Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mental Health Day

Yesterday I took a Mental Health Day. Turning off the computer I donned hiking boots, grabbed bottled water and my camera and headed out into the wilds. Dave Matthews crooning in my ears, my shoulders began to relax the further I drove. The day was slightly overcast but temperate, only requiring a light jacket. There was no plan necessarily, except hoping to find bald eagles, or maybe heading to the state park to watch the deer. Lately, my photographic efforts tend toward the hunt and capture of some elusive creature rather than shooting static landscapes. It's a phase - always happens during the migratory season when you never know what bird you'll see out the window. This cute little female bluebird stopped and literally posed for me. Is she cute, or what?

Case in point. We've been innundated with several varieties of gulls on our lake. I'm not interested enough in them to track down what species I'm seeing, but they are very entertaining. About this time last year we had what we called The Weekend Of The Gazillion Gulls. We always have lots of gulls, but for three days it looked like a snow blizzard on the lake every single second for three days. They were everywhere, dipping and darting, floating on the surface, perching on boat houses and slips. Mostly Ring-Billed Gulls (I DID look these guys up, it was such an unusual event), which are quite large. Their calls were constant and loud; we could hear them in the house. ANYWAY, I'm digressing. Yesterday my husband is staring out the window toward the lake and said "What are those birds DOING?" A bunch of gulls were feeding on what we guessed to be a school of minnows. The loons were trying to cash in as well. Here's one shot of many. Okay. I had to get outside. The birds were calling me. Back to my mini-road trip. Pulling into a large gravelled area below the dam, the designated bird watching area was practically deserted. Sounds of gulls reached my ears when the car's engine was silenced. peaceful. Gulls and cormorants and coots were floating around in front of me - the usual dam birds. (LOL)

I grab camera and keys, locking the door began to walk around. Immediately, I spy something unexpected and almost couldn't breathe - the American White Pelicans were here!!! Folks, this is rare. This is only the 2nd year I've been fortunate enough to see them. Amazingly, they were completely unfathed by my presence and I got some great shots. Here are some good ones.

They kinda speak for themselves, these photos. What beautiful birds! I was extraordinarily blessed to see them, and get close enough (with my 100-400 zoom) to immortalize them and share with friends. Fishermen and their boats began coming to shore as rain was moving in, their presence disturbed the pelicans who flew closer to the dam. The rain and their movement away was a signal it was time to return to the real world, leaving my pelican pals to enjoy their fishes.

Watching these huge white birds I thought about our friend John, Born Again Bird Watcher, who is sick with pneumonia. This post is for him - get well soon, John!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Garden Bloggers Geography Project

I said I would do this thing, but then I realized that I no longer live in a city, or town, or even at a crossroads. We literally live in the middle of nowhere, Alabama, USA. First I’ll tell you where I came from. My home town is an hour west of us – Huntsville, Alabama. I grew up announcing with pride that I lived in “Rocket City USA!” Huntsville is high-tech and defense oriented, with NASA and Redstone Arsenal at its center. Werner von Braun started the rocket program here. My father worked at Redstone Arsenal in one of their missile programs. I can still remember the china-rattling propulsion testing, watching huge flames rise from the tester far away while sitting atop the hill above our house. Huntsville is a little melting pot filled with people and cultures from all over the world. It’s one of those places I couldn’t wait to leave, until while traveling I realized everything and everyone in the world I loved was there. It’s my home.
Rocket City USA! Photos courtesy Huntsville Convention & Visitors Bureau
(Space & Rocket Center; Museum of Art, Von Braun Center, Burritt Museum)

When we approached retirement age (my husband – not me! LOL), we decided to find a place on the water. By a miracle, we discovered Bay Hill Village in northwestern Alabama directly on Wheeler Lake, which is part of the Tennessee River system. Our home is right on the river. We wake to the sound of loons and are lulled to sleep by the thrumming of barges. Wildlife abounds. It’s close enough to Huntsville to drive in and enjoy the culture yet far enough away to be able to see the stars at night. Thirty minutes north is the Tennessee border, and due south is, well, the river.

Since I live on a river without a township, I’ll just talk about this river system that continually fascinates me, and my community of friends.

A Sense of Place

Our shorelines are owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority which has strict policies about waterfront development. Recently, TVA announced they would no longer sell any more waterfront to developers. We are relieved. I admit that’s selfish of me but when you experience this sort of beauty you really hate to see surrounding areas gobbled up, leveled and built upon, which would change the very reason we moved here in the first place.

Our home and various boats - as you can see, our bank needs work and is my next project.

This river system is an important watershed as well as being a primary transport system for all manner of commerce. Wheeler Lake is 2 miles wide, and the river channel is on the other side of the lake from our house. Barges lumber through the channel daily, the rhythm of their engines is a constant companion. Occasionally unmarked container ships slip by, their cargo and destinations a mystery. The usual suspects dot the lake in abundance – cruisers, sailboats, fishing boats and those annoying jet skis. Every spring and fall we watch “The Loopers” travel by in their yachts and trawlers, moving their large boats south for the winter or north for the summer. Occasionally, the unusual will happen by like the Mississippi and Delta Queen paddleboats, and the replica of The Nina has sailed by twice. Those are sights that stay with you forever and add to the magic of this place.

This river system is on a migratory path for birds and butterflies. This is where I gained my passion for photographing them as it is very challenging. Bear with me – here I go again but I can’t resist my butterflies and birds.

(Clockwise, from top left: Spicebush, Tiger Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail (dark form), Gulf Fritillary, Red Admiral, Zebra Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Monarch, Buckeye - all copyrighted by moi)

(Clockwise from left: Red Breasted Mergansers, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Bluebird, Nuthatch, Chickadee, Red Tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Pine Warbler, Great Blue Heron, Cowbird, Cardinal, Downey Woodpecker, Common Loon, Mockingbird - all copyright by me except the Bald Eagle, copyright by Carroll Adams)

Gardening here is a challenge because the earth is mostly red clay and a crumby rock called “chert.” This sticky red soil is high in nutrients and herbs and native plants love it. The challenge is to convince people to garden with what WORKS in this riverside environment and leave the exotic cultivars for the botanical gardens and those who don’t mind working twice as hard to keep the cultivars going in this hot and incredibly windy environment. The winds can be fierce coming off the lake, making it look like the ocean with 4-5 foot swells.

(Clockwise from left: Virginia Sweetspires/Spring, Native Azalea, Pitcher Plant, Pinxterbloom Azalea, Red Buckeye, Shooting Stars, Virginia Sweetspire/Autumn, Crepe Myrtle, Flame Azalea, Doublefile Viburnum, Sweetshrub)

My friend Carroll and I, both Master Gardeners, have started a neighborhood volunteer organization called the Bay Hill Conservancy. Our focus is to educate our neighbors about this unique environment as well as sharing conservation tutorials which including speakers from various fields, because we all do live on an important watershed. We encourage using native plants and xeriscaping to preserve water. Most people snicker at us, but we’re beginning to gain attention! (I hope it's all good attention...)

So that’s it. No town per se, but a dynamic waterside community filled with great people, boats, wildlife, birds, butterflies, plants and all manner of nature. That all folks….

Monday, February 11, 2008


That's how I felt when I received notice from Jodi (Bloomingwriter) that she had amazingly chosen my blog for an Excellent award. Giraffe Head Tree is SO new, and my presence here in the blogging world has only begun. Still, every spare moment that comes my way seems to be spent here reading blogs and learning about the incredible people who inhabit this planet. Newscasts are filled with such terrible things about people, and that negativity can really get to a soul. What I find here is contagious optimism because people like Jodi write about things that they love! To use a trite phrase that's oh so fitting - Love Makes The World Go 'Round!

Jodi made it clear that I'm to pass this award on to others I feel bring their own special excellence to the table. I know just the folks...

The first recipient shall be another brand new blogger who also happens to be an old friend whom I've never met. We both love Sting and his music and virtually met on his fan club website. Patti and I have become fast friends thanks to the Internet and I know one day we'll meet face to face. She is an incredible fabric artist and photographer with a wicked sense of humor and a fearless sense of adventure. So, dear friend Patti - your new blog, Island of Souls, has been tagged by me as Excellent and I hope folks link over and take a gander at your lovely works!

The second recipient has to be Diane at Alberta Postcards, formerly Sand to Glass. I first linked to her blog from Jodi's simply because that name - Sand to Glass - intrigued me. The imagery is SO perfect in my head, and I always visualize beach glass - that soft, green beach glass. I love that imagery and the memories it brings forth. The quote that Diane keeps at the top that says "Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there, except those that sang best" has been placed prominently on my vision board, it's so perfect. Diane also wants to put a labryinth in her yard....just like Sting has...and that's just so cool! She photographs trees and birds in addition to flowers, but one of the main reasons are her two Australian Shepherds!!! I love looking at her dog's photos and miss my own Aussie, Brie, so much. I've sort of virtually (there's that word again) adopted them. She has another blog called Dogs Naturally that focus on her Aussies and her Spaniel and naturally I check it out often.

The third recipent is John at Born Again Bird Watcher. An amateur bird watcher myself, I've learned so much from his blog. He is an extraordinarily gifted writer and birder watcher, and has provided a plethora of links and details about birding that I've never known existed. His blog continues to fascinate me, and educates me daily. Besides that, he's just a really nice guy!

I've not talked with many more folks so this'll have to do it for me. Thank you, Jodi, for bestowing this honor upon my blog today. It was a nice surprise and a very humbling moment for this new blogger.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dedicated to my daughter

Kayla performs in the school play, "Our Town."
I have been extraordinarily blessed with the privilege of raising a child. My daughter and I have had our ups and downs like all mothers and daughters but we are so very much alike. We favor of course, and we share many of the same interests.

Sharing an artistic moment

She loves photography, scary movies, playing board games and video games, day trips to new places, the outdoors, water skiing, hiking, bicycling, her dogs, her family, and wants to become either a veterinarian or a zoologist. She's only 16 - she has time to explore her options! She's well travelled, having flown to Arizona many times and visited more than a dozen states.

Kayla at the Plazza di San Pietro, the Vatican, Rome, Italy

This kid's been to Rome, Italy and from there traveled a train to Florence, Italy. Next year her class trip will be to London, England.

Alex, Kayla and Baylee, the "Berniel." (Bernese Mountain Dog meets Spaniel)

She has a wonderful boyfriend named Alex who has been a tremendous source of strength and spirituality for her. We are thankful for his presence in her life, and our lives. He's a good guy.

Kayla and Baylee enjoy a special moment in the brightly colored lake-side chairs.

This blog entry is dedicated to my amazing daughter. She has become fascinated with my blog and has started one of her own which can be linked to at right, named "A Portrait of War." (She explains in her blog) Please welcome her into the community!

Kayla took this shot - I really like it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


American Coots

This is the second year that my friend, Carroll, and I have taken a drive to northwest Alabama in search of bald eagles. They do nest there, and the last I recall reading about their numbers there were up to 50 couples residing in the wild, rolling multi-clayed cliftsides of Waterloo and Pickwick Lake. This area is extremely isolated and Pickwick Lake, part of the rambling Tennessee River system, has gravelly shores perfect for eagle picnics.

Carroll and I decided "on the fly" to stop first at the North Alabama Birding Trail lookout point off the Natchez Trace. There we observed the American Coot Convention body-surfing on roiling waves kicked up by gusting 20mph winds. Very cold gusting 20mph winds, I might add. Barges lumbered silently by while we watched the coots bob in the waves and a gaggle of what appeared to be scaups float way out in the river channel. However, there were no eagles to be spotted. Our patience spent, we placed our cameras back in the car and continued our journey toward Waterloo.
Exposed Sycamore Tree Roots - very cool!

Right before the bridge leading into Waterloo we hung a right onto Highway #1 and slowly drove north deeper into eagle nesting country. We knew of a nest there, and we also knew that recent storms hit this area hard. Checking the status of the nest was critical to us, but first...we had to find it. Eventually, we saw it high in its tree seemingly all together and whole. No eagles sat upon it, no eaglets called for food. We heard no eagles above us, we saw no eagles flying around or fishing. This was not good.

Walking around the roadway, we had to dodge huge lumber trucks and ducked when two small lear jets dipped low over the area. Odd. The water was way down and very muddy from the storms, and the chop was fierce. Fishing must not be good for eagles in these conditions. We ate our lunch in the protection of my car, watched yet more coots and the ubiquitious seagulls and herons....but no eagles. Driving through this area beside the water damage from storms is obvious. Trees have been leveled but left for the wildlife by watershed teams, as it should be. We entertained ourselves briefly walking along the shoreline but it was too chilly and windy to really enjoy the moment.

Again, our patience was stretched thin. Strong, frigid, gusting winds making our eyes tear and numbed our ear lobes and noses and fingers, but no eagles. Just coots. Lots and lots of coots. We bid a silent goodbye to the hidden eagles and turned back for the last stop of the day - Wilson Dam.

Wilson Dam has a beautiful park with walking trails on the low side of the dam. There, one can usually spy eagles perched high on the clifts watching for fishes below. Today, the waterfalls are terrific thanks to recent rains. We watched chickadees dart among the cliftside foliage. We saw cormorants and seagulls but once again we are disappointed by our eagles. No sightings. Nothing.

Carroll attended an Eagle Awareness Week jaunt several years ago, and this was our second try of these same areas. Sadly, every year we have been disappointed. Next year we are abandoning Waterloo and traveling to another chosen spot. We were so excited after reading Jodi's blog (Bloomingwriter) about her eagle spotting trip - we just knew this was going to be our year....but no.

However, what was lost in eagle sightings we gained in meditations. We had a lovely day together in the sunshine and winds and nature, and enjoyed long periods of companionable silences that only good friends can share. Road trips are my meditations, and good friends are balms to my soul. We had sandwiches while jammed in the front of my Subaru while listening to Dave Matthews Band, laughed at our red noses during lengthy walks on windswept, misty shorelines, and chuckled at our silliness calling out "Here Eagle, Eagle, Eagle!" to the heavens. ( no avail)

At the end of our trip we stood beside these beautiful, roaring waterfalls and tipped our faces into the icy mist that floated in the air, relishing our freedom and friendship. Road trips are my meditation.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Like Everyone Else......

I HAVE to post my bird pictures. Everyone seems to be experiencing these great birding moments, and I've relished in the blogs of others these days. However, the past 6 months - give or take - I've been lacking in the bird moments. Husband retired - "surely you're not buying more BIRD SEED are you?" Well, um, yeah......I have been. But I had to quit for a while since the family wanted groceries THEY could eat (selfish as they are - LOL) so I begged for a new birdfeeder and years supply of bird seed for Christmas. The hubby came through, but bought that cheap seed. These song birds don't like that round stuff, so once that's gone I'll go back to the good stuff.After several weeks with the new feeder up and shiny ribbons flying finally, FINALLY, birds started coming 'round. First came the ubiquitous cardinals, which I LOVE. The bluebirds, the house finches, doves, the wrens and chickadees, and finally goldfinches, titmice, a white-breasted nuthatch and a prize - a Eastern Wood Pewee. (Believe me - I had to look that up!)

This, below, is the Eastern Wood Pewee. I thought it was a flycatcher, then a phoebe, but the coloration just wasn't right. I'll have to make sure through various birding friends, but I think that's what this is. She was a striking bird - very calm and self assured. Beautiful.
Some of my favorites are the Tufted Titmouse. They're sort of cocky, and I like that about them. They only come around for me when there are tons of other birds around. It's not that they're shy, but simply cautious.

The last little guy I captured was a white-breasted nuthatch. They're everywhere, but don't often like posing for photos. I mean, this isn't America's Next Top Bird Models, for heaven's sake. They all just want to nibble in peace and not be bothered by my camera with a long lens and my dog's big face in the window. Birds just make me happy. How can one not be cheered by a bird? (with nod to Pooh) Thanks for letting me post these bird's photos.


Related Posts with Thumbnails