Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


My friend Cathy called to tell me aliens had landed in her backyard. The saucer had just dropped them off, leaving them to explore and possibly absorb us and take over the world.

These wee, tiny mop-tops sat atop hairy stems.

While we saw no evidence of eyes we had no doubt they were following our every move.

They appear oh so innocent, but we noticed some were gathered together as if whispering.

Wasn't this one just over there beside the sycamore?

How silly. Mushrooms do not move about, have flying saucers, think or take over the world. However, they've been known to take over my own backyard...but that's my own fault.

I have no clue what kind of mushrooms these are but the textures and colors are fascinating. I love mushrooms. Particularly, I love mushrooms sauteed in a little EVOO and sliced, fresh garlic, dappled with freshly ground pepper and simmered in sweet vermouth for a few hours. Any good mushroom recipes out there? And, anyone have a clue what kind of mushrooms these are?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Scenic Sunday

Wilson Dam

Hanging around dams is fun. Whenever I'm blue or ornery or scattered or feeling lost - or want an adventure! - I'll drive to one and soak it all in. Normally, bird photos from these places are what you see on this blog but today I thought it would be fun to show you the dams themselves.

Wilson Dam is in Florence. Here, on a lucky day you might spy a bald eagle perching on snags high atop the surrounding cliffs just waiting and watching. I've never been that lucky. However, the sheer power of this place is truly awesome. Not to compare these smaller dams with others a gazillion times larger, but no matter the size dams are to be respected. Me? I would never get this close to a dam. See the fishermen? Year round you'll find fishermen in boats rushing up to the dam, cut power and throw in their lines. The swift current quickly shuttles them downstream, and they'll power up and go right back next to the dam. This happens all day long. The assumption can only be that they catch lots of fish, or perhaps they simply enjoy the ride. Or both.

Most certainly this works out for the birds as well. The usual suspects are gulls and cormorants and herons. The American white pelicans show up in the winter months as well to gorge themselves on the fat fish. I'm sure there are other varieties of birds but these are the ones normally seen.

Wheeler Dam

Wheeler Dam is a relatively short drive east. South on Highway 101 at Elgin will take you across the dam to the Alabama Birding Site on the other side. This dam is much closer to the Giraffe Head Tree and it is here that I do my usual pelican watching.

The gulls, cormorants and herons are here, too. As are the fishermen.

There is an island on the west side of Wheeler Dam within which roosts all manner of birds. The herons are circled (I've done this before here, I know), and you can see a few white pelicans on the point preening their feathers, or perhaps just chatting about the day's catches. Gulls dip and soar, plunging into the water for a meal. Cormorants zip by like F-22's, and perch all along the towers. A typical dam day.

For far more interesting views of our world please visit Scenic Sunday.
Have a wonderful day.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Skywatch Friday

Long, long ago on a lake far, far away I would wake to magical, mystical sunrises. This sunrise dawned golden with a pea-soup fog. Lake and sky became one. Sunlight would burn through soon but before it could destroy the illusion the shoreline silhouettes were captured for eternity.

One magical mystical tree was a sturdy oak, arms stretched out strong yet graceful. The oak was perfectly symmetrical and beautiful in its symmetry.

However, this tree is my favorite of the two because it is imperfect. It appears to be a hickory based on the way its branches narrow into super-fine arteries toward the ends. But I could be wrong. There is no way to check today for not long after this image was taken a storm felled this tree. Today, instead of serving as a perch for birds this tree is a haven for fishes in the waters below. The ultimate in recycling.

See more sunrises and sunsets and luscious sky imagery by clicking through to Skywatch Friday.

Have a blessed day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Watery Wednesday

This week's Watery Wednesday offering is one to bring us a reminder of the spring to come. All this snow and rain and gray skies have been fun (ahem) but I'm ready for the heady scent of spring, ready for Eve's daffodils to pop up, smile and wave at her, ready for the mystery viburnum to bloom in the backyard, ready for Hattie and Bess to bloom along the fence row, and ready for the waterlilies at Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

"But for all that, they had a very pleasant walk. The trees were bare of leaves, and the river was bare of water-lilies; but the sky was not bare of its beautiful blue, and the water reflected it, and a delicious wind ran with the stream, touching the surface crisply."

Charles Dickens

Water Lily

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A. Poulin

My whole life is mine, but whoever says so
will deprive me, for it is infinite.
The ripple of water, the shade of the sky
are mine; it is still the same, my life.

No desire opens me: I am full,
I never close myself with refusal-
in the rhythm of my daily soul
I do not desire-I am moved;

by being moved I exert my empire,
making the dreams of night real:
into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyonds of mirrors...


by Moeze Lalji

Come on in
The summer is shinning
The windows are yours

Beer you don't drink
Tea you don't drink

You can sit on the sofa
Put your wings up
Life is bight

So just fly and write
Whatever you want
On my wall

If Monet saw you he would want to paint you
so that your beauty and these colors would be forever remembered;
this my favorite waterlily photograph.

Photographs taken at
Huntsville Botanical Gardens


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Eagle Awareness, Part 4 - High Falls

High Falls

Carroll and I had to choose between three field trips during our Eagle Awareness Weekend at Lake Guntersville State Park. 1) Guntersville Dam to see eagles and possibly one nesting; 2) Cathedral Caverns; 3) High Falls Park.

We were already going to the dam with another field trip the following day, so that choice was the first to be struck. Cathedral Caverns? With my claustrophobia? Uh uh. That left High Falls Park which, we were told, is gorgeous. A short drive past our morning field trip watching the eagles emerging we entered the lovely countryside of Marshall County. Crossing into DeKalb County our convoy guide turned off the main road onto a secondary road, then a smaller road, then a smaller signs anywhere. Clearly, we were in a very secluded and private area.

Pulling into a graveled parking lot we got out and headed to our ranger guide, who gave us a brief history of High Falls Park. From their website 20 acres were purchased and preserved with grant money in the early 1980's. Local efforts were made to clean the park and make it more accessible to the public.

Town Creek

A rock whale submerged beneath the crystal clear waters.

Lovely golden rocks and sandy bottom glistens and dazzles in the sunlight.

Shadow of the footbridge

In 1998 the pedestrian bridge was built across the original rock pillars constructed for the covered bridge in 1923.

Because of its remote location High Falls remains a secret to most in the area, and North Alabama at large. However, the efforts of many local leaders and Alabama park board members High Falls Park is being discovered by more and more people through events such as Eagle Awareness Weekend.

High Falls Park is still very rustic. Crude walking paths and stepping paths created through tree roots downward and upward mean business. Good shoes and a healthy body are clearly needed to navigate the majority of this place. Carroll and I are in relatively good shape, as were most of the people attending this field trip. However, a young mother brought small children including one in a stroller. An elderly woman accompanied by her husband had a knee injury and was wearing a knee brace. These people struggled and we all worried about them in the rugged terrain.

Ambling down onto the flat rocks above the falls we were all treated to an amazing show. The winds that were chilling us to the bone were creating a rainbow above the falls.

Spellbound, all of us took a gazillion photos of the same rainbow, creeping forward as far as the rocks would allow. My folder holds a gracious plenty of these images, all taken from various angles as I crept closer and closer.

Crossing the footbridge takes a person the other side of the creek, and a rustic path can be followed to the other side of the falls. Again, strollers and the injured should not even try it. The footbridge is new and safe, however. It's the getting to it that's the challenge as well.

Flat rocks and footbridge and another rainbow.

High Falls Park
Somewhere in DeKalb County, Alabama

Click to make it larger - there are people on the other side.
Gives you sense of scale.

Check out their website for more history and directions.

Check out Scenic Sunday for scenes around the world!!! It's safe travel without having to endure long lines at airports or letting people get too "friendly" with your nether regions. Just sayin.'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eagle Awareness, Part 3 Wildlife

After the last field trip to the creek watching the eagles return to their nests, Carroll and I decided to drive the loop around Lake Guntersville State Park and see the rest of the area. It was around 4:30pm'ish, give or take, and the deer were out.

Cars crept along winding roadways enjoying the antics of deer cavorting in the woods. Many deer were walking along the side of the road or crossing the roads so everyone was being very careful. There are signs out everywhere "Do Not Feed The Deer." For the most part people stayed in their cars and just looked in wonder, pulling over and stopping occasionally for photo shoots.

We were no different. Carroll crept along as I took photo after photo. Shooting from a creeping car in low light isn't easy but I managed a few decent images. When the bucks began showing up we stopped and I got out a couple of times. However, the bucks are smart creatures, and while curious they would begin taking their herd in the opposite direction.

The does are gorgeous. Look at her lovely long eyelashes! These deer were healthy, plentiful and accommodating. The safety of the State Park affords them food and shelter and a much longer life span. From our balcony high atop the mountain we heard the distant booms of guns and knew other deer weren't so lucky. I'm not opposed to hunting as long as the hunters utilize the meat and practice good hunter rules.

The bucks were clearly favored during this long, slow trek around the park. This was truly a weekend chocked full of wildlife. My heart and soul were both overflowing with this truly remarkable gift of nature. I'd forgotten how fresh the air is high above the smog of mankind. I'd forgotten the gentle sounds of the woods in the bitter cold; almost a ticking sound as of an alarm clock set for spring.

Buck after buck, doe after doe thrilled us all in the setting sun. As time moved on temperatures began dropping once more yet onward we crept, rolling down the window for more photos as yet more herds were spotted.

By this time the shadows were long and deep. This last buck was in semi-darkness and fortunately the images were captured in RAW, giving me the ability to lighten them up for viewing without compromising too much.

I understand hunting but I do not understand taxidermy. The State Park and others include stuffed animals for learning purposes, however a deer or moose or big horned sheep or whatever hanging above a mantle begs the question - "Why?" I love this quote by Ellen DeGeneres:

"I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it's such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her."

That's my philosophy as well. I wince when I see animal heads on a wall, especially in a restaurant. I'm not naive and actually think hunting is a very honest way to keep food on the table. Much more honest than traveling to Publix to get a pound of ground beef all hermetically sealed with bright, colorful packaging. Can I hunt? Not today, not unless I was forced to hunt for survival. What brought on this rant? Whew....random thinking, I reckon. I don't know but guess just seeing those pretty deer photos made me all philosophical or something. Let's move on.........

In another location, another field trip, we were taken to an active bald eagle's nest. Our State Park guides cautioned us that we may or may not see the eagle atop the nest, depending upon whether or not eggs had been laid. Upon first seeing the nest and finally getting a clear shot through the tree limbs I took this first image. We couldn't see the eagle at that time but if you click and enlarge the image you'll see her looking at us.

Moving down the roadway a little and scooting atop a ridge we got a better look. By this time she was looking away as if bored by the attention. We were hoping the mate would come take his turn during our stay but we were out of luck there. Bald eagles mate for life, and during egg laying time each take their turn incubating the eggs for up to 3-4 hours at a time.

The bald eagles at this state park during the winter are migratory eagles which nest in the northern United States; primarily around the Great Lakes region. They begin arriving in November and stay as late as April. These migratory eagles do not build nests here; only those that make the area their permanent home do. This couple are permanent residents.

After seeing the nest through a birder's spotting scope I ran back to the car and got Daniel Spurgeon's 2x converter. Daniel's blog is called "Nature at Close Range." He has an amazing knowledge of nature. Unfortunately, the auto focus doesn't work with this 2x converter. Fortunately, I was able to get quite a few close-ups regardless! Thanks for the loan, Daniel! I really should get that back to him but it may have to wait until after this great birding season - ha!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eagle Awareness, Part 2

First bald eagle sighting

Okay, I just can't stand it - I HAVE to post the eagle pictures! Eagle Awareness offers many field trips from which to choose, and the first and last field trip of each day is along a particular creek. We woke at 5am and met the guides in the lobby at 5:45am. Our convoy left at 6am sharp. Driving down curvy mountain roads in the gloom of predawn we were on the lookout for deer, which inhabit the park in record numbers. Once on the flat land it was a short jaunt to a particular site where the guides semi-guarantee eagle sightings. Our guides were outstanding. Park rangers from Lake Guntersville and DeSoto State Parks who have worked these mountains and lakes for over a decade. They know their stuff.

The distinctive silhouette of a bald eagle

Bald eagles travel from their nests down this creek that leads to Lake Guntersville every morning. They leave early to hunt, following the tree line or waterway south before curving west toward the lake.

Three bald eagles far, far away along the ridge.

The light wasn't very good this morning, with lots of clouds. Temperatures were in the mid-30's with a 10-15 mph wind right out of the northwest. Our three guides, armed with powerful binoculars, would point out the eagles as they begin to fly down the channel, along the trees. Most of the group were first-timers to the program, like me and Carroll, and we were grateful the guides were there to point out the eagles, give us facts and thrill us with stories.

Closest eagle, first morning.

We took photo after photo because we couldn't help ourselves, but most of mine are fuzzy or the eagles are very far away. The BEST moment of the first morning were two adult bald eagles that soared and played and jousted, turning upside down and touching each other in flight several times to the ooohs and aaaaahs of the waters below. My photos of this event are too horrid to post but the memory remains.

The rosy dawn.

Pink clouds announce the sun's imminent arrival.

A flock of something flies by.

As eagle sightings began to dwindle it was obvious frostbite was starting to form on all our finger tips. We head back to the Lodge for breakfast and to prepare for the next field trip.

A beautiful juvenile bald eagle.

We return to the same creek, same spot after an afternoon field trip, a subject for a separate post. This time we know where to go so Carroll and I arrive about 10 minutes before the Lodge convoy. It's around 3pm and the eagles are coming home to roost. From our vantage point we also see a lot of hawks, great blue herons and ducks. However, we are all hoping for a much clearer, closer eagle encounter. We were not disappointed.

The juvenile bald eagle, right over our heads, looking down at us.

We saw many bald eagles but one in particular was the memory maker. The juvenile bald eagle you see in these photos lazily flew our way from the lake and circled gracefully above the creek, along the tree line and generally stayed in our area for some time. We gasped when he flew directly above us, low enough for us to see his feathers clearly. None of my photos have been cropped - they are all the real deal. Carroll and I were both doing back-bends in hopes of getting our "hero" image, and I am pleased to report - and show - that we were successful!!!

The juvenile bald eagle soars over our heads, looks down at us, then eyes forward he flies over the causeway to the waterway on the other side. It was there that he spotted dinner.

Heading westward over the causeway.

He soars and dips and circles several times before ... he dives!

Talons drop down!

From this point on he is on the other side of the causeway and beyond our sight, but eventually we see him far away, water dripping from empty talons. No fish, but so beautiful. Russet feathers glowing in the setting sun, he turns down the channel and heads home.

A trio of mallards.

We stay for a few more minutes basking in the glow of the moment. The sun is setting and the winds pick up again. Prickling fingers tell us it's time to head back for dinner, some wine and story telling. Before doing so a trio of mallards fly by and I couldn't resist taking some shots. It looks like mom, dad and a teenager mallard but I do not know for certain that it's a juvenile mallard. Anyone?

There are bald eagles everywhere along Lake Guntersville. While there are bald eagles in Alabama overall, Lake Guntersville boasts the most nests and highest count of eagles. Truly, we were astonished at the amount of bald eagles we spotted during the trip. Bald eagles soared over the Lodge daily and constantly flew by the huge windows overlooking the lake from the lodge. Breakfast, lunch and dinner we would watch eagles fly by at eye level. As mentioned before, eagle sightings gloriously interrupted every program, and the presenters were just as excited as we were.

Our personal count: 24 bald eagle sightings. I just realized I forgot to post one amazing photo so I'll do that next time. There are most photos, naturally, as I took well over 1,000 to get a few decent shots. 24 bald eagles! 24! We were happy and satisfied eagle watchers. Next post - more wildlife.


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