Category Archives: Nature

Backyard Birds 2

Right after I did my last backyard bird posting, wouldn’t you know that Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak made their return.  And they were ultimately joined by some exciting friends.  But enough about the friends later – first, let’s get to the Grosbeaks.
First, I saw the female and managed to get some nice shots of her.  I never noticed this on females before, so I’m not sure if this gal is unique, but you can see from these pictures that this gal has some lovely orange coloring, analogous to where her hubby has his rose breast – a broad splash, with a narrow taper. There may be another couple, because I believe that I have also seen a female this year without the orangey coloring. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.  We’ve been having Rosebreasted couples visit us for more than five years.  At first, we had only females, then one year males joined in.  One year we had two males.  We may have more than one couple as it is, but I just haven’t seen all four at the same time.
Anyway, is it me or is this girl giving Yang a smile?

It’s fun to watch the male and female come and feed together.  They seem to prefer the single copper-topped feeder.  I usually hear one of them singing, then, there they are, having a meal out!  I love to hear them sing in the trees as well.  I can’t help wondering if they have any nests nearby.  I do know that the pair with the gal in the peach-colored breast feathers makes the round with some of my neighbors, as well.  According to the Cornell Ornithology site, both parents brood the children, with the Daddy often singing away in the nest.  Here’s a link for more information on these wonderful birds.  I also love to watch the males fly away, with the flash of black and white on their wings like a special optical effect.
I have also noted that these birds can be pretty aggressive.  No Grackles, Starlings, Mourning Doves, or Blue Jays better mess with them when they want to feed.   Who you Lookin’ at?
Another fairly aggressive beauty that I found on my feeder this year was the Baltimore Oriole.

Yes!  We do have Orioles this year! Usually, one or so will cruise through in May, take a look at our suet and seeds, then turn up his beak and take it on the wing.  This year, I got wise and noted how people placed their orange halves for Oriole delectation.  It worked!  I cut the oranges  across the equator, then impaled them on the trellis for our Morning Glories.  Now I can’t keep the Orioles away.  We have two adult males, one juvenile male (below), and two females, one orange and one yellow (yellow to the right).  And woe betide the Oriole who wants to join another Oriole at the juice bar, even if it’s a female with a male  or they can sip from different halves.  Orioles may have lovely calls to announce their coming, but their aggression chatter is NOT soothing.  We even had an Oriole/Grosbeak confrontation – Mr. Grosbeak won.  Still, if two Orioles can rarely feed together, the disappointed party will usually go to town on the suet. One time, Yang looked up to see a male Oriole perched on the window ledge and staring in  at him!

 

If all this weren’t exciting enough, on three separate days we had a hummingbird on the hummingbird feeder.  I couldn’t tell you if it’s the same one or not, but there have been repeat appearances.  Yang was even able to snap some photos, as you can see – well, you can see better if you click on the photo.  I normally don’t see these guys until July, but I’d been hearing on FB about all kinds of sightings. So I thought, maybe if there are no flowers around, the hummers would be more interested in my feeder.  Bingo!  It worked.
Now, for my final extraordinary sighting.  I’ve never had a clear look at one of these guys before.  I’ve always wanted to see one in all his glory.  It seemed as if everyone in Massachusetts was sighting these guys but me!  Then, yesterday, while we were watching the episode of Father Brown that I’d dvr’d, Yang said, “Wow!  What is this strange bird.  I’ve never seen this before.”  I hopped up, took a careful peek around the window curtain, and there it was in all his indigo  glory!  Yes!  My first full-color Indigo Bunting!  Well, I guess he has completely changed from his winter to his summer duds, but he is still something!
I don’t know if he’ll be back.  He wasn’t crazy about the oranges, he was skeptical of the suet, but the sunflower hearts did seem to grab his attention – though the Grackles kept getting in the way.  Let’s hope we see more of him!  Wow!  What a bird- watching season!

The Marvelous Marble of the Barre Cemetery

I hadn’t had a chance to do up a blog of this wonderful, remarkable cemetery in Barre, VT before,  which Yang and I visited three years ago in the Fall.  What makes the spot so unique?  Well, this town in Vermont is famous for its marble quarrying and this local product is beautifully worked to produce the most creative, unique monuments.  Many of these take on unique forms to honor the life work or interests of those they honor in death.
Thus,  you can find a musician with this apt memorial.  I wonder what instrument this person played?

 

 

 

 

Appropriately, this man was a sculptor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a fan of Dr.  Who, don’t blink. Otherwise,  you could be pursued by those pesky stone aliens by car or plane.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fukuda family chose to celebrate their Japanese heritage with this rendition of a Japanese house.

This man seems to be dreaming of or lovingly guided by the spirit of his late wife, though her wafting out of cigarette smoke probably wouldn’t please the Surgeon General.

There are also some startlingly unique works of funerary art, such as the following:

 

 

 

The blocks
The pyramids

 

 

 

 

The open book, as in his life was  an. . . all in French.

And there were more traditional statues, equally beautiful. There was the Pieta.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the traditional weeping women.

 

 

 

 

 

I particularly love the detail you can see in this closeup shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we can never forget the angels and urns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were also striking columns

  

 

and mausoleums
and reliefs:

 

All were lovely to see on a clear Vermont Sunday morning, with the fall colors tinting the trees in gorgeous contrast to the blue skies and white wisps of clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon and Yang’s Secret Place

Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.”  The name didn’t quite fit because we would  run into my students canoeing by  or other  walkers in nature.  However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to.  In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there.  So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?

Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain.  We’ll go to the second part of the question first.  Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn.  When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside.  It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there.  That road in and of itself was almost a secret:  a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods.  A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome.  At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but  building  the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam.  I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves.  I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature.  What a wonderful place!  But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! –  we drove on down to find our Secret Place.  This was not easy  since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see.  But we found it!  Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us.  We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name.  I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of.  We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before.  The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun.  In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road.  You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though!  So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927.  A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters.  And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl:  swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
SONY DSC
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here  that you can take through the woods.  We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges.  But they haven’t give the place a name.  maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails.  Late spring and summer should  bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duck, Duck, Horned Grebe – and a Loon!

January and February have become a tradition for us to go bird watching for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds.  This year has been an exceptionally good one for such adventures.  We always head to the Cape and the Shining Sea Trail around my birthday for one of our biggest forays.  This year we were not disappointed.  Once more, we saw a large flock of Eider Ducks rafting on the rough January seas.  The weather was so cold one of my knees started to seize up!  Nevertheless, we saw a large flock that included the brown females, mature males startling in their contrast of black and white feathers, and the juvenile males that tended to a gradual graying into white in a less striking contrast.  Did you ever notice that Eiders have a beak reminiscent of Bob Hope’s ski-slope schnozz – no disrespect to Eiders.
Swimming separately in the same bay were other interesting aquatic birds.  Here are a pair of Common Golden Eyes.  I thought they were Ring-Necked Ducks at first; but, no, they are Golden Eyes.    Anyway, they were fun to watch surfing the waves, diving for lunch, and popping up goodness knows where.  We also had the good fortune to catch sight of a Horned Grebe.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  He also was a little charmer with his unexpected dives and equally surprising reappearances.  I hope these guys caught some snacks – pace to the Atlantic fish.
We scooted over to a pond in Falmouth and got a gander (sorry, couldn’t resist) at some Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and a Swan.  Here’s a group shot.
Here’s a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers. Just click on the photo to get a clearer view.

Our next adventure was at the Charles River in Needham Heights, where we saw not only Mallards but the Common Merganser.  This guy was so beautiful, with his green/black head and contrasting pure white chest and underside.  Also on display were more Hooded Mergansers.  I love to watch these guys.  Where the other ducks and geese serenely loiter across the waters, these guys surge along like mini speed boats, white crests proclaiming their presence!

 

Third stop:  Rocky Neck, Ct.  Here we saw quite a few interesting water birds.  Once again, the proud and speedy little Hooded Mergansers powered their way across the marsh water.  We also saw several other types of birds as well.  There were Gadwall Ducks, Blue Herons,  gulls and even a Common Loon.  The Loon was not in this same marsh, but in the ocean, in a cove by the jetty.  Many of these critters were pointed out to us by two lovely people who were also birding fans.  Thanks to their kind advice!  Check out some of the images below.
A closeup of the Hooded Merganser.

The Gadwall Ducks.
                                 The  Loon

 

Who you lookin’ at?

A different type of Loon. The Sharon Bird on her migratory peregrinations in search of feathered friends at the beach.  Note the winter plumage.

Adams Autumn Delight

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Yang and I have some specially favorite rail trails to ride, and one of these is the Pittsfield to Adams line.  Even if we do it once in the spring, we have to do it again in the fall because the colors are so gorgeous!  This year, we made our trip around the Columbus Day Weekend, on Tuesday.  We thought we’d try something different by not going straight from Pittsfield to Adams, but by parking at the dam in the middle and first going down to Adams.  Then we’d come back and having lunch at a restaurant near where we’d parked before continuing on to Pittsfield and returning. As you can see I was able to take some beautiful shots of hill full of colorful trees across the river from the parking area.

It was a gorgeous day, a little colder than the weather had been before, but the sun was out and the air was crisp.  A warmer fall jacket did just nicely and the foliage was superb.  I had to stop here, not only to enjoy the surrounding hills but to inspect what I thought might be a beaver’s dam.

 

 

 

I  couldn’t help stopping to take pictures of some of the most wonderful flaming maples.  It was so cool to see colors that went from crimson flame to soft orange all in one tree!  I noticed that there weren’t too many  scarlet leaves to see as we’d experienced in our first fall ride here. My guess is that those leaves had either lightened in color or fallen.

We ultimately cruised down the hill leading into Adams.  I wished I could have taken shots of the dusky green woods and glacier-abandoned boulders on my right or the tumbling river on my left, but there was no stopping on that race down the hill.  Just before we entered the town, we stopped to take some shots, with the gold, orange, flame  hills shot with evergreen surrounding the town.  The pale azure sky forms a complement of color.  And here’s a most handsome guy in the foreground!

On the other side of the town, the trail runs along where the river has been  channeled into a canal.  Again, the hills embracing the town’s valley make you think that it must be glorious to wake up in the morning or return from work in late afternoon to such gorgeous colors surrounding you.

 

 

 

 

We may have raced down a hill to get into town, but we had to labor up it when we left.  I may not be as young as I used to be, but I made it, albeit panting a bit at the end. I didn’t need a sign to tell me to Stop! Luckily, there ‘s a lovely little bridge where you can  rest. Nice view, isn’t it?

You can tell by the look on my face that it was a loooong ride up.  Thank God for water!

Wouldn’t you know that when we finally got back to the parking lot, it turned out that the restaurant was closed on the only day of the week we were there!  We ended up having to forego the rest of the ride and scout out a place to eat in Pittsfield.  That’s okay, though.  We’d actually conquered the toughest part of the ride.  Even better, we found this great little (literally) Italian restaurant in town, Brooklyn’s Best.  Later, we took some fun pictures while walking off dinner.  We discovered this neat little gargoyle above.  I even made a new friend.  Do you think Rosie and ‘Tasha will share their litter boxes with him?

Birding with the Yangs

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These past few weeks, Yang and I have had some wonderful bird sightings, sometimes, literally, in our own back yard.  Case in point, one Friday, Natasha was meowing at the door all day. Then Rosalind was in the pantry window bird-chattering away, while I worked on my novel in the dining room.  I stopped and suddenly became aware that I’d been hearing a high-pitched hawkish call.  I got up and looked out the window in the dining room, and what did I see in the patch of sea roses, but two Merlins!  One flew away, while the other hung out for some time – before attacking a sparrow who out-smarted him.  I got these pictures through the window because I was afraid going outside would drive my visitor off.  Hence, it’s much blurrier than I’d like.  What do you think of this new guy?  I haven’t seen him since, but I did find an ominous splash of tiny white bird feathers on the nearby back porch.
Our bird feeders have returned to us the usual suspects.  Lots of Titmice and some Chickadees battle four pushy Blue Jays.  We also have two male and one female Cardinal  visiting.  One of the males is pretty aggressive.  While he’s fine with the little birds, he’ll go after the Blue Jays and drive them off!  We also have Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches wearing their winter buff, and even a Yellow-bellied Woodpecker.  One day, a Carolina Wren gave me such a scolding when I came too near the juniper bush!
On a visit with friends on the Cape, we came across one of my favorite, but rarely seen, birds.  At first, seeing the creature head on, I perceived a bird with a brownish head and chest with a white belly forming a “v” into the brown chest.  I claimed I’d never seen such a bird before, until he took flight and I saw the luscious blue.  Bluebirds! A good-sized flock of them!  I noted in my Peterson’s that Bluebirds are usually found year round in New England mainly on the Cape.  How appropriate!  The Bluebird was one of my “must see” birds for the year.  I still need to see an Indigo Bunting, a Piliated Woodpecker, and a Scarlet Tanager.  It’s probably too late in the year for the first and last, but I’m holding onto hope for that Pterodactyl-sized woodpecker.  The Bluebird photos are courtesy of Andrea Krammer.
Today, when we took a morning walk (about 7:00) on the Blackstone River Trail, we saw some interesting birds.  A Great Blue Heron and a black Cormorant were fishing in the same part of the river.  Then, atop a tall dead tree, we saw a bald eagle.  We watched as he sat there majestically for some time before he soared off away from us and the river. We didn’t have the means to get a picture, so I’m borrowing this one below.

I can’t wait to see what the remainder of the year brings!
Source eagle image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eagle_on_roots_-_crop_3_(430008061).jpg

 

Autumn Colors: “Brightness falls from air.”

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Last week’s wind and rain may  have stripped many local trees of their brilliant foliage, but some golds, rusts, chartreuses, and even scarlets still hang on.  Maybe you would like to enjoy some of that local “color” in its prime?  Yang and I did some traveling around New England, which I will try to document in later blogs.  Still, there were some exciting colors in my own neighborhood.

The colors came a little slowly, at first.  Here, you can see two Mourning Doves enjoying the slow change coming to the distant hills in central Mass.  It was so nice to  be able to look out my bedroom window every morning and enjoy the gradual change form soft to brilliant colors.

I love that you can see not only the varied fall leaves in some photos, but that others let you see the contrast of pure blue October sky with those reds, golds, and rusts.  And note the clouds, white with slate grey outline, racing across the soft blue.  Such a brisk and enlivening day in the weather as well as in the visuals!

Look at this gorgeous blend of colors!  The green firs contrast with the wine of the Japanese Maple, while soft orange segues into a somber rust.

 

 

This Swamp Maple is now almost entirely denuded, having dumped an intimidating load of raking in almost one night.  However, earlier, it was slowly turning this luscious orange gold, so different from what you might usually expect from a Swamp Maple.  When we first moved here, the Swamp Maples all turned a soft lemony yellow, but for some reason their leaves have been morphing  almost as fiery as a Sugar Maple.  Climate change?  Soil changes?  Anyone know?

Speaking of Sugar Maples, every morning, I woke to see ours turn, first, into  flame, then, slowly, into a mellow apricot.  Then with the big storms, I saw it turn nude.  Here’s the tree in its softer hued phase.

Looking down our street, you can see all the most wonderful fall colors come into play. The scarlet of sumac and flame bushes.  The dark rusty red of other trees and the metamorphosis of green into orange glory.  The sky provides a soft azure complement to the color palette.

And here are just some lovely shots for you to enjoy.

Until next year?

Summer Bounty, Autumn Harvest

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This summer and autumn we had great luck with our vegetables!  In the older garden, we followed the advice of our friends Peter and Eric and put dried grass over the ground around our tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings.  They grew tall and strong and gave us plenty of fruit!
Then, as an experiment, Yang created a new garden in the center of our yard where there was abundant sunlight and Yang laid down lots of cow manure and rich soil.I admit the area does look shaded here, but it’s mostly sunny. I also had him sow soy beans in the big patch we used to have for pumpkins in the old garden.  I know that soy beans revitalize the soil, so I’m hoping a few seasons of them will enrich that plot so it can support pumpkins once more.
As a result, between the two gardens, we ended up with multiple servings of peppers, egg plant (still a few left), tomatoes, and soy beans!  We also got several nice gourds and pumpkins from Yang’s garden as well.  We might have had more, but we ended up planting late.  Anyway, we can’t wait for next year to  set up our new gardens, expanded and improved!

We also did much better than expected with our sunflowers, which generally had been brutally assaulted by squirrels, birds, and bugs.  I bough one seedling for Yang’s garden that shot up to over seven feet!  These seeds that I planted managed to dodge predators and provided a beautiful glow in the sunset. I’ll be experimenting with buying seedlings and planting my own seeds again next year.  The birds have since finished off the seeds from these flowers.

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the show!

 

Adventures at Tower Hill

Last Sunday, I managed to take a day off from working on novel #4 to join my two buddies MaryLynn Saul and Judy Jeon-Chapman for a lovely nature walk.  Judy suggested that we visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in  Boylston, Ma – one of my favorite places. We also met Judy’s friend, the bubbly Christina, along the way – who shared a lovely picture of the four of us with me.  In addition to wonderful plants and flowers, the Garden also has intriguing wind sculptures integrated into the greenery (amongst other colors). You can see one example behind MaryLynn and Judy here.
I also couldn’t help photographing some flowers that intrigued me, though there are too many to record.  But I do love the blue color of these lovely blossoms.  Are they large Forget-Me-Nots?  I’d love to have them in my garden.  I think they like shade.  I was also delighted to see these brilliantly scarlet flowers.  I had posted photos I’d seen of similar flowers when on a bike ride once, in hopes of getting an identification.  Several of my friends pronounced them Cardinal Flowers, and the card underneath these confirmed that i.d.  Problem solved!

 

The Gardens also possess a lovely wooded trail, filled with artfully placed sculpture that make you feel as if you had wandered into a Renaissance pastoral play or novel.  Here’s Cupid, ready to fire off his arrows to spark the typical green- world love tangles. The glorius rays of the sun glint through the leaves, but will not burn us
An ancient Greek warrior peers out at us from the lost past, before this return to the Golden Age when honey and acorns dropped from trees.
Enjoy the ruins in which to recline and play your pipes or sigh away the hours in languid otium.

Gracefully sculpted urns are always conducive to pastoral ease – especially if they might hold delectable libation – and I’m not talking Moxie here.
My fellow mystery readers and writers might look at this picture and question, “What’s this?!  What are they looking at?! Trouble in paradise?  A murdered corpse discovered in the woods?”  Sorry, mystery lovers.  It was just a sign about fairies in the woods.  If it makes you feel better, maybe they’re referring to traditional Medieval and Renaissance Fairies.  Like this!
We also found this lovely rotunda with the words “Peace” inscribed on it.  I thought it would be hilariously ironic for MaryLynn and I to stand under the word and pretend to strangle each other – she and Judy decided otherwise.  Not everyone shares the Healy sense of humor. So, here you have a nice picture of MaryLynn and I before the structure, me holding the dahlias that Judy had purchased from the Dahlia Show that day. They actually go with my blouse.

 

 

All images,  from author’s collection except:

1.the header from Christine Yen

2) the public domain image of the deamon fairy from:  https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/fantasies-evil-spirits-faeries-medieval-imagination-007445

More Avian Adventures

Yang had his nice camera out over the past few weeks and got some beautiful shots of lots of birds on our feeders and in our yard.  Here’s one type that I hadn’t seen before, the Pine Siskin.  At first, I thought these guys were just House Finches, but I noticed they had yellow tips on their wings and tail feathers.  That was different.  I looked them up in my trusty Peterson’s – sure enough, I realized we had some Pine Siskins.  I haven’t seen these guys for a few weeks, but we enjoyed them during their visits.
You can also see that though they be little, they are fierce!  This P.S. was having a nice snack.

However, surrounded by pushy Grackles, Mourning Doves, and Sparrows, he struck a blow for Pine Siskins (and dinner) everywhere by giving the others hell!

He seems to get along much better with the male Rosebreasted Grosbeak.

And speaking of Grosbeaks, Yang got some wonderful shots of the male.  Usually, we have at least one pair and at least one unattached male.  That’s how things worked out this year.  The Grosbeaks come in late spring and usually keep attending our feeders until early or mid-July.  This year, I don’t remember seeing any of them after the first week of July.

If you like your birds red, white, and black, Yang also got some shots of a Hairy Woodpecker.  As opposed to other years, we hadn’t seen many of these birds in 2019.  We did, however, see lots of Downy Woodpeckers.  This guy seemed to be not only lovin’ the suet, but looking for more!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want more Woodpecker types, here are some shots that Yang took of a Flicker in our yard.

 

 

 

He loves hunting in the grass!
Like me, he is now taking off!  Enjoy your own backyard aviary!