The last snowfall

Although March heralds spring, technically it is still winter until March 20 at 7:02 a.m. according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. And today Mother Nature gave us a very clear reminder.


Isn’t it beautiful?


We need to keep the bird feeders filled for our little friends.


But I don’t mind the snow.


Daffodils aren’t up yet to have their backs bent by the weight. And the trellis is empty still.


This wet, heavy snowfall colored my world bright, white, peaceful and calm. From my view out of the kitchen window to the office where I sit as I type.


Like so many other things in life, the trips we take, the people we love, the snow will be gone soon. I’m soaking this one up as if it is the last one, like a last hug, a last smile, a last word. For lasts do come, most often without an announcement.

This is a beautiful snowfall, and it is the last.

Or maybe not.

Audubon BirdCam – Take-1

I was excited when Mark surprised me with an Audubon BirdCam for Christmas. Now I could see what was going on outside when I wasn’t watching.

As you may know, beginning December 2, the months of December and January were difficult months for me as I tried to help manage our parents’ illnesses and moves to other living facilities. I was gone a lot, stopping home for brief pit stops, a change of clothes, a good night’s sleep. Under normal circumstances, given an exciting gift like the BirdCam, I would have immediately rushed outside and set it up. But these weren’t normal circumstances, so you’ll understand that I didn’t get my BirdCam set up outside until January 3rd.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been checking the BirdCam for new photos daily. As it was, I left it up outside and didn’t give it a second thought until February 11th, when I went out to retrieve the stunning photos of  birds that I was sure my new BirdCam had recorded in my absence.

I thought I’d share my first results using the BirdCam with you in the slide show below.

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One thing you will notice right away is that the BirdCam did an excellent job of recording Mark, in various states of dress, filling the bird feeders throughout the weeks. You might also notice he was accompanied by Arthur at times who kept watch. You can see other wildlife, even an occasional bird or two, the best shots being of the squirrel that attempted to sneak its way up the pole. And you undoubtedly noticed the fine up close shot the BirdCam got of my red purse when I retrieved the photos.

Here is a cropped and enlarged photo of what may be a hawk in flight—the pride and joy of my first attempt with the BirdCam.


Clearly, the BirdCam is not idiot-proof and I suspect I could profit from taking a close look at the instruction manual.

However, if I ever need to see what Mark is up to outside, I have the equipment to do it.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all

I thought I had probably seen all the varieties of interesting birds that I would see here in our woods. After all, in addition to the smaller more common species, I had seen a red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Wood Ducks, and a Great Blue Heron. What more could I hope to see?

And then there was a flash of red in the trees and a “Tat, tat, tat, tat.” Woody Woodpecker, a pileated woodpecker, was paying us visits.

Unfortunately, unlike the owl, hawks, ducks, and heron, the pileated woodpecker was not content to calmly perch or stand for his photograph. He was too busy moving from tree to tree, climbing up trees, and looking around. His jackhammer head was in constant motion.

I determined to try to get a photo anyway. I really wanted one for my “Birds” page. So I grabbed my Nikon with its 300mm lens and went out on the deck in my pjs, robe, and slippers and shot away trying to catch a photograph from a distance, through tree branches.

I thought that this might be the best I could do.

Or this.

Here’s where my patience paid off. After five or ten minutes of this, perhaps even longer, Woody flew closer.

I got lucky.

And I see now that Woody may actually be Wanda.

Witnessing nature — the good and the bad

As you know if you’ve read many of my blogs, I enjoy watching nature, especially the little birds that frequent our feeders. Surrounded by this small woods, we get the opportunity to observe nature up close and personal.

Sometimes it feels more up close than I might prefer.

Last week I wrote about the hawk haunting our feeders. On Saturday, while I was sipping a cup of tea at the breakfast table, a movement caught my eye out of the window and I saw what I believe was a large hawk take off from the ground beside our deck and fly low away through the woods with something in its grasp.

I told Mark, who was oblivious to the whole small drama. “Where did it go?” he asked.

“Just went a short way in that direction. It’s probably stopped to eat whatever it had,” I answered. “Do hawks leave behind the bones? I’ve never seen that here anywhere.”

“Owls eat everything,” Mark said.

I know.  I have seen an owl pellet here.

“There’s a lot of chipmunks out there,” Mark said.

That didn’t make me feel a lot better, because I actually like the chipmunks.

“If we had mice, the hawks would be helpful,” I said. And even though I actually think mice are cute too, I don’t care for them so much if they get in the house.

Then Mark stepped out on the deck and looked down. “Oh no,” he said. “There’s a bunch of feathers out here.”

When our senses get involved, everything has more impact. Knowing that hawks eat small critters is one thing. Seeing the carnage is another.

This is true for everything. Reading or being told about something affects our intellect. But seeing, hearing, or smelling, a traumatic or tragic event or its aftermath affects our emotions. That’s why authors are encouraged to provide sensory information to make a scene as real as possible.

I think the link between our intellect and emotion is an interesting one to explore. I think the opposite of what writers attempt to do, and using our intellect to distance ourselves from the emotional overload of sensory information, may also be possible and helpful in some circumstances.

Is that something you are able to do?

A hawk haunts the feeding grounds

The hawk watches the birdfeeder.

Since we put our bird feeders back up a few weeks ago, we have had a constant parade of small birds like finches, chickadees, sparrows, and wrens, and larger birds like red-bellied wood-peckers, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and blue jays enjoying our hospitality.

But sometimes the absence of birds is notable and I look to the trees for a predator.

The hawk watches me as I photograph him from inside our house.

I know the hawks need to eat too. I just find it horrifying to contemplate one darting down, capturing me with its sharp claws, and flying off with me in its grasp, if I were, say, a small bird, or a chipmunk that frequents the ground below our feeder. How horrifying to end your short life as a predator’s meal.

I saw this happen a week or two ago.

It happens everywhere all the time.

Survival of the fittest.

We first noticed this hawk at 12:46 p.m. I don’t know what time it had arrived.

Nearly two hours later at 2:38, the hawk has slightly changed his position in the tree, but still waits. And watches.

I thought it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but my good friend and naturalist tells me in the comments below that it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

It’s a beautiful bird.

And it needs to eat too.


Posts and photos about other hawks I’ve seen:

The Red-Tailed Hawk or Arthur’s narrow escape – January 2012
Hunting in the daytime – The Great Horned Owl – January 2012
The Cooper’s Hawk shines golden – March 2012
The big birds were out today – Birds of prey at the VOA – September 2012

Read more about the Cooper’s Hawk at Cornell Lab’s All About Birds.

The doe returns

About a week ago, I read a post called “They’re back” by a blogging photographer that I follow, Maralee at Through my Lens. Maralee lives in central Oregon and had posted over the summer about a lame fawn that was staying in her yard. It was a beautiful tale of nature. Maralee watched the doe and sibling come and go as they checked on the little lame fawn. Eventually the fawn was able to walk well enough to go with them.

Our doe – October 18, 2012

I commiserated with Maralee because I had been posting about “our” lame doe here. I haven’t seen her since early August when she froze beside the drive, her two fawns curled on the grass and a buck nearby as our son and his family from St. Louis arrived late at night, their headlights illuminating the deer family.

For the three years we’ve lived here, “our” doe has come through our yard on a regular basis with her fawns in tow—until this August.

This spring we noticed that she was walking with a limp and had a visible lump on the bottom of her foreleg. (You can see it in the photo above.) I worried about her health and safety. Then when she virtually disappeared from our yard for nearly three months, I feared the worst. “I think she’s dead,” I told Mark.

But she was back today.

Where are the fawns? I wondered.

I stepped outside to release a flying insect that I caught in our kitchen, and I heard a loud rustling in the fallen leaves in our woods. You might be surprised by how loud little squirrels can sound as they scurry along, but this was exponentially louder than that. Then I saw a yearling fawn burst out of the trees and run along the creek.

Welcome back.

The birds are back

Goldfinch at thistle feeder – October 9, 2012

In the late spring we took our bird feeders down once mother earth took over providing abundant food for our feathered friends. This week we put the feeders back up. Within 24 hours the birds were back.

American goldfinch – October 09, 2012

After spending the summer, chasing birds down, peering through tree leaves, taking random, hopeful shots that I might catch a bird, photographing these birds at the feeders feels like shooting fish in a barrel.

Chickadee – October 09, 2012

The first day the feeder was up I saw titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, house finches, nuthatches, and a downy woodpecker.

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend, so most of them got away.

Unidentified bird – October 09, 2012

I tried to get a good photo of this shy little guy who did not tarry at the feeder. I think it might be a red-breasted nuthatch.  Usually we see white-breasted nuthatches around here. They are easy to spot because of their inclination to climb around on trees upside down.

This year I’m going to make a concerted effort to identify the small wrens, sparrows, and finches that I can never tell apart. I think my 300mm lens is really going to help me with this project. I will be able to capture photos, enlarge them on my computer screen, and then identify the birds at my leisure, in theory, anyway.

Mourning dove – October 09, 2012

Of course the mourning doves are easy to photograph with their placid nature. This one looks like I just woke her up.

We still need to clean out our birdhouses from the spring nesting season. I hope to get that done before the end of the month. I don’t know if birds will roost here in the winter or not, but I want to be a good and welcoming innkeeper just in case.

Fernald — from nuclear poison to nature preserve

The Fernald Preserve visitors’ center is positioned in line with the solstices.

If you’ve lived in Cincinnati for any amount of time, the name Fernald likely evokes a knee-jerk negative reaction as someplace you’d rather stay far away from. From 1951 to 1989 Fernald, a short drive outside the city of Cincinnati, produced high quality uranium metal for the U.S. weapons program.

One of several lakes at Fernald nature preserve.

The general public paid little attention to what was going on at the 1050 acre site inside a secured fence line until 1984 when  the Department of Energy (DOE) “reported that nearly 300 pounds of enriched uranium oxide had been released to the environment. . .That same year, DOE also reported that in 1981, three off-property wells south of the site were contaminated with uranium. The impact of nearly four decades of uranium metal production suddenly became the center of public controversy.”  (Fernald Secrecy)

A tiny frog the Fernald naturalist caught to show us.

Negative news about Fernald was in the local paper headlines during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1984 local residents filed a class action lawsuit for emotional distress and decreased property values. In 1989 the DOE paid $78 million dollars in settlement fees to individuals and industries within a five-mile radius of the Fernald site.

Another tiny frog.

Fernald gained national and international publicity in 1986 because of the venting of two waste storage silos and a crack in the pilot plant vessel.

Fernald’s acres are now prairie and woods, September 29, 2012.

“In 1988, two nearby camps for children closed, citing concerns about Fernald and attributing reduced attendance to the negative publicity.” (Fernald Secrecy)

A local joke sprang up in Cincinnati about being able to see a “green glow” if you were driving near Fernald at night.

“Approximately 136 acres in the center of the site were used in the actual production process; the remaining acreage included administration facilities, laboratories, waste storage areas, and buffer land. The production area contained 10 primary plants, each with a specific mission to support the uranium metal production process.”   (Fernald Secrecy)

“In 1989, after 37 years of operations to support the U.S. weapons program, site management shut down uranium metal production to concentrate on environmental compliance, waste management and remediation.” (About Fernald)

Monarch butterflies stop at Fernald when they are migrating south. The naturalist catches one and shows us how she tags it for studies.

In 1992 the cleanup of Fernald was begun.

The monarchs love the goldenrod.

The cleanup included the following projects (the links take you to the Fernald website where you can see photos and project information):

A buckeye butterfly at Fernald.

Silos 1 and 2 – 8,900 cubic yards of low-level radioactive, radium bearing waste
Silo 3 – 5,100 cubic yards of low-level radioactive waste
Waste Pits
– 790,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste
Soil and Disposal Facility
– 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated soil
Building Decontamination and Demolition
– 223 buildings and structures
Aquifer Restoration
– 170 acres of the Great Miami Aquifer
Waste Management
–2.5 billion pounds of waste
Nuclear Material Disposition Project
 – 31 million net pounds of uranium product

You can see a slide-over photo of the Fernald production facility and the Fernald nature preserve plan here.

The good news is that today Fernald is a uranium-free nature preserve with unique sustainable site solutions that you can read about here. “The ecological restoration is transforming the site into a haven for wildlife. Over 170 varieties of birds including waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds have been observed.” (Fernald)

Hopefully with enough time, I will think of Fernald only as the beautiful serene healed prairie land  that it is now and it will evoke only memories of swaying golden fields, flittering monarch butterlies, and a great blue heron on the wing.

A pair of swans frequents the lakes at Fernald.


Scoot and shoot at Island Park, Dayton, Ohio

Sometimes good things just come your way.

When Mark and I were at the Balloon Glow in July and I was standing there juggling my tripod and my camera trying to get a good shot or two, a woman standing beside me, with an awesome camera, struck up a conversation. She invited me to the West Chester Photo Club which happens to meet just a few miles from our home.

Although I haven’t made it to a meeting as the date conflicts with my writing group, I have been able to participate in a fun weekly event called Scoot and Shoot. Every Thursday morning club members who are so inclined visit a nearby site to photograph. The photo session is followed by lunch. How could I resist?

Bandshell at Island Park, Dayton, Ohio. (Modifications made with Photoshop)

A couple of weeks ago I went, along with three others, to Island Park in Dayton, Ohio. This was a blast from the past for me. I grew up in Dayton and remember participating in an event at the shell-shaped stage there.

Island Park is an oasis of shade trees, flowering plants, and interesting wildlife surrounded by water where the Stillwater River flows into the Great Miami just a few miles north of Dayton’s downtown area.

In the late 19th century, this piece of land was known as the White City Amusement Park and had a dance pavilion, amusement rides, canoe lockers, refreshment stand, and other recreation features. By 1907, the park had fallen into disrepair.

The City of Dayton first leased and then bought the property and has turned it into a MetroPark that “contains outstanding specimen trees of floodplain forests such as sycamore, cottonwood, burr, oak, American Elm and many others.” (Island Park)

“Many migratory birds and animals such as beavers and softshell turtles are commonly seen here.” (Island Park)

Scoot and shoot provides members with not only companionship, but also a sense of security as we visit places where we might otherwise not be comfortable going alone. We all stayed loosely connected in the park, while going our own separate ways and taking our time. I was interested in reflections,

and plant and animal wildlife, as you might have guessed.

I was debating on how to best get a shot of the beautiful willow trees along the water’s edge when I noticed that Jo-Ann and Harry both were intently focused on something.

I love Blue Herons.

And this little guy strolled across the river bank and back,

a little too far away for the scope of my camera.

But patience paid off,

and he came down closer to the river.

I don’t know whether he was hungry and just trying to fish,

or was basking in his moment of fame.

You decide.

The Birds and the Bees – continued

I distinctly recall the first time once of these little hummers buzzed past me. I jerked back a step and made myself small, thinking it was a very large bee, or hornet, or at least an immense, undesirable flying insect.

Now I watch for, and celebrate, these little charmers as they dart about my yard from the Mandevilla to the Butterfly Bush to sip the nectar.

You are always welcome here tiny bird.