  Our first accommodation was a swallow house that we mount on a fencepost each spring.  It’s been used every year so far, is visible from our dining area table and is great entertainment as spring progresses.  We soon added a wren house on a post at the edge of the woods on the other side of the leach field that is also heavily used, and a couple of generic houses on trees just into the woods on the deck side of the house, by the brook.

Our most recent addition is a phoebe 2018-02-24 15.21.39 50pct20xshelf that we added before last spring, mounted up under the deck and between the joists at the Ballot Box.  It got used a lot – at least two sets of fledges, maybe more! We tried to peek down through the deck boards at the nest with mediocre success, but it was busy most of the spring and into the early summer.

In an initially unrelated event, I bought a USB video borescope (sometimes incorrectly called an endoscope) over the winter to experiment with, and after playing with it I immediately got the idea to set it up to monitor the phoebe nesting shelf for the coming season, hopefully giving us undisruptive visual access to the nesting activities!  Mostly we wanted to be able to observe the fledges without disturbing them, and the borescope (a tiny USB-based video camera about the size of the eraser on a wooden pencil, mounted on a long flexible cable) seemed like the ideal tool to accomplish that at an extremely reasonable price (~$15 on Woot!).

2018-02-24 15.23.00 50pct20xAnnotatedFirst I configured a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (a 3.4″ x 2.2″ $35 Linux computer about the size of a deck of cards that can run without keyboard or screen) to capture an image from the borescope once every five minutes and upload it over the internet to the BallotBox web site.  Then I set the “Pi” up on a small shelf between the joists in the Ballot Box basement, drilled a small 5/16ths inch hole in the sill by the phoebe shelf and snaked the borescope through the sill hole and out to the phoebe shelf. Finally I built a “NestCam” web page that displayed the current uploaded image, and refreshed itself every two minutes to display the newest image recently uploaded.  The borescope didn’t break the bank (remember, ~$15) so the resolution from dusk until dawn is anywhere from mediocre to non-existent, even though it does have LEDs encircling the camera lens (not InfraRed/NightVision, though). Don’t expect to see much at night!  Perhaps I’ll adjust the snapshot-saving to only occur during daylight… we’ll see.

And that’s how we came to host the NestCam!  Enjoy!!

BIRD SIGHTING UPDATE 20180305

Reference the SWALLOW HOUSE mentioned in the first paragraph above, we lost last year’s fledges to a predatory animal (likely a raccoon) who knocked the house off the post, ripped the bottom off the house, and decimated the nest inside, so during my last weekend up north I rebuilt and fortified the house (which is actually a bluebird house but the swallows always beat the bluebirds to it each spring).  Surprise surprise – just a week later (Lynn was up for the weekend with her sister but I was not) bluebirds have been spotted checking out the house!! We’ve still got snowbanks on the ground in places, but Spring is on it’s way!!!

No sign of the phoebes yet, but I keep checking the NestCam and live in hope!

 

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Posted 24 February 2018 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Best-Laid Schemes…   Leave a comment

7 January 2018

Robert Burns was right… Plan all you want, you’re not in control. OUR well-laid plan was to celebrate Christmas with the family (or however many were around) and head north to the Ballot Box on the day after (Tuesday).  BUT… Lynn contracted a fast-acting norovirus stomach ailment – probably on Christmas Eve – and by Christmas night it was raging in full force.  Luckily I did not contract it so I was able to play the Florence Nightingale role for her while we waited it out.  We hung back until Friday and then headed north once Lynn felt like she could do without a bathroom for an hour or two.

IMG_7924a-33pct25xWe arrived at the house around 3pm – before dark – so the drive up was without incident, but it was C-O-L-D up in mid-coast Maine.  I snapped a photo of the thermometer on the north side of the house at 7:30am on Saturday the 30th… -21°F (-30°C)! A bit chilly!  We’re “weekenders” at the house so we don’t use heating fuel (propane) at the same rate as if we were permanent residents.  We heat with two Rinnai wall furnaces (one in the basement, one on the first floor) and turn them down to the lowest setting – but not off – when we’re not there, so our consumption is less than the average customer.  BUT we only have one 100-gallon propane bottle so we get deliveries at the usual rate during the winter – scheduled for every two weeks. Well, it’s been COLD up in mid-coast Maine lately, and I have a habit of checking the tank gauge when we arrive for a weekend visit. On Friday afternoon it showed about 40%.

Because it was so cold, I would check the gauge each day and watch it go down at a rate that didn’t give me confidence that it would last until next Wednesday (our next scheduled delivery date).  By Tuesday morning of the day we planned on heading south it was below 5% so I called and asked to schedule delivery a day early (for an extra fee, naturally).  We turned the Rinnai’s down to almost the lowest setting, bundled up, and hunkered down to wait for the delivery truck.  Our plan to hit the road by noon was a bust.

Delivery guy finally came about 7:30pm and said he was looking at his 3rd 16-hour day. Yikes! Delivery took about 15 minutes (only 3 of which was actually pumping propane into the bottle/tank), then we set the thermostats to low, shut off the well pump (don’t want it pumping water into the house if a pipe freezes), shut off the water heater (no sense heating water in an unoccupied house), flushed the toilet tanks empty (so they wouldn’t freeze and crack if we did lose heat), packed the car and hit the road.  Got home before 11pm.

Posted 7 January 2018 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

To Every Thing (Turn, Turn, Turn)…   Leave a comment

1 December 2017

There is a season… and this season’s “thing” is preparation.  Winters in Maine carry the threat of being harsh, though along the coast I think it’s tempered a bit by that large body of salt water to the east.  We don’t see ten feet of snow very often in the mid-coast region, but it’s not a tropical paradise either.

Our recent visit (21-28 November) was my first since mid-October, so the winter prep chores were way over-due.  I took down and put away the window and door screens, mounted the glass storm insert on the entryway door, weatherstripped all the double-hung windows on both floors, stored all the deck furniture in the cellar, took down the music speakers on the deck and coiled up the speaker wires from the stereo, and pounded holes for and set the snow stakes along the driveway for the snow plow.  Then we set to work putting up our modest Christmas decorations; 300 traditional white Christmas mini-lights on the (getting large) arborvitae out front (set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), more (solar-powered) mini-LED lights along the the picket fence (also set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), a balsam wreath on the 26197859_10214936381309007_3932977264586496989_oentryway door, a dozen crystal plastic snowflakes in the dining area picture window (click on photo, right, for a clearer view), electric candle-lights in the windows (also set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), a Christmas Packages quilt on the wall in the living room, a small collection of Christmas trinkets scattered around the first floor, and my Dad’s tabletop Christmas Tree (complete with lights and ornaments and presents under the tree) in the living room. Quite festive.  Then we did a deep-clean of both floors – dusting and vacuuming – and dusted and vacuumed the stairway and railings.

In between all the prepping and decorating and cleaning we consulted with our architectural designer about the first batch of proposed plans for the renovation and expansion of the Ballot Box in preparation for our eventual permanent relocation, and just to keep all options on the table we spent time with our friend/real-estate-agent looking at current real estate offerings on the market in the area. That, plus enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner with some family at the Squire Tarbox Inn and Restaurant on Westport Island in Wiscasset and meeting friends for dinner at a local favorite restaurant.  We were busy, but it was a long visit so it was restful and refreshing as well.

We’ll likely get up one more weekend in December, then our traditional last week of the year visit, when we come up on the day after Christmas and stay until a day or two after New Year’s… toasting in 2018 with our traditional Dinner For One video, a tradition we picked up while living in Germany in the 90’s and continue even now.

Posted 1 December 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Where’d the Sign Go… This Time??   Leave a comment

8 October 2017

The IMG_20150815_112732264a-25pct20x“Ballot Box” sign is gone again.  The sign was a gift from Lynn for Christmas 2009.  I had planted a 4×4 post at the end of the driveway by the road to hold the address numerals, and we hung the sign on that post to declare the nickname for our newly-acquired escape destination.  It also helped visitors coming to visit for the first time to find the right driveway in the woods.

BB SignThe sign manned it’s “post” (pun intended) for six years, but back in the summer of 2015 it was showing it’s age a bit – the Maine seasons had faded it a bit and some wood-rot had started to creep in – so I took it down for a month or so while I refurbished it.

My 2015 refurbishment didn’t last as long as the initial stint.  It’s showing it’s age even worse than before, so we’ve taken it down again in preparation for a winter-long restoration.  Not sure how long it’ll be in the shop, but it will return – probably by spring at the latest.  Until then the post will have to go a bit naked.

My chore list for this slightly longer visit started to get end-of-summer-ish, with prepare-for-winter entries.  (I decided to stay up through Columbus Day even though I don’t get it off as a holiday – I plan on telecommuting during the morning before we hit the road south and join all the leaf-peepers heading back to the rat race).  We removed and stowed the window air conditioning units, did some garden cleanup, shut off the drip watering system for the deck plants, paid the annual bill at the post office for the P.O. box rental, and did some house-cleaning.  We also discovered the Ballot Box fridge is failing.  Usually a failing fridge just can’t keep stuff cold anymore, but this fridge’s symptom is that it doesn’t cycle off and on anymore so stuff in the fridge-section freezes.  We set the dial to OFF and it still freezes the milk.  I rigged a heavy-duty extension cord to come up to the top of the fridge and plugged it in that way, so we can reach the plug and are able to unplug the fridge without pulling the fridge out away from the wall.  That’s let’s us cycle it off and on manually at least.  We want to avoid having to buy a new fridge right now as we’re planning on doing pre-move renovations that will include redoing the kitchen so we want to wait until we know what the new kitchen will look like before buying a new fridge.  Timing is everything!

Next trip up will be for the annual Goods From the Woods festival at the local brewery, so there won’t be too many chores taken care of on that trip!

 

9 March 2018 Update (five months and a day later…)

2018-03-09 10.07.39 Refurbished Ballot Box SignThe sign is back… again. I spent most of the winter staring at the beat-up sign, trying to screw up my courage to try and touch up the lettering on the sign, but distrusting my skill and hand-steadiness to repaint it.  After a few false starts (erased with turpentine before the paint dried) I decided to punt and just re-edge the sign in fresh black paint and then urethane it with 5-6 coats of marine spar for weather-proofing.  Our only disappointment is that the spar dried with a yellowish tinge to it so the sign is no longer a gray that matches the color of the house.  Bummer.

Now I see that I need to refurbish the black band and the address numbers on the post. My chores never end!  🙂

Posted 8 October 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

A First for Everything…   Leave a comment

18 September 2017

We had a first-time experience this past weekend.  I guess there’s a first time for everything if you live long enough, and on a scale of one to ten this was not an eleven, but neither Lynn nor I had experienced it before. We had a bat in the house.  It was Friday night. We had just gotten back from a comfort-food dinner (open-faced turkey sandwiches with mashed and veg) at Moody’s Diner 13 miles north of our house (in Waldoboro), and had settled in front of the TV for our usual evening ritual, when we got buzzed by a bat… in the living room.

While Lynn called for her hat from the couch, I stood by the stairs (intending to play “goalie” and keep the bat on the first floor) and researched solutions on my phone.

Basically, there seemed to be four approaches; catch it with a butterfly net (nix that one, no butterfly net available), direct it to an open door or window (if you can), catch it in a blanket (risking injury to the fragile-boned creature), or keep it flying until its exhausted and collapses – then plop a bowl over it, slide cardboard under the bowl, carry the whole rig outside and release it back into the wild.  Option one (butterfly net) was a non-starter, so we opted for option two (direct it to an open door).  Once we had hung a curtain-like arrangement in the stairway in an attempt to keep the unwanted visitor downstairs, I opened the deck door and tried to herd it towards the open door with a straw broom. It must have been funny to watch.  I kept it flying but it was not wanting to be herded anywhere.  Does the phrase “Brownian Motion” ring a bell?

Neither of us were fond of option three (throw a blanket on it), and since the difference between option two (herd it) and option four (tucker it out) seemed insignificant at this point, we closed the deck door (would the ultra-sonic ruckus attract other bats??) and I just kept it flying in the hopes that it would run out of steam.  Sure enough, after what seemed like hours (but was probably only 10-15 minutes) of waving the broom at the bat, it collapsed on the floor, exhausted.  I quickly grabbed a plastic bowl from the cabinet and plopped it down on the floor, over the bat.  There was a few seconds of bat-squawks (I think I was being cursed in bat-talk) but the invader had been corralled.  I found a sufficiently-large piece of cardboard in the cellar, slid it gently under the bowl (a few more bat-curses were heard), carried the whole shebang outside and released the bat on the deck.

It tried to fly through the balusters of the railing, and failing that, it sat down on the deck to catch it’s breath.  I retreated to the inside of the house. We congratulated ourselves on a successful catch-and-release, and settled down to finally watch some TV.  …And of course during the TV show I began thinking about how bat-boy got into the house, and if there were any more hiding above us……  !!

Mice are much easier to deal with… SNAP!

bat30pct

 

Posted 18 September 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

A Weekend By Myself…   Leave a comment

13 August 2017

Lynn’s off on a sisters’ retreat at a B&B in Brunswick, and I needed to 1) be sure to get our Celestron F80 EQ WA telescope at the Ballot Box (it’s the one with the sun filter) to bring down in time for the solar eclipse on the 21st, and 2) check why the webcam’s every-2-minute snapshots were not being posted to the web site,  so I’m enjoying a solitary weekend in the Maine Woods.  We came up on our usual schedule on Thursday afternoon.  I found out that the house web server had not started back up after being updated (thank you very much, Microsoft), so that was easy to fix, and we headed out to dinner at a local watering hole.

We had called for reservations at our local Publick House restaurant while we were driving up because it’s often hard to get a walk-in table during the summer, but for some reason it was quiet and we didn’t need a reservation – go figure!  And we got a great surprise when we got there – they had Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA on tap! What a treat!

Friday was a telecommuting day for me, with a couple of teleconferences scheduled for good measure.  Lynn’s sister Marcia arrived in the afternoon to pick Lynn up and head to the B&B.  I finished my work day and headed over to Oxbow Brewery where they had live blues music by the OGs and food by the Burgers & Freys food truck for the evening. I got myself a “Beef Chief” burger with hand-cut fries – tasty! – and washed it down with a few Oxbow beers. Nice way to start the weekend.

Saturday I power-wire-brushed the hell out of the cast-iron side-frames from the old park bench we used to have at the southern house, then coated them with Rust-Oleum “Rust Reformer” spray-on sealant – claims to “instantly convert rust to a protected paintable surface.”  Sunday I gave the side-frames the first coat of Rust-Oleum oil-based enamel; perhaps I’ll be able to flip them and paint the other side before I leave tomorrow. I’ve cut up slats out of pressure-treated 2x4s to rebuild the bench for use up here eventually.

I got to watch the first two of three Red Sox – Yankees games so far this weekend and should be able to catch the third game this afternoon.  The first game was a disappointing late-game loss but the second game was an old-fashioned thrashing!  I’m listening to Amazon’s Choral Music station while on the deck sipping coffee in the sunny beautiful weather.  That’s livin’!!

Posted 13 August 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Welcoming Another Summer, and Beginning to Plan for the Endless Vacation…   Leave a comment

14 June 2017

IMG_7346The Memorial Day holiday offered a perfect excuse to head to the Ballot Box for nine (should have been ten) days. We celebrated the start to another summer season, with our eighth annual Memorial Day Weekend Lobster-Fest on Sunday for Lynn’s side of the family. ‘Twas a smaller crowd than in some past years, but what we were lacking in numbers we make up for in festivity. We had local beer (growlers and bottles) and wine and mimosas and seltzer, 3 dozen Glidden Point Select Oysters (fresh-shucked by yours truly, the amateur shucker) garnished with a choice of fresh lemon juice or Tabasco™ sauce or some locally-distilled horseradish-infused vodka, fruit salad, veggie salad, lobsters, Scottish salmon, hanger steak (for the seafood-averse), and a myriad of desserts. The weather, which had been borderline miserable for the days before, came through splendiferously for the actual day – warm (but not too warm), sunny, and light breezes to keep the bugs mostly at bay.  Pre-party photos (I forgot to take pictures during the party!) can be viewed here.

IMG_20170530_090715099_HDRWe all mourned the loss of our fencepost-mounted swallow-house, which was ripped off the mount the night before the party and raided – the eggs were destroyed. Mr. & Mrs.  Swallow were in shock and hung around the now-vacant fencepost for the rest of the week, looking forlorn. Images of 2014’s fledge-tending can be viewed here.

Our planned visit during the week with long-time friends who live year-round on Little-Sebago Lake in Gray ME was postponed when Lynn found an embedded deer tick on her body the day of the scheduled visit. We decided to visit a walk-in clinic instead and get the tick professionally removed. She got prescribed a dose of Doxycycline for Lyme Disease prevention but we missed a day visiting friends [Editor’s followup: no symptoms!]. We’ll visit another time; we know where they live! [Editor’s followup: and we did!]

The other notable activity during the week was the start of our getting serious about how we want to live up in Maine once retirement (aka The Endless Vacation) finally commences. We’ve had the Ballot Box as a vacation home for eight years now, with lots of weekend visits, some week-long visits, and a few extended (weeks into months) times with Lynn being in-residence. What we’ve come to realize is that the Ballot Box is a bit small (about 950 sq. ft.) for full-time year-round residence for the two of us. We need a bit more space (we both have a lot of toys). Not a lot, but more than what’s here now, so we’ve started exploring possible solutions to the dilemma, which include renovations, additions, or even replacement. We’ve started making lists of nice-to-haves and necessities, and we’re setting up appointments with architects and builders to pick their brains on what’s possible and practical. Nothing concrete yet, we’re in sponge-mode and trying to figure out what we really need. We crossed the swimming pool off the list right away! 😉

Posted 14 June 2017 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box