Monday, February 27, 2017

Dangerous Skies

We got one of those automated calls from the County Emergency Services office the other day that said a tornado warning was in the area and we should head for a basement or shelter. I looked out the window and while it appeared there were stormy gray skies on the horizon, there was no real wind. We waited and eventually we got a few waves of heavy rain, no hail like they got to the north, and no tornado touchdown anywhere, thank goodness. But we did get a magnificent sunset.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Jungle

I was concentrating on a digital course that I purchased about well being and meditation --- trying to take my life more seriously. Meditation is not something I can easily apply to my scattered personality. I had my earphones from my laptop on while listening to some 30-something with a very compact body tell me to breathe from my belly and count to 10 on the inhale and 10 on the exhale. She suggested that I place my hands on my belly which was a distraction as I wondered about how ample that part of my body had become. It was at this moment of mixed concentration that I heard a loud thump coming from the the kitchen. I used to have children at home and loud thumps are something I do not instinctively screen out while trying to meditate. I walked to the kitchen and saw a small cloud of gray and white feathers embedded in the outside window screen.

I hurried outside to see if a bird was lying in the lawn, and instead saw what I guess was a Cooper's hawk (could have been a Sharp-shinned) with something small in its claws flying into the high tulip poplars.  To my right I saw another Cooper's hawk flying to another tree.  By the time I had run inside to get binoculars and back outside again, they were both gone.

Working together they had captured a titmouse that was hanging about my bird feeders.  Titmice are erratic birds that seem to easily fly in distraction with their fellow birds.  An easier prey for this excellent flying hawk.  The Cooper's hawk kills its food by squeezing it to death rather than tearing it with its beak!

Life in the jungle once again reared it's honest head and some baby Cooper's hawks will be fed tonight or perhaps this was a courting of a male to feed his female on this pre-spring week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Blue Eyes

Below are photos I took in the late afternoon, yesterday, of  corn speedwell or birds eye speedwell (Veronica arvensis).  The blossoms are very small and I had to lie in the cold damp grass to get these.  The seeds germinate in the fall and grow slowly throughout the winter and then really put on a show in the very early spring as they take over the more shady parts of the lawn.  Then they die back in the summer.  Slender speedwell, similar, spreads by stolons.  This blue baby is abundant in our unsuccessful lawn as we do not use weed killer or fertilizer unless it is absolutely necessary!  Our lawn is mostly mowed weeds.  Corn flowers seem to grow almost anywhere in the U.S., so you may have some in your lawn.

For a weed they are really quietly lovely and the early pollinators seem to find them essential.

And below is a photo painting.  While it is a challenge using the mouse to paint light and dark and colors I have fun creating things that can be immediately erased when I make an error.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Peeking and Peaking

Blossoms are peaking everywhere in my yard,  The hellebores have been really gorgeous all week and will be face forward in the week to come.

I have three types.  Some open full faced and others hang like bells.

In just a few more days the daffodils will be blooming.  They already are sunny and upright in my neighbors yard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Do You Smell That?

Each morning I am now greeted by Meyer lemon blossom smells. The tiny deformed tree is now covered with fragrant hope. I looked for an older photo that I had posted on this plant and could not find it. It was a sad sack for sure.

The tree was about a foot and a half high and is not much higher now.  Back then it had about a dozen leaves on it and 5 or six mostly bare branches. I transplanted it and fertilized it and left it out on the sunny deck keeping it watered. Because our climate gets possible first freezes in November I brought it inside and bought some grow lights and kept it near a sunny window and kept it watered and fertilized. It rewarded me with the hundreds of blossoms above. These will mostly fall and not set even though they might have tiny balls of pretend fruit at the back end of the blossom. The tree is just too small to support much fruit.

The blossoms do start with a lovely exotic fragrance. But as many are fading the smell flagrance can be a bit overwhelming and begins to take on a more fermented odor. It is starting to fill the kitchen air and overpower the lamb chops I am cooking.

Above is my citrus grove in the corner of my kitchen. The tall tree to the back is a kaffir lime. It does not produce much fruit but since I cook with the leaves in Thai food it is just what we want. The middle is the calamondin orange which is really sour like a lime or lemon but with an orange flavor.  It can produce twice a year sometimes.   And while they have lots of seeds and are small, they are fresher than anything we can buy at this time of year.  We pick them off the tree and use them in drinks or squeeze over fish or on salad throughout the winter.  If there are some leftover I make a calamondin cake. The small tree to the front is my Meyer lemon which is full of blossoms now. The grow lights which we purchased this year and that are on a timer made a big difference in the mite disease problem we used to have and the leaf drop due to lack of light.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Being Patient

The storm up north has brought in a bunch of house finches to the feeders as they fled from the heavy snows and colder weather.  We usually have a few, but this morning there were many.  Life has gone here as normal without the nasty winter weather.

This is a photo I took years ago.  (I was too busy to get my camera this morning.)  

The trees are confused as well because our mostly 50 F degree weather has them wondering if they forgot to mark their calendars for the day of spring.  While day length is the primary trigger, this warmer weather does get some sap flowing early and the yellow-bellied sap sucker is busy at the front yard with my sugar maple.

Some trees look like they are ready to bud, but the ends are still hard and dark, so not as ready as they appear upon closer inspection.

Things are still a misty, greenish gray like a Sherlock movie without that potential for danger, just the exotic sense of mystery.  This poor dogwood at the edge of the main road was hit by the mower when it was small and struggles each year to get upright.  The two in the distance are newer and were planted by the landscapers last year.  I am waiting for spring dogwood blossoms to cover the branches.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

It is Like a Sponge or a Box of Spaghetti

Today is the second day with temperatures in the warm 60s F.  In and off itself not a fact of global warming, but another chain in the link of a very mild winter which is another factual example (along with that YUGE breakin the ice shelf up North that is now 17 miles long.)  Yet this post is not about climate change.

I put out some bird feed in my bare feet on such a warm morning and then stood still for a minute or two and heard the song of the bluebirds just at the edge of the woods. Amazing. Singing! I am hoping they are not getting in the mating mood as we have many weeks of cold weather ahead. We are actually supposed to get snow tonight! 

Anyway, this got me thinking about bluebirds in specific and in general. Birds with yellow or red feathers get their pigment from food they eat.  Do bluebirds do the same?  Your first thought is blueberries, right?   But the science community says the blue color in blueberries is destroyed in the digestion process so the answer is "no".

So I did some reading.  I found the answer and while the reason is a bit complicated, my readers are intellectuals and love this stuff so I will share. Birds that have blue feathers in part or whole have changes in that colored feather itself as it grows. Inside each feather cell is stringy keratin molecules that separate from the water in the cell, something akin to oil and water. "When the cell dies, the water dries away and is replaced by air, leaving a structure of keratin protein interspersed with air pockets like a sponge or a box of spaghetti. When white light strikes the blue feather, the keratin pattern causes red and yellow wavelengths to cancel each other out, while blue wavelengths of the light reinforce and amplify"...and return to your eye as blue.

Difference in shapes and sizes of the air pockets mean different shades of blue. Therefore the color is not a pigment in the feather itself but a light reflection.

Why have the birds evolved this way?  Scientists don't really know but they theorize the bluest blue represents health to the female or perhaps just plain beauty.  OK.  You did not waste your time here today. You learned something new unless you already knew.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Canadian Aliens

This is the time of year when "our" snowbirds come in just after the sun has set. They are returning from a day of gleaning the fallow cornfields or soybean fields that are dusted in bits of snow. These snowbirds do not reenter our portion of the creek with any diplomatic grace. They are loud and honking and splashing and seem to be arguing over the best place to land or which side of our small creek is theirs. They continue this diatribe into the early evening as we finish our dessert. Then they seem to grow quiet as we watch our television programs and later snuggle into our sheets reading before falling asleep. That quiet may last until about 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. when a fox or raccoon or shadow startles them once again in the gray night and the honking is like a football fan wave as it crosses the crowd on the river getting louder as it reaches our shore. TOUCHDOWN!  In the early foggy morning I attempt to sneak down and get a few photos of the protesters who seem so small to have made so much noise. They do seem a bit blustery and rude for Canadians.

They stretch their necks trying to see me move down toward the dock and between their movement, the distance and the mist, my photos are poor.

They move away toward the center as I try to quietly approach, camera in hand.

The white "V" follows their white butts as they head in any direction away from my dock.

Those who have made it past the dock head out toward the mouth of the river, hoping that no duck blinds are populated with early morning hunters that may be scanning the foggy waters as these swimmers move to the open road.  While there are hundreds, they are soon gone to other land until sunset once again.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Quiet but Perfect

During warmer months I spend time disappearing into the green woods of the eastern American woodlands. The rain is abundant and trees, shrubs, and ferns are full and lush. They tempt you off the path and into the fantasy world just beyond the rays of the sun where the verdant shadows are most intimidating and most seductive. The impossible feats of magic are possible here.  The exotic that makes you gasp is just beyond that line of young honey locust trees, and if you walk very quietly, shhh, you might not scare the wood stream orchid that has emerged today.  The hollow thunk is just the woodpecker at lunch on that huge fallen oak.  The pungent smell is the earth moving in her sleep.  That warm air is just the breath of the doe watching you  secretly from behind the trees.

 The photo above was posted years ago.  Can you see the deer deep into the center of the photo below the distant light?  I took this photo and did not know she was there.