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!
I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of photography around the yard lately, since I’ve been so busy with writing and traveling. However, we do have many neat critters to see. We still have many interesting birds, for example, a turkey for several days, visiting around 5:00 in the afternoon. Rosalind noticed the turkey first and tipped me off. so, we got some nice shots of her.
The cardinals have been bringing their kids to visit. I see plenty of Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, but I’m not sure how many adolescents they have because they are all olive colored with black beaks (The beak helps you distinguish kids from female adults). I only see one baby at a time, so I don’t know if it’s the same one repeatedly or different Cardinal kiddos every time. Last year, the parents brought quite a few to the feeders, and we had about six males and females in the winter and through the spring. Then, we only seemed to have two adults. My guess is the last generation of kids moved off to college or got a job and nest in a new territory. What do you think, Cardinal experts? Anyway, this kid is pretty aggressive. He was on the feeder with a female Rosebreasted Grosbeak, who had scared every other birds off, including Mommy Cardinal. Not this kid! He kept pecking right back at her for some time.
Speaking of Grosbeaks, we have at least three males (whom I’ve seen all at the same time), but I’m not sure how many females. I have noticed that I do see a pair show up frequently, though I usually see a male or two show up without the wife. Occasionally, I’ve seen a female without the hubby. These two like to hang together on this particular feeder. They also decided to check out the oranges we put out for the Orioles as well.
The catbirds used to come frequently in the beginning of the summer, then they disappeared, pretty much, for about a month. However, now they are BACK. And they are aggressively defending the suet, cocking up their black tails and showing off that red spot underneath. I’m glad to see them-and hear them call my name, “Sharon! Sharon!” There’s one outside my window right now!
I’ll have to do another bird blog, to show you more pictures of our other feathered visitors.
As winter, we hope, is wrapping up and March approaches, I thought I’d post a couple of last minute winter visits to some of the local cemeteries to show you some of their lovely funerary work. Last December, when we were first treated to snow-and when snow still seemed like a treat-, I took some neat shots in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Worcester. I was particularly struck by not only the statuary but some reliefs and some Celtic crosses.
First, check out some of the neat reliefs. This one is graced with a stone head of Christ looking lovingly down at a stone chalice of His blood. The Celtic cross also has the austere yet graceful petals of flowers carved upon it. The vivid French blue of the winter sky bespeaks the crispness of the day.
There are many styles of Celtic Crosses rising out of the snow and winter-browned grass of this cemetery. Many also are adorned with striking, symbolic carvings. Others may hold statuary. This Celtic cross particularly caught my eyes, with it’s intricate interlocking designs along its body and its distinctive symbolic figures at the top. The snow beautifully reflects the cool purity of the sky’s winter blue.
A closer study of the figures in the upper central section of the cross reveals the creatures symbolizing the four gospel writers on each branch of the cross, with the knot of eternity and the Infinite in the center and praying angels at the very top, From the top and moving clockwise, you have the winged ox/calf (Luke), the man (Matthew), the griffin/lion (Mark), and the eagle (John)- their wings and halos signifying their divine nature.
You can additionally see Celtic crosses and other monuments honoring priests in the cemetery.
The statuary is also quite striking in the winter light. Here, a woman clings to a cross for salvation or for comfort at her losses. The stone is weathered smooth, the statue almost featureless. Perhaps a comment on the transitoriness of life.
A time-smoothed lamb, couched within the limited protection of this monument further testifies to the relentless passage of time over even the young whom parents see as embodying a kind of immortality. It’s posture is not even terribly peaceful, seeming to indicate tightening oneself up in fear or cold. Maybe both.
Then, there is this triumphant angel-who seems to be wearing a bustle in the height of 1880s fashion. Her broken wing unintentionally testifies to the limits of human commemorations.
Still, when I tried to capture her face with a shot from the front, the glow of the sun created this divine image that perhaps suggests that true immortality and enlightenment come from beyond this earth, transcending the capability of our mortal vision. Ya think?
We’ve been seeing some wonderful birds this winter in our yard at our feeders. Let me share some of them with you, starting from December. This first set of pictures were taken that month, before and after the snow started. I have pictures here of some old friends and some new-like this Downy Woodpecker. Do you think someone should tell her that bugs don’t live in concrete or vinyl siding-or does she know something that I don’t?
We also see plenty of our old standbys, the Chickadees and the Titmice. They like to come and dine about 9:30 in the morning and about 4-5:00 in the afternoon-with an occasional snack or two throughout the day. The Titmice are one of Yang’s favorites, and he likes to call them “little faces.” With their big, expressive eyes, you can understand why. In this picture we have one of the cute chickadees.
One of my favorite birds is one of the first signs of winter: the Slate-Colored Junco. That’s the name they went by when I was first birding; however, I’ve noticed them now called “Dark-Eyed Juncos.” Maybe they all invested in brown contacts. I love their blue-grey coloring (though some are more brownish) and their white tails that flash when the fly away, as they give a call that sounds like castanets. We have large numbers of them in my yard, which it just fine with me.
These two Juncos don’t look to happy to meet.
“Who You lookin’ at?”
The Goldfinches haven’t flown away until the spring. They’ve just changed their sprightly spring plumage for heavy winter coats. One fellow appeared to have a white cap of feathers, even with his winter color. So, I dubbed him Whitecap. Original, aren’t I? However, closer viewing of him through these photos shows that his cap is more light yellow than white. Nevertheless, he’s staying “Whitecap,” as Slightly Light Yellow Cap” is way too much of a mouthful.
Here’s another nice shot of Whitecap, with a Goldfinch pal (in the upper left corner) who apparently thinks he’s a bat. I’ve got to stop watching Forever Knight when these guys are in the windows.
Here’s another one of Snowcap, after he was reading up on Edward Taylor and thought he ought to go out and starting preaching to Juncos. Of course, if Snowie believes in predestination, that suggests that even other species can be saved.
I particularly like this picture because it includes so many: Juncos, Goldfinches, and another of my favorites, the Carolina Wren, on the left. She doesn’t quite look like a wren because she doesn’t have her little bum cocked in the air, but her long beak and white eye-stripe give her away. We have at least one pair who come to my feeders. They’ve been around the house for several years, but it’s only the past three or four that I’ve seen them year round, and so frequently in the winter. I often hear them in the trees of the woods behind my house and across the street. I named this pair, Carolina and Carey. Additionally, note the Goldfinch coming in out of inter-dimensional travel in the upper middle of the photo.
We also had an unexpected visitor on our suet feeder. Regard this handsome Mockingbird. Usually I don’t see them in the winter. However, I was informed that they don’t travel south, but hide out in deep woods during the cold months. Apparently this guy didn’t get the memo about hiding out. He or she comes to see us just about every day to chow down on the suet. I know these birds tend to be highly aggressive, but this one really doesn’t seem to mind sharing.
Now, there’s one last interesting addition to our flocks: Mr. Cooper, as in Cooper’s Hawk. This guy showed up low on the Canadian Maple in our back yard, right outside my living room window. The first time I saw him was in mid-January, when I couldn’t get any good shots. Then, this week, he popped by and I was lucky, getting these three pix. Now I definitely know what caused the splash of blood and feathers on the snow near the tree last week. Still, he does leave alone the little birds-hardly worth consideration as hors d’ouevres? Anyway, click on the photos to get a good look at him-or her.
Anyway, now I think I understand why White Ears (named for these white tufts in his ears) has been keeping a low profile recently.
Every year, Yang and I make a pilgrimage to the Cape to check out the migrating ducks. Usually we make the trip in mid-January or early February, not far from my birthday. This year, we went on January 15th, and we weren’t disappointed. We saw ruddy ducks, hooded and rust-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon, swans, etc. However, at first I was a little let down because I didn’t see the annual flock of eiders bobbing on ocean waves. That disappointment disappeared as we moved further along the beach trail.
Yang and I saw some dark specks floating on rough seas not far from a jetty. The sun was in our eyes at first, so even with binoculars, we weren’t sure what we were seeing. Then, we got out to a place with better lighting, and there they were: my pals the eider ducks! I’m not sure if we are going to that jetty to see them every year or if they’re returning to get a peek at us! Anyway, it was a delight to watch them carried up and down by the waves, even swimming into a little cove of the jetty. As you can see, we were able to get pretty close.
A couple of duck were giving us the once over in these shots! Right in the center of the picture.
Especially interesting, I had never noticed that the males have a white stripe down the back of the black feathers on their heads. I’d also never noticed the greenish/yellowish/grey patch at the bottom of that black cap, either. Click on the photos here to get a closer look. Every year it’s something new. Do you think they noticed something different about Yang and I this year?
Significance of the subtitle: Remember the old joke? “How do you get down from and elephant? You don’t. You get down from a duck.” Eider down, right?
Enjoy the ducks in motion:
The beautiful colors of fall have fallen now. November is a month of greys, maroons, and browns, of naked grey branches stark against the sky. So, I thought you might enjoy a last look at the earlier glories of October, resplendent in my photos from the Hope Cemetery of Worcester, Mass. Let’s start with this lovely line of sugar maples turning into flame.
Yang loves to see contrasting colors, and this phenomena is often on display early in the foliage season, when some trees, still bright green, form a gorgeous contrast with the flame of their more precocious brethren.
In the cemetery, the lovely autumn colors often form a striking contrast with the white or grey of wonderfully sculpted monuments in relief or freestanding statuary.
Then, there is this mausoleum haloed by the green being subsumed by peach and lemony yellow leaves.
The statuary itself is a pleasure to view. I was particularly taken by this one of a mother comforting her child. Does it bespeak the death of an actual mother who would have guided her daughter heavenward or does it tell a story of the mother guiding her daughter from beyond the vale? Perhaps both mother and daughter are now attaining spiritual heights together in the next world?
It does seem that the opening gates on this tomb stone bespeak the gates of the death opening onto eternal life.
There is the book of life.
The sad, kneeling, lost child, its form melted away by time and the elements, the stone from which it was carved as transient as human life.
Yet this relief’s portrait reinforces the bond of parent and child through life and death and afterlife.
Perhaps most intriguing as a symbol of life springing from death was this natural image. We found an old, battered, on its last roots deciduous tree hosting, providing shelter and sustenance, for a baby pine tree. How unlikely that these two should come together and grow together. Who knows how long either will last, but they do create an unexpected surge of life.
Between Halloween and fall foliage, October seems the perfect month to post blogs on my cemetery visits. St. John’s Cemetery is one of my favorites, a beautiful rural setting that was just starting to put on display its lovely autumn colors. Unlike the rolling hills of some Romantic-style cemeteries, the layout is fairly flat, but it has a plethora of old trees providing shade in summer and wonderful colors in the fall. A river runs alongside with all kinds of brush that serves as home to many different birds.
There is plenty of beautiful statuary in this cemetery, as well. Some of it shows magnificently against the backdrop of autumn’s leafy splendor. Here we’ve got Jesus.
And here we have a sad woman shouldering the sacred cross, perhaps striving to lift the burden from Christ’s shoulders with repenting her sins.
There are so many beautiful statues here celebrating Catholic figures of holiness-many of which you won’t find in non-Catholic cemeteries. We found many different versions of the Virgin Mary. These are some especially interesting ones. This monument evokes the Infant of Prague motif.
These other two images of Mary are intriguing as well. The first figure reminds me of Our Lady or Lourdes or of Fatima. The second shows her crowned Queen of Earth and the Heavens, with the Christ child.
The images of angels were fascinating, too. I love this relief that seems to show Saint Michael, sword in hand, ready for Someone Special.
However this exquisite carving of an angel struck me the deepest. I’m including more than one shot, I’m so impressed with it. Look at the deep contemplation in the features. What is this angel thinking? Brooding on the fall of some many angels and humans once bright with promise? Or is there a trace of a smile in the subtle shaping of his cheeks and lips? Take time to delight in how the material of his gown seems to drape gracefully as a part of his body. What does he hold tucked behind? A sword or a staff? The features are so gracefully, believably carved that not a single Dr. Who fan would blink in his presence.
I’m just not sure who this saint is. He’s in monk’s robes, so it can’t be Joseph-and no baby Jesus. There are no animals around, so it wouldn’t be Saint Francis. No baby Jesus on his shoulder-not St. Christopher. Maybe St. Anthony or St. Peter? He is holding a cross, the way Peter was martyred, but what about the skull?
There are other wonderful statues that are not of Saints, much in line with what you’d expect in any cemetery. Behold this piece that looks like a cathedral.
Then there are some lovely statues of women, like this one of a mother reading from a book to her daughter. The book is probably a Bible, but I like to think of it as something by C. Brontë. Charlotte was actually pretty spiritual.
You can also find some impressive examples of Celtic Crosses in this cemetery, some with intricate relief designs carved on them. Below are two examples I found captivating.
The river that parallels one side of this cemetery hosts many wonderful critters. We’ve seen ducks and a Great Blue Heron here. Once we even saw a muskrat swim gaily upstream. The brush and trees along the banks host flocks of Robins, Chickadees, Vireos, Phoebes, Catbirds, and King Birds. In the summer, we’ve seen Orioles and woodpeckers flying and perching on the imposing tress on the grounds.
Speaking of birds, one time we showed up in the cemetery too late to be allowed to continue our walk. As we were driving slowly toward the main road to leave, Yang asked me, “What’s that on the tomb stone ahead?” It was a great big red-tailed hawk! The pictures aren’t perfect because it was night and we took them through the windshield of our car, but they are pretty darned neat. I especially like the one where Mr. or Ms. Hawk does an almost 180 with the head and stares right at us. Yikes!
Lastly, this gravestone raised an important question for me. If Curley’s here, where did they plant Moe and Larry? Or Shemp?
This month has blue moons, two in one month. The first day of October this year was the first full moon of the month. So, we celebrated with a trip to New Hampshire that was a triple header for us. First, we visited the grave of my favorite actor, Claude Rains, in the Red Hill Cemetery. It’s a small, peaceful place, with lots of firefighters R.I.P.ing there. The graves of Mr. Rains and his wife Rosemary are beautiful polished black stone Gothic arches. To pay tribute, we brought one of the pumpkins that we had grown ourselves this year. I liked presenting a little gift that Yang and I had worked hard to cultivate together. The foliage by the cemetery hadn’t quite turned yet, but there were still some pretty trees. When we go a bit later in the season, you often see some magnificent colors. Check this link to a blog with pictures of the foliage in a past visit.
It was still a lovely place for Mr. Rains and his wife Rosemary to take their final rest. I did want to place the pumpkin between the graves to honor them both, but I was a little worried it might roll off or get pushed away if it weren’t resting against the stone. So, Mr. Rains got the pumpkin. Maybe next time, I’ll bring two, especially if we have a bigger pumpkin crop. Click here for news on what we did harvest.
We also did a drive- by of the classic colonial with it’s three pillars where Claude Rains last resided. I wonder what the inside is like? It was nice to see a Jean Shaheen sign out front. You can’t see it in this photo, though you can see a beautiful sugar maple behind and to the left of the house.
Next on the agenda was to hike the Mt. Roberts trail in Moultonborough. It’s on the grounds of the Castle in the Clouds, but it’s free to visit and hike. Usually, we go up Red Hill, but I asked if we could start with something that ascended a bit less steeply, as this was my first major mountain climb of the year-major for me, anyway. It really wasn’t all that easy, but the hike was definitely worth it! We enjoyed the terrain, the changing colors, sighting a Brown Thrasher and a Wood Thrush (thank God for binoculars!). When we got to an overlook, we sat and ate tea eggs that Yang had made, then chunks of the yummy pumpkin bread I’d baked the night before. I was tired when we got back down, but I loved it! There are lots of trails on these grounds, so I’m looking forward to going back.
We thought this little toad was cute, too!
Does anyone know what kind of tree this leaf comes from? It’s actually a little darker in real life. The camera was accidentally set to overcompensate, so I’ve tried to properly adjust the color to match what I actually saw. So, if you know what the tree is, drop me a line in comments of on FB. I’d really like to know!
Last and never least: the first full moon of October! Yang took me to Weir Beach-I hadn’t been there since I was a teenager! It was pretty deserted, after the summer season was done, but there was a nice boardwalk from which to view the moonrise. When the moon first came over the trees, it was ENORMOUS! I thought Kronos was rising. These picture don’t do it justice. Click on them to get a bigger image.
It was a lovely evening to complete an exciting day. Gosh, I love our autumn rambles through the Northeast! I hope you’re having some fun ones as well. And if you can’t get out, please enjoy these.
My last post was about the denizens growing in my pumpkin patch. Now, I can write you about the harvest. I still have one large orange pumpkin on the vine, and two embryos actually got fertilized about a week ago-who knows if they’ll make it. However, most of the others are now decorating my house!
Number One Son is here in the living room, decorated appropriately for Halloween. He may not be the biggest of the family, but he’s the brave first to be fertilized and survive. He’s right next to the television, so we can see him all the time.
Here is Number Two Son on the dining room table-another place that we spend a lot of time. He’s a bit bigger than his elder brother, and he is strong and handsome. You can also see he shares the table with a lovely striped gourd. Each of these was the only survivor on its respective vine, but both do the mother plant proud. They certainly fit nicely with the Halloween decorations, don’t they?
And speaking of handsome gourds in the dining room, here’s this gorgeous melange of orange and green. He’s a perfect fall color! The first gourd on his vine grew for a while, but didn’t make it. This chap grew up next, initially hanging from the fence where the vine had climbed. His healthy form soon brought the vine down to earth. Beautiful color and shape, wouldn’t you say?
I have already harvested three more orange pumpkins. I suspect they are sugar pumpkins, but they are just too pretty to eat. Two of them, I have put by the fireplace with a white pumpkin and a green striped one. I think they make a neat combo. How about you?
The white pumpkin was actually attacked by a grub and has a hole in it, but a little peroxide seems to have ended the invasion. I put the side with no wounding out to face the world. Good-sized guy, isn’t it? When we harvested it, we found it also had a local root coming off the stem. I guess that’s how it got enough nutrition to grow this big.
There’s also this good sized pumpkin or squash that’s green with stripes. I don’t know what kind it is, but it sure is pretty. Does anyone out there know? I’d love to hear from you so I could find out what I have. I wonder if there was some cross pollination that created a hybrid?
Remember the runaway/escapee? That pumpkin grew into a real beauty. There’s even an almost bluish cast to it’s white skin. Is this a Lumina or is it another breed of pumpkin?
Last but not least, remember I said I’d harvested three orange pumpkins? Well, the third one is not on display at home. Instead, I brought it to the grave of my favorite actor, Claude Rains and left it as a token of esteem. Presents you work to create yourself are usually the best!