What a difference a day makes! 54°F(12°C) yesterday, 20°F(-7°C) with 3 inches of fresh snow today!
Cardinal in his pulpit.
The missus is not amused!
The snow showers partially obscuring Big Walker Mountain are moving this way. I doubt that we’ll get much more accumulation here given the strong winds blowing today. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the 50s again by the end of the week so the snow shovel and rock salt will stay in the shed for the time being.
Having accepted the WordPress Daily Post Challenge I found myself wondering whether to use one of the suggested topics provided by the forum or just try to wing it. The need for a trip to town, an itchy shutter button finger, clear blue skies and sunshine outside my window this morning made the choice easy today……the feathered option won.
Now, what to write about?
The Mallards in a stock pond down the road?
Maybe Mr.Cardinal peering in the window when we returned home, wondering if we were going to re-stock the feeders.
The Red Bellied Woodpecker, who has recently discovered our feeders, was nearby, working on a suet cake.
Then there are the bossy Blue Jays who always find a bounty of spilled seed under the feeders
Perhaps the Dark Eyed Juncos, recent additions to the daily menagerie in and around Burd Town?
I can always count on the Sparrows for a visit and sometimes one will hold still long enough for a clear shot. More often than not my Sparrow shots are nothing but a blur of wings flitting through the branches.
Always on hand to watch us fill the feeders, and to sample the new seed, are the Titmice.
Decisions, decisions……….. Oh, yes; before I wander off I have to admit that I’m no authority on birds so some of my identifications may not always be accurate. This is where the Internet comes in very handy:
Today I had no sooner picked up the camera than this Red Bellied Woodpecker landed on a feeder no more than 15 feet from where I sat.
He even worked his way around the feeder to allow me to get a shot demonstrating where the name comes from. The 55-250MM image stabilized lens I was using really brought him in!
Just as I was about to get up this male Downy Woodpecker zoomed in to one of the other feeders. The male of the species has a red blaze on the head while the females don’t.
I’m still trying to capture a clear shot of a female but they are not only fast, they don’t hang around long, either. With more winter weather in the long range forecast for next week I’m sure I’ll get an opportunity.
Random shots from around town, some edited and others straight out of the camera.
While Frankie and Mom were shopping Buddy and I took a walk and found a few burdz to keep us amused.
Yes, I’m well aware that winter doesn’t officially begin until December 21st but, when standing in 4 inches of snow while my wild child Lab pup runs amok in the 16°F (-9°C) air, that’s close enough for me. In between gales of laughter at Buddy’s antics I managed to capture a few burdz in the tree overhead and thought I would share.
Downy woodpeckers, female on the left and male on the right.
Another male keeping a lookout from the upper branches.
Tufted Tit mouse, above and below
With the leaves off the trees and frigid winter temperatures the burdz are more numerous and easier to see. The number of species visiting Frankie’s feeders also increase. If you like burdz stay tuned.
Despite the bright sunshine it is frigid out in Burd Town today!
This little guy didn’t seem to mind the cold.
He didn’t seem to mind me standing so close, either. These were all shot hand held while standing under the tree the feeders hang from.
He seemed content to wait for us to fill the feeders while he perched on a branch and supervised.
And, of course, Buddy was by my side, on the lookout for marauding kitty cats. The stray cats infesting our neighborhood got a rude surprise when Buddy moved in. Like Sam, he has that “soft” mouth Labs are famous for so I really doubt that he’d hurt any cat he caught but he sure loves chasing them out of the flower beds and away from the feeders.
The surprise for the cats was Buddy’s speed. He is not only larger and more muscular than Sam was; he’s a LOT faster! When he first spotted a pair of cats staking out the feeders from the flower beds he let out a little whoof and the cats turned to give him a “we know how long that lead is and how long it takes a dog to get here” look.
Then he launched off the porch and was on them in the blink of an eye!
I haven’t seen any cats in the yard since.
The weather is chilly, damp and gray and this is the type of day that makes me want to stay indoors and nurse my arthritic bones. However, I have long suffered an acute case of cabin fever that makes me want to bolt out the door as soon as my morning coffee gets my heart started. Today was no exception.
Just because the light is poor that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to shoot.
Even if it’s just the tree hanging over the truck as I sat in the library parking lot waiting for THE BOSS.
I’ll sure be glad when I get the new lenses for my glasses. Until then, checking any books out is a waste of time. At least I can increase the font size on my laptop.
Even the wading birds are trying to get in out of the weather!
I spotted this guy in a tree on the way home. He even flew down and landed in the pond for me to get a few frames but I like these, too.
A few of the burdz outside our window this morning.
Chickadees (above and below)
And, last but not least, a Pine Siskin.
I was just about to go outside to photograph a pair of Purple Finches and two pairs of cardinals when all of the birds scattered. Sam quickly pointed out the cause; a pair of cats lurking in the flower bed. While he chased them off I managed to capture these shots through the window before they darted away, as well. I thought I would get these posted while I wait for the sun to move enough to do some more shooting.
While Sam was working on building up his stamina, chasing cats out of the flowerbeds, I pulled my lawn chair into a patch of sunlight and watched the critters flitting from branch to branch in Burd Town.
This one took brought back happy childhood memories.
What does a woodpecker have to do with my childhood?
Woody Woodpecker cartoons, of course!
It is cold and blustery out today and the National Weather Service is calling for a slight chance of rain.
Considering the looks of the clouds rolling in and the occasional flakes falling I wonder just what sort of showers they have in mind.
Add to that the special weather statement just issued calling for a hard freeze tonight and I think I can guess.
This shot taken during a quick trip for milk and bread this afternoon, looking north towards Big Walker Mountain. confirms my suspicions. Snow showers! Don’t ask me why but everyone runs to the store for bread and milk as soon as the first mention of snow is made. I figure I ought to join in, just in case……
Every time I pass this old shed it seems to lean another inch or two.
Titmice watching the pine siskins battle over the thistle sock in Burd Town this afternoon.
One day I’ll remember to ask someone what this weed is.
Last but not least, a woodpecker made a brief stop outside our window this morning/ past experience tells me there will be many more as winter sets in.
Even though I dearly love sleeping in, there are rewards for getting up early. Sitting in my Adirondack chair with my morning coffee and camera with Sam the Wonder Dog at my side may become a regular practice, at least until the snow flies.
Several days of high winds and rain have stripped most of the leaves from the Burd Town maple.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now the burds are easier to spot.
The goldfinches seemed to be posing for me.
The male purple finch Frankie first spotted last week has become a regular visitor.
Yesterday I spotted a female purple finch perched high in the maple.
I’m really loving my 55-300 MM image stabilized lens. If the burds will stay still long enough for me to focus on them I can really get some tight shots.
While researching purple finches on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site I learned that this female is putting on a display of agitation as she stretches her neck and points her beak towards this goldfinch intruder.
Wow; I learned something and my head didn’t explode!
When I first became interested in photography as a hobby I found that I began looking at the world around me differently. It’s almost as if I’m always framing a shot and I realized that I was noticing a lot of things that I had always overlooked. One of those things was song birds and I shoot a lot of them, especially around Frankie’s feeders.
Blogging about the birds I photograph led to Internet research and I now have a shortcut folder containing a wealth of information on ornithology and backyard birding. In case you’re interested, these are a few of my favorite references:
Peterson’s (I have a hard copy of the Birds of North America in my camera bag)
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (I carry a copy of their field guide, as well)
NOTE TO THE READER: I would like to apologize in advance for any typos I may have missed prior to publishing this post. I’m still under the influence of a colorful assortment of muscle relaxers, pain killers, vitamins, blood pressure meds and God knows what else and using Google Translate to convert this from my native language, Gibberish, into what I’m told is English, at least on this side of the pond.
The weather system that brought torrential rains, high winds and tornadoes across a wide swath of the southern United States and kept the area under severe weather warnings most of the day roared through here this morning bringing torrential horizontal downpours and winds of up to 65 miles per hour. Luckily, it was a fast moving system and was out of here by noon. While we escaped without damage, several surrounding counties reported downed trees, power outages and at least one mobile home blown 5 feet off it’s foundation by straight line winds!
By late afternoon the brisk winds had scattered the clouds enough to allow the sun to peek through from time to time but our weather guessers are saying to enjoy it while it lasts. A chance of rain each day and a steady decline in temperatures is predicted for the remainder of the week.
At least it ain’t snow!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while I was sitting on the foot of the bed this afternoon, staring out the window, waiting for it to get dry enough to go outside and play, an old friend appeared in Burd Town. I call him Leroy and he brought with him an epiphany.
Leroy is a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) You didn’t know I could type in Latin, did you? I didn’t either! The species is so named because they mate for life and, if they lose that mate, spend the remainder of their lives with their flock but alone nonetheless. There are at least a dozen pairs in the flock Leroy belongs to and they arrive each afternoon to feed on the seeds scattered by the other species feasting overhead in Frankie’s collection of feeders.
Leroy is always the first to arrive in Burd Town, landing on the peak of our storage shed, overlooking the feeders and the smorgasbord below. After carefully scanning the area for marauding felines, especially if Sam isn’t outside, he’ll land on the ground, eat his fill and fly off into the trees on the ridge. A few minutes later he’ll return to his rooftop perch followed by the rest of the flock which lands on the nearby power lines. After once again scanning the area Leroy alights in the middle of the feast, apparently signaling his friends that it is safe to feed.
Incidentally, if Sam is outdoors when he arrives, Leroy thinks nothing of landing and feeding within a few feet of his four legged guardian. Sam loves watching him and his feathered friends. My only concern is that I’ll gaze out the window one day and see Sam flying around the yard. Wouldn’t that give a rogue kitty cat a heart attack?
Once the other birds land Leroy flies back up to his perch and watches over his friends while they eat. On more than one occasion I have seen Leroy swoop low over the flock, startling them into flight, when a cat comes within sight. Watching him buzz the flock I can’t help thinking that if I could figure out away to outfit Leroy with itty bitty Hellfire missiles there would be a lot fewer felines stalking Burd Town! Cats or not, Leroy is always the first of his flock to arrive and the last to leave.
Now for the epiphany:
As we get closer and closer to Election Day next Tuesday the campaign ads, propaganda, slander and outright lies on the television (Man, whoever dubbed that thing the Idiot Box sure hit the nail on the head!) are building to a screaming crescendo. Trying to make sense of all the crap they’re shoveling I’m struck by the realization that if the people we chose to look after our interests and represent us in government were half the bird brain this guy is we’d all be a damn sight better off!
I wonder if I can get away with writing in Leroy the Mourning Dove on my ballot.
Anybody want the soap box? I’m done.
Natural camouflage isn’t always drab.
Despite being within 10 feet of where he was perched I didn’t even see this goldfinch until he moved.
He blended in nicely with the yellow leaves and shifting shadows in our maple tree.
Even after I spotted him it was tough to pick him out unless I watched closely when he changed perches.
When the wind blew the foliage parted to allow the sun to shine on him and he really stood out.
After getting in trouble for wandering off and staying gone for nearly 5 hours when I said I was “just going out to shoot a few frames and I’ll be back soon” I decided to stay close to home today. After nearly 1/4 of a century together I have learned not to irritate THE BOSS more than once a week.
That’s not to say I don’t do it, it just means I only do it when I absolutely have to.
Even so, I had to get outdoors and shoot a few frames. Today I turned my lens to a few burdz.
Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did getting them.
We’re planning a family day tomorrow because, for once, Frankie and Laura have the same day off. According to the girls I’m always a little off but……Anyway, with gasoline up to $2.65 a gallon locally (up 20¢ in the past two days) Sam and I decided to stay home and save the $8 – $10 worth of fuel one of our normal rides in the country would consume and save it for tomorrow.
Bear in mind that, while very smooth riding and equipped to go just about anywhere on or off road, Godzilla weighs in at 3.5 tons empty and averages 10-12 miles per gallon in town/15 MPG highway. While we dearly love to roam far and wide there are time when my meager disability pension, not to mention my physical problems, demand that we practice a little thrift.
Today’s photo shoot involved staking out the “sucker” maple tree in our yard, home to Frankie’s collection of bird feeders, Sam and I refer to this tree as Burd Town. Rather than the standard tree with a trunk and branches, this tree has at least a dozen trunks growing in a loose cluster. It also produces shoots growing out of the ground that, if not cut back on a regular basis, will produce an astounding number of new trunks in a remarkably short period. Since I have no desire to discover just how soon this monstrosity will take over the entire yard I prune it regularly with hand clippers, telescoping pruning saw, and, on occasion, my battery powered reciprocating saw.
From dusk til dawn Burd Town is home to a large herd of flying gluttons who think nothing of disturbing my morning slumber by screaming their fool heads off if I have neglected to restock the food bar…..or if one or more of the neighborhood cats are staking the place out. Sam enjoys keeping the cat herd under control but there are at least 3 dozens felines roaming this end of the ridge at any given time so he has his hands……or paws full. I don’t mind people having cats for pets a long as they don’t use our flower beds for toilets, sharpen their claws on my grill and mower covers, track mud all over the hood of my truck, fight under our bedroom window or breed like crazy, especially under our house!
“Look at me, Daddy, I’m a pointer!”
Despite having to be butchered……I mean pruned on a ridiculously frequent basis Burd Town does produce some gorgeous golden leaves in the fall. The fact that it does this in layers, rather than all the leaves falling off at the same time with a huge thud, means that we have an ever varying pile of leaves on our lawn from late September through early November. With my bad back raking leaves is out of the question (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
At times I will fire up the Dandelion Destroyer and run over the leaves with the deck set on “mulch” but I usually just let the wind blow them across the street into Walter’s yard so that idiot has to rake them up. Walter is a jerk and I’m willing to do anything to make his life miserable. About a dozen of those cats I mentioned are his. This fact has a lot to do with why I stopped shooting coyotes when they wander out of the woods behind the house. Coyotes gotta eat, too!
This time of year about the only species you can depend on finding in Burd Town, no matter when you walk outdoors, are sparrows. There are always dozens of them mobbing the feeders, scattering seed all over the place and chasing the occasional titmouse, goldfinch or chickadee away. That’s okay….most of the sparrow species (we have at least 4) will soon migrate and the other species still have plenty of wild food available. Besides, the birds that winter over are more colorful and really stand out when there’s snow on branches and the ground.
When the snow flies and the mercury drops we always make certain the bedroom window facing Burd Town is spotless. I can, and do, spend hours at that window, camera on a tripod, shooting through the glass.
Tomorrow we’re off to Independence for the Festival of leaves and the outhouse Olympics. This ought to be a hoot and we’re all taking cameras!
As is her habit, my darling bride dragged me out of bed at zero dark thirty and made me drive her to work. It wasn’t quite as bad as usual because today’s shift was pushed back and hour.
We have been keeping an eye on this lone goose. It apparently suffered damage to it’s left wing some time back. Even though it is no longer holding that wing at an unnatural angle this bird remains on the ground when the rest of the flock takes to the air each morning. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it isn’t left behind when the migration begins.
The mountain ridge in the distance, as seen….or more accurately, not seen….. from our back yard was cloaked in fog and scattered showers yesterday afternoon as the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole rolled up the Eastern Seaboard. We got some rain out of the storm but nothing compared to the 7.85 inches my mom got in Virginia Beach, 325 miles east of us. Parts of North Carolina, south of us, have received as much as 22 inches of rain since Sunday!
Today the sun was shining, the ridge was visible and the only clouds in the clear blue skies were the light, puffy variety. Our daughter, Laura, knows exactly what kind of clouds those are. She learned all about them in 2nd grade. I didn’t ask her about these because she’s already watching me for signs of senile dementia after I told her there are only 2 kinds of clouds in my book…..rain and not rain. That poor child is going to develop whiplash from shaking her head if she keeps talking to me. As is my practice, I took the long way home after filling the tank in my SUV, Godzilla. There was a good reason for the detour. You see, while out wandering the back roads in the rain yesterday I splashed mud on the fenders and everybody knows that if you leave mud on your truck it may lead to muffler clutch failure* so I had to get the truck washed and then drive it around to make sure it dried properly.
*That is an absolute fact. Take my word for it; I’m a retired ASE certified Master Automotive Technician and we know these things…..honest!
How far out of the way did I drive? Well, that’s our town in the middle distance and the car wash/gas station I went to is over there on the other side of town from where I was when I took this shot. Our house is over there, too.
When I processed that shot I noticed that if you look real close you can make out a pair of turkey vultures riding the thermals in this shot, one near the tree tops on the left and the other on the right. Therefore it is also a nature shot which means taking the long way home is even more understandable.
I thought I had missed shooting the start of the migration but there are still large numbers of geese in the area. They’re just hanging out at a different pond during the day. For some reason I have the feeling these two are saying “Oh Lord, Myrtle, he found us again!” but I don’t speak Canadian so I’m only guessing here.
While I was shooting the geese this wild turkey hen just wandered out in front of me. I’m surprised this shot turned out as well as it did considering it was shot through the windshield of the still rolling truck. I know, I know…..I shouldn’t shoot photos while driving and I usually don’t but she wasn’t about to stop and wait while I came to a complete stop, changed lenses and framed the shot. Besides….there wasn’t another vehicle in sight on that particular road……I checked……right after I got this shot.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Frankie had the day off so I got to sleep in for a change. When I finally did crawl out of bed my brother called to say that he and his girlfriend were leaving Charlottesville and headed this way. While I waited I cleaned my camera and lenses and took a few test shots to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
This turkey vulture riding the thermals over our ridge made a good test subject.
It’s amazing how graceful these huge birds can be. They average a 5 to 6 foot wingspan.
Once the travelers arrived and got settled in their motel room it was time for a little sightseeing.
My brother wants to do some camping in our neck of the woods next spring so I’ll be showing him around a few of the local state parks while he’s in town. This afternoon we went to Foster Falls State Park on the New River.
We even ran across a small flock of Canada geese wading in the shallows.
Tomorrow we’re off for a couple of other state park camp grounds as well as some high vantage points to shoot some long vistas. Them flatlanders is gonna need a nap by the time they finish following me around.
The trip to town this morning was another treat as the rising sun backlit the horizon and fired the clouds.
But the real treat was the stock pond down the road from where we live. I’ve been trying to capture the flocks of geese lifting off as the older geese teach this year’s goslings the intricacies of formation flying in preparation for the migration soon to begin.
The flock was still on the pond when I returned from dropping Frankie off at work so I found what I hoped would be a good vantage point and waited for the lift offs to begin.
I didn’t have long to wait but I’ll need to find a better position to capture all the action.
The flock doesn’t take off en masse. Individual groups take off, circle around to the north and wait for the rest of the groups before forming up into larger Vs.
Even with an image stabilized zoom lens the low light and number of groups taking flight made it challenging to capture more than a few.
It was at this point that I remembered the tripod in the back of the truck but I was worried that by the time I retrieved it and got it set up all the action would be over.
Now that I know which direction they take after lifting off I know where to set up to catch the larger formations forming. That old cow shed is a good reference point. Past experience tells me it can be seen from the Methodist church that sits on high ground on the other side of that hill.
I’ll be set up in the church parking lot tomorrow morning, waiting for the individual groups to arrive overhead. With any luck I’ll be able to get some shots of the big groups. The weather forecast is calling for a 50% chance of rain but I’ll be ready with an umbrella……and the tripod.
I just had to include a shot of this hay barn. As is the case with several other interesting buildings in the area, I’ve shot this one from different angles, in all sorts of weather and in color as well as black and white. There’s just something about the way the light plays on it that keeps drawing me back to it. You will see this barn again.
Also known as Falls of Dismal (and I have no idea where the name comes from) is a popular swimming hole located in the Giles County section of the Jefferson National Forest.
My brother in law, the world famous Fish Hook, recently discovered this place and graciously showed me how to find it today. We even took the women folk along but made them sit in the back seat where their cackling wouldn’t distract us men folk from the serious business of getting lost in the woods…….I mean exploration and discovery.
Dismal Creek is a small creek with it’s headwaters forming along the Appalachian Trail as it heads down Sugar Run Mountain. Much wider and faster during the spring and early summer, most of the rock ledges were exposed and dry today. From the squeals of the girls tip toeing around in the pool I can assume that the water was COLD!
Neither of us being over burdened with common sense, Fish Hook and I took the opportunity to climb the falls and generally give our wives cause to wonder how long it would be before one or both of us fell off and would have to lay shivering in the pool at the bottom until the rescue helicopters came to haul us out.
No, that’s not Sasquatch, that’s Fish hook strolling along the top of the falls, doing a very good job of disguising the fact that he nearly killed himself climbing up there. I know this to be a fact because I climbed up there a few minutes earlier and almost died doing it. The fact that I have to use a trekking pole to maintain my balance on flat ground and also had a camera bag slung over my shoulder while climbing didn’t help much.
Actually, the climb back down was even more dangerous as evidenced by the vultures circling overhead by the time I hit bottom…..I mean completed my descent.
By the time Fish Hook managed to climb back down there were 2 vultures circling overhead so we decided it was time to go find a place to buy ice cream.
This is the path back up to where we left the truck. It was a little tricky climbing down because of loose rock and exposed tree roots. This was a moderate descent on a trail approximately 100 yards long. On the way back up again the trail was now 5000 yards long and the elevation had increased by at least 15,000 feet. Both Fish Hook and I were gasping for breath by the time we finally reached the road.
Ahem: I have been informed by SHE WHO SHALL BE OBEYED, THE BOSS, my better half (pick whichever ones suits you) that Dismal Creek got it’s name when one of Gen. Jubal Anderson Early’s troops, camped along it’s banks during the American Civil War, remarked “This creek sure is dismal!” The name stuck.
Thanks to a cold front passing through late Friday our temperatures have been mild and the humidity very low all weekend. This has brought us crystal clear skies and nearly unlimited visibility.
Today I managed to get a few frames of turkey vultures soaring on the thermals coming off the ridges.
Keep in mind that these guys have a wingspan approaching 6 feet.
As ugly as these birds are they sure are graceful in flight.
This bird must have covered nearly a mile before having to flap his wings.
I found a few geese resting in a nearby stock pond. For the past week or so we’ve started seeing the local flocks flying in formation and I’m guessing they’re helping the youngsters build up their endurance for the coming migration.
Our neighbors to the South will tell you that God must be a Tarheel because he made the sky Carolina blue. I don’t know about that but I can tell you that the colors are so crisp and bright that it almost hurts to look up.
No, I didn’t spell that incorrectly. The title doesn’t refer to the tea. It refers to the bands of overcast moving through our area this morning, spin off from Hurricane Earl passing 300+ miles to the east!
Coming home after taking Frankie to work I was astounded by the way a tropical system moving along the coast can effect our weather this far inland. That is one big storm!
At least there were breaks in the clouds and I could shoot a few frames from high ground, this from Barrett’s Mill Road which traverses one part of the mountain right outside of town. If you look closely you can just make out the town water tower in front of the ridge line in the right hand side of this frame. If it wasn’t painted to resemble a hot air balloon it wouldn’t be visible this early in the morning.
As I turned onto Atkin’s Mill Rd., heading back towards town, the rising sun provided visible evidence of the wind sheer effect on the bands of clouds moving through.
I didn’t have any of the hallucinations of zebras or suspiciously misshapen deer I experienced on my previous early morning ride along this road. Frankie says she thinks they were caused by all the meds my doctors have me on. I think it’s something in the golden rod.
The rising sun and scudding cloud produced some spectacular scenes for the trip home.
This was especially true as I passed Frankie’s store. By this time the sun was shining high in the sky and Old Glory was dancing in the stiff breeze.
Click on the image to view full size.
If anyone out there has any influence with my wife please talk to her about getting me out of bed too early. You won’t believe what I thought I saw this morning!
This deer doesn’t look quite right either. The next time I’ll take Sam with me and ask him if he sees it too…..if I can get him out of bed.