You’ll pardon me for paraphrasing the B-52s, but bird watching in my back yard since spring has sprung really has been like living in my own private Audubon. Yang pointed out that we often see more birds (in number and variety) through our sun porch windows than we do on many of our nature walks! It’s been a delight to see many old friends return.
First back were these Mockingbirds. Usually we see one in February or early March. S/He doesn’t stay long, but chows down for a day or two – maybe a week – and then is on the way to wherever Mockingbirds like to chill. This year, we got TWO. A honeymooning couple? I don’t know, but they were a pleasure to see.
Another of the spring early birds are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. In my yard, they are one of the earliest sign of spring rolling in. These guys actually showed up in the end of February – and I’ve never seen so many of them! Usually their numbers tend to thin out as we get into May, but this year we still have many of these visitors with the red and yellow epaulets. You can see this chap flashing his shoulder embellishments as he shares the feeder with a grumpy-looking Grackle – tons of Grackles off and on since February. Below is the blackbird taking a turn on the suet.
In fact, everyone seems to be into suet this year! You saw the Mockingbirds above. And get a load of both the female and male Downy Woodpeckers. You can distinguish their genders by the red dot on the back of the male’s head.
These two aren’t the only woodpeckers who visit us. Through the winter and still into the spring, we’ve had a pair of Redbellied Woodpeckers chilling with us. In fact, this male is probably the one Yang and I saved from frostbite after he was stunned from hitting a window – the woodpecker, not Yang. Anyway, we call him Red and his mate Ruby. Original, aren’t we?
Of course we also had a spring newcomer woodpecker: my friend Flicker (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.). Just last week, I saw him hunting insects where my and my neighbor’s yard meet.
One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. I love the way they say my name in one of their calls: “Sharon!” Last year we had two. This year, I’ve seen four! I don’t think they’re all pals, either. One day, I saw two of them in my Canadian Maple with their heads up, beaks pointing skyward, and their shoulders thrown back in a stand off. Bird number three was merrily chowing down on suet all the while. Who knows where number four went. Still, I do see two, three, four of them traveling together, making the rounds of the bird feeders in my yard.
We’ve also had some more colorful returnees as well. Although a Goldfinch or two would come by during the winter, we had a huge influx in April. They’ve thinned out a bit, but it’s been fun watching the boys gradually change back to their bright yellow duds. They’ve also broadened their tastes. Rather than only snacking on sunflower hearts, they are now going for the black oil seeds, no longer too lazy to crack them open with their powerful finch beaks. This fella is giving the feeder a quizzical study before he zeroes in on dinner.
Finally, May brought back two of my favorite friends. First, the Baltimore Orioles. This year we’ve seen two adult males and one juvenile. These guys love their oranges! Yang gets them the good ones from the Asian grocery store in town.
One day, Yang and I saw Dad taking his young son out for his first drink.
Then they both turn to our window and stare: “What’re YOU lookin’ at?!”
One week later, who should come to town but the last of our colorful spring regulars: the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Usually we get a couple of couples. However, this year, I’ve only seen the male. Still, for all I know, it’s not the same male every time. There could be a bunch of them, each showing up one at a time. However many, these guys are always gorgeous to see! Here one of them is sharing the feeder with a House Finch. He doesn’t look too chummy, though, does he?
Of course, we’re not the only ones who like to watch the birds from the sun porch. But the girls are kept safely apart from feathered visitors.
Now, bring on the Indigo Bunting and the Scarlet Tanager!
At the end of the last week, I’d come down with a head cold! Too much heavy-duty activity and book promotion, I guess, in cold weather. Anyway, after lots of rest under the medical supervision of Rosalind and Natasha, I felt well enough to join Yang on a little adventure to Connecticut. First stop?
Lobster rolls, cole slaw, and french fries at Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook. Yum! That lobster has loads of cold-fighting protein, right? Though there weren’t the usual osprey and laughing gulls and various ducks, we did see this neat cormorant circling the deck, then landing and arching his wings the way cormorants love to do- very vampirelike. I think he saw himself as Count Cormorantuala. I forgot to get my own pictures; however, here’s another photographer’s depiction of that favorite cormorant stance.
I did manage to get some nice shots from the rest of our journey.
Next stop? Rocky Neck, where you can see the fall colors are still going, even if some trees are a bit denuded. In fact, the drive down treated us to some lovely golds, burnt oranges, saffrons, and burgundies. Just in the parking lot was this lovely tree flaming into orange. Yang especially loves multicolored trees, where the foliage morphs from green to yellow even to orange. This tree gives us orange, crimson, and burgundy!
If you look to the marshes, they are bordered by more foliage-enhanced trees. Those marshes are circled by a trail and some lookout platforms, which have afforded lots of views of many different types of aquatic fowl. this time, we didn’t see a lot, but we did sight some old friends: black ducks; mallards, hooded mergansers (the speedboats of the duck world), and the Great Egret. It was the latter we got some nice shots of. In fact, as we walked the trail and paused on a bridge, we were able to get rather close to this fellow without him flapping a feather. Rather, he had quite a time for himself fishing. What a beauty, right? As we were leaving, we actually passed seven of them all chillin’ together in another marsh, right near the road.
Ah, and then there was a stroll along the ocean and a nap on the rocks as I could hear the waves lapping those rocks and feel the breeze dancing around me. It’s so nice just to let go!
Our final stop, after a wonderful ride down winding country roads, framed with glowing foliage in the sinking sun’s light, was to the cemetery where Joan Bennett rests. We found three bouquets of yellow roses, a small painted stone with a sweet message, and an arrangement with a patriotic theme, happily showing that our Joanie is so fondly remembered. Well, Joan certainly was a patriot in the best sense of the word. Five of her forties films had her joining the fight against the Nazis, she went on bond selling tours, she was a member of the AWVS (American Women’s Voluntary Service), and she spoke out for protecting people’s civil rights. So, it was our pleasure to pay our respects. We tried to clean her Mom’s grave stone, but couldn’t do much. Another member of our Joan Bennett FB group had done a beautiful job of cleaning Joan’s grave earlier, however. Maybe Joan and my Mom can have a cup of tea and a cigarette together up in the Great Beyond. You never know! Just watch out for those Singapore Slings, ladies!
Christmas day approached and so did Rosalind to the manger. Would the baby Jesus be safe? One year Natasha ran off with one of the sheep!
Whew! All is safe in Bethlehem, until Natasha decided that the fake snow on the roof looked delicious. This leads me to an important question: what’s with all this snow on manger roofs that we’re always seeing on cards and in manager displays? How much snow do they get in the Mideast? I know: it’s a miracle!
Christmas day, the girls were absolutely delighted with their presents from my friend, Kathy Healey. Both Natasha and Rosalind liked the Jackson Galaxy-approved “base-camp mat.” Natasha was the more taken of the two. And both had fun with the cat-nipped toys also a part of their feline care package.
After human and felines had opened all our presents, the turkey having been cooked, it was off to St. Matthews for the Christmas service. We had a lovely service, with Mother Judith Lee presiding. The 10:00 service was the third of three services held over two days (Christmas Eve included), so there was a small number of people attending. That only made the experience even more homey and congenial than usual. Yang and I both were the lectors! Yang did the two readings and I did the Intercessions. We’re lucky to be part of a church that makes us feel at home and happy.
Back home, we put together a wonderful Christmas dinner to share with each other. I love cooking the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with Yang. It’s perfect teamwork, sharing the chores of preparation – and we haven’t dropped a turkey on the floor yet (knock on wood!) ! Of course Natasha was impatient to get her share. She pulled that turkey right off Yang’s plate! Little devil!
Here she is getting some turkey in a more acceptable manner – from Yang’s hand. Kathy Healey take note!
I saluted Yang and the girls before we all tucked in! It was a yummy meal, suitably stuffing everyone. And speaking of stuffing, that’s my Mom’s simple but delicious recipe. The squash was my own, with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, along with walnuts. The meal was followed by a long walk around Millbury, checking out Victorian houses and Christmas decorations.
The end of the day gave us a glorious sunset, which I have to share with you in some spectacular shots.
We’ve been seeing lots of beautiful birds as we move into June. Many of the usual suspects are still showing up. I managed to get some interesting close ups and Yang took some videos, so our birds are moving-picture stars!
One day when I was exercising in the parlor, I was lying on the floor, and when I cam up to window level, I saw the Rosebreasted Grosbeak up close. So, I snuck off to get my camera and managed to take some wonderful close ups! You’d swear he knew what was going on and decided to pose! We’ve been so lucky to see one of the males almost every day. We often see one male and one female together, while sometimes we also see a lone female. We can hear their birdsong quite often. I suspect they may be nesting fairly close by. Maybe they’ll bring the kids to brunch some day.
We’ve also been blessed with some frisky catbirds who mainly love to chomp down on suet from the two such feeders we have in the yard. I and the cats often watch them through the sun porch windows. Today, one was chattering to me while I was hanging out the clothes on the line. Anyway, here are some shots that Yang took for me.
The Downy Woodpeckers also like to feast on the suet as well. Yang got a few shots of one doing so. We haven’t seen many Hairy Woodpeckers this year – or Flickers or Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers. Maybe the latter were too scared.
Yang also took some videos. Here, we have The Adventures of Cardinal with special guest star Rosebreasted Grosbeak and a cameo by English Sparrow Roll ’em!
We also have some mammals in our yard as well. I managed to get a few shots of a baby rabbit, from which we strenuously held back both Rosalind and Natasha on separate occasions. Enjoy watching him/her nibble.
Someone else enjoyed watching the bunny, as well. She thought he looked delicious, er, adorable. We made sure that she was restrained.
Here’s a melange of interesting autumn images that I’ve come across this past September. One Friday afternoon, while riding the bicycle trail from Coventry, Yang and I came across these funky caterpillars. We’d seen them last fall on the same trail, so apparently these are their main stomping, er crawling, grounds. Does any one know into what they ultimately metamorph? Notice how they have prongs on their derrieres, no doubt to confuse predators as to which end they are biting. We wonder what these guys are.
The following weekend, we did 22 miles on the Nickerson Park Trail on the Cape. What should we see on the trail but this adorable quail! I suspect s/he is domesticated because the little critter did not seem at all unnerved by passing cyclists or walkers. I’ve seen pictures of domesticated quails on line, and this little guy seems to match up. Nevertheless, I’m counting him/her as one of my bird sightings for the year. I hope you can see the little guy in the center of the picture to left on the trail, almost in the leaves. Click on the image for a bigger picture.
Though not nearly as cute, here are some pictures of me in Brattleboro, VT. Every year this house creates a tunnel of enormous sunflowers. We went up last weekend and took these shots. The house used to also have a hutch for chickens and bunnies, but alas, those adorable creatures are no longer kept there. I’m not quite so adorable as a bunny, but I like to think I have some charm. Yang staged the photos nicely, don’t you think? Is there anything he can’t do?
Finally, Natasha desires to send you the best of autumn holiday greetings!
Rosie wants to photo bomb Natasha’s greeting – and Natasha is NOT amused.
Yang went to pick up the watering can for the plants the other evening, and this is who greeted him. My friend Sarah tells me that he/she is a grey tree frog! We always have plenty of toads in the yard. In fact one used to sit on a floating platform in the fish pond and sing away the afternoon. However, I didn’t even know we had these guys in our yard! Quite the cutie, isn’t she/he?
Here, you can see, from left to right, a Blue Jay, a Mourning Dove, and the edge of a shy (or hungry) Red-bellied Woodpecker’s wing. I always get them mixed up with the Common Flicker. I can tell the difference in how they look; I just can never remember which name goes with which bird. Ah, here he is peeking out at us!
Here’s a Downy Woodpecker. It could be a Hairy Woodpecker. I know the latter is bigger, but I can’t exactly make the comparison here. I also know the Hairy has a longer beak, but unfortunately the picture is not quite sharp enough. We get both types, as well as Flickers and Nuthatches. No Piliated Woodpeckers, though!
Next are a Cardinal and a Mourning Dove. Some of these images aren’t as clear as they could be because I had the screen down on the window and had to shoot through it.
Darned old Mourning Dove with a Red-winged Blackbird. The Blackbird is hard to catch. He comes by all the time, but always seems to see me and fly off before I can get a good shot. I’ll have some more bird pictures later with him in it –– as well as other birds. I would also love to get a shot of our Catbird. She is forever landing nearby and popping around looking for food or getting a drink from the bird bath near the fish pond. All I have to do is hold still and she’s my buddy. I’m happy to say that on our bicycle rides, Yang and I have seen a plethora of Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows!
When we went to Plainfield for me to participate in the Sisters in Crime panel on creating mysteries, we stayed over night in Plymouth, NH at one of our favorite places, the Red Carpet Inn. For years Yang and I, myself alone, or myself and a pal had stayed there for the Medieval and Renaissance Forum when it was at Plymouth State University. It’s always been pleasant. Look at the beautiful view we had from our window!
The next day, we drove over to the Red Hill Cemetery where Claude Rains is buried with his wife Rosemary. He has a beautiful epitaph: “All things once are things forever, Soul, once living, lives forever.” His wife’s is a variation on lines from Christina Rosetti’s “When I Am Dead” Sonnet – one of my favorite poems. We always try to pay a visit. Just a simple way of saying, “Thanks for the great celluloid memories.” It’s a special treat to know that my favorite actor is resting near me. It almost feels like we’re neighbors. Don’t they have a beautiful view? That’s Red Hill in the background, which Yang and I try to climb in good weather –– we’re tired afterward, but it’s worth it.
When we stopped in Center Harbor, I found a neat independent book store, Bayswater Book Co. (12 Main St.). Of course, I scoped out the lovely little shop –– and ultimately managed to make arrangements to give a reading and signing on Saturday, July 9th, from 1:00-3:00. Drop by and meet me. Bait and Switch‘s Dusty will be be on the lookout for you!
I always wonder if this pun carries exactly the right connotations to bring in customers. It must work, ’cause it’s been there for like 20 years!
So, on May 28th I gave my final reading of the month at my alma mater’s bookstore, River Hawks. It wasn’t exactly a trek back to Tara, but it was a wonderful experience for seeing so many old friends at UMass Lowell.
First of all, the day was a scorcher: in the 90s! Of course, I had to have a hot cappuccino before my performance! Thank God this place is air conditioned – but the nice, comfortable kind of air conditioning, not the Arctic temps that make polar bears shiver, which you find too often once May rolls around. Here, I’m sitting, looking over my notes and finishing my coffee in the lobby. The building is really nice, with lots of windows and airy space.
Ham bone that I am, I had to get a picture of myself with the display for my book! The young woman clerking at the counter was nice enough to do the honors. Like the dress? Yang made it for me by copying a vintage dress I’d bought on Ebay. This way we get the beauty of authentic vintage design combined with the convenience of material you can hand or machine wash! There’s not much he can’t do: from using physics to move boulders to building an oxygen chamber for a kitten recovering from double pneumonia. Note the luxurious quarters: litter box, bed, blanket, toys, and inspiring pictures (Rosie the Riveter, Rosalind in AYLI, and Rosalind Russell).
Before the session, I had a nice chat with Abbey and Christina, who had taken charge of setting up the space for me. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a great area for doing a reading. What I could really kick myself over is that I had such a wonderful time seeing old friends that I forgot to have my entourage (Yang) take any pictures of folks. Damn! Not even a group shot! So, who’s on the red – or here royal blue- carpet?
Sue Thorne-Gagnon and her husband Bobby were first to arrive. Sue and I were at ULowell together at the same time, but darned if we never met until years later when we were working at BASF systems before we both went back into teaching. She’s a wonderful teacher and flutist. Next came Lisa McCarthy and her daughter Hedda. I’ve known Lisa since the late seventies, and we’ve been through everything together from rambles around Boston, hikes through the woods, and Star Trek conventions. My nephew Phil and his wife Steph also appeared on the scene. Steph is responsible for addicting me to Psych; Monk; Murder, She Wrote; and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Can I get her hooked on Murdoch? Steph is a teacher and Phil is a filmmaker – check out his co-production of My Name Is Jonah. When he and his older brother were kids, I used to hold them under the arms and swing them in a circle, which they loved. Now they can do it to me, but not at the reading. Here’s a picture of my giving Geoffrey a whirl.
After the reading started, I was so excited to see, first, Barbara DeMeuth then Mary Lou Beausoleil slip in! These guys have been my friends since grammar school! Clearly, they have much forbearance. It was fantastic that they came to support me! Barb is actually my oldest friend – not in age but in duration. We met when we were going into the fifth grade. Mary Lou is only a few months behind. But we can’t get together as much as we’d like, so it was fantastic to catch up! Mary Lou was one of the earliest readers of one of the earliest versions of Bait and Switch – and she still came, anyway! Barb and I have managed to stay in touch on the phone or over an occasional lunch lo! these many years. Both have wonderfully wicked senses of humor!
It was an absolute delight to see people I care so much about, and who showed me they cared by being here to share in the success of Bait and Switch. And thanks to Maria Shusta, Christina, and Abbey at River Hawks for doing a wonderful job of setting everything up for me and making the day run so smoothly.
We recently did the North Central Pathway rail trail. It technically extends between Gardner and Winchendon, though there is a break of about a mile that has not been developed yet. It’s a beautiful paved trail that runs through clear, lovely, green woods in a straight path. At the Winchendon end, we cycled down toward a sports/recreation area, but right off the trail is this cool abandoned factory and what appears to be a ware house. It’s all next to a set of falls and canal off the river. Since there weren’t any “No Tresspassing” warnings or locked gates, we checked out the area, being careful not to take any risks of falling or hurting ourselves.
Here’s a picture of a smoke stack; somehow the rest of the factory seems to have fallen away – although there was a building behind it that looked as if it might have been part of the original manufacturing site. Look at how gorgeously azure-blue the sky was that day. The sun was so bright, I had to wear my shades – prescription, of course, or I’d have been riding off the road.
In this other shot of the chimney, you can better see the tree growing up around it and what’s left of the building behind it.
There were man-made falls next to the buildings and a canal running along it for water power. The scene was beautiful. I have no idea what they made here. Since this town was the rocking horse capital, perhaps that’s what they produced?
We got back on the trail for our return ride, passing a pond that had some Barrows Golden Eye Ducks. Would that they had been close enough to photograph. These are diving ducks. So it was a hoot to watch the flock sit up on the water, flap their wings, then dive down and disappear beneath the surface for a stretch. Then, up they’d all pop. Now you see them, now you don’t, now you do!
We did get to photograph some cute critters, though – at least I think they are cute. So, here’s the trigger warning: PICTURES OF A SNAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I almost ran over a little one of these guys when he was trying to cross the trail. I guess he wanted to get to the other side. Playing chicken? He was too small for me to see right away, but Yang assured me he was okay. Then, I came across his big sister right here. A beauty, eh? I don’t know what kind this one is. His/her color is coppery with darker markings, so it doesn’t look like a garter snake to me. What do you think? Can anyone answer my query?
So, for those freaked out by this lovely creature, here are some soothing images. First, the ginormous (for us, anyway) pumpkins Yang and I grew last year.