Whenever I step outside with Moon-the-Dog, I generally heed that old dictum leaned in Scouting to "be prepared," by grabbing a camera outfit I keep handy to the door. You never know when some photographic moment might present itself—but you can always be sure of missing out on some marvelous images should you fail to plan for the unexpected.
Even if that special photogenic opportunity fails to materialize, I can at usually amuse myself looking high and low, at everything from clouds to dirt clods, searching for some juxtaposition of form and texture, an arrangement of light and shadow, flower, bird, or sparkle of sunlight upon the river's moving surface—and thus keep pleasantly occupied long enough for Moon to have her necessary time rambling around the yard.
I know it sounds paradoxical, but sometimes I get so busy looking, I don't really see what I'm photographing. The framing and focusing transpires almost mechanically while my mind wanders to the next shot. Often, therefore, when I upload my images to the computer, my first thought is surprise: Who took that?
The image above prompted such a reaction. Of course I knew I'd made the shot—even vaguely remembered doing so. But I didn't remember it looking nearly so dramatically colorful and interesting through the viewfinder as it now did on my Mac's screen. Moreover, I had no idea what the plant was, though I knew it was growing in the bed beside the front door. I promptly went out and had a better look.
Yup, same plant, or plants, as there are two set close together. Which spawned another mystery. I didn't remember planting them. Strange. Plus, even with a longer, closer look, I still couldn't decide what sort of plants they were.
At first I considered one of the various yuccas we have scattered about. Then I wondered if they might be lilies, since there are lots of them around, too. I've now settled on iris as the most likely candidate, which may or may not be correct.
The truth is…I just don't know. Maybe when Myladylove returns from New Orleans tomorrow she can supply the answers to both what they are and how they got there. Otherwise, I hope they bloom—providing they haven't been flummoxed by this year's on-again, off-again version of spring.
And if they don't? As Shakespeare observed: "A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet." And these sword-like vernal green leaves with their dramatic purple undertones—identity yet unknown—remain just as pretty.
Morning sun is shining. Warblers, tiny and bright, are flitting through the treetops. And the wooded island across from the cottage is carpeted yellow with invasive-but-pretty lesser celandine.
Practically every plant—vine or shrub or tree—is starting to show new green leaves.
A lovely spring day, even if a bit on the chilly side…and that's supposed to improve this afternoon by more than a dozen degrees. The turkey vulture preening and warming on a big sycamore limb which juts above the river certainly seems to be comfortable. While the robin singing from the doorside box elder sounds downright inspired.
It's currently 29˚F, sunny, with a heavy frost on the lush green grass. A couple of days ago the temperature high hit 81˚F; downright sweltering. Fifty-plus degree variations are tough to handle, physically and psychologically. At least for me—and from their looks as I drove past a couple of wooded hillsides a few minutes ago, tough on many of the tender spring ephemerals I saw along the roadside which appeared rather droopy.
Ahhhh, the fickleness of April…really, of spring. Warm, cool, cold, hot, wet, dry, windy—blazing sun one moment, pouring rain the next. Sometimes there's even a bit of sleet or snow in the weather mix.
Earlier, I had to scrape ice off the windshield before chauffeuring Myladylove to the airport. She's off to New Orleans for a few days to attend a business seminar. Yesterday, she took part in a charity "walk" covering several concrete miles downtown. It wasn't quite so cold—45˚F—and she managed to dress right, neither sweating nor chilling along the way. But she's stiff and sore this morning. Plus she came away with a huge blister on the bottom of one foot.
When I kissed her goodbye and dropped her off in front of the terminal—about all you can do nowadays, given security measures—she smiled weakly, grimaced as she turned to wave, and went gimping off rather pitifully, head down, rolling luggage trailing behind.
A number of her fellow managers participated in yesterday's fundraising event and are also making the New Orleans trip. Their schedule says they'll walk to a restaurant near the hotel for dinner tonight. And their itinerary lists a walking tour of the French Quarter tomorrow, along with several additional pedestrian excursions during their four-day visit.
I bet they'll not be the perkiest group on the sidewalks of the Big Easy.
Dandelion. As common, almost, as the grass in our yard…and sometimes, more common! Every child instantly loves their sunburst blooms at first sight. Show a toddler a dandelion and they'll pluck it and smile. Dandelions delight!
And they keep right on delighting some of us throughout all the days and years and decades of our life. At least they keep delighting me. A bright yellow flower that looks for all the world like a little ball of sunshine.
I don't care if the dandelion's jaunty blooms spatter my lawn. Grass doesn't make me grin; yellow-orange dandelions do! I see one at my feet, lift is from it's hollow stem, give the flower head of soft, "furry" florets a quick sniff and maybe a rub under the nose for old time's sake. And for a moment anyway, the world seems a sweeter, more innocent place where joy and wonder abound…and hatred's bombs and blood and torn lives cannot ever exist.
Though it warmed up considerably later on, yesterday morning began decidedly brisk—chilly enough that a light jacket felt good as I ambled around the side yard while Moon-the-Dog made her usual investigatory peregrinations.
On the wild hillside, bloodroot's white blooms remained firmly closed, their leaves clasped tight around the stem, as if in prayer. Even the dense patches of lesser celandine down along the river revealed not a single opened flower.
Yet the narcissus seemed to be just fine, already up and at 'em, strutting their stuff for the newborn day. The various daffodils in shades of white and cream and pale butter seemed luminous in the burgeoning light, while the brilliant yellow jonquils appeared downright jaunty.
It was in one of these jonquils that I spied the bumblebee in the photo, tucked snugly under a protective golden petal…obviously waiting for the rising sun to heat things up a bit before he stirred from his comfy bed.
These are doubtless the worst photos I've ever posted…but they're all I managed of an osprey feeding earlier this morning.
I was working at the desk when movement along the river caught my eye. I glanced out the window and saw a large white, gray, tan bird plummet into the water. At first I thought it was a Canada goose, as the geese have been flapping up and downstream since daylight. But even as that thought crossed my mind, I knew whatever it was wasn't a goose, since it was pitching at rather than falling into or merely settling onto the surface. I began grabbing for the camera I always keep on the desk's corner…already turned on, set at a high ISO and fast shutter, awaiting whatever "snatch-and-snap" opportunity might come along.
From sighting to shooting maybe took three seconds—and that includes manual focusing.
The osprey plunged into the water with a great splash about forty feet upstream of the stretch you see in the top image. Then, wings outstretched, it floated downstream on the current until just before reaching the point visible in the second image—where it lifted up and off the surface, flew low for maybe a hundred feet farther downstream, rose higher, and flew out of view around the end of the island.
In case you're wondering, I'm pretty sure the fish the bird's holding is a white sucker in spawning colors.
The third shot—the very worst!—is actually the first of the series, included only because it sorta shows the bird's head—that is if you squint and can somehow make anything out among those blurred pixels. Which isn't easy, alas! Not only are these ISO 1800 shots, made in a hurry, but they're also only a very small cropped portion of the actual image. Perhaps an expert Photoshop manipulator could pull a lot more from such lousy material; at best, I'm, a PS Elements duffer.
I make no claim at being a great birder. At best, I'm adequate, or as my granddaddy might have said, "fair-to-middlin'." I'm particularly shaky when it comes to birds I don't observe regularly, haven't seen in a long time, or individuals which don't look quite like their brethren. Females and juveniles can sometimes also be a problem. I'm pretty provincial, too.
Other identification issues for me can involve lighting, length of time seen, overall clarity—whether there's lots of screening brush or leaves between—viewing distance of the subject in question, and the habitat in which a sighting takes place—i.e., a bird out of place, appearing in unfamiliar or unexpected territory.
None of which is apt to prove much of a challenge to an expert birder…but as I say, I'm plainly not in that league. Hence the request for confirmation or correction—whichever is needed—of the bird in the photo, which I made yesterday.
I think it's a yellow-bellied sapsucker. For whatever reason, I seldom see more than one or two per year here along the river. And most—the ones I do spot, anyway—have distinctive red forehead patches, plus males also sport a matching red throat patch. The bird in the photo has neither. No red throat patch and an overall black cap.
My guess is a juvenile yellow-bellied, though whether male or female I haven't a clue. A quick troll through the Internet failed to help. Neither do any of the field guides on my shelves go into distinctions of male vs. female first year birds, nor make any mention of a black cap; none show an all-black cap in illustrations of immatures, or a lack of red on adult females. This includes a copy of the fairly definitive Woodpeckers: An Identification Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World, by Winkler, Christie, and Nurney—400-plus pages, 214 species.
I understand that books can't show every variation within a species. But while I expect the white wing stripe is more-or-less definitive, I remain mildly confused on the point of the all-black cap, and whether it's an adult female or first-year juvenile. I'd welcome your input.
Nothing gets rid of winter's last lingering bits like a good day's worth of vigorous spring house-cleaning…and that's exactly what this groundhog was doing when I spotted his roadside burrow. Much to the homeowner's obvious vexation, I paused long enough to study how the sprucing-up was coming along, plus snap a photo of him and his handiwork.
A mound of fresh-dug earth had been removed from his snug under-the-tree tunnel home and formed into a sort of front-door hump. This acts as a soft, cool, shady porch on which ol' woodchuck can loll on sunny days, comfortably and safely surveying the comings and goings within the precincts of his immediate domain. It also acts as a protective shield, and helps hide the hole's mouth from the casual view of any carnivorous passersby who might consider whistle-pig a tasty meal.
Excess soil was pushed over and down the slope. Before long they'll darken to match the rest of exposed earth, while grass and weeds will begin growing in these tailings, adding to the entryway's camouflage.
What's more, this roadside home seems to be located in an apparently coveted neighborhood. Twenty feet away, on the same bank, another groundhog was busy at his hole…and thirty feet from that one, a third ardently worked the dirt at the entrance to his home.
Considering how territorial groundhogs usually are, I don't think this cheek-to-jowl neighborliness will endure through the summer—though time will tell.
I'm going to have to take my Mac in for servicing…a potential issue with the hard drive, which Apple alerted me to and will be paying for, though thankfully, has caused no problems to date. The switch only takes a couple of days—mostly data upload and download—which means I'll be computer-less (ughhhh!) and thus likely not posting before Wednesday. Not that this is earth-shattering news, nor my computer and schedule even mildly interesting…except maybe to me.