Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Photographers have to to work for their desires during the winter months.  We do not have the dramatic whites of snows nor the scary crystals of ice storms here, I write somewhat thankfully.  We do have many gray and cold days where the sun peaks through clouds only briefly and usually just before sunset to remind us that is it still there, behind the silver cold waiting for warmer weather to join us.  As I left the driveway in exploration of something new to add to my files I saw one of our many damaged maples struggling to pretend winter was not upon us in full force.  Its entire top had been broken away and while it stood headless it still was alive.

I drove to a new agricultural area and as I came over the crest of a hill I saw the scene below in the distance.

This is a dormant peach orchard, and being a photographer, I was also salivating at how lovely it would be to photograph in the spring.  Nearby were other ornamentals that the farmer grew for others yards and that were more beautiful this time of year than other season.

There is beauty in the grays and silvers and sages, but my eye always goes to the energy filled reds.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Harsher Times

Winter is a harsh time of year for both man and beast.  It pretends that its soft white snows blanket with peace, but if you look closely their is red blood on that white cover.  While we do not yet have snow, there is a red tailed hawk that has kept our mouse and mole population down around the compost pile.  We also have a large mulch pile of wood chips from the tree fall that will probably house a bunch of rodents this winter!   The hawks are busy.  The one below managed to swallow the little rodent he had in two gulps before flying away.

We have an abundance of deer this year (every year) and we have a hunter neighbor who is an archer.  He eats whatever he shoots.  If you are vegan, the image of deer wasting disease may be more to your tastes.  I feel at peace with hunters and fishermen that control the excess.  He now sits high in a tree at the front of our land waiting for a good target. 

We have four young deer...maybe a year or even two in age, that come through the bracken and munch not so quietly each day.  This is hunting season and they are wary, and as I stand on my deck and try to see them in the deep brush, I can see and ear or eye angled my way if I clear my throat.  We also have a large doe who rests against the bank of our ravine on the opposite side of the house.  She rests in the company of a large 6 point buck who is most impressive in stance.  I have tried to get photos of him, but without success.

You may wonder if I eat venison.  I do.  I think it might be healthier than the hormone treated and corn fed beef available in my store.  I know the deer have happier lives than many feed-lot steers.  

Monday, December 12, 2011


This time of year there seems to be competition for attention.  My geraniums have actually survived the cold freeze as they are tucked against the foundation and beneath the deck.  They will not survive the winter, but I did save one plant for my sunny windowsill.

The holly berries are in abundance this year and not to be outdone by one little geranium blossom!  They compel man and bird alike to pause and enjoy.  Food is provided for both the stomach and the soul.

But when I tire of the cold and bitter air I come inside and find that something else is competing for my gaze during this season.  Yes, it is artificial and has too much glitter, but it is here for such a short time and does manage to keep the house a little warmer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Planting Trees in the Forest

We planted a tree like this one, this past spring. Ours is still too young to produce young, but it is turning a lovely shade of pink rust as the winter sets in. This is a bald cypress. Such an odd name for such a symmetrical and lovely tree. It would make a perfect Christmas tree but it drops all its needles in the winter and thus, was given the name "bald" because of that.   It can grow up to 70 feet tall and grows well in swamps. But it also does a good job in our front yard which is high and dry.  Because our tree's feet are on dry land we will not get that distinct round bowl at the base that it produces when sitting in water nor the bumps of the roots seeking better stabilization which are called cypress knees that can be found sticking out of the water in swamps.

According to wikipedia "The tallest known individual specimen, near Williamsburg, Virginia, is 44.11 m tall, and the stoutest known, in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has a diameter of 521 cm.  The oldest known specimen, located in Bladen County, North Carolina, is over 1,620 years old making this the oldest living plant in Eastern North America."  Quite an impressive tree, is it not?

Our little tree was bought at the garden club sale and currently stands only three feet high, but every tree has to start somewhere.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tiny Swimmer

I could not wait for the light to get bright enough so that I could make my way down to the dock and personally greet the still morning.  Sitting in the house and hearing the heater kick on and off was not soothing to my soul.  The fog was extra heavy as it hung close to both edges of the river denying the sun its pink light as it does most mornings this time of year.  Birds were singing as if it was spring even though the temperatures hung in the low 30's F.  Since there was no wind, it was very comfortable.

I had on my heavy dark gray down coat covering my Jennifer Lo animal print flannel PJs.  Thus I looked much like a tree trunk as I carefully navigated the path toward the dock.  I had to really pace myself when I learned that the dock was covered with slippery frost hidden from the eye.

Our resident bald eagle flew high over this section of the river on his way to better waters for the morning meal, and, although I remained still as the water watching him, I could swear he spotted me as he glanced down my way.  He seemed to "eagle eye" me with a tilt of the head, shocked at my wardrobe.

I didn't take many photos but just watched the morning stretch and open its way into the world.  Eventually, off to my right, I saw a small dot swimming toward me.  

The swimmer was steady and focused, and of course, I had the wrong lense!  I was hoping to capture the big picture.  As it finally cruised closer I recognize that it was a gentle bufflehead duck, our smallest diving duck.  Because of the fog, I could not see the green and purple gloss of the head, but the white patch was a distinctive identifying mark.

These birds are extremely wary and impossible to photograph without a telephoto lens, but this diver did not notice I was human and came just close enough for this grainy photo with my regular lens.  I did look a little like a fatter version of one of the dock pilings, and thus he was fooled.  He scooted past onto the next dock where he spent several minutes diving and flapping in the smooth waters eating something just beneath my neighbors boat lift. 

I eventually tired of standing so still and as I moved slowly back up the dock toward coffee, he immediately recognized my movement and headed out and away beyond sight.

Friday, December 02, 2011

More on My Visitor

I did some research on the Yellow-bellied sapsucker because of a comment or two to my post.  These birds are only temporary in my neighborhood as this is the upper range for their winter home.   The females fly all the way to Central America for the winter months. They breed mostly up north and in the woods of Canada, so I will never see a nesting pair.  This siting in my yard was rare.
They are essential to other birds such as humming birds and some mammals with the sap they get the trees to release.  Many species benefit from the sweet sap and humming birds would not be able to stay in the woods of Canada without the sapsucker since there are few flowers for them to use.  Sapsuckers also eat the insects that come to the sap holes and include berries in their diet.

In the spring the male may use traffic signs or other metal for tapping to declare his territory.  The males are the better parent, selecting the site early and creating the nest.  They also incubate the eggs in the evening and if one of the parents meet with death, the male is the most likely to be successful in raising the birds on his own.  Fascinating stuff.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A New Visitor

One of the things that I do when I am trying to ignore chores is stare out windows. I couple this with the Cornell Feederwatch Project and it makes me feel like I am wasting less time.  Today I saw this visitor in my front yard eating bugs and perhaps berries off the holly tree.  (Our hollies are prolific with berries this year.  I am hoping this does not mean a long hard winter.)  I have not seen this bird in my yard and rarely see it elsewhere, so I was truly excited and want to share. Photo taken through a double paned not a crisp or great shot, but the species is recognizable...yellow-bellied sapsucker.