Monday, January 23, 2017

My morning buddy

One morning, on the way to work, I spotted him while stopped at a light on a busy intersection.

He was at the top of a utility pole busily poking at it. His red head struck me as it shone bright in the morning sun not unlike that of the red stoplight.

Suspecting it was a woodpecker because of holes I saw in the side of the pole and the way he perched at the top, I attempted to identify the species as soon as I could. After doing a web search, the ID came swiftly as images matching him surfaced. 

He's rightly called a Red-headed woodpecker.

He became my morning buddy as he seemed have a routine just like me. I would pull up, wait at the light or drive on through the intersection, and there he'd be - same time, same place.

I often saw him atop the same pole or the pole diagonally across the intersection but mostly on the one I originally found him. Occasionally, I'd see him fly off into the woods just behind the pole or perch on a high-wire.

Eager to know more about this striking bird, I read up on the species. I was disheartened to learn the Red-headed woodpecker is a near threatened species, perceptively close to endangered.

The bird has declined severely in the past century due to habitat loss and a change to its food supply, acorn and beech nuts. They've adapted to use utility poles for nesting but it's not enough.

I've seen many types of birds in my forays into nature but this woodpecker is the first I've seen of his kind and the only, except for another.

One morning, about  a quarter of a mile where I'd see my buddy, I spotted something small lying on the side of the road. Even though I was a distance away, I could discern the colors of red, black and white. Especially the red. 


As I drove past I could see it was, indeed, a Red-header woodpecker. My heart hit the pavement as did my stomach. The image haunted me all day and I chastised myself for not stopping. I felt I lost something as sure and as enduring as the sunrise.

But a few days later I saw him perched on the top of the pole. Although glad to see him, I wondered if the one I saw lying in the road was his mate or, perhaps, it was him and this one on the pole his mate? I will never know. 

From time to time, I think of that small body lying on the pavement in the morning sun. I think of the decline of the bird, the threats it endures and scold myself for not stopping and burying the bird to bring it some dignity and honor its life.

In the ensuing days, I've kept an eye out for him but see him less and less. The last time I did he flew from the pole into the woods.

Just yesterday, I saw a sign posted on that very piece of land. It read, "VALERO GAS STATION COMING SOON."

Now, there will be even less habitat for this vulnerable woodpecker -- to his loss, our loss and that of the Earth.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Furry frost

About year ago, a day or two after a rain-sleet-snow storm, I noticed that the small tree at the top of the driveway appeared as if it had grown a furry coat.

Heading out to walk my dogs, I took a closer look and was amazed to see a coat of frost with a beautiful needle-like pattern. I suspected it to be hoar frost, which is a common frost that forms in a number of patterns but I had never seen the beautiful needle-like form before.

I stood for awhile taking in the beauty of the delicate pattern of ice crystals. 

After investigation and looking at images I did, indeed, confirm it as hoar frost.

Hoar frost occurs when the surface of objects, here tree branches, are colder than the surrounding air, which is a hundred percent saturated with moisture.

Another wonder of planet Earth.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016

I love you Earth

Earth is beautiful,
You is beautiful,
I is beautiful,
Sky is beautiful,
Land is beautiful,
Ocean is beautiful,
Plant is beautiful,
Animal is beautiful,
Insect is beautiful,
Bird is beautiful.

The world rejoices.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A late winter smile

On a lovely, perfectly warm Monday afternoon, as I was heading down my back deck stairs, I looked up to see a beautiful smile-shaped rainbow high in the sky, high above the sun. It was stunningly beautiful.

It is an atmospheric phenomena know as a Circumzinithal arc.

You can try sighting one - this was my first and I look-up frequently - when the sun is low in the sky.

A CZA is often accompanied by sun dogs, those small patches of rainbow on either side of the sun.

This CZA appeared alone without sun dogs.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Miracle Monarch

 Several years ago, I created a nectar garden to help the plight of pollinators and one species in particular -the Monarch Butterfly.

How I remember their numbers from my childhood! Every year they'd come through on their yearly migration. I'd see their caterpillars, loved them but took them for granted. They were part of the landscape, certainly appreciated, a comfort as a child and something I thought would always be there.

Their numbers are in sever decline so I wanted to do what I could do to help them.

One thing I planted was milkweed. The monarch lays its eggs on milkweed, and once the tiny caterpillars emerge, they feast on it.  The loss of milkweed across their migration route is the major contributor to their decline. It is the only plant they use for reproduction and it is being wiped out at an alarming rate to farming.

For three years now, my milkweed has stood mute as no monarch has yet to discover it. But my nectar garden has been.

Every fall and spring I look for them. I’ve never spotted one is the spring only during the fall season. I see very few. In the past three years I've seen maybe five, one here, one there, enjoy the nectar, then head south. So every fall, from time to time, I go out and look over my deck, which is above the garden to see if I spot one. It is hit and miss and few and far between.

This year, on a lovely Monday afternoon, I was outside on my deck and something compelled me to look out over the railing into the garden. I saw something move - sure enough it was a Monarch Butterfly.

I ran inside, grabbed my camera and shot these images. I watched this monarch for about ten minutes as it moved from flower to flower intently partaking of nectar for its long journey south. 

As I watched, I wondered how far from the north it had traveled. I thought of its journey ahead - across the rest of the southern US then to its wintering grounds in Mexico where it would wait for spring with thousands of others. But most of all I wondered how it found my garden, a tiny patch of land on a journey spanning thousands of miles.

What were the chances of me seeing this lone monarch while it was in my garden for perhaps a half-hour? I thought how fortunate I was. How lucky to see this one monarch out of the thousands that make the  journey south.

It was a rare gift as rare as the Monarch Butterfly may become.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I ache for wilderness

My treks into nature are within small islands of fragmented forest among neighborhoods and cities. It is a denuded forest logged out once or twice with many species gone from the landscape. The apex predators are gone - wolves, bears, cougars and what is left are the small mammals, who don't pose a threat to humans, and surviving species of birds, amphibians and invertebrates.

The closest I've come to wilderness was a visit to Yellowstone National Park, yet, that experience is managed. Wolves are collared, bison are culled if they stray from park boundaries and wildlife is confined by invisible yet set borders. Famous female wolf 832f was shot and killed, legally, by a hunter when she strayed outside of park boundaries. How can you tell a wolf, "Hey, you can't go there?" 

How do you contain the wild?

Another experience was a hike at Mount Rainer National Park. Along a trail, where the edges were muddy from a recent rainfall, I spotted a paw print of a mountain lion. I stood immediately at attention, sensing with my ears and eyes the surrounding vicinity. It was a deep, innate, instinctual response, deep from the ages of time, a response to a predator of challenge. For the remainder of the hike I was on alert. When a couple passed by, their presence brought me comfort until they left the area then the unease returned.

Prior to venturing into these areas, I had read up on bear and mountain lion attacks, how to avoid and what to do in a confrontation. Although I went over in my mind how I would handle it, I wondered if I would do as I had read or collapse in a heap of fear.

To be honest, there was something edgy, something of an exciting feeling knowing I could go toe to toe with an apex predator. Crazy I know, not something I wanted nor desired but, I believe seeing that print brought me close to feeling what it might just be like in true wilderness. It was a leveling feeling.

 I sit at a campfire now, writing among nature knowing the surrounding forest is less than half of what it was. Why are there county parks, state parks and national parks where people come in droves to be with nature? Do they have a yearning for wilderness like me I wonder as I look around at my fellow campers enjoying the serenity that only nature can bring.

I’ve read a number of books written by authors who trekked and lived in the wilderness. How I admire their tenacity, their courage, their self-reliance. I want to do the same.

And I ponder, is it a good thing or a bad thing that there is little left of the wild? Do we need wilderness? Do we need wild? All I know is that my spirit aches for it, it aches to experience it, it aches to feel how it was, and without feeding spirit and without that connection to what once was and what our ancestors lived with and among, what are we?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Nature highlights this year, so far

The images were taken around my home or while on my travels.

The richness and diversity of life is astounding. The mix and magic of these animals and plants is stunning.

Such a wonderful, fantastic planet we live on.

So much to discover, so much to see, so much to appreciate.

Eastern Bluebird in the snow

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica

Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia var. collina

Wild Bleeding Heart, Dicentra eximia

Black Hyacinth

Red Fox

Orb Spider

Northern Diamondback Terrapin

Harnessed Tiger Moth

Milkweed Bug

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Close-up of wing

Black Swallowtail

Lunar Eclipse Partial

Lunar Eclipse Totality

And, just for fun, a paw print in my morning coffee