Signs of spring at the VOA

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.


One for my bird list – the blue-gray gnatcatcher

I’ve been noticing a couple of tiny birds in the two locust trees outside my study window. I think they may have an nest in our birdhouse that’s hanging there.

Photo from The Birds are Back post October 11, 2012.

Heeding the advise of my bird-watching blogging friend, Patti, at A New Day Dawns, I tried to identify distinguishing characteristics. The small relatively nondescript birds always confound me. But today I was successful at identifying the blue-gray gnatcatcher, even if I didn’t get a good, clear, up close and personal shot. The little birds would not sit still for a moment.

01-Blue-gray-gnatcatcher - 2013-06-02 _01

The first thing I noticed other than its small size, was the white-striped tail. At first I wondered if it could be a baby mockingbird because of its size and its tail. Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies describes the blue-gray gnatcathcer as suggesting “a miniature Mockingbird.” Although I didn’t recognize it until I read it in Peterson’s, this little bird also has a distinctive white ring around its eye that you can see in this photo.

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Peterson goes on to say that the its tail is “often cocked like a wren’s tail and flipped about.” Although Peterson doesn’t mention it, I thought that the beak was particularly long and slender.

05-Blue-gray-gnatcatcher - 2013-06-02 _19

Here is an action shot of the blue-gray gnatcatcher giving me the what-for. It had a worm in its mouth and I think it was trying to intimidate me away from its nest by making what could only have been considered a threatening noise and flapping its wings.

06-Blue-gray-gnatcatcher - 2013-06-02 _20

That wasn’t particularly effective coming from such a tiny mite. But I moved on anyway not wanting to intrude on a mother’s work of feeding her young.

This bird’s size makes it irresistible. It definitely has found a place near the top of my favorite birds list.


If the humans left

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning watching a robin enjoy the hanging planter full of garden refuse that I left for the birds as a kind of discount store or bonanza.

02-robin-2013-05-19

We had already cleaned all the old dried leaves and winter garden refuse from the ground, and Mark covered it all with a rich, crisp layer of mulch, leaving slim pickins’ for nest-building birds.

I patted myself on the back. If I wouldn’t have created this hanging basket for them, what would the robins have done?

As I watched out the window, I noticed a rustling in the leaves near the top of a tree. A little squirrel emerged with a leaf-laden twig in its mouth and scampered across a few limbs, then up the trunk of a dead tree where I saw she was happily building a nest. It’s a dead ash tree, technically on our neighbor’s property. They plan to have their dead ash trees removed this year. I don’t believe there is anything I can do to save the squirrel, the nest, and any babies that arrive, beyond hoping that the tree-cutters won’t come too soon.

01-Squirrel_nest-2013-05-19

Yesterday I walked out into our garage and was startled by a small bird in there. I think it was a juvenile wren. One of the two garage doors was open, but the little guy couldn’t seem to find his way out. I spent the next hour or so trying to help him leave. I adjusted both garage doors to try to give him space above and below the door to leave. I moved the car out of the garage so it wouldn’t get in the way. I talked and chirped to the bird, showed him the way out, chased him around the garage with a broom to try to direct him out, and tried to catch him in a sheet.

At one point after I had gone back inside for a few minutes, I found two other wrens in the garage. They left immediately upon my return and my hopes that one of them was the little guy were soon dashed when I heard him chirping. But I was encouraged that I was not the only one trying to rescue the baby.

Eventually I was able to lower the window blind behind him, reach in and catch the little guy in my sheet-covered hand. I patted myself on the back for returning him to the wild.

Bird in garage

What would he have done if I wasn’t here? I wondered.

If I wasn’t here at all, then maybe my house and garage wouldn’t be here either. And the natural progression of that kind of thinking led me to the question, What if all the humans left?

The birds would still be here. The robin would find nature-provided nesting materials all around.

The squirrels’ new home would not be in jeopardy.

And the little bird would never have found its way into a place it couldn’t leave.

When we were driving to Hocking Hills a few weeks ago, we passed an abandoned property on a country road. I first noticed the rusted, decaying car near the road. Then I saw the decrepit house further back in what was becoming woods. The rectangular property lines were clearly discernible where the neighboring properties, still being tended, ended and this abandoned property began,  as if a surveyor had pounded in stakes at the corners and strung a wire around. The grass was long, trees and bushes were sprouting up throughout. The semi-hidden car and the house were falling apart in pieces on the ground. The earth was reclaiming its own.

I don’t know how long the abandoned property has stood there, but my guess is that it hasn’t been all that long in the whole scheme of things.

If the humans left, the earth would reclaim its own in short order most likely. And the birds, the squirrels, the deer and all the creatures would have their paradise without us.


A red-letter bird day

Wednesday morning I was stumbling around the kitchen before I managed to ingest my daily dose of caffeine in the form of hot tea which isn’t nearly as potent as the caffeine I used to get in a day’s worth of coffee. Alas, another compromise as I have grown older.

I looked outside and saw a big bird in the trees. Over time I’ve gotten used to finding them amidst the camoflage of the tree branches. They look like a big blob interrupting the natural flow of the branches.

Red-tailed hawk, 2013-o4-10

Red-tailed hawk, 2013-o4-10

It was a red-tailed hawk.

Sharp-shinned-hawk-2013-02-17

Sharp-shinned hawk- 2013-02 – 17

Our bird feeders have been frequented this winter by a rather bold sharp-shinned hawk who likes to hunt there, but the larger red-tailed hawks don’t come around as much, and when they do, like some of the other more skittish birds, they tend to stay back and within the protection of the woods .

I recently read about the benefits of green smoothies from my blogging friend Marion at Figments of a Dutchess and have been trying them out all week. I poured my green smoothie made with an apple, pear, banana, and spinach, into a large glass and sat down at the table beside Mark. It was an April morning and for some reason the wood ducks we saw last year came to mind. “Do you think the wood ducks will be back this year?” I asked Mark. “I haven’t seen them yet.”

“I saw them yesterday,” Mark replied. Unlike me, Mark doesn’t rush to announce his nature observations to me or the world at large.

“I hope they come back again.”

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From my lips to the universe. I looked outside and spotted the female wood duck perched on a sycamore branch.

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She and I were both looking all around. I was looking for her mate. I didn’t know at first what she was looking for, but I found out later.

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There he was. Just a few trees away, perched on the limb of another sycamore.

You’ll have to take my word for the next part because I wasn’t quick enough to catch a photo. This is not as easy as it looks.

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The female duck went into the hole in the sycamore tree. I circled it for you. I was stunned to say the least and not certain. But then I saw a cascade of dried brown leaves shoot out of the hole and flutter down. Then again. I became hopeful. Like the chickadee I told you about earlier, the wood duck was apartment-hunting.

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She poked her head out to check out the view from her front porch.

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Meanwhile, her mate was waiting patiently.

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And then not so patiently as he quacked at her, “Well, make up your mind, Mabel. Do you like it or not. I’m not going to stand here all day.”

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She took one more good look around and then darted out of the hole and flew right past her mate who immediately took off and followed behind. Again, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But that wasn’t the best part. Later in the day a movement through the woods caught my eye. It was a large black bird with striking white stripes on its wings sweeping through the trees. It landed on the trunk of a tall tree near the top and I saw the tell-tale red plummage on the top of its head. I enjoy all the birds I see from the smallest wren to the largest owl or blue-heron, but some birds really thrill me because of the rarity of their visits. And the pileated woodpecker is one. It moves quickly through the trees with a flash of white, landing here and then there. A true wonder to see.

Yet again, you’ll just have to take my word for it.


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