Category Archives: Nature

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!

 

 

 

 

Portland Mini-Vacation

The other weekend we had a fun mini-vacation in Portland, Maine.  It was only two days and one overnight, but we had a great time.  Luckily, the weather was beautiful!  Sunny and cool: quite comfortable.  We stopped in Portsmouth for lunch at  White Heron Tea And Coffee on our drive up.  Click here for my review.
The first day we got settled and then checked out the Evergreen Cemetery in the afternoon. There was lots of beautiful statuary.  I was also lucky enough to spot a Thrush at one point and, later, a musk rat swimming in one of the cemetery ponds. The second day, we came back and did an early nature walk.  We did hear a lot of fine birdsong – but sighting was another matter.  Nevertheless, we saw a beautiful white crane. I’ll set up a blog on the cemetery visit later.  I’m really hoping to come back here in the fall to get the gorgeous colors.

 

The second day, we also visited the Victoria House.  It’s a spectacular building with lots of intriguing trompe l’oeuil  effects in the architecture.  I’m including some pictures of the stained glass.  You can see the pelican cutting its breast to provide blood to feed the young – an important Medieval and Renaissance type for Christ.

 

In additional to walking the twisty, cobble stone streets and enjoying old-New-England ambience, we visiting one of the harbor walks where we had beautiful views and were repeatedly mocked by, you guessed it, Mockingbirds! People who know Portland can identify the islands better than I can.  I definitely think a harbor cruise should be on the agenda for the next visit.

 

 

Yang particularly got a kick out of the narrow-gauge coal-powered steam train that you could ride along the harbor.  We didn’t this time, but I hope we can do so on our next trip – again, I’m hoping for an autumn visit!  Here’s a video Cecil B. DeYang made.
Of course we could refuel with delicious exotic sustenance and tea at the Dobra Tea room.  Check out my review here. This was the least awful of the pictures Yang took of me there.  At least the food looks great!

 

“I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

 

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.

 

Old Friends Return!

The snow has finally been gone for some time now. Even though it’s raining and chilly today, we’ve had a whole week of sunshine and warm weather with just a touch of rain to treat the thirsty plants. And our spring birds are back! April brought a caravan of wild turkeys, one at a time, through my yard and past my sun porch. Though I was too busy watching them to take a picture, I did get some shots of one of my favorite avian harbingers of spring, the Redwinged Blackbird. He showed up at first on March 3rd, then I gradually saw more males flashing their yellow and red epaulets. They sometimes get resistance from another spring returnee, the Boat-Tailed Grackle, but the Redwings are pretty staunch in defending their places at the feeder. Just over the past week or two, I’ve been seeing the female Red-wings show up as well.
I mustn’t forget to mention the multitude of Gold Finches. They do tend to stay around all year, though the number of their appearances dwindles in the winter. However, in March and April I would see more and more of them. I loved watching their dull winter coats turn gleaming yellow as the spring progressed. I like that they are feisty and don’t let the bigger birds bully them off the feeder.
Another of my favorites is the Catbird. I first spotted one this year on May 5th, but this day I was lucky enough to catch two together, feeding with a Mourning Dove. I love how the Catbirds have such a plethora of different calls, many so musical. For me, it’s fun that one of their calls, though not of the musical variety, is “Sharon!” They’re always looking for me. It’s nice to be wanted!

 

We really hit the jackpot this week! Shortly after spotting a sleek, coppery fox gamboling in my yard, Rosalind focused my attention on the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a male Rose Breasted Grosbeak (5/8)! The next day, I heard a lovely birdsong (not Cindy) in the trees, and when I investigated, I saw the Grosbeak again! I’ve seen him at least once a day since, usually feeding on suet or black oil sunflower seeds. He’s quite the cheeky fellow, for when I was feeding the fish in our small pond, he sang me a song. When I repeated it back to him, he popped over to the nearby birdfeeder and chowed down for some time. This morning, he finally brought Mrs. Grosbeak to one of the feeders. I’m glad that these Grosbeaks are not easily intimidated by Grackles, Blue Jays, or Mourning Doves.
In the same week, (5/9) Yang called me to look at the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a Baltimore Oriole! He also appeared for a snack on the suet feeder by the side of our house, as well. I haven’t seen him in a few days, but my neighbors usually report on him. Of course for all these birds, I may not be seeing the same one every time, but it is fun to note that they seem to show up at almost the exact same date every year. It’s lovely to see old friends!
Of course, I have lots of help bird watching.

An Autumn Stroll in Crystal Lake Cemetery

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As autumn slips into winter, I thought it would be nice to share some images from the Crystal Lake Cemetery when the season was just beginning and color was gradually flashing into the foliage.  One Friday afternoon, Yang and I took a drive out to the cemetery for a walk and some photos, just as the sun was starting its creep into the other hemisphere.  The view across Crystal Lake beautifully gleamed with  setting sunlight. You could also see the windmills and classroom buildings at Wachusett Community College, glowing pink along with the clouds.

 

Most of the trees were still green, but there were several beautiful trees that asserted their flaming orange glory in the vanguard of seasonal change.  You might see one tree peeping from behind the out buildings.  While another slender being rose and asserted itself amongst more imposing or darker trees with its delicate blending of yellow into orange flame  from above a traditional New England stone wall.

 

I love the way this tree stands out amidst the graves:
And how about this tree tossing it’s flaming foliage against the gorgeously pure, soft blue of a fall afternoon?

Notice that flash of fire behind the weather-worn statue of the little girl atop a child’s grave.
And  there I go, with a pair of jeans that color coordinate with the tree I’m walking past.

 

So, what’s Yang pointing to here?  Must be one of thebeautiful tombstones in this small but wonderfully located cemetery.

 

 

 

I love this shot of the stones complimented by the colorful foliage across the pond. But there are some more unique stones to appreciate.

 

 

 

Consider this beautifully done Celtic Cross, for instance:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, there is this intriguing piece where the rock appears to be only partially hewn into a monument to the Lord family.

 

 

 

Particularly interesting is this enormous tree that almost seems to engulf a family’s several tombstones.  I wonder if they had any idea how much it would expand when they first planted the enormous (I think) maple.  It’s a little hard to distinguish the leaves.  Well, this tree expanded way beyond what you might expect.  If you check out the photo below, you will see that one of the graves has been devoured by the tree.  There’s a Lovecraft story in there somewhere – or maybe just a Lucy poem by Wordsworth.  Let’s hope the latter.

 

 

 

I’m especially caught up with this stone image of a woman raised up against the autumn sky, gently darkening blue, swirled with cloud white, her lineaments shadowed by approaching dusk.  Haunting.  Lovely and haunting.

 

 

So, our visit ends and we will head off before it’s too dark and have a cozy dinner at a pub in Leominster.  We may not have had a lot of foliage this autumn, but we were able to enjoy some splashes of beauty!

 

 

Charles Island: Haunting and Serene

The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach.  Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I  posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to

the island.  This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of  reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though.  The ocean only subsides from the tombolo  during low tide and this land path  is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull.  On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding  Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile.  The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.

 

Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center.  Not many extensive ruins  to find.  Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938.  Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.

There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.

 

This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.

We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island.  Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.

And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!

It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon.  There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.

Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel?  In the 1860s, there was resort here.  Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!