- Established 1982 -


1-10 February 2020

Installment #711---Visitor # hit counter

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Other than Earth Day--which will mark its 50th anniversary in 2020--in our judgment the greatest nature holiday has become Groundhog Day, primarily because of the antics of a certain Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler's Knob in Western Pennsylvania. Here at Hilton Pond Center we have been suspicious for some time about Woodchuck Phil's weather forecasting. This year his prediction sent us over the edge.

We saw from news reports on 2 February that Phil--the false prophet of prognostication--could not find his shadow and forecast a short winter, i.e., early spring. We got news for Phil; 2 February is no longer Groundhog Day but Mouse Day, and Hilton Pond Harry the White-footed Mouse is our preferred prediction powerhouse.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Harry arose at dawn as usual for the second day of February, glanced eastward into a blinding sunrise, easily saw his shadow, and immediately returned to his burrow for what absolutely, unequivocally, almost certainly will be six more weeks of winter.

So here's the deal, folks: The Mouse does not lie.

In pre-dawn darkness at Gobbler's Knob, adoring masses and TV crews gathered for the Pennsylvania whistlepig's annual emergence, after which his handlers in Punxsutawney must have forgotten to turn on the klieg lights. Their fat old groundhog was as confused as always by the screaming mob and scurried back into his climate-controlled den, never spotting his shadow and wondering all the while why those charlatans in top hats had roused him from his comfy hibernaculum in the dead of winter.

Hilton Pond Harry makes it completely clear: He DID see his shadow. Spring is NOT just around the corner. We ARE gonna have some very wintry weather this month and next.

You can follow Punxsutawney Phil's fuzzy advice and get out your Bermuda shorts and sun dresses if you like, but be sure to have an overcoat and mukluks handy when freezing temps and maybe even a little snow February through March remind you that Hilton Pond Harry was the only name to trust on (Not Groundhog But) Mouse Day 2020.

Fie on Phil! Spread the word from Harry and help stop senseless hypothermia!

(NOTE: After Groundhog Day this year, we gleaned the following revelation from several reliable news sources: "Punxsutawney Phil's prediction is decided ahead of time by his handlers at Gobbler's Knob." We--and Hilton Pond Harry--knew it all along!)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Three days after Hilton Pond Harry discounted Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of an early spring, the Carolina Piedmont entered a 72-hour period that brought more liquid precipitation than we knew what to do with. On 5 February the Center's digital weather station recorded a "mere" 0.13" of rain--just enough for a wisp of red clay run-off to start appearing on the pond; by early morning on the 6th the stain had already overtaken half the surface (above). Meteorological maps indicated a lot more rain was coming, but little did we know that 3.72" would fall that day, with another 0.11" on the 7th to bring the event total to 3.96".

And it wasn't just that we got a ton of rain; some local bursts fell at a rate of 13" per hour on the 6th--a bona fide "frogstrangler"--so there was no way the already-saturated ground could absorb the downpour. Plentiful run-off meant tributaries and impoundments across the region had trouble with all that water and extensive flooding ensued. Fortunately for us at Hilton Pond Center, our snug and sturdy old farmhouse sits on a high spot well out of danger.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

By early afternoon on 6 February--the day of our heaviest rainfall--Hilton Pond (above) was completely orange from run-off. The red arrow (left in photo) points at the floating dock, which at full pond is level with the pier but was now about 8" above it. Water was going over the spillway on the dam as fast as it could, but if rain were to get too heavy it's possible the pier would float up from its moorings. In the midst of it all, seven Wood Ducks were swimming about, oblivious to the drenching downpour. (We observed the rain was indeed rolling off their backs.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Shortly before sunset on the 6th there was a lull in precipitation, so we pulled on our Muck boots for a soggy stroll down to the far side of Hilton Pond. As suspected, the pond was overflowing dramatically (above), forming a cataract seldom seen in nearly four decades at the Center. (This photo was taken from below the spillway, looking back toward the pond. As shown, several trails became temporary streams during the deluge and got swept clean of fallen sticks and leaves. Keep in mind everything you see in this photo except the pond itself is normally dry!)

By 7 February the three-day storm was essentially history. Our 65-year-old Hilton Dam held once again, and 36-year-old Hilton Pier had weathered yet another storm. The only "damage" at the Center was quite a few small dead limbs that got blown down, although a big water-logged snag fell along our road frontage during the night and apparently caused damage to a passing car that left behind glass shards and several broken pieces of chrome. (Not our fault. The dead tree was from the OTHER side of the road.)

Hilton Pond will be muddy for several days until the red clay particles settle out. Meanwhile, wonder what all our fish think about swimming around in orange soup?

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

So, after three straight days of rain you might think Hilton Pond Center would get to see some clearing. Nope. Instead, on 8 February, we got snow!

It wasn't exactly a blizzard, but just enough of a reminder that Hilton Pond Harry knew what he was talking about in predicting six more weeks of winter. Small snowflakes started coming down late morning and then became so fat and heavy they nearly blocked our view of two pairs of Woods Ducks patrolling the pond. You can barely make out one drake to the left of our photo above; the other three are at about the same distance but harder to see. Snow continued on and off for several hours, but with ambient temperatures at 35°F nothing stuck in our neck of the woods. (The rain gauge showed another 0.13" of precipitation on the 8th; that would equate to about 3.6" of snow had it accumulated.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The next day (9 February) the sun finally came back out and Hilton Pond had almost returned to "normal" after torrential rains and that tease of a snow. Water was no longer flowing over the spillway (above), but there WAS a trickle seeping through the infrastructure itself. It's a very nice makeshift spillway, constructed in two stages with assistance from brother-in-law Wes Ballard (who helped haul and place some insanely heavy concrete slabs along the dam) and brother Stan Hilton (who a couple of years later begged 80-plus 40-pound bags of Sakrete from a ready-mix company and helped stack them tightly atop the existing slabs and against long 2x8 boards turned on edge). The Sakrete set up just as planned, but there are still some small cracks through which water can leak.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We say the pond had returned to "normal" only in a relative sense; it is currently slap full, which really ISN'T normal. Most of the year the water level is at the bottom of the spillway or much lower--sometimes by 3-4 feet. Two days after the rain and snow had stopped there was still a little water flowing in from surrounding hillsides, but leakage through the spillway was transpiring at a greater rate. Thus, the water level was dropping slowly--not fast enough to hinder a pair of courting Wood Ducks (above), now visible without all those pesky snowflakes in the way.

If we were to get no more rain for the rest of the winter Hilton Pond's water level would almost stabilize near "full pond," with the only water loss coming from evaporation and whatever moisture trees on the pond margin might take up through their roots. Although water will evaporate, we WILL get more precipitation--one forecast says we'll have "relentless rain" in mid-February--so we're guessing the spillway will be seeing more action sometime soon.

That's all okay unless the water gets so deep that little fish start swimming over the spillway--only to get stranded in woodland paths and wetlands below the dam when overflow ceases. Then the Raccoons will come out for a very fishy feast.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The 23rd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming up this weekend (14–17 Feb 2020). During all or part of the four-day event, people from all over the world head outdoors or gaze through their windows at feeders to count birds. Last year, an estimated 224,781 participants submitted 204,921 checklists covering 6,699 bird species--669 of the latter from the U.S. alone. All these data are used by scientists to look for trends and track the health of avian populations. Wherever you are, please join Hilton Pond Center in this ever-popular citizen science activity.

Participating in the bird count is free AND easy. You just commit to counting birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day event and report your sightings on-line via the event’s Web site. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count--from beginning bird watchers to experts--and you can do the count from your backyard or anywhere in the world. You an also submit photos of unusual sightings made during the count.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo above courtesy Cornell University

This is a GREAT way to involve kids and grandkids of all ages in an important environmental activity that can take just a quarter-hour or last all day. (Teachers can also get a whole class involved, and scouting groups might work on merit badges.) Pry those young people away from their cell phones and tablets and show them what the real outdoors looks like! Wouldn't it be great if they all posted "selfies" of themselves with binoculars!?

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada; support is provided in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited. If you're already reporting bird sightings via eBird, they will be automatically entered into GBBC totals. Happy Birding!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Checks also can be sent to Hilton Pond Center at:
1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (; credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-10 Feb 2020:

  • Teri Netter (via PayPal)
  • Linda Parker (via PayPal)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fundraisers; some may be repeat contributors via Facebook or other means. Beth Bargar, Frank Voelker, Lynn Biasini McElfresh, Robert Woerner, Liz Layton *, Craig Allen
    (* = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

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If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,800+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-10 February 2020

Chipping Sparrow--1
Pine Warbler--1
Northern Cardinal--
House Finch--
Downy Woodpecker--
1 *
Mourning Dove--5

* = new banded species for 2020

10 species
23 individuals

11 species (39-yr. avg. = 63.6)

155 individuals
(39-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
69,845 individuals banded

6,355 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Pine Warbler (2)
12/07/18--3rd year male
12/13/19--2nd year male

House Finch (2)
07/12/18--3rd year male
08/03/19--2nd year female

--We continue to band few birds during the winter of 2019-20 at Hilton Pond Center. Our feeders are hosting an abundant crop of House Finches, but they and our other avian visitors are much less prone to enter traps than in previous winters. We likely would have better success running mist nets, but strong winds and extreme weather events such as those described in our narrative above precluded deployment in February.

--As of 10 Feb, the Center's 2020 Yard List stood at 41--about 24% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed during the period: Pine Siskin

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about lice drinking eye fluid from hand-held birds. It's archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #710.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.