Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sunrise at Lake Hope

 Day Five

Friday - my last official day of spring break (of course I still have the weekend!).  I have had the most wonderful spring break ever!  Every single day has been such a pleasure.  The grand finale was my sunrise trip to Lake Hope Friday morning.  Phil took a vacation day Friday, so he was able to stay home with Julia while I went birding.  I missed my little stroller ridin' nature partner, but she got to spend quality time with her Daddy!

I unnecessarily set my alarm for 5:30am.  I didn't need an obnoxious beep to tell me it was time to bird!!  I was already awake and eager to go!  I got a quick bath, loaded the car, and was on the road by 6:30am while it was still very much dark with not even a hint of dawn.  I loved the drive to Lake Hope!  I felt so free and in such good spirits.  I rolled the car window down and let the 65 degree morning air rush around me.  I fiddled with the radio for a few minutes while munching on my granola bar, but quickly decided I would "bird by ear" from the car instead of listening to music.  I like to challenge myself to see how many birds I can identify while rushing by them at 45 mph.  Yes, I did say "45 mph".  You might be wondering why I travel route 278 at such a low speed, ten miles below the speed limit actually.  Well, that's just my style.  I drive slow.  I hate driving fast.  I like to go slow, look at things, think, relax, meditate, and take it all in.  Driving fast requires an unnecessary increase in concentration with leads to elevated blood pressure and heart-rate, which leads to nervousness and anxiety.  I hate all that stuff.  I like things peaceful, calm, and zenful.  In fact, I am so against fast driving that I will actually pull over and let someone pass me if they seem to be in a hurry.  I do understand the frustration of being behind a slow driver, so I try to keep others from enduring my quirks.  I get real annoyed when I am behind a 35 mph driver when I am trying to go 40 mph for example.  But I digress.

I had two main locations in mind at Lake Hope:  the schoolhouse and the wetlands.  Both spots hold a special place in my nature heart.  My friend Lisa took me to those locations a few years ago while I was still brand new to birding.  I learned a lot from her that summer and have fond memories of my first year in the field.  

I arrived at the schoolhouse while it was still dark.  I parked my car, turned off the ignition, and just sat listening.  I decided that I would gather my gear, and even though it was dark, would venture out to see what I could hear.  Already there were eastern towhees singing like crazy.  I could hear several tufted titmice, carolina chickadees, carolina wrens, and of course, american robins.  A warm glow began to spread over the eastern sky and the landscape began to change right before my eyes.  Dew drops of diamonds appeared on the flora and the low lying fog gave the landscape an ethereal fairytale-like setting.

sunrise at Lake Hope State Park

As I walked along the path parallel to Raccoon Creek, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape.  I found myself wondering why I have wasted so many years of sleeping-in when I could have been up before the sun.  Oh well, no matter to the past -- it is time to live in the here and now.  So off I went, walking along slowly, listening to the birds greet the day, smelling the damp earth, and knowing that beauty abounds.

hundreds of little spider webs.  I've seen these a lot this spring.  I wish I had more information about them.  Does anyone know what they are?  What kind of spider?

My first "big deal" of the day was hearing wild turkeys gobbling off in the distance.  I've seen wild turkeys plenty of times, but I've never heard them calling.  How lucky!  I increased my pace and excitement filled me as I went straight ahead following the sound of their call.  I probably covered about 100 yards of path before realizing that the turkeys were very far away and seemed to be moving away from me. I knew the point was moot and I needed to give up the chase.  That was fine by me, I was happy just having the experience of listening to them!

I decided to walk just a little farther before turning around and heading back to the car.  By this time the sun was well above the horizon and I wanted to arrive at the wetlands before the dawn chorus was over.  The wetlands (by the way - I don't really know what the area is called, it is just a big swampy watery place that looks like 'wetlands' to me!) were alive with activity!  Some of the activity was not pleasant.  The first thing I noticed was that the air was thick with tiny black flying insects.  Gnat-like things that buzzed and wouldn't get out of the way.  I swatted at them and shooed them, all in vain as the entire sky seemed to be thick with a blanket of black bugs.  Thankfully, it didn't last long and I eventually passed through them.

This year, I have made a vow to increase my knowledge of water birds.  I am terrible when it comes to identifying them.  So, I was a little disappointed to find that there weren't many water birds willing to help me out.  At first, all I saw on the water was canada geese.  Big deal, right?  But then, I noticed wood ducks!!!  And that IS a big deal!  At least to me.  Wood ducks are common and easy to find, but they are SO BEAUTIFUL!!  I was happy to find them and to be able to get a photo.

male and female wood ducks
canada geese
female red-winged blackbird.  She looks nothing like her male counterpart.  Red-wings nest very close to the ground amongst cattails and other grasses.

Next, I saw my "first of season" tree swallow!  I just adore tree swallows.  They are absolutely gorgeous and so fun to watch.  They fly like fancy stunt pilots at an airshow.  Diving, twisting, and spiraling.... all for the amusement of us humans!  No, not really - actually, they are hunting insects and capturing them in mid-flight.
tree swallow

My next "big deal" came when I spotted a whole flock of yellow-rumped warblers!  They were everywhere and so cooperative!  At first I was confused because many of them looked fluffy and downy, like baby birds.  I knew that they couldn't be babies.  I didn't understand.  But later, after returning home, and doing a little research, I discovered that they are in the middle of spring molt (changing their plumage), so the new feathers probably look fluffy and downy-like.
no wonder they are called "YELLOW-RUMPED warblers" field guide says they are nicknamed "butter-butts!"  ha!

Next, I saw a belted kingfisher.  They are sassy little birds!  I love 'em!  First of all, they wear their blue hair in a mohawk-style like a rockstar!  And, if that isn't enough, they make a loud machine-gun type racket every time they fly from their perch.  They swoop down over the water, trying to snag an unsuspecting fish or frog, all the while, rattlin' their little blue heads off!  What fun!
belted kingfisher

Flycatchers are hard for me.  There are several in our area, and unless I can hear them, I usually have a lot of difficulty identifying them.  This little guy is probably an eastern phoebe.  But I never heard him and if someone were to tell me different, I wouldn't be surprised.

My time is nature is precious to me.  I don't take it for granted.

1. song sparrow
2. white-throated sparrow
3. turkey vulture
4. eastern phoebe
5. tufted titmouse
6. carolina wren
7. carolina chickadee
8. northern cardinal
9. mourning dove
10. american robin
11. red-shouldered hawk
12. american crow
13. belted kingfisher
14. yellow-rumped warbler
15. red-tailed hawk
16. pileated woodpecker
17. red-bellied woodpecker
18. killdeer
19. canada goose
20. red-winged blackbird
21. wood duck
22. tree swallow
23. brown thrasher
24. northern mockingbird
25. common grackle
26. blue jay
27. eastern bluebird
28. eastern towhee
29. field sparrow
30. chipping sparrow
31. wild turkey

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day Three of Morning Walks

 ...courtesy of spring break!

Having so much success Monday and Tuesday, I decided to up the ante today and walk all the way to the Inn at Hocking College (or the Motor Lodge, as we "old timers" call it) via the bike path.  We left the house at 7:30am and returned two hours later, tired and satisfied. 

sunrise was at 7:29am today, but it didn't rise in the valley until 7:45am
What a glorious morning it was!  I can't even describe the feeling of peace that overcomes me while walking in the mornings.  I am definitely going to change my schedule this summer to fit in early morning walks... although, I'm not quite sure how yet because Julia doesn't get up until 7:00am and sunrise is at 6:00am in the middle of June.  Oh well, I'll figure out those logistics later.

One thing I like about being out before sunrise is that there aren't many people around.  It is so quiet and the traffic seems much less, although 33 is still busy with commuters.  I like that the bike path is mostly empty except for the birds and wildlife.  Today, I saw one bicycler and one dog walker.  That's it.. two people and a dog.  I did see a lot more people once I reached Hocking College... a few construction workers, one student, and a bunch of people in police-type uniforms trying to park cars at a high rate of speed between cones.  It entertained Julia and me for about 45 seconds as we passed by.

But mostly we had the whole of nature to ourselves.  It was nice.  I told her about the different birds as I heard them.  She now knows that crows say "caw!".  She will call to any crow that flies over... she also calls "caw!" to canada geese and blue jays, but that's okay, she's only 19 months old afterall!  She does love the "bees" [birds] and is getting quite a good ear.  She is learning the bird calls the same time she is acquiring speech, so the part of her brain that interprets sound to meaning is very active and growing.  Consequently, she will always have a good ear for birds.  It is like that window of opportunity for bilingual speakers.  She will be naturally bilingual in English and bird.  Lucky girl!

We saw all of the normal birds today, but there were several stand-outs!  I heard my first eastern phoebe of the season.  Phoebes are nice little birds who say their name.  Listen for the rough, burly voice "phoe-bee".

I also saw my first chipping sparrow of the season.  I like chipping sparrows.  Probably because I seem to have a family every year at the farm.  They nest close to the cabin and by late summer I will have baby chippies all over the place!
chipping sparrow

Yesterday I heard my first eastern towhee of the season (remember, I had a sound clip?).  Well, today, I actually got his picture.  So now you can put a face to the voice.
eastern towhee

These sweet northern cardinals absolutely made my day!!!  I was trying to photograph the male, when all of a sudden, his wife came into view.  She walked (or hopped) right over to him and gave him a good morning kiss.  I couldn't believe I actually had the camera pointed at the right place at the right time... AND in focus for a change!! what luck!
female and male northern cardinals

Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I happened to look up and see an american robin hop right onto her nest and hunker down.  I couldn't believe that she was so obliging to show me her nest.  In fact, I would have never believed it was a robin's nest had I not seen her sitting on it!  Normally, their nests seem to be much neater and more tightly woven.  This nest looked to be a mess.  ....maybe she is a first time mom? 

Last bird of the day, as we headed back home, I was able to snap a quick photo of a downy woodpecker.

1. common grackle
2. european starling
3. house sparrow
4. rock pigeon
5. american crow
6. red-bellied woodpecker
7. downy woodpecker
8. pileated woodpecker
9. dark-eyed junco
10. hawk sp (red-shouldered?)
11. eastern towhee
12. eastern bluebird
13. northern cardinal
14. american robin
15. house finch
16. carolina wren
17. carolina chickadee
18. blue jay
19. american goldfinch
20. canada goose
21. song sparrow
22. chipping sparrow
23. tufted titmouse
24. mourning dove
25. eastern phoebe
26. northern mockingbird

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Dawn

It is magical and I love all things magical!  

my view of Columbus Street just as the sun rose above the hill. (notice the bradford pears are in full bloom!)

My current break from work has been absolutely lovely in so many ways.  Mostly, I've enjoyed the mornings with Julia and nature.  Even though I am not working this week, I have not been tempted to push her bedtime back in order to sleep longer in the mornings.  I am a firm believer in rhythm, so even though things change, I try hard to maintain balance and rhythm with Julia.  She goes to bed at 7:30pm and wakes around 7am.   This works out perfectly right now because sunrise is at 7:30am and if we hurry, we are able to get out of the house before the sun peaks above the hills.  Since we live in a valley, we are afforded a few extra minutes before the sun actually "rises".  The past two mornings, I have gotten Julia out of bed, changed her diaper, fed her a banana and a slice of whole wheat bread, put on her jacket over her pajamas, and headed out the door for our walk.  I bundle her in her stroller with her pink fuzzy blanket and sippy cup of milk.  The morning sun has been so warm that I've had to take off my pullover sweatshirt and Julia methodically kicks off one shoe at a time and then dramatically pulls off each sock in slow motion before throwing them all over the side of the stroller. ....I guess her toesies get hot :)

she has her Dad's toes, no doubt about that!

I love how the air smells so fresh.  What does a "new day" smell like?  It smells like earth and peace and tranquility and promise.  It is so calming.  And I love how everything sparkles.  The grass, the pine needles and tree branches... all sparkling with a thousand little diamond drops of dew.   


Many of the trees and shrubs are in full bloom.  The forsythias are blooming and the magnolias are absolutely gorgeous!  The bradford pears blossomed just today as well as my purple azaleas.

folklore says "three snows after the forsythia".  this year, we didn't get three snows BEFORE the forsythia! ha!

The local spiders have been hard at work this spring.  They are quite talented little artists.  I am a huge fan and admirer of their work, though I admit that I have not totally overcome my fear of their actual being (but I am working on that!)

I almost expect it to say "some pig!"

And the birds!!  That's what it is mostly about these spring days.  How could one not notice the birds?  Even if  you are not a bird lover, there is no doubt that you've noticed the bird activity.  They are abundant and loud!  Today, I saw three different european starlings carrying a mouth full of dried grass substance to a nest.  I tried hard to snap a picture, but was too slow each time.  oh well!  I also saw three blue jays fighting a nasty fight.  They squawked and hit and pushed and shoved!  As soon as I got my camera pointed at them, they instantly stopped fighting and acted as if I were crazy.  haha!  silly blue jays!

notice the particular innocent stance of two jays near the top.  tricky little birds!

Song sparrows were plentiful!  They sing their little hearts out, that's for sure!
good morning to you, song sparrow!

  I also watched mating behavior with common grackles.  That was a new experience for me. The grackle puffed out his feathers and kept hopping up and down.  I couldn't figure out why, but there was another grackle within a few feet, so my best guess was that it was a mating display.

grackle courtship?

common grackle

I saw hundreds of american robins.  They are seemingly everywhere!!!  I love how they sing extra fast in the mornings.  They have such a beautiful voice.
american robin

Once we arrived at the Black Bridge, I heard my first eastern towhee of the season!  yay!  I love the "first of season" sightings both by ear and eye.  It is like meeting up with an old friend that I haven't seen in months.  (actually, many eastern towhees spend the winter here, but I never see them much... and I certainly do not hear them all winter).  They sing a lovely song that goes like this, "drink your teeeaaa".   While standing on the bridge, I recorded a little snippet for you.  Listen for the three notes... "drink your tea".

Next we headed back to make the long walk to Pine Grove.  Upon arrival, I saw the usual flock of vultures roosting.  Those sleepy heads still hadn't taken flight.  Pine Grove is a huge roosting sight.  I've seen hundreds of vultures there on numerous occasions.  This particular tree had about a dozen or so vultures... most were perched with wings spread, sunning and warming... preparing to ride the thermals.
this turkey vulture was sunning himself high atop a tree.  It might appear as if he just landed or was ready to take flight, but no, he was perfectly still and remained in that position for quite some time.

Both days, we walked all the way to the Black Bridge at Hocking College, then turned around and walked all the way to the end of Pine Grove, then turned around and walked back home.  I don't know the mileage, but it's a loooonnggg way!  I LOVE it and so does Julia!

One last thing I want to leave you with.... I found this cryptic message scribbled on an old train car parked at the rail yard along the bike path.  Apparently, some spray-paint totin' delinquent was a tad concerned about oral hygiene.  It struck us funny.

Happy Spring!

The vernal equinox has arrived! It's official!

Throw open your windows, breathe in the fresh air, feel the warm sunshine on your back, and rejoice!

pussy willow

hostas responding to the sun!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Love & War

Bluebird Magic!!

On this day, last year....

Sometimes our lives become so routine.  The ins and outs, the daily grind.  We go here and then there.  One foot in front of the other.  Minutes melt into hours and hours are lost in a fog and before long, we lump big chunks of time together without thought.

This is nothing to feel bad about.  It is just human nature.  Living in the moment... I mean TRULY living in the moment takes years of practice and meditation and usually isn't accomplished on command.  Even though I make gallant efforts to live in the moment, I admit that I rarely do.  Nature brings me as close to real-time and zen as I can be. 

But there are those rare occasions, those magical wondrous times when we seem to KNOW right then and there that the moment is special. We seize the experience, hanging on every second.  Not thinking ahead or behind, just living and breathing the energy of the here and now. 

March 18, 2011
I don't remember the exact hour, but it was late morning at the farm.  I had been wandering the land in a meditative and peaceful state when I noticed a flurry of activity near the front gate.  I was nearly 100 yards away, but knew instantly that I was looking at several eastern bluebirds fluttering about causing a raucous.  I walked out to the road and up the hill the long way, in attempt to make my entrance go unnoticed.  To my surprise, the bluebirds never even gave me a glance. There were four birds total, two male and two female.

I sat down on the damp earth underneath two old and towering white pines.  I pulled my knees up to my chest and placed my elbows on my knees to act as a tripod and support for the weight of my camera lens.  I knew I was in for a long ride and would need a make-shift tripod.  A single electric wire runs to a pole about ten feet from the gate.  Attached to the electric pole is a bluebird house.  My best hypothesis was that the two couples were fighting for possession of the house and possibly each other's mates (though the latter part seemed unlikely to me because there were clearly enough females to go around).

I settled in and watched the show in absolute amazement.  The males would fly to the sky with claws locked and twirl and spin, squawking all the while, until they would free fall to the earth, breaking out of the fall at the very last instant when they would swoop up towards the electric wire to mate with a female.  The females would do quick flirtatious flutters from the gate to the wire... over and over.  Occasionally the females would rush down to the ground to mate with the males, after the males had plummeted earthbound.

This whole dance went on for nearly an hour.  I couldn't believe how close I was to the action and how oblivious the birds were to my presence.  I just kept snapping the shutter on my camera, knowing that I was witnessing a slice of time that I would probably never be privileged to see again.

To describe the feeling and emotion that overcame me is nearly impossible.  There are not adequate words.  I was at complete and total peace, yet my heart raced with excitement.  I felt lost in time, yet was acutely present and in the moment.  I felt part of their world, yet knew that my human nature prevented me from fully understanding.

Later Phil would say, "you were in the right place at the right time.  For just one short hour out of the entire spring, you were there."  Of course, he is right.  Even if I diligently try this year to recreate that moment, I know I will fall short, simply because the moment can't be recreated.  And that is okay and precisely why the day was magic.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The 40

Garden Update: March 4,2012

This is the time of year when I start feeling a rush of excitement!  I can actually feel spring coming and I can sense the changes in the air... yeah, I'm supernatural like that! --not really, I just listen to nature and pay close attention to my surroundings.

The birds have been preparing for spring for weeks.  All of my yard birds have changed their behavior significantly.  The house finches are definitely more aggressive and the neighborhood rough-housers (aka house sparrows) have shown sure signs of nesting.  I've seen several checking out locations and have even witnessed some breeding.

It is easy to be tricked during these last few weeks of winter.  The vernal equinox is not until March 20th, so we do technically have a few weeks of winter left to endure.  However, the warm breezes, the lengthening days, and the intensifying sun all alert my mind and spirit to the change that is upon us.

Phil and I have gardened together since we first met.  During our early years, we maintained two gardens, one at his house and one at mine, but now that we have consolidated into marital bliss, we just have one large garden here at The Brick Lady.  Well, it isn't actually a "large" garden, but it is an efficient garden as we make use of every single square inch of our teeny tiny postage-stamp-sized lot.

2008 vegetable garden

Yesterday, I decided to go out and gauge the state of The 40 (Phil and I have always referred to our property as "The 40".  I really have no idea why, as he is the one who started it, and I just followed suit.)  Our house is named "The Brick Lady", but our yard is "The 40".   Anyway, I didn't see much activity brewing on the grounds.  I naively thought that my asparagus plants might be tricked into thinking spring has arrived, but no such luck. Not a single spear has poked above ground.  No sign of the hostas either.  Most of the yard-flora seem to still be sleeping.  I did find about seven garlic plants peeking above ground -- that is exciting!!  I love growing my own garlic.  I will blog more about the garlic as it continues to grow and reach harvest.  


And of course, the daffodils and tulips have already reached half their full-grown height.  But that's about it for now.



Sleeping garden, get all the rest you can, because soon it will be performance time!