Thursday, April 29, 2010

White Flower

I've been away again, traveling hither and yon, neglecting blog and yard and house cleaning (yay!!!). When I returned today I found this rambling shrub along the fence in our backyard covered in four-petaled white flowers.

The shrub has no thorns and seems to be vase-shaped, kinda like a forsythia. It's quite tall, towering over my head. Then again, I'm rather vertically challenged measuring a little over 5'2".

If I'd had a brain I would'a gotten a photo for you of the leaves. If the flowers don't give you an idea of the variety I'll go back out there but for now I'm too lazy to do that.

As previously stated, flowers have 4 petals but I've spied a couple of rabble-rousers with 3 petals and one with 5 petals.

Whatever, it's really pretty. There's no scent. Sweat bees seem to love cozying up to the little pollen holders in the middle. Stamens, right? Would you believe that I'm a Master Gardener? I should know that stuff. Or look it up before posting. That's what Google is all about.

Here's a lovely little trio. Anyone have a clue what this is? I'm sure it's something common - why else would it be here? Then again, I've discovered a Chinese Fringe Tree - I'll post pics of that soon. Now THAT has a lovely scent! Please leave a comment if you know what this lovely is. Thanks mucho grando!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kwanzan Cherry Trees - Macro Study

Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, has a stand of cherry trees beside their Fine Art Building that literally stops traffic every spring.

These ornamental cherry trees are what I believe to be Kwanzan cherry trees.

Extraordinarily showy, its bundles of huge double pink blossoms last longer than those of other flowering ornamental cherry trees, such as the Yoshino.

The Kwanzan is a vase-shaped tree with a rounded crown that spreads as it ages, making it taller than wide at maturity.

My understanding is that these trees are fruitless cultivars.

I read this morning that both Kwanzan and Yoshino cherry trees are planted in Washington D. C. and Macon, Georgia for their annual Cherry Blossom Festivals.

I feel certain they must be planted and celebrated in other cities and towns across America in similar festivals.

I'm celebrating them today with my own personal virtual Cherry Blossom Festival!

Unlike other ornamental cherry trees, the leaves of the Kwanzan cherry begin to grow while the tree is still in bloom, which creates a gorgeous study of complementary colors.

Exquisite. There wasn't a bad shot in the bunch.

"In full bloom, an ornamental cherry tree branch extends out over a moat at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. The flowering cherry tree, or sakura, is one of the most exalted flowering plants in Japan, where the blossoms’ short but beautiful blooming time is a symbol for the evanescence of human life." (Unknown)

Are you enjoying Spring as much as I am?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Prairie Grove Glades Preserve, Part 2

The wildflowers are lovely at Prairie Grove Glades Preserve but we found that there is even more there to see if you keep your eyes open . The road heading in passes through a low area filled with grasses and duck weed. There is ample room to stop and take photos but this being a wet area we pretty much had to stop in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the only other traffic we encountered were tadpoles and little fishes in the streams flowing on both sides of the road, butterflies flitting by and the occasional bird.

Across the waters I heard a hawk calling erratically and loudly. Don't know what kind of hawk - never saw him - but his call was insistent ... and consistent. Maybe he felt we were intruding upon private, sacred grounds. ....maybe we were.

It's very quiet here. It's early spring so the insect population wasn't quite "awake" yet. The reflections were beautiful - lime green duckweed floating over mirror images of tall, dark grasses with a vivid blue backdrop provided by the day's crystal clear skies.

Reading about Alabama's wetlands I think this area may be defined as a marsh. "...frequently or continually flooded wetlands that contain water levels from between two inches to two to three feet, but they are distinguished from swamps in that they predominately contain herbaceous vegetation such as grasses, sedges, worts, or cattails. They frequently occur in poorly drained depressions along streams, in floodplains and along the boundaries of rivers and lakes." There are two categories according to this on-line article, and this marsh would clearly be a Freshwater Marsh, "...the most prevalent and widely distributed wetlands in North America. They differ from salt marshes only in their water source, which contains runoff from streams, ponds and lakes instead of the ocean. Freshwater marshes constitute the best breeding habitat in the country, and they are also important feeding places for many animals." (Source)

The area immediately opposite the marsh, on the other side of the road, was a deep wood with watery base and islands of mosses and sedums.

I think this is my favorite photo, above.

Reflections of moss and tree.

Reflections of grass.

Duckweed and grasses.

Resurrection Fern

Finally looking upward at trees lining the roadway I spied an old elm tree struggling along festooned with Resurrection Ferns. Its last hurrah, likely. I Googled "resurrection fern" in order to find something interesting (and correct) to say about this fascinating plant and found a blog titled..."Resurrection Fern" that's just lovely! Do pop over to say "hello" if you wish!

Have many adventures,
Drink much wine,

Laugh until your sides hurt,

See friends and family often.

Go down new roads,

Go outside every day.

Just go!

Peace to you all today and forever!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prairie Grove Glades Preserve

Perusing The Nature Conservancy of Alabama's website last week I learned of a protected area close to home - Prairie Grove Glades Preserve in Lawrence County, Alabama. Spring is the perfect time to experience and photograph wildflowers. This sounds like a great road trip for me and my mom while I'm "vacationing" at the lake!

Prairie Grove Glades Preserve is a cedar glade, described in Wikipedia as "...a habitat type unique to the central eastern United States. Cedar glades occur where limestone bedrock occurs near or at the surface. The glade areas proper have very shallow soil or exposed bedrock in some areas. Because of the shallow soil and the extreme conditions created by it, trees are unable to grow in the glades. This creates a habitat more similar to the prairies hundreds of miles to the west than to the surrounding forests."

NOTE: If one does not possess a GPS unit one must have a very good map. The fact that I possessed neither added several hours to what is in reality an easy day trip for wildflower and preservation enthusiasts!

Alabama glade cress, wild garlic and buttercups

The road leading into the Preserve is a nicely graded gravel road off a major highway. There is no sign on the highway so you really have to do your research. (Personally, I prefer it that way.) Slowly rolling along, we passed vast meadows of wildflowers surrounded by old growth cedar and hardwoods. Weathered wooden fences with barbed wire lined the roadway on both sides, designed to keep ATVs and other destructive wheeled vehicles from destroying delicate wildflower habitat. The fences are clearly marked and easy to see.

Before long we reached the sign and parking area. The park appeared "closed" to us so we stayed to the roadway and shot images between the barbed wire into the meadows. I stooped to take macros of the roadside flowers. A couple drove past and waved cheerfully before turning around and coming over for a chat. Both were regular visitors to the Preserve, wildflower enthusiasts and photographers. The couple informed us that the park "always looks like this" and encouraged us down a pathway and through the barbed wire, as it was acceptable. With all the rainfall, the area had deep water in most spots so we stayed to the main roadway this trip.

Alabama glade cress

Our new friends told us that the ubiquitous white and yellow flowers we saw peppered everywhere is Alabama Glade Cress. This blanket of white and yellow happily existed amid the meadows of green and lined the roadway on both sides, next to softly running brooks of water. Occasional yellow buttercups waved high over the much lower glade cress. The glade cress seemed happiest next to, or within, shallow pools of water.

Macro of Alabama glade cress

My understanding is that the Alabama glade cress is on the endangered species list along with other residents such as the federal candidate Harper's umbrella plant, Alabama larkspur and prairie Indian plantain. Other glade flowering plants are purple topped Nashville breadroot, Tennessee milk vetch, glade quillwort and yellow sunnybells. Lyrate bladderpod grows only in Alabama and is federally listed as threatened. The wildflowers bloom at various times so if you miss something during a visit stop by a couple of weeks later and the vistas will have changed to include new blooming flowers.

Wild stonecrop

Further down the road we discover the wild stonecrop, or sedum ternatum michx. wild stonecrop. (love the Internet) However, all my research at home shows the flowers as white whereas the flowers we saw that day were shades of pink and magenta and lavender. These beauties bloomed in more shallow soil between the large, flat, gray limestone bedrock.

This photo gives you a sense of scale - stonecrop nestled in limestone

Macro of wild stonecrop

Most of my information was gleaned from The Nature Conservancy of Alabama's pages.

On a personal note, I came close to not writing this post. My first instincts upon seeing this place was one of complete awe. It's not like anything I've ever seen. The feeling I hold deeply which continues with me today is one of being in a sacred place. Indeed, we were. This glade is a treasure and I am so thankful that people recognized its rarity and in turn worked to preserve and thus share it with future generations. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Prairie Grove Glades Preserve will strike you on a visceral level - I guarantee it.

So, I changed my mind and decided to post but leave you with these wise words written in lyrics by John Kay of Steppenwolf. (...just dated myself...)

"Bring nothing but silence,
Show nothing but grace,
Seek nothing but shelter
From the great human race.
Take nothing but pictures,
Kill nothing but time,
Leave nothing but footprints
To show you came by."

(But please don't step on the flowers!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breathe Deeply

This morning I wrote a lovely post about a day trip that my mom and I made last week. The post was informative and fairly lengthy with lots of photos, several being mosaics that I created in Photoshop.

Twice I tried posting today. Twice my posts were rejected. I'm a slow learner. Apparently Blogger won't accept posts that were written in Word then copied and pasted into the Compose section. That's all I can figure out. I kept getting ERROR! messages in big red letters in regards to some HTML stuff. Obviously, I'm not an HTML expert.

So, I am quitting today. All the photos that I posted will be deleted they say, which will take about 24 hours. It's been a little frustrating. I'll try later this week with the thought that it'll be good to let the bad energy and karma disappear with the images and start anew on another day.

In the interim, please enjoy these little pics as "teasers" for an upcoming post. I promise it'll be a good one! Pray it'll "stick" next time. This will at least give me time to go catch up with everyone. I'm logging off and plan to sit outside in my shady backyard for a few minutes and .... breathe deeply. It's only a blog after all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sunny Day on Wheeler Lake

November 1, 2009

The Last Lake Day

Above was the last sunrise I saw from our lake house before our temporary move to the city. I rose well before sunrise, made coffee and then stole outside to the deck to watch and record the sunrise. Fortunately for me it was a glorious one - all purples and magentas, pinks and violets, blues and fuchsias with a little bit of yellow and orange splashed in for contrast. The lake's surface was smooth, with ribbons of tiny ripples caused by the currents. The loons called across the waters and herons glided silently by except for the occasional croaking. An armada of coots were barely visible at the water's edge, heading westward on a mission. The Giraffe Head Tree was ever alert, her outstretched leg devoid of squirrels this early morning.

That I love this lake is evident in all that I do. It pulls on me like gravity. Eventually its tugging wins and I'm on my way, bags packed and camera charged, ready to orbit this heavenly body for a few days. Recently, our renters let hubby and I know that they would be out of town for a couple of weeks and invited me to come sit on the deck, peruse the yard and soak up the lakeside for as long as I wish. So, the first sunny and warm day we had I left this city life and took my new friend, Eve, to the lake. We had a Girl's Day Out - the third of our recent adventures!

The day was perfect! Sunny and slightly chilly in the morning but it warmed up nicely. After touring my mom's house we walked across the street to see my house. Standing on the deck admiring the Giraffe Head Tree we noticed about 20, give or take, birds way out in the water. Naturally, we didn't have our cameras but we THINK they were mergansers. Actually, we decided to declare them mergansers....just 'cause we could!

Afterward, we drove down the lane to my buddy Carroll's house. Carroll treated us to Mojitos on the deck (YUM!) in the sunshine. Chit chatting among ourselves we were entertained by trilling birds darting about the treetops - Cedar Waxwings! Of course we got photos - these are really cropped. The waxwings would swoop off a branch to snatch a bug in midair, then roll back to a branch to finish its snack. They were such fun to watch. We did NOT get a photo of the three of us together so you know what THAT means? Yep...we have to schedule another day trip!

This guy looks like he has long spurs on his feet!

At attention.

At this point we noticed another group of duck like birds floating westward towards us. At first we thought they were the mergansers but these guys were definitely different. Not as "pointy" as a merganser, nor as streamlined. Eve speculated what they were, then dashed to the car to get her birding book she brought and confirmed it - Blue Winged Teals. I've cropped these photos so you can get a decent look at them. They floated by in leisure fashion while the three of us excitedly pointed and laughed and took photos.

You can clearly see the blue patch on the one in flight.

Yay! Blue Winged Teals!

Landing. Yeah, these aren't the best photos but you have to remember we were excited!

Heading eastward toward the sun for a few minutes. The lighting's a little better.

Saying our goodbyes to Carroll, the waxwings and blue winged teals Eve and I headed back up the lane to meet my mom. Sitting on her front porch, mom poured us both a "bowl" of wine (she's very generous with her libations!) and chatted a bit - then realized we could be across the street sitting on the deck overlooking the lake! That's where we ended our afternoon on the lake, toasting to each other and the lake and the Giraffe Head Tree!

Sunny Day Pals!

Me and mom.

I leave tomorrow for my lake once more for there's an HOA meeting I must attend on Saturday - that's the bad part. However, during my time there I'll see lots of my friends and spend quality time with my mom - that's the GOOD part! If luck is on my side this time I'll get to go out and take some photos - there's an unexplored refuge close to Florence that's calling my name! Have a lovely week, everyone!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

North Alabama Birding Society Outing

The view from Monte Sano Mountain, Huntsville

Eve and I have attended several North Alabama Birding Society outings, and were looking forward to another scheduled a week ago on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville led by John Ehinger, retired editor of The Huntsville Times. John is an excellent and long-time birder who makes his home atop Monte Sano and now writes about birding and preservation issues in his blog titled "Bird Droppings."

About 20, give or take, hardy souls met at the top of the mountain in a parking lot close to the Japanese Garden. Monte Sano Mountain rims the east side of the City of Huntsville in North Alabama and makes up part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The name means "Mountain of Health" for its obvious benefit of fresh, clean air high above. Monte Sano Mountain is home to Monte Sano State Park, which has recently undergone many upgrades and improvements.

Some sort of woodpecker

What I've yet to report is just how cold it was this early, early morning. So far, each and every birding expedition Eve and I have shared with the Society have been in frigid conditions. One wouldn't normally expect "frigid" in March in Alabama. My hope was that the forest would shield us from the biting winds, but alas. Sadly, the only thing stirring at the beginning of our trek was ... us. The birds, perhaps smarter than us that particular morning, were staying in their warm nests and hidey holes.

We looped around a trail that took us through the Japanese Garden, which houses a lovely Japanese Tea House. Several ornamentals were beginning to bud out - this calls for a return trip, and soon. The trail banked off into deeper woods, then cut down into a low area with running stream. John gave us a list of usual bird sightings along this gorgeous little stream, but there were no birds today. Occasionally a birder would stop and point, which meant we would all stop and strain our eyes to see something - anything - binoculars and cameras at the ready.

John decided to take us to an overlook on the other side of the mountain in hopes of avoiding the strong, cold winds. The overlook was wonderful, affording us all delicious views to the valley far below. The first shot in this post was taken there.

I've decided I'm a terrible birder. Bird calls are beyond me and unless it's an obvious bird my form if identification means taking its photo then coming home to look it up. REAL birders, such as the ones surrounding me that day, knew every twitter and could ID a bird in a flash. That we were desperate to see a bird - ANY BIRD - was evident by all the Mockingbird, Cardinal and Robin sightings, which were announced with glee. At one point a gaggle of birders just KNEW they had spied a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. A tiny bird the same coloration as its surroundings, I've never, ever seen one. The pointing was frantic, and all manner of lenses were seeking this elusive bird. "It's just RIGHT THERE!" "NO!...A LITTLE TO THE LEFT OF THAT BRANCH!" "NO...THE GREEN BRANCH, NOT THE BROWN BRANCH!" (.....we were in a thick many green and brown branches ARE there???) You get the idea. By this time frostbite was setting in so John decided to try the Land Trust parking lot in another area of the mountain. (...btw, I never saw the kinglet - I think they were simply desperate...)

Eve spotting this huge tree fungus high, high overhead. THIS I could see and ID!

Handsome Mr. Cardinal

Pulling into the Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama's parking lot on the west side of Monte Sano Mountain, we stumbled out of our cars to gale force winds. Freezing, frigid, unkind gale force winds. John just laughed and threw up his hands, admitting defeat to the elements. Still, he suggested we walk down to a nearby clearing "just in case" as we were at least hearing more birds at this location. Maybe they were only now beginning to thaw out. Tears streaming, zipping our jackets tightly, we walked the short distance to the clearing.

Eve heard it first. "John, is that a Piliated I hear?" Yes! John agrees and we all look around. I am excited for the first time as I've never seen a Piliated Woodpecker!

Piliated Woodpecker

There he is! "Males have red whisker (malar) and forehead." (Thanks, Cornell Lab of Ornithology - if you click on the Cornell link you'll see a nice shot of a ruby crowned kinget, LOL!) I'm in awe - this one sighting is worth everything this day! I walk down to get a better look and hopefully one decent shot. It's hard with all the branches in the way, but I get a few oky doky shots.

Piliated Woodpecker fleeing the scene

The Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama on Monte Sano Mountain.

The morning sunshine has been kind to us, offering all manner of beautiful lighting. Later, the day will be much warmer but for now we're all frozen and ready to head home to hot coffee or tea, or even hot anything! The sunrise turns the the understory brush into glowing chartreuse fronds - a lovely thing to behold.

Oh, look! It's a Golden Crowned Aves Seeker!

Sorry...couldn't resist showing Eve doing "her thang!" I can't wait to see her photos from our NABS outing! However, you must know we've had two days of absolutely GLORIOUS weather and our tow-headed friend has been out on her new "hog" instead of indoors processing photos. Smart girl! Hope you enjoyed our Spring Outing, Part 2. Have a fantastic Easter weekend with family and friends.


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