Signs of spring at the VOA

01-fishing-2014-04-21

A man is fishing.

03-ducks-2014-04-21Ducks are swimming.

04-robin-2014-04-21A robin rests.

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A kite flies.

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A grebe migrates through.

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And Arthur, me, and my shadow are walking again.

It was in the 60s here today.

It’s time, Spring, and we’re all more than ready.


Spring is coming — just ask the birds

It’s been a long, cold winter here. But the month of March always gives me hope for spring. And this year is no different. Even though white patches of snow still dot the ground, I know winter’s days are numbered.

Yesterday I saw squirrels running through the woods hopping from limb to limb in a kind of feverish ecstasy that enters all of our souls to one degree or another with the coming of spring.

01-Robiin-2014-03-03

Our first robin is back. (A quick google search will tell you that some of the robins never leave. We, however, have not seen one solitary robin at our feeders the entire winter until the past few days. You can judge for yourself.)

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And a red-winged blackbird has been visiting our feeders. (Websites like the Cornell lab of Ornithology will tell you that these birds are here year-round. It also states, “In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.” Again, you can judge for yourself.)

Spring is coming. I can see it in the birds, and feel it in the air.

Soon.


An owl in daytime

I spotted an owl in a tree in the woods above the creek yesterday afternoon.

Owl-2014 - 01-25

I watched this owl as it slowly rotated his head around from front to back. Owls can truly look behind them and can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees according to National Geographic. This is necessary because the owls’ eyes are in fixed sockets and can’t move around like ours do.

I’m pretty sure the owl I saw is one of the Great Horned Owls that we often hear at night or in the early morning hours.

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Two Great Horned Owls viewed at 9:00 a.m. on December 23, 2013.

 I’ve seen one or two perched above the creek before. It must be good hunting ground.

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Great Horned Owl viewed at 9:00 a.m. on January 9, 2014.

Many people believe that if you see an owl in the daytime it is a bad sign. From early times, across many civilizations, owls have been viewed as harbringers of bad luck, ill health, or death and destruction. But sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods. (Radha on Yahoo answers – 2008)

For many people the owl is a symbol for wisdom.

At Symbolic Meanings by Avia she explains that although owls are associated with death in certain cultures, it is “revered (honored) as being the guardian of the after-life.”

Furthermore, Avia explains, as a creature of the night, the owl is symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. “If an owl has visited you,” she says, ” an incredible gift has been bestowed.”

Is the owl a harbringer of death or wisdom?

Unlike known and provable facts like the earth is round, beliefs can be chosen.

On this first anniversary of my father’s death, I don’t have to tell you which belief I’m going with.

Thank you universe for the gift.


The birds that visited on Thursday

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We were among those in the US of A who got a nice covering of snow on Thursday. I don’t mind it yet, although as March approaches my attitude might change.

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The windows beside our kitchen table make me feel like I am safe and warm in a magical place where I can watch the birds who come to visit.

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Our feeders attract a lot of small birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee. (I hope you will correct me if I misidentify something. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a fan.)

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The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorites. I think it is lovely.

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One of Mark’s favorites is the Yellow-shafted Flicker. It’s a larger bird with unique markings. A week or two ago, I saw another one in the exact same location, but it was dead-still. I mean, it did not wink an eye or flutter a feather. At first I wondered if it was sick, and then I realized there was probably a hawk in the area. I stepped outside and sure enough, a hawk was perched high in a sycamore stalking the feeders. This poor flicker, somehow knew it, had gotten caught behind the feeder, and was making every attempt to be invisible. He or she got away alright this time. It amazes me to see the birds respond to their predators.

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Speaking of sycamores. I just love them. This is my favorite one. I made a background for this blog out of this photo by layering it over a white background in Photoshop and making it largely opaque.

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I think this is a little Junco. They are a distinctive small bird with their slate-gray backs and white breasts.

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I have houses for the birds, but so far not many are using them. Do you see the squirrel on the small tree leaning to the left? He or she sat there for the longest time.

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Here’s a close-up of it. It might be a youngster. The other day I saw several juvenile squirrels running up and down the trees. They are fun to watch. I suspect they were driving their parents nuts with cabin fever. I didn’t realize the squirrels had babies this time of year, although truthfully, I don’t know when they were born. It’s hard for me to imagine what that clump of leaves in the top of a tree looks like when it is full of juvenile squirrels and their parents.

01-Squirrel-2014-01-02

We’re keeping the squirrels well-fed too. They love the peanut feeder that Mark keeps on the deck. Arthur works hard chasing them off the feeder when we let him out. He takes off around the deck corner, sprinting on three legs.  But if he happens to get lucky and trap one, he is the first to back off. I think he’s probably afraid of them.  He makes a good show of it, though.

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A little House Finch,

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American Goldfinch,

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and White-throated Sparrow all came to call.

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As did the Nuthatch,

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and the Downy Woodpecker.

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A Mourning Dove huddled in the cold nearby.

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The male Cardinal always makes a show,

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but I love the female Cardinal with her subtle coloring. Very classy.

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And, the Blue-jay. We seem to have quite a few Blue-jays this year. I am becoming rather fond of them, even if they are a bit of a bully around the feeders.

I also saw a Carolina Wren and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, neither of which I managed to photograph. Next time.

possum-2013-12-26

Although this isn’t a bird, and visited on the 26th of December, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possum. He is, after all, benefiting from the bird-feeders.

Owls-2013-12-23

Finally, again not seen yesterday but worth mention, Mark heard the owls’ calls, and spotted them in the tree early one morning right before Christmas.

It pays to keep your eyes and ears open around here.

If you are somewhere bundled up from the cold and the snow, I wish you the warmth of a glowing fire and a nice hot toddy. If you are somewhere warm and sunny, I don’t want to know about it.

Happy New Year.

~~~~~~


The perils of the sun

01a-Beach-2013-09-10

You might wonder by the time you finish reading this post, why I still like, in fact insist on, going on beach vacations.

“I can’t remember ever going to the beach and not having a problem with my skin,” I told Mark just this morning.

I have always burned fairly easily in the sun, and although sunscreen has been a fact of life for me as long as I can remember, I still inevitably end up with a burn somewhere on my body, often on my chest, upper back, and almost always on my face.

I stopped using sun lotion on my face several years ago after I was unable to find one that didn’t make my face feel like someone had sprayed gasoline on it and lit a match.

Now I trust only my faithful Oil of Olay daily lotion with broad spectrum SPF for my face. It only has a rating of 15, but I reapply it obsessively.

This year on our beach trip to the southern North Carolina shore I came well-armed. I bought Coppertone Sport high performance, broad spectrum, 30spf that “stays on when you sweat” lotion and spray.  And I used both liberally in the first two days.

The third day I began to develop a red, bumpy, itchy rash. At first I blamed it on sun poising which I had self-diagnosed several years back.

If it hadn’t been for Mark, who liberally applied the lotion to my back at my request, I might not have figured it out yet. But Mark took his job seriously and put that lotion all over my entire back, most of which never saw the light of day under my suit.

The rash eventually covered all my exposed body except my face, thanks to the Oil of Olay. It also developed on my back.

The rash, I believe, is from the lotion I was using to protect myself. I revised my self-diagnosis.

Now I’m on a quest for sun lotion that I can tolerate, perhaps a combination of zinc oxide and titanium oxide that work to reflect the sun off of the skin. The other lotions somehow modify the rays to render them harmless.

I came to the beach also well-armed with light-weight long-sleeved shirts, and other various cover-ups.

Yesterday, I wore long sleeves, my hat and sunglasses and went to the beach sans lotion except for the Oil of Olay on my face. I sat under our umbrella the entire time, covering the bottom of my legs with a second cover-up, and taking an indoor break during peak sun hours.

At the end of the day I had a sunburn from mid-thigh to mid-calf where my legs had remained bare under the umbrella.

“What’s your next act?” Mark asked me this morning.

Today I look like a spy out of a low-budget movie—broad hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, and capris. A second cover-up protects the bottom of my legs and feet once I’m seated in the shade. Only my hands are exposed.

I still love the beach.

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Tips, advice, and general commiseration are all welcome.


Beaver or groundhog? Looking for clues.

01-Groundhog-2013-07-18-05

The other day I showed you this picture of what I called a groundhog. Some of my readers thought it was a juvenile beaver. So I’ll pose the question, what do you think?

Meanwhile I went looking for clues.

01-creekin-2013-07-28-02

Creek bed at the base of the hill behind our house. It swells with rainfall.

I took my ferocious wildlife tracking canine and my human body guard with me.

02-tree_roots-2013-07-28-02

As we walked along the creek bed, we saw the big tree where I’ve photographed groundhogs in the past.

03-deer-track-2013-07-28-07

We saw quite a few tracks in the mud, but they were mostly white-tailed deer tracks. No big surprise.

05-trax-2013-07-28-11

I did see a couple of tracks like these. I don’t know whether they are just messed up deer tracks or something else.

06-trax-2013-07-28-12

When I looked online I couldn’t identify them.

04-dam_or_not-2013-07-28-09

We also saw this pile of tree branches across the creek bed. One of the dead ash trees in the woods had fallen across the creek, and Mark thinks that it served as a barrier to block other sticks  that got washed down the creek. I don’t know what to think. In the pools visible at the bottom of the photo, Mark noticed a couple of small gold fish swimming around with many minnows.

07-goldfish-2013-07-28-22

Circle and saturated color around goldfish added in photoshop for visibility.

Where do these guys come from? We believe our creek is part of the Mill Creek Water Shed, but mostly it carries runoff from the rain.

08-reflection-2013-07-28-32

I tried to capture a photo of the many minnows that swim about and are easy to see by the naked eye due to their motion, but apparently are not so easy to capture as a digital image. I got a lot of reflection of the trees and skies.

09-minnow-2013-07-28-37

I think you can see one minnow in the middle of this photo. I’ll have to admit; I just wasn’t expecting there to be fish living down in the creek.

10-hawk-2013-07-28-53

We had the bonus of a couple of hawks landing above our heads. I only got one in the picture.  This might be a Cooper’s hawk, but I’m not sure.

11-chair-2013-07-28-65

The final piece of evidence came from one of the plastic chairs we use at the bottom of our yard. Can you see the teeth marks? Somebody was gnawing on this. What do you think, beaver, groundhog, or maybe just a squirrel?

Here’s a site that might help.
http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-woodchuck-and-vs-beaver/

I hope somebody can clear this up for me.


Scenes of summer

01-Geese-2013-06-13

Morning swim lesson at the VOA – June 2013

I’ve been snapping photos here and there the last few weeks. I’m taking this opportunity to share them with you now.

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Hummingbird – June 04, 2013

This little hummer was making daily visits for a while. I haven’t seen him lately. He liked some of the potted plants on our deck.

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House wren – June 04, 2013

I call this one  “House wren in bird house.”

04-Fawn-2013-06-04

Fawn – July 18, 2013

This hillside across the drive from our house used to be thick with honeysuckle. Mark has cleared a large section of it out. The little fawn decided to take a bit of a rest here.

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Fawn – July 18, 2013

I didn’t see the mother nearby. Perhaps she told this little guy to wait for her here.

06-Volunteers-2013-06-04

Sunflowers – July 19, 2013

Not bad for a few volunteers. I’m enjoying the height and color they’ve added to my garden.

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Male American Goldfinch on sunflowers – July 19, 2013

I call this one “Elevensies” after a tradition brought to me by a good friend and once-coworker, Cathy, who needed that morning snack to get through to lunch.

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Young buck – July 18, 2013

I’m not sure why this buck only has one antler. I googled it and nosed around a bit, but there was too much reading involved for the amount of time I wanted to spend. Perhaps you know and can tell me.

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Male American Goldfinch on sunflower – July 19, 2013

I call this one “Yellow.”

09-Female-2013-06-04

Female American Goldfinch on sunflower – July 19, 2013

Let’s not forget the female. She clearly wanted her portrait taken as well.

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House wren – July 20, 2013

I was sitting at my computer desk, minding my own business, when this little guy started hopping back and forth on the two porch rockers sitting outside our large study window. He was there for quite a while before he flew up into the tree. And he was giving me the what-for. I’m not sure what he was carrying on about.

I suppose that’s just one more thing I’ll never know.


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