Tuesday, September 6, 2016



I grew up on a dairy farm in Big Valley in South-central Pennsylvania. This place sometimes goes by its Indian name of Kishacoquillas Valley. It is a V-shaped  limestone  valley with sandstone mountains on either side forming the sides of the V.  It is about 5 miles wide at the northeast near Reedsville,  Pa  and about a mile wide  as it trends to the southwest at Airy Dale. It was settled In the late 18th century by Mennonite, Amish and Scottish (sometimes referred  to as Scots-Irish) farmers. The descendants of these ethnic groups still live in the valley today.  It is one of the most productive agricultural areas in Pennsylvania and is surpassed only by Lancaster County in the southeastern part of the state.

My name is Richard Metz Brown so I am a hybrid of the German Metz Lutherans and Scottish Brown Presbyterians.  The Browns moved to the Valley in 1790 and settled on a property at the very SW end, near the point sometimes called tight-end. Today Brown descendants own and farm 6 adjoining properties that extend along the base  of Jack's Mountain and follow a stream called Sadler's Creek. The Metz's arrived in the early 1800s and settled on lands further "down" the valley.

I decided to go to the Valley over  the Labor day weekend for two reasons, One was the Headings Family Reunion  and the other was Penn State football.  Both were on Saturday.

I arrived in the Valley late Friday afternoon, stopped at the County Line Store for a "footlong" hoagie and some moon pies; and as is my habit I checked bluebird boxes.  I have put  up about 25 or so bluebird/tree swallow boxes over the years and I try to keep tabs on them when I visit. This time of year it mostly involves removing old nests and assessing what may have happened over the summer.  There are often good clues left behind by the occupants that can tell if the nesting failed or was successful. The first boxes I checked are on light poles roughly 350 feet apart and after I finished near the creek, I stopped to do some bird watching.   A pair of Bluebirds flew up from the pasture fence, an Eastern Phoebe sat on the fence in front of me scanning for flying insects and I counted 13 Mourning Doves sitting in a nearby dead tree. As I was leaving  the area I stopped and visited with John and Dan Brown.  John, his brother Dan and John's sons  run a big dairy operation  and do the  work on the Brown Farms.  In the evening I visited with Scott and Emily Brown in their new home on the "Home Farm".


The house I grew up in has been removed and replaced with a new structure. Later I retired to "Bob's House". My brother Bob built his house all by himself and it has no heat, no electricity and no running water.  It has ramp and is just one story, so it is perfect for a handicapped person like me. It has a bathroom, toilet, and septic system so I don't have to use the outhouse.  Since there is no insulation, it does get a bit chilly when it gets cold outside.

Saturday morning I ate breakfast (it's always cold)  and started my day.  I checked bluebird boxes  and then went to Mark's Place.  Mark Brown and his wife Phyllis own the original homestead settled  by John Brown and his family in 1790.  He is currently remodeling the old house to bring it up to modern standards.  We believe the house and barn were built in the early 1800's.  He had an Amish boy named Elmer helping him.  Elmer is just about at the end of his formal education and now is preparing to work toward a trade of some kind.

I checked the boxes in Mark's yard and moved to a third box on a pasture fence and was very surprised to find a pair of Bluebirds feeding chicks.  The four youngsters in the box were fully feathered and had their eyes wide open.


 This is highly unusual for Bluebirds to nest so late, but not unprecedented.  This is probably the third nesting for this pair.  We had a very cold, wet late April into May just as the Bluebirds were nesting and earlier in the summer I discovered several failed nests with dead chicks.  The weather is a major factor in young bird survival.

At noon I attended  the Headings Family Reunion, ate a wonderful meal and had a nice visit with many relatives.  Shortly after 2 pm, I headed to State College and the Penn State football game. I had recently bought a handicap ticket for the game and was planning on using my wheelchair. When I arrived I was directed to an ADA parking lot where they lifted me into a shuttle and I was taken to the stadium. A young attendant  led me to my seat location in the north end-zone and just as I was rolling down the ramp toward my seat I saw the kick-off.  WOW, I made it.  It was an interesting, exciting but not as efficient a win for PSU as I would have like to have seen.  I stayed until the end and watched the Blue Band post-game show. I was in the end-zone at field level and one of the perks at that spot is that the Lionnettes, a PSU dance troupe of about 30 coeds, performed there for about a half hour.  Neat. I rode the shuttle back to my car, returned to Big Valley and Bob's House for the night.

Sunday I decided to birdwatch.  What a day!  As I drove out the driveway I noticed some birds sitting in the large field below me. They were sitting in a low spot where they were not clearly visible, so I decided to  motor in that direction and when I was hundred feet or so away, the flock took off.  I counted at least 15 Turkey Vultures, a  Black Vulture and a Raven flying up.  Off to the side there was a flock of 11 Wild Turkeys walking through a field eating insects.  When I reached the spot, I discovered why the birds were there---two dead possums. The field had been mowed a couple of days earlier and the animals had been killed by the mower. As I continued there were 3 deer grazing in the same field. That was interesting.

I again visited John Brown's farm and stopped to birdwatch. I was almost immediately treated with  a beautiful Red -Tailed Hawk swooping over the lush green meadow in front of me and landing on a post in my full view.


 After checking another bird box, I headed to Mark's place to see if I could get some Bluebird photos.  I parked about 25 feet from the box and waited.  The adults feed about every 15 minutes or so, but they are reluctant to go to the box when an unusual object or person is nearby---so it took awhile.  I did get some pictures.  As I was sitting on my tailgate a young groundhog came running down the road toward me, so I started taking its  picture,  it just kept coming until at a distance of  about 10 feet from me, we made eye contact.  He turned and quickly ran into the vegetation.

On my way back to Bob's house for lunch I drove through the field with the dead possums.  I could see there was at least one bird at he spot and when I drew near I could see it was a mature Bald Eagle with the typical white head and tail---what a spectacular sight!  The possum were mostly gone.

In the afternoon I stopped to see Neil and Luann Renna. I was interested in information about the old barn on their property.  It turns out it was built in 1836 and has a very large cave-like room lined with stone under the barn bridge.  Later I visited with Jonas and Sara Detweiler Zook. Sara was a classmate of mine at the local one-room schoolhouse back in the 1940's.  I spent the evening visiting with T.  Ray and June Metz and then back to Bob's House.

Monday Labor Day---Another birdwatching day.  This time of year I look to dead trees for  good views of birds and as I was going down the driveway  I scanned some dead snags. Down at the bottom  of one of the trees I spied a Great Horned Owl looking right at me with his tufts clearly showing. It was sitting on a horizontal branch about 10 feet off the ground---an unusual sight in broad daylight.

I drove to the home farm and set up for bird watching in the meadow near the creek where I had  a good view of a number of dead trees.  I sat there for about 3 hours.  I have good binoculars and a spotting scope, so I have the equipment I need to get good views of wildlife.  The species I observed at this spot included the Mocking Bird,  Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Kestrel, Bluebird,  Goldfinch, Grackle and Crows. However the most spectacular was the large hawk-like bird sitting in the top of a dead tree about 1000 feet away.  It was streamlined with a black back, light chest and a black head with large white patch right behind the eye.  I couldn't believe what my eyes and bird book were telling me---it was a Peregrine Falcon.  I watched it for quite a while.  It sat there bobbing its head up and down as if looking for prey and then it flew down out of sight  Later it returned and I had a second look. As I was leaving I ran into Dan Brown and he said that it (the Peregrine) sits on their tallest silo and won't let the pigeons out of the opening.  In Big Valley there are hundreds of farms and probably thousands of pigeons---a happy hunting ground for a Peregrine Falcon.

I headed "down the Valley" toward home, stopped to see a relative about family history and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on this glorious day. The weather for the four days has been wonderful with warm sunny days and cool nights--could not ask for more.

I ate supper with Naomi Hartzler in Belleville who just turned ninety in August.  She took care of our family 70 years ago when my mother was sick and she has been part of us ever since.

It was truly a spectacular visit for me in every way.

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