Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Island Friends

My return brought photos of my recent visit to Assateague National Seashore where I encountered a number of new friends. The one above is familiar and he was absolutely sure that if he stood very, very, very still I would not see him. He was almost right!  I am sure he was not drinking out of that discarded bottle, but one never really knows.

This above is not a fawn but a non-indigenous Sika deer that lives on the island. They were brought to the island from Asia in 1923 and are actually regarded as an elk and do not get much larger than seen in this photo. I have read that they make ten different sounds!  They were quiet while I was watching them graze in the marsh land.
Above are the famous wild ponies of the island. Perhaps when you were a child or your children were young you read them a book called "Misty of Chincoteague" by Marguerite Henry.  She wrote two more fictional horse stories based on real ponies from this herd. (This photo has been reduced in size and is a bit grainy.)

One story is that these ponies arrived via a ship wreck in the 18th Century. Others say they were part of farms in the early years.  There are two separate herds of about 150 each.  One is managed by the park service and the other by the volunteer fire department.  They are managed by using anti-fertilization injections and a big pony swim in the summer where they are driven across the channel during slack tide and then about 70 are auctioned.  About a dozen of the ponies purchased in the auction are returned to the island as a gift.  This has been a money source for the volunteer fire department since 1925.  They are truly wild, and other than wild mustangs out west, perhaps the last remnant of early horse days in America.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fly Catching

I am guessing that this is an Eastern Phoebe since he does not appear to have the conspicuous wing bars of the Tyrant family. Although, he looks larger than images I have found on the Internet, so I am open to correction.  This bird is fairly common in the United States, but certainly not common in my area.  These were taken on a freshwater river several hours from my house.  Three of these were catching flies along the Pokemoke River while we were canoeing and poking in and out of the 'gunk holes' that were hardly the right size for canoes.  They allowed us to get right under their tree and that is why one of the dozen photos I took looks decent.  We watched them catch flying insects and bring them back to eat.

The day was hot and close and each gunk hole provided a mysterious cool respite from the open sky and sun on the Pokemoke river that we visited after our beach sojourn.  We carefully maneuvered the canoe past low branches and out-reaching snagging vines into those mystical shadowed fingers of water that you can only reach by canoe.  Wondrously the mosquitoes were non-existent and the biting flies must have all been eaten by birds.  We spied on a what we think was a fish crow poking along the muddy areas for food but he was hard to see in the thick foliage and we also disturbed a wary wood duck that splashed noisily up a finger of the river.

Later, out in the open river, there was an abundance of dragonflies very large and small skimming and breaking the shine of the river and then zooming above close to our heads with that buzz they have.  With each pull of the paddle, the water beetles scurrying across the surface of the water ahead of the canoe were fascinating to watch, hurrying quickly like rolling pearls.  We heard but could not see prothonatarys and various other unidentifiable warblers in the dense shade of the trees.  Such days are really gifts to be remembered.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bye Bye

I took a little trip to Assateague Island (connected to the community of Chincoteague Island on the Eastern shore) a few weeks ago. There the beaches are vast and austere, and if you are willing to walk a little bit, you can get away from the crowds.  The island is a nature preserve, so you will not have access to bars with cool drinks, swimming pools or showers to wash away salt spray, and indoor plumbing.  The port-a-potties are clean and in the parking lot.  You must haul your own crap...whatever you cannot live without on a day at the beach.

There are 14,000 acres of protected beach, saltwater marsh, and fresh water marsh to enjoy.  About 1.5 million visitors make their pilgrimage to this island every year, but, as you can see, you can still get away from it all if you want.  Behind the beach area are very important bird nesting and bird migration habitats.

You can see in the photo above that this beach faces an ocean on the move.  Those spindly trees were behind protected dunes at one time.  The surf does not care for trees or marsh grass in its path to the South.  A severe Northeaster hit last year and removed the parking lots and much of the dunes which are precious bird nesting areas. Since it costs the American taxpayer $600,000 each time parking areas, made only of gravel and crushed shell, must be rebuilt, easy access to this long beach is becoming more tenuous each summer.  An additional threat is that the land mass is shrinking and the ocean is rising due to global climate change.  By 2100 there are predictions this may all be underwater.  It is all just grains of sand sifting in time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Monarch

The first monarch of the season was seen here in early July. I photographed its arrival from my canoe. It followed us up the river dancing over marsh grasses and pausing in trees as if overjoyed to be part of our trip and eager to show us the way.  If the monarchs are arriving, can fall be far behind?  ( I guess I will have to stop complaining about the heat.)

Friday, July 16, 2010


Like a steaming cauldron
the night bubbles
with hot mist
crossing the river.

Like a faltering soul
I hold my breath
pretending the
cool night will come.

Everywhere the heat
simmers with the
earnestness of
a 16-year-old
seeing his first beauty,

Even though the days
are growing shorter
like the memory
of an old man
facing his next birthday.

But no one notices because
The beat of the heat goes on and on

And on...

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Am Not Being Coy!

I am not coming out until you fix this whole f****ng mess!

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Last year I spent lots of time trying to grow sunflowers.  My garden is too wet and has too little sun in these woods, but I was determined to add some of the sunny faces to my garden. They are the flowers of nursery rhymes and fairy tales and add necessary whimsy to one's yard.  The few long-time readers may recall I got about a dozen plants zooming up, and when they were about 2 feet tall and forming flower heads, my eager visitors, the rabbits, ate them one by one!  Some former acquaintances of Mr. McGregor, I assume.

Now this summer on my back deck, a bird that felt sorry for me, shared his winter food and planted a sunflower in my pansy pot!  It grows lonely and tall in the pot.  I stake it and water it and I am rewarded with this sunny smile.  You cannot be in a bad mood standing next to a sunny flower taller than you!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Tenement Birds

As I wrote in the prior post, it was one of those very calm and quiet early summer mornings.  Everything living was tentatively waiting for the hot sun to break over the horizon and wondering how to begin another day trying to exist and make some progress in the steam bath that is here to stay for many weeks more.  I dipped the canoe paddle into the silver surface and gently headed beneath the highway bridge toward the open marsh hoping to enjoy the early morning 'cool' as long as I could.  I saw the silhouettes of swallows against the gray blue sky on the other side.  They were already diving and swooping for an early breakfast.  As I pulled into the dark shade beneath the bridge and beneath the regular and intermittent rattle of the cars on the highway above, I looked up and saw these twins sitting regally.  I wondered what solemn conversation I had interrupted.  It was a Paris Hilton with her BFF moment to be sure and their look made me feel I should have dressed better and should not be eavesdropping (although technically I was bridge-dropping).   Actually, regarding dropping...no I won't go there.

Such elegant seriousness.  They did not have that look of the starving young leaning forward with over sized gapping mouths. They did not have that look of startled young calling in shrill notes for mom and dad to return and save them from this giant below.  Instead they had the look of royal resignation about how boring life can be when you are waiting to be waited on.  They knew that eventually the mosquito caviar would be served.  Living in a castle surrounded by the noise of 'civilization' and resigned to the rumble of man's machines overhead until their graduation would release them from such irritation was their accepted fate.

Patient and regal, they keep their royal prince and princess style by staying so amazingly clean while living in a nest of mud.  

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summer Sauna

I took a canoe ride on a fresh water tributary that emptied into a brackish marsh the other day.  We started very early before the hot iron of the sun could bake our shoulders and arms and turn the air into thick mist.  Even though the sun was just breaching the eastern horizon, the air was already a wet and warm washcloth against our skin.  Red wing black birds were singing broadly like brass trumpeters across the marsh grasses.  Other birds, not seen, were twirping and tooting hidden deep in the center of the marsh, maintaining their mystery.

Gliding quietly and slowing across the broad green mercury surface our profile was still high enough to disturb the numerous herons who were picking out their breakfast snacks in the shallow areas. The surface of the water was moving with life and they had plenty in the breakfast buffet to choose from.  They would depart swiftly but elegantly as we got nearer while sometimes scolding us with a sound that could only have come from their ancestor pterodactyls.

Ospreys, also planning breakfast, had staked out their posts on eroded stumps of waterlogged trees in the middle of the water.  They sat in frightening, dangerous elegance surveying their domain.  There were dozens of aquatic species to choose from on the breakfast menu.  (Don't forget to click on the photos...I just love sharing.) Next post I will reveal the surprises we got while crossing from the river into the marsh.