Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This was two days ago....

Really cold this morning!  River keeps freezing and thawing.  I have to go out and run errands, ugh!

This dove actually looked 18 inches long and very wide.  I thought for a minute it was a cuckoo.

This is today with some snow melting and at least the wind has stopped blowing and snow is off the trees.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Angels Today

I took this photo at sunset this past November as I was returning to the house to check on the slow cooker in the kitchen.  These were little midges (tiny flies) dancing their last dance of fall celebration in the warm evening light before cold winter's arrival.  They were not aware that the world was tilting and the sun's angle was changing and the air was slowly cooling.  Or if they were aware, they were clearly focused on the happiness in this moment of dancing in the golden light.  They look like holiday angels to me now, and so I will post this, such an unexpected photo, at this holiday time of year to remind us to focus on the moment and not what lies ahead or behind.  If there is such a thing as Holy Light...these photos have come close to capturing it for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

There are at least three of these ... two males and a female (and perhaps more)...that regularly visit this compact brick of fat and seeds and fruit that I hang near the deck railing.  Their acrobatic endeavors are always interesting to watch.  The larger ones fly directly onto the side of the rack and then eat upright, sideways and upside down with expert balance and do not leave until they have a nice ridge of fat on the top part of their bill  something like a milk mustache.

This smaller one (female downy woodpecker) is not as skilled at landing directly on the free swinging suet cake and she lands first on the deck and then hops to the chain.  She then works her way down backwards moving one foot at a time like a stunt bird in a thriller movie through the chain links and then turning and walking down the screen side itself.  She always has a serious expression on her face revealing intense concentration.  I thought they were hairy woodpeckers, but now I am sure due to the small bill size they are downy woodpeckers, although I did see a hairy woodpecker the other day high in the trees.

And, of course,  the titmouse is always impatient waiting for his turn using any intimidating distracting trick in the book.

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Snowball Fight

I saw larger waves of this white stuff tossed to the shore from my kitchen window one early morning as I drank my first hot cup of coffee.  It had just peaked above the shoulder of the land.  I knew it was not snow because we were only getting sunny, cold winds when I took this photo on December 6, long before our first real snow on Dec. 16.  It does look frosty, though, doesn't it?  I put on my coat and headed down to the shore.  I stood with my back to the wind and the bite of the early morning sun seemed like golden ice as the wind tried tenaciously to remove my coat and shake my camera free from my hands.   I planted my feet wide and observed the morning.

As I went to photograph the largest of this pile of 'snow,' the wind picked a ball of it up as if to start a snowball fight.  The foam was light enough to fly and tumbled into the air like a ball of down but soon lost its mass and only left its tiny white tail of bubbles along the shore as it came to rest further up the mud flat that we call a 'beach'...

...and to think I might have missed this by staying in bed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Montage of Blue Birds

In the cold of winter the birds have found our bird bath with the water heated to prevent freezing.  The air is dry and this may save their life this winter.  I did see these bluebirds bathing last month when the temperature was only in the low 40's F!  Even now they will dip their head completely in the water and shake it about!  We have a total of 4 bluebirds that have been visiting our water bar and staying around even though there is no music or colored lights.  Happy New Year!

This bird above is such a stunning blue in the early morning light.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Feeder Watch

You know that you have officially become an old fart when you start formalizing your relationship with birds.  This means that you spend $69.00 on a new heater for the bird bath because you cannot for the life of you remember where you stored the one you bought two years ago!  I know, it will definitely show up when I repack the Christmas decorations.  This also means that you join the two-day a week feeder watch program administered by Cornell University this winter.  It is a simple project in that you set the amount of time you want to watch, count the most birds of each species during that time, and fill in their database (IF THEY EVER GET AROUND TO SENDING THE PASSWORD TO THE DATABASE).  Otherwise you make chicken scratches on various pieces of paper and try to not lose them before the online database becomes available.  I watch two mornings a week for about an hour.  It has made me far more careful in trying to ID birds and I have already discovered a bird I have been mis-naming, I think and another that I am not sure of.  (Yes, that IS a preposition at the end of the sentence.)

Anyway, my feeders are kept full and one suet cake is out.  Anyway, the avian crowds get quite large sometimes and I am wondering if I need to put out a take-a-ticket machine so that they don't get too rough waiting for a feeder perch to open up.  Sort of reminds me of Black Friday....except no bird gets maimed, injured or killed in this sale, thus far! (Second photo.)

Below are the beautifully colored goldfinch.  This winter they are still quite yellow.  Imagine how lovely they will be in the spring when they get their bold mating colors.  (The odd mate out is a house finch with the faint red head.)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Backyard Bakery

An elfin baker with delight and mischief in his green eyes, and maybe with just a little waddle caused by his jolly fat belly, sprinkled sugar last week all over every flower petal in my front yard that refused to admit winter was coming.  He is such a prankster!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Fall Romance

The fall has passed and I cannot complain because it lasted longer than I had ever hoped and it was lovelier in just my back yard than I can remember in a long time. There was no need to travel to the cooler mountains this year for the glory festival of colorful leaf flags.  Even the roasty browns that are left behind are lovely and warm like sable wraps.

I discovered by close observation that there also was a little romance between the grasses and the shrubs down by the river it seems, and it looks like some one got some bling before the snows arrived or the gift giving got formal!

I heart this.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mine, Mine, Mine!

The seagulls of the world are often overlooked because of their accessibility and abundance and sometimes annoying behavior.  Most were thought to come from the large family Laurus which is a Greek word meaning ravenous sea bird. But the Laurus classification is now under question and they interbreed making identification a bit of a nightmare.  Do you remember the Disney animated movie Finding Nemo?  I thought the writers of that animated movie did a perfect job of capturing the personality of these birds by making them shriek "Mine!" "Mine!" "Mine!" as they hovered over food.  

One of their calls reminds me of the sound of a baby kitten whining for food and this is sometimes heard when you come upon them on the water just having chased a school of fish into the depths of the ocean and bemoaning their loss.  They have been known to eat squirrels and rodents if they can capture them.  They eat bugs and as you may have seen, like crows, get some food from garbage cans.  I remember seeing them fly over my dad's newly plowed fields in Colorado (far from any ocean) in the spring looking for worms, perhaps.  They are able to drink both fresh and salt water and they excrete the salt through special glands near their eyes.

They seem to be birds that are the most fearless of man and will hang close hoping you have something to throw into the air or onto the water to feed them.  Any well-salted carb will do.

These photos appear to be laughing gulls in their winter coloration. Don't hold me to that ID as there are many, many species with similar colorations.  Note the raised crown of feathers at the back of the head in the photo below.   There was no wind so I am thinking this was him/her  getting his/her dander up because we were getting too close. 

An thus he flew without too much of a splash.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

(no title)

parchment crisp petals
glowing beneath white diamonds
still hold golden warmth

(thanks to Dave for some motivation.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Peaceful Fall Photos

If you read my other blog you will remember my admission that taking a hunded or so photos on a day will leave me with a few that are nice and acceptable for posting and not closeups of frosting smears!  And thus you can see some of the beauty I was able to capture on this recent fall paddle along the river and into the small bay.  Apologies, but I reduce the pixel size so that my blogger allotment does not get too full too fast...the photos are nicer full pixel.

Alas, the leaves are now all on the ground making earth food for next year.  This morning my yard looked as though someone has sprinkled sugar over every leaf edge and every remaining flower petal.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Just Passing Through

Fall in the backyard was gracefully peaceful and still about a week ago. The rare and intermittent scurry of a gray squirrel across the dry leaves, and in the distance, the piercing cry of the blue jay were all that I heard as I stood on the deck.  The wind and twirling leaves had slowed their dance.

This peace was temporary, because abruptly, the sound of 1000 weak squeaky hinges, accompanied by one thousand hyperactive blackbirds descended into the coral and gold tapestry above my head and landed all about me while maintaining continual noisy conversation. It was like a mass of fans had just been released from a concert.  There were so many that at least a minute passed before the bulk could land.  Hundreds would move on to make room for the newcomers from across the river.  More and more came in  dark spotted waves of motion landing on every branch and below all of the trees scrappng in the leaves and chattering in high pitched screeches like excited girls at a Justin Bieber concert. 

Then with the precision of a well choreographed dance team they all rose like a whisper just at tree level and streaked around like black ghosts to the front of my yard.  I grabbed my camera and headed out the front door trying to capture this ephemeral phenomenon.  A huge number had landed just across from the driveway under the pine trees at the front.  I quietly approached, although the noise they made was so loud my footsteps would have been buried and I was a gray giant.  I took one step and then two getting closer.  They became quiet, sort of.  My camera and photographic skill does not do justice to this migration.

In an instant, with the unexpected precision of a shotgun going off, they all rose at exactly the same time, all clapped their wings at exactly the same instant and the boom caused by the synchronous  percussion of the movement of their black wings in the air actually startled me.  It did sound like a gun going off!  They screeched and without looking back moved high into the trees in the next yard.  I could hear them renewing their girlish silly conversation an acre away.

If you click on the photos ...you 'may' get the gist as the photos in large size appear a little sharper.   (Maybe they were looking for Justin?)  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Planted a Tree

A few years ago, having such hubris in trying to conform the forest to my taste, I planted a sugar maple in the single open part of my yard by the turn-around in the driveway.  This autumn rewarded me with such autumn beauty that the planting of this tree seems like an extra layer of icing on an already sweet cake.  As you can see it must share the space with piles of top soil or mulch or whatever we dump in that open area in the fall.  I live in the woods and yet I still plant trees, what can I say?  The first two years the leaves on this youngster turned crackly brown and fell to the ground in the fall revealing its skinny arms and I was pretty disappointed.  Yet, each spring I could run my fingers along the smooth gray trunk of the weeping bark and bring my fingertips to my mouth and taste the sweetest nectar.

This fall my tree has found her brazen courage. She is no longer a wall flower and dances with the delicate red maples and 100-foot golden poplars as if she belongs here.  She is like that pretty three-year-old that dances on the floor in front of the band, but like everyone is watching as she flips her strawberry blonde locks!

The dance is far too short, but I am glad I did not miss it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Fat

Weather had been unusually cold the second week in November, or perhaps, in my aging joints I was feeling it more.  Highs barely squeezed above 55 F by mid-afternoon.  There was a steady but gentle breeze which made it seem as if you were sitting in front of the air conditioning vent all the time. Moving into the natural wind shelter of the salt bush at the edge of my river and then placing my bottom on the firm and almost hot aluminum canoe while facing the bright morning sun was a perfect solution to this problem.  I could  sit here for quite some time unnoticed by man or beast.  The cooler air did get under the tilt of the canoe and the aluminum surface where my butt blocked the sun did slowly cool, but every ten minutes I just shifted slightly to one side or the other for renewed warmth.

I sat and waited for wildlife. Water lapped gently at the low tide exposed mud flat and I could hear crickets singing in the grasses at the edge of the dock.  Woodpeckers and flickers intermittently called as they shifted from dried limb to tree branch pecking at their larder, but did not show themselves.   I was blinded by the flutter of the remaining colored tree leaves which camouflaged and mimicked the beauty of the birds flitting against a striking blue sky.  Just behind me and hidden in the brown grasses I heard the small sparrows pecking and turning the crackly fall leaves looking for juicy insects. The peace was briefly broken by the angry crows cawing about something around the point as they always seem to do, noisy curmudgeons of the forest that they are.  After a while I could just see and hear a large number of geese flying far away above the horizon at the mouth of the river like hundreds of small black scarves adrift on the wind.  They also seemed to be arguing or heavily discussing something, perhaps about route changes and which dry cornfield was best for landing.

Suddenly two lone geese flew against the sun just above me trying desperately to join the crowd demonstration that was so far away and I was just able to capture one before he crossed the sun.

Somewhere in the land there is hustle and bustle and people are making and spending money by moving products and paper from one place to another, but in my little corner the bustle is focused on trying to get fat before winter bares its skinny teeth.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Achy Breaky Endorphins

I am being a dedicated person this week.  I have just completed 4 hours of volunteer time at the local county park/swamp.  While there I pulled weeds, raked leaves, dug out poison ivy, swept sidewalks, hauled and spread mulch and pruned wild crazy overgrown trees.  I met some charming young women who work there and a very nice man who supervises the staff.  He is also in charge of the reptile and amphibian survey in our county.  Now I will get off my butt and start counting those animals and email him!  It appears that we have been sighting some rare species, so we need to be more careful about tracking them.  I also learned a few indigenous plant names and what they looked like as they were starting to go dormant.

My back aches, my feet hurt, my ankles are stiff and my hair is full of leaves and mulch.  My clothes are filthy.  But I remain unbowed, because this is a good thing to do every once in a while.  For some reason it is more inspiring than shelving books (my other volunteer effort).  This is probably because you can whistle accompanied by birds or even talk while you work and the air is wild and free.

I will carefully shower, will wash the garden tools with soap and water and will wash all clothes to avoid any trace of poison ivy.  (As a post script, I got a dot of poison ivy on each wrist...!)

Now I am off to eat enchiladas and drink a nice margarita as a reward.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rare Wood Duck Found

Each trip into the out of doors is a search for that something new, rare and special. Sometimes I get lucky and get a special photograph!

This week I was rewarded with being able to get this photo of the rare wood duck, Magnus quercus capitis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Visiting the Trees

The National Arboretum is not far from where I live. Not close but certainly something I could, and should, enjoy more often as it is a reasonable day trip and I can still get back home by late afternoon...which I recently did.  I am taking that Master Gardener class and we recently had a field trip to this USDA facility.  I had been there before a long time ago. The 22 Corinthian columns in the background of the photo above were part of the White House East Portico before a re-modeling.  This, I guess, is our little homage to Ancient Greece and Rome.  

Touring of the arboretum is free and research and maintenance are paid for by the American taxpayer.

There are over 446 acres of trees, various Asian gardens, a knot garden, an herb garden, a bio-tech fuel walk and a tremendous bonsai garden among many other features of interest.  The bonsai museum houses a tree that was started in the 1600's.  I did not get a photo of that, but maybe next time.  The arboretum is packed with visitors in the spring, but the fall is a also a good time to visit and not so crowded.  This is the place to get ideas for fall and winter color and structure in the landscape.

Just a few lovely views below:

Knot Garden
Chinese Valley
Fall in the arboretum

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Small Woody

While walking around one of the interesting marsh areas that are so nicely maintained by the local beaver family near my house, I came across this woodpecker and at first thought I had seen a new species. In my excitement I took several dozen photos.  When I got home and used my various bird books and brought it up tight on the monitor, I saw it was a juvenile red-headed woodpecker. You may just see the red feathers starting to cover his/her head. He/she was somewhat shy.  What a gangly and awkward-looking teenager he appears to be!    Just a little curious and just a little timid.  (Apologies as I reduced the size of these photos...so they are not as clear as I would have liked.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Feeling Red

We had a long, hot, dry, crackly summer in my county. The result is usually a brown and crackly fall. But we have been blessed with more than 6 inches of rain in September through October and the colors of our fall have been awesome. The kind of awesome that means long walks in the woods, the awesome that inspires lovers and poets and it makes up for the hellish month of July.

We have had a pallette of reds that inspire.







Of course on your monitor depending on its settings and your mood they can look like lipstick, chile powder, paprika, or even rust!