Some Days Are For The Birds

Recently the warm weather allowed me to get out for a few minutes and visit the bird feeder at my dad’s house. Dad goes all out for his little feathered friends. The TV is on but he has his binoculars pressed to his face looking out the window at all the activity in the chestnut trees on the edge of the yard. The term “yard” is kinda used loosely at dad’s place. In general it’s any place where you mow plus just under the trees where the woods begin. As we observe the feeding dad recounts the events at the feeder over the past few days. He hasn’t actually named these birds out loud but he knows all of the species and individuals who frequently visit his yard. He tells me that the Common Flicker in tonight’s feature image is the boss of the yard and how he even challenges and keeps at bay the murder of crows that are larger and outnumber him. He talks about the covey of mourning doves and how one always lands on the feeder and tosses food down to the ground for the rest of them. A Pileated Woodpecker swoops in as dad talks and lands on a dead limb of a hickory tree. He hits the dead wood like a jackhammer and sends wood chips flying everywhere in his search for insects living in the wood. ( I tried to get a nice shot of the Pileated Woodpecker but he’s far too camera shy and took flight as soon as I stepped outside.) Dad has one mortal enemy at his bird feeder and surprisingly it’s not the squirrels. It’s a mob of Common Grackles that have run the bluebirds out of his yard and have even overwhelmed the Flicker on occasion. The former Marine came out in dad’s eyes when he postulated on how to defend his songbirds from the Grackles. A few minutes later he softened a little and said that God had a place for the Grackles too. Most of shots from the window didn’t really turn out well and so I put my wilderness stalking skills to work and began to ease myself closer to the feeder. Most of the birds scattered at first but soon the chickadees returned. Small and agile the chickadees figure they can be gone with a mouthful of food before the human can react. I remained as motionless as a stone until they began to ignore me. As soon as the others saw that I wasn’t chasing after the chickadees they also returned. Then finally the Flicker decided that it was time to let me know that this was his feeder. The others gave way to him as he came in for a landing. He dug into the seed mix and found the one he wanted. Then he flew directly at the camera so fast that I couldn’t adjust the focus. He pulled up at the last moment and landed on the branch above me. Few a few minutes he seemed to play peekaboo by popping out from the tree with the nut in his beak. Finally he tucked it into his hiding spot on an upper branch.

Common Flicker hiding a nut in a tree branch

I watched him repeat this stunt a few times before I went back inside to visit with dad some more and share the photos with him. I’ve been told that some days are for the birds but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to encourage you to spend some time birding. The songbirds not only bring much needed beauty to the dull winter climate but also share their beautiful songs and impart a little peace to your morning.

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A Busy Day With The Honeybees

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The Jewelweed behind my house moves like the wind is blowing but there’s no wind in any other part of my yard. I decided to step outside to see what was going on and the hum could be heard at a distance. I knew at once that it was the swarm. The flowers teeming with thousands of little wings darting to and fro with ” saddlebags” full of pollen. At one point in my life this would have been a terrifying experience but since facing up to my fears and learning more about these little ladies it’s a joy to see them. It was almost miraculous to see such a large number of honeybees because this photo was taken when colony collapse disorder was in all the headlines. You see, almost all life on earth depends on the honeybees to pollinate flowers and grow food. Even the predators depend on the herbivores who depend on the propagation of the plants. Since gaining my confidence around the honeybees I’ve found that they react to my presence differently as well. They no longer dive bomb me in an effort to bluff me into leaving. Instead they either ignore me completely or on some occasions they seem to be trying to figure out who I am. One time last year a honeybee followed me into the house, buzzed around the living room and then waited by the door like a puppy waiting to go outside.

I’ve discovered that standing back a bit with a long lens that photographing bees in flight was a good way to practice action shots. They only slow down when they land and they never really stop. Instead of causing anxiety it now brings a strange sense of peace to watch them working.

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The Little Dragons

I have to admit that I never met a lizard that I didn’t like. Of course that might all change if I ever run into a Gila monster or a Komodo Dragon. Here in the Appalachian Mountains they don’t get much larger than this little guy in tonight’s feature image. The Five Lined Skink. The largest one I’ve seen was one about six inches long but in the eyes of a little kid with a vivid imagination it was a living dinosaur! I was never able to catch one but I always wanted to make a pet out of one so I could teach him to play Godzilla with my toy soldiers. In those days home movies were still shot on film but I had visions of setting up the scene shooting my own monster movie. It was during this endeavor that I learned about the trick tail. I was hunting for a big one that I had seen out by the barn. I was cautiously lifting up old wood an pieces of bark with a stick in case of a snake when I found him. My hands moved like lightning and I caught him! However the lizard had a surprise in store for me and the blue tail broke off in my hand. I looked down and saw the empty tail wiggling in my hand and started crying because I had broken my lizard. My kind and loving grandfather explained that it lets go of its tail on purpose and that the tail grows back. (Of course as a child I thought it grow back instantly like magic). At one point there was one with a forked tail living close to the house. It’s tail had not completely detached and the new one grew in next to the old one.

As an adult I smile and even speak to the little lizards on my property. I try to save some space for them on and around my property and in return they help keep the insect population in check. It seems that I got my pet lizards by simply leaving them alone and letting them do their thing.

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Tonight’s Feature Image is titled “Guardian On The Bridge” because he lived on the wooden foot bridge of my former home. Prints are available for purchase by contacting me on Facebook or by using the Contact Form on my website.

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It Wasn’t Me

Don’t you just hate to be blamed for something that you didn’t do? I’m not even talking about having an an accident and feeling that it was unpreventable. I’m talking about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having nothing to do with what happened but still taking the blame. Such is the life of goldenrod. It beautiful yellow spikes are easy to spot and in late summer when eyes are itchy and nobody can seem to shake the light coughing that lasts for weeks goldenrod takes the heat for it. The real culprit is the ragweed but we don’t really have to talk about that riff-raff. Goldenrod on the other hand continues to be a giver. The plant is not only beautiful but has an array of medicinal qualities. (Always check out multiple sources when researching medical plants). The dried stems are used to start friction fire and make string by survivalists. I’m sure that if I sat and thought about it I could enumerate more gifts that goldenrod provides freely in spite of the reputation that it didn’t earn.

Chasing Eagles Part 2

I just wanted give you a quick update on my quest for the eagles of the Kanawha River. This image was taken a couple of weeks ago near the Glen Ferris Inn in West Virginia. The bird was spotted over Kanawha Falls. I was out with my camera on the way home from my day job. I decided that I had time for a few quick shots of falls and kayaks when flash of white caught my attention. The largest lens I had with me was my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. Knowing that the local eagles are dark in color and only the head is white I was fairly certain that it wasn’t an eagle but this was still a big bird and it was moving fast. Fighting to keep my hands from trembling with excitement I engaged the burst mode. This bird is really fast! I kinda felt like an old west gun fighter as I tried desperately to keep him in frame and in focus. (This is not a time for manual mode) The whole encounter was only about 30 seconds as this bird’s aerobatic maneuvers kept me shifting focus out of pure reflex! First he skimmed the water towards the falls only pulling up at the last second. I lost sight of him as he banked in front of the trees and disappeared behind the inn. I started to scan the falls with my camera hoping that he would come back for a second run over the falls. That didn’t happen. Instead he pops up from behind the inn directly overhead of me. I raised my camera one more time bending over backwards and trying to focus. I almost fell over backwards. I spun around while zooming in and out and praying for that little beep from the camera body to let me know that I have a lock on the focus. Finally I get the beep and green square in the viewfinder just as the raptor performs a figure 8 maneuver that would leave any jet fighter in pieces on the ground. As the bird dives and skims parallel to the falls this time I managed to get one usable image. This was an osprey! Only about half the size of the eagle but still a very special bird. I now have a second goal to catch a high quality image the osprey.

On a side note, the existence of bald eagle has been challenged. As proof that both birds are in fact inhabiting the area I’m sharing this photo of a juvenile bald eagle. The image is too grainy to sell as art but it’s the best I could get without a longer lens. It’s only a matter of time before I can either stalk in close enough for a clear image or afford an equipment upgrade. Both eagle and the osprey were taken with the same camera.

The Great Blue Herons

Something stalks the neighborhood in my mountains. Slowly and silently it creeps along the banks of the rivers and streams. It sharp eyes detect the slightest movement just below the water’s surface. It strikes like lightning and it’s prey has little chance of escaping the razor sharp beak.

The Great Blue Herons are one of my favorite birds. I have never seen a native species that reminded me more of a dinosaur. The one pictured here was close to three feet tall. The long serpentine neck, wide wingspan and habit of trailing it’s lags as it flies really makes one think that they’ve crossed into the distant past. This one also seems to have a sense of humor. It likes to lurk around just below the bridges in my neighborhood and spring up out of creek when you least expect it. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it laughs as it flies away. I haven’t been able to spot the nest yet but I do occasionally hear it’s grunting calls coming from the thick bush. They’re truly one of the more amazing sights in my wild wonderful West Virginia and hope you get to see one if you’re ever traveling close to the water. And, if you happen to hear a snicker it’s probably the one that likes to startle me.

When The Quiet One Speaks

It’s in those moments of peaceful contemplation that you really get to know the voices the speak to your spirit. We all have theses inner voices that speak to us throughout the day. The voice that tells you that you have chores to do, the voice that talks you out of doing those chores. There’s a voice of confidence. ( Be careful about this one because he can get you into trouble. ) There’s the voice of doubt. ( Also not to be fully trusted. )

I suppose that if we were to take inventory of all these inner voices that the list could be quite long. But the one I want to focus on is the quiet one. The voice doesn’t speak often. He patiently waits for an opportunity to make his point. The quiet one doesn’t compete with the other voices. He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t argue or complain. The quiet one is logical and honest without being judgemental. The quiet one is the voice of Truth. He’s that Still, Small Voice. He is the voice of God. One of my atheist friends once expressed concern ( while smirking) about people who think God speaks to them. My only answer there is that God speaks to everyone, it’s just that not everyone listens. As I said, He doesn’t compete with the other voices. He simply waits to be heard. This why in a lot of my writings I like to focus on the opportunity to sit in quiet and peaceful places. It’s why I strive to push back the world with its ads and loud voices that attempt to dominate your every thought. Because when that Voice Of Truth speaks I don’t want to miss out on what was said. His words are life that added to my day.