Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sandhill Cranes

My buddy, Carroll, and I agreed that it was time for a road trip. The Sandhill Cranes were reportedly in residence at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama, so that became our destination. We arrived at 9am, which was perfect as the sun rose over the treeline illuminating the wetlands beyond.

We saw them flying high overhead toward the fields so we hastened down the path to the observation building. Silently approaching our ears were treated to their unusual trumpeting which is described as deep, rolling trumpet and rattling. Once you hear it you'll never forget it. Carroll and I stopped, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound around us and we both had tears streaming down our faces. We've been dreaming of this moment and were overwhelmed by the gift. Entering the observation building and heading straight to the glassed walls we stopped, dumbfounded at the sight beyond. Across the wetlands in every field standing in every range of our vision stood hundreds and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. Their trumpeting and calls were so loud we could clearly hear them though the glass.

These birds are quite large, with wingspan of up to 80 inches, or close to 7 feet. Their red foreheads could be clearly seen, and there were a lot of juveniles as well. They mate for life and can live up to the age of 20. These are tall, gray birds of open grasslands, meadows and wetlands who tend to migrate south as a group. Their summer range is Alaska and Canada, eastward to western Quebec and southward to northern United States. They reside as well in Florida and Cuba. We are fortunate enough to have them winter here at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The common name of the bird references habitat like that at the Platte River on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the Midwest.

They are omnivorous, eating grains, seeds and berries, some insects and even some invertebrates and small vertebrates. Fields are prepared here for migrating birds within the refuge. Their habitat is open marshes or bogs, and in wet grasslands and meadows, and nests tends to be either a large mound of vegetation floating or attached to vegetation or a scooped out area in the ground, lined with grasses. The young are called "colts."

But enough of that. All those facts came from the Cornell and Wikipedia sites, so please check them out if you're interested to know more. For me and Carroll, our pleasure came from listening to their beautiful trumpeting sounds and watching them in flight. We dubbed them the Botti Birds after our favorite trumpeter, Chris Botti. I'm sure he'd be pleased to know that!

There we other birds milling about with the Sandhill Cranes yesterday. Northern Shovelers and Common Goldeneyes and the ubiquitous Mallards were everywhere. Lots of gulls and doves were also flying about. Yesterday's temperature was in the low 60's, sunny and calm. The birds were everywhere. We left the WWR happy and content in the knowledge that we finally saw our Sandhill Cranes. Today, I took my mom to see them as she loves cranes of all kinds. I'll update the blog with those photos maybe tomorrow. In all, I took over 300 photos but only a few are okay. The birds were pretty far away.

Oh! The husband changed my computer around, adding a third monitor and updating some software. While I am completely grateful that he did so all three monitors need to be color calibrated - each one is slightly different. One is too pale, one has a greenish tint and the other has a grayish tint. All that to say I processed these photos as best I could so let me know if they look okay. If so, I'll know which monitor is the best until such time as corrections can be made. Many thanks!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year...New Look

As much as I loved my banner and the clean white slate I was frankly boring myself. While recuperating from the hustle and bustle and lovely noise and busyness of the holiday, I am indulging myself with play. Playing on the blogs, reading books, listening to music, quietly rejoicing Life with as little effort as possible. Time to freshen this puppy up. Blue. Quiet, calm, peaceful, Zen. Reminds me of the beautiful blue-green Tree Swallows that delight me so.

I've been fortunate enough to see them twice during migration, but only once did I photograph them. They swooped through our yard and settled into a field across the street, diving and foraging among the weeds. They dove and hopped and rustled through the grass obviously after something specific, but I couldn't determine just what. They were only there about 5 minutes before lifting en mass and moving eastward in a blue-green swirling dervish. They flew all around me, not bothered by my presence. Cornell says their ability to use plant foods help them survive periods of bad weather. Maybe they were picking up some yummy seeds. Normally, they catch insects in flight and nibble berries.

Cornell also states that outside of the breeding season the Tree Swallow congregates into enormous flocks and night roosts, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands. They gather about an hour before sunset at a roost site, forming a dense cloud. They swirl around like a living tornado and as darkness approaches they then wheel low over the cattail marsh or grove of small trees. Large numbers drop down into the roost with each pass of the flock until the flock disappears.

The Tree Swallow uses many feathers from other birds, usually waterfowl, in its nest. The feathers help keep the nestlings warm so they can grow faster. They help keep levels of ectoparasites, like mites, low too. They normally nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a NestCam which occasionally highlights Tree Swallows but today, the NestCam is showing Barn Owls. You can link to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's blog, Round Robin, to the right under Nature & Photography Blogs.

Happy birding!

Monday, December 22, 2008

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
~Dr. Seuss
My wish for each of you this season is the warmth of family,
the joy of friendships, and the magic of the holidays.
Be safe.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Self Explanatory

Don't laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own. ~Logan Pearsall Smith, "Age and Death," Afterthoughts, 1931
Adolescence is perhaps nature's way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest. ~Karen Savage and Patricia Adams, The Good Stepmother
Mother Nature is providential. She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers. ~William Galvin
The best substitute for experience is being sixteen. ~Raymond Duncan
Violet will be a good color for hair at just about the same time that brunette becomes a good color for flowers. ~Fran Lebowitz
There's nothing wrong with the younger generation that becoming taxpayers won't cure. ~Dan Bennett
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi" Atlantic Monthly, 1874
I've been told that the average child's brain doesn't fully mature until they reach the age of 25. Let's hope that she and I both live to see that milestone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are quite common, yet however common they are I'm still drawn to their mournful call which, to me, is soothing and comfortable. This time of the year they tend to congregate in canopies of bare trees, seemingly like ornaments dotted here and there. Doves are frequent visitors to our feeder and always drives Baylee crazy.
Cornell gives some cool facts about these birds. Seems during nest building the female stays at the nest and the male collects sticks, standing on her back to present the nesting material to her. She in turns take the material and weaves it into the nest. She normally lays 2 eggs and may have up to five or six clutches in a single year. The male usually incubates from midmorning until late afternoon and the female sits the rest of the day and night.
These beautiful birds are plentiful, being the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. There are dove hunts here, of course, as in all part of North America yet the Mourning Dove remains among the 10 most abundant birds in the US. These birds remain close to my heart with their whistling wings and sudden bursts into flight, and their feathers are so beautiful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Carolina Wren

This little tubby Carolina Wren needs to lay off the holiday seeds. My heavens, what a fat little guy! Won't his fat belly cause drag to his normally acrobatic flight?

It's not just bad camera angle. He's fat no matter where he is.

If wrens could be bowlegged he'd be a good candidate. I love wrens. These tiny birds have a huge attitude with a voice to match. Loud. Very. Only the males sing the loud song, but both sing. Cornell says the male and female sing different parts, and usually interweave their songs such that they sound like a single bird singing. A pair bond may form between a male and a female at any time of the year, and the pair will stay together for life. Members of a pair stay together on their territory year-round, and forage and move around the territory together.

My mom had a wren nest in her wreath, and my friend had one nest in her geraniums. They seem to be quite social and interact well with other birds at the feeder.

That some people can look at a bird, or any creature of nature, and not understand that they have families and form forever bonds is inconceivable to me.

Some facts compliments of Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Friday, December 12, 2008


I adore hearing from friends. One friend I've not e-chatted with in a while sent an e-mail last night. Her brief prose acknowledged the struggles each of us are facing within our little group of pals, and then she proceeded to compile a list of everything in her life there is to be happy about right now, this minute. I'm borrowing her idea and posting my list here in hopes that writing it and reading it will remind me just how fortunate I am.

1. This hot cup of coffee in my hand
2. Music
3. Great, wonderful, loving, supportive friends
4. Amazing family - here and all over
5. Food in the fridge and pantry
6. Nature
7. Camera and accompanying gear
8. Hot showers
9. Sunrises and sunsets
10. Migrating birds
11. Ample clothing to wear
12. Roof over my head
13. A good heat pump
14. My cookware
15. All my senses intact
16. Good health, my own and my immediate family's and friend's

Feel free to compile your own lists of blessings and gratitude's.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

February 28, 2008

Back when the Subaru was running well and could be trusted to take me there and back again without incident, I found this dirt road leading to a pond. I'd seen an egret, so my thought was to sneak up on the creature and capture him (or her) for posterity. The egret wasn't having it and flew away upon my noisy arrival. However, this gaggle of Canada Geese had been, oh...I dunno...sunbathing? They popped up their heads, which waved about atop their long necks like snakes. It was such a funny moment. I barely got this shot through the windshield before they began rising and waddling toward the water. It was a simple pleasure that made me laugh all by myself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

October 15, 2002

I didn't know of winter birds then, but do now. We'd been here at this lake house less than one year when this photo was taken and I'd found myself fascinated by the feathered thespians within the play that acted incessantly outside my window pane, between here and the lake which draws them. The winter birds, the winter birds. "The days grow short as the nights grow long, the kettle sings its tortured song..." "The winter birds have come back again..." (Ray LaMontagne)

Encapsulated within my domestic bubble during winter gray days that fell one after another that first cold spell like dominoes, a simple joy came in seeking new birds that lit upon trees outside. It was here and then that I discovered lighting and perching in the bare branches all manner of waterfowl and songbirds from books long forgotten while bobbing and diving upon the lake itself were various mergansers and ducks, geese and cormorants. Great Blue Herons landed in hickories, yellow-rumped warblers and goldfinches picked at birdseed, Downy woodpeckers, nuthatches and flickers climbed trees for suet, and I rediscovered the loud, raucous calls of red-headed woodpeckers. Bluebirds, finches, sparrows, wrens, cardinals, mockingbirds, and orioles surprised and delighted me. The fight between blue jays and squirrels amused as much as the dive-bombing of hawks and ospreys took me by surprise.

Nature played out as it was destined to do with or without my observation. Mergansers behaved much the same as penguins and white pelicans became heralded visitors. Bald eagles were exclamation points, worthy of phone calls to neighbors. It was here and then that I knew that nature and conservation were a destiny of a sort.

Since then our Conservancy has been created, greater learning and awareness for our riparian zone has grown, and a passion for conservation, indigenous birds, insects, flora and watershed protection has become a passion. One blooms where one is planted, as I've heard said. It is true. Open yourself to what's around you and heed the calling. Be true to yourself and your passion for living. This is a Note To Self.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Tree Man

I woke this morning as I always do, lying on my right side looking out toward the lake. Usually, I wake long before the sun considers its appearance. Today was such a day. The sky was colored charcoal, like well worn asphalt, and everything is in silhouette. To my surprise, the tree man greets me once again. He's not quite the same as some leaves have blown away, altering his features somewhat. But he's there nonetheless. My heart is gladdened. This time I'm determined to figure out what makes him and how to position myself to find him. Noting the position of blinds and branches I rise triumphant for coffee. Later, returning in the light of day I lay in the same position. Despite knowing he's there he is difficult to spot with blue skies and various branches and leaves and colors. I've discovered that part of his features - nose and mouth - are actually created by a fern that sits in our sunroom. All those textures and colors compete for attention and make him nearly impossible to spot.

The starkness of silhouette is what makes him possible at all. The busyness of the day and brightness of colors turns the magic off, turning him back into bark and leaf, fern and branch. It's amazing what one can see in the quiet, when one's mind is silent, when you're still and not seeking. I't comforting to know that these simple things are there waiting for us. Like the Tree Man.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Autumn 2008

The leaves are mostly gone and tree branches are silhouettes in the gray skies these days. The other morning during the predawn I was lying on my side watching the lake wake up, all cozy beneath tons of blankets when I saw a man looking back at me. It wasn't a real man, but a tree man created by layers of leaves and branches in oaks and hickories between our house and the lake. His eye was very detailed with an iris and pupil and a perfect eyebrow. His hair was created by the filigreed tendrils of a shagbark hickory. There was the suggestion of a nose and the beautiful curve of his upper lip. He was very handsome, this tree man. His head was cocked as though resting upon a pillow. If I moved in the slightest the tree man would come undone, so I laid there as long as I could watching him watching me until my right side started tingling from lack of movement. I thought later that I would try to capture him with my camera, so I went back to the bedroom, laid down and tried to find him. He was gone. The wind was blowing by then and the leaves and branches were buffling about.
I'm not ready to let go of autumn. The golden hickories and red oaks and yellow maples and ragged buckeyes still call to me from my Autumn 2008 photo file. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I’m disturbed and pensive. Diane at Alberta Photography threw a question at us the other day which drew me up short. “Have you found your passions have shifted?”

I’m pensive because this year has found me seeking a new direction for myself in earnest. I’m disturbed because life continues on irregardless of my search and I’m not as far along in my quest as desired. Because I’d internalized Diane’s question my walk this morning was different. Birds and beasts went unnoticed as my head pointed down and my eyes were fixed on the pavement, mulling it all over.

Yes, and no, is the answer. Yes, my personal artistic and career passions have shifted. However, I have not had time to explore new personal pathways because there remains in the home a teenager, a daughter, my forever passion.

So, I’m walking and thinking. I even feel differently inside. My usual route takes me east toward the marina down a long winding sidewalk with cottages on one side and the lake, lake homes and common area on the other. Trees are nearly bare now, but a few oak leaves remain fluttering in the unstoppable wind off of the water. Suddenly, within the sidewalk I see these impressions.

Tiny sprouts grew into mature leaves that died and fell onto this sidewalk leaving their mark for eternity. They’re scattered about like the leaves that made them, these brown silhouettes of leaves that once slept in that spot. They’re beautiful, like paintings from God.

These particular leaves moved on but the impression they left remains and has changed the very surface upon which they fell forever. Such is true for people and relationships.

I think about my teenager who remains and pray that the impressions she receives and has received from us, from family and friends, and from others in her life fill her with hope and confidence. The impressions she’s receiving help shape her character as she matures into herself. Until such time as this passion moves on to college and her adult life my personal search will come, but slowly. I must be patient.

These simple impressions of leaves long gone are a powerful reminder to me that everything we do as a human being leaves an impression, an imprint, with someone or something. Our actions and words influence and cause effect, have impact, create reaction, and have consequences, forever. Nature is our teacher if we only but pay attention. I’ll continue to search for my personal passions but in the meantime the teenager remains. Thanks, Diane.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Yesterday, it snowed off and on all day. Sometimes the flakes were huge, like flat, white Tiddly Winks floating down from the heavens. I ran out and took photos but mainly I ran around like a crazy woman laughing into the skies and catching the flakes on my tongue like I did as a child. We don't see snow often, and this was a safe snow without ice. Safe and soft and swift and it melted as soon as the flurry ended. It was perfect.

In these conditions of gray skies and white, soft fog this year's crop of possumhaw berries beam like headlights in the gloom. Our weather here hasn't been kind to these deciduous hollies the past few years, but for some reason the berries are the largest I've ever witnessed. They're huge, and there are so many clusters that the limbs are bowing down to the ground, and the trunks tremble with the weight of them.

The gold-berried possumhaw is striking this year but I've yet to take a photo to do it justice. The one above is unfortunately lit by the flash, which I forgot to turn off, but is pretty nonetheless.
The winterberry is the thickest of all. It will remain smaller than the others, and stay in a shrub shape. It is gorgeous with the Zebra grass backdrop. The larger ilex decidua was hard hit by an early frost a year ago and very nearly died. Most of its upper limbs are still without leaves and berries but what remains is still outstanding.

Traveling to Kansas City for Thanksgiving my job was to sit with Baylee in the backseat and keep her quiet and calm. Easier said than done. The best part of the job was looking out the window and observing the beautiful landscapes that flew by at 70mph. Somewhere in the northern part of Tennessee I saw a flash of brilliant red in the fence row. The native possumhaw! I internalized this, the magic of seeing the blood red berries flashing brightly in the low, vivid light of late autumn. Gazing without out really seeing, my eyes witnessed another flash of red, waking me from the daydream. Another possumhaw, the wild native standing out in a grove of sumac. Thus began the counting.
Through Tennessee then Kentucky I kept a running count in my head. They were sparse at first, the native possumhaws. One here, another there. I counted 9 when suddenly we came across a grove of them. Easily 10-12 possumhaws clustered in a group close to a fence row. I was astounded. Number 10 became #1 Possumhaw Grove. By St. Louis I'd seen 5-7 possumhaw groves and basically gave up the counting game. I also began seeing another red-berried shrub but the green leaves remained and the berries were not tightly bundled as with the possumhaws. These were everywhere, prominent and proud, hosting hoards of hungry birds. My host told me these were known as Inkberries. Way cool.

Having a passion for possumhaws may be sort of weird, but they fascinate me endlessly. Maybe it's just the name - possumhaw. Wikipedia reports that the berries were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, and the origin of the name "fever bush." Does anyone know why "possumhaw," the meaning of the word?

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1, 2008

We are back home after enjoying the warmth and love of our first Thanksgiving ever spent in Kansas City, Missouri. Daughter Jessica hosted her first small gathering of family in her precious home located in some marvelous area of Kansas City - don't ask me where, but it's close to "The Plaza." We had a marvelous time just being together and doing simple things together, talking over morning coffee and evening wine. We walked the dogs (Baylee went, too), ate too much, drove too much, laughed tons, drank too much, walked a lot, and simply enjoyed being together. Thanksgiving evening found us smack dab in the middle of The Plaza to watch the Christmas lights being turned on. David Cook was said to be there, but we never spotted him.

Sunday morning dawned with snow on the ground but good road conditions. The scenery was beautiful, ethereal. However, eleven hours in the car with a whining dog made me want to kiss the ground when we finally pulled into the driveway last night. This morning on the lake low, dark clouds and grey waters were the backdrop for our first Bald Eagle sighting. Bob saw him first flying east, and I caught him heading west back to the nest. Hugging the shoreline, treetop height, this fellow was looking for a tasty meal.

Logging on this morning I see I've been tagged by Brett at 365 to 42! Apparently, I'm required to post six random things about me. Egad, and I'm late about it as well, so I'd best get cracking. Like I need to sit more, but here we go:

The Rules:
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog (copy & paste 1-6)
3) Write 6 random things about yourself.
4) Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So, oky doky. Six random things about me, eh. I'll try to make this interesting.

A) I hate driving with shoes on.
B) I'm nearly hypnotized by the feel of huge amounts of dried beans or smooth pebbles in my hands.
C) I have every Beatles LP and 45, including imports.
D) My dream car is a 1960's Jaguar XKE
E) Once, I made an arrowhead.
F) A favorite activity is driving to nowhere, getting lost and exploring - I crave small, unmapped roads. (of course, with my camera)

I don't think these are very interesting, but there ya go. Obviously, I'm sort of a simple sort. (I also love maps, Brett, and have my Chatty Cathy doll!)

Oh, shoot....forgot to get all my peeps that I'm tagging...I'll be right back. Okay, I'm choosing some new friends from some new blogs that I've been lurking within, occasionally commenting on.

Rachel at Blue Algae Creative

Michaela at Floodwaters Photography

Kristin at Maine Momma

Kim at The Inadvertent Farmer

Jan at Thanks For 2 Day

Carla at Country Roads

I love these blogs and hope you all check 'em out. That's it for me - gotta go do laundry.

Ah, shoot...I forgot Rule #1 which was to link to Brett! goes: Brett at 365 to 42:

Apparently, my brain may be too old for such as this!!! LOL! Enjoy my randomness, if possible.


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