Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Approaching a difficult subject

Last Monday was our much-anticipated "puffin/whale watch" trip. Tickets in hand, and after having our bags searched (yes, I for some reason always get chosen for the "random" search), we boarded the boat--a 112-foot long, multi-million dollar catamaran, the Friendship V. After the obligatory safety instructions and warnings about losing your hats and glasses (yeah, right!) we emerged gracefully from the harbor. We had wonderful seats right up front, top deck.
A naturalist sits high atop the upper deck, bundled in a heavy jacket and woolen cap, a hint of what's to come--with powerful binoculars and a microphone, describing everything he sees in terms of a clock face. Sooty Shearwater at 2 o'clock. Fulmars at 10 o'clock. Cormorant--oops, just dove under at 3 o'clock. Heads turn and necks crane in a perfectly choreographed dance.
As soon as we cleared the harbor, we began to pick up speed--considerable speed. And when you're on the open ocean, with no cabin for protection, 40 miles per hour feels not only fast--it's freezing! Soon, land disappears and the line between sea and sky is a blue blur. Are those buoys? Or birds?

Our first stop was Petit Manan Island, one of the Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex where Atlantic Puffins have been reestablished.
Researchers live in the white house on this small, pink granite-rimmed island 14 miles off the coast in the Atlantic. The lighthouse, the second tallest in Maine, is the only spot visible when the island is completely lost in fog, 70 days out of the year. What it must be like to live there!
The even smaller white boxes are bird blinds. Arctic Terns are in the air, stirred up from their nesting sites by Peregrines in the area. Those white specks...yes, terns.
And then, there they were--the puffins! Can't see them? Those little black specks bobbing around a few feet off shore. Actually, this is my one GOOD picture of them. Boats on water sway and bounce and the breezes are whipping at my sleeves. My eyes stopped watering just in time to focus. (Julie Zickefoose has really nice Puffin pictures.)
But it was enough for me to know they were there. The success of the birds is an indicator of the health of the ocean--the strength of their environment, the efforts to preserve and restore their habitats. And knowing that populations are growing--even if you can only see a speck bobbing in the water, is a wonderful thing.

My other bird photos are equally frustrating.
Climbing along the steep, granite sloping trail, dense spruce-fir forest, camera tucked safely in waist-pack, water bottle swinging--and then, there he is on a branch! We've been hearing his beautiful song every day we hike, but never see the Hermit Thrush! He lights on a branch right beside us! Flip, zip, snap, zoom, click! Ta-da!
Or how about a lovely, still morning on the ocean near Bartlett Island, on the western rim? Gear safely stowed in a "dry bag", paddle in hand...
Some loud cries, commotion in those trees--an osprey nest at the very top!
Now where should I stick this paddle while I try to unwrap my very dry camera? And, how easy is it really to pop off that kayak skirt if we capsize? (Safety drills must be given for some reason--hopefully not me!)

And, is that a loon? Common Loon--hurry, before he dives. I'll paddle while you shoot...oops--did you get him?

My final attempt--if that wave would just...and those birds would stop...

Need a closer look? Check out Sibley's, page 94.

It seems that everything that we did that allowed us the most intimate contacts with wildlife, either on the water or on the trail, were not the sort of activities that make it easy to have a long lens hanging around your neck. I was always wrapping or unwrapping the camera--and, by then, many shots were lost. Next time--I'm going to go and just SIT.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Acadia National Park, a most perfect place

In the last twenty years, we've chosen Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine as our hiking destination 4 times. And, as much as we feel we thoroughly explore the island each time we're there, its magnificence amazes me again with each return visit.
The Island, though small is packed with over 120 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of carriage roads, now converted to bike trails, crystal clear mountain lakes, pink granite peaks and rugged, rocky ocean shores. There is beauty around every corner--stunning ocean views opposite glassy blue lakes, the scent of balsam in the air and hermit thrushes as hiking partners. The air is light and the sun, bright (usually). And every time our week is finished, I regret having to leave this most perfect place.

Lobster boats in Bar Harbor, Porcupine Islands in background

Tide going out to reveal the bar, connecting Bar Island to Mount Desert Island

Sand Beach in fog, as seen from Gorham Mtn trail

Waves off coast near Thunder Hole

View north on Long Pond, between Mansell Mtn and Beech Mtn

Water lilies at Witch Hole Pond

Pickerel-weed in Beaver pond off carriage road

Afternoon sun on moss through spruce-fir woods

Hiking trail marked with blue blaze

Pink granite with lichens and wild blueberries

Low-bush blueberries amidst reindeer lichens on mtn summits

Summit of Sargent Mtn, 1373 ft.

Barren top, Sargent Mtn summit, family in the distance

View from Sargent Mtn over ocean and Cranberry Islands

Cadillac Mtn, most heavily traveled of all, reminders for careless feet

Sun rising over Atlantic from Cadillac Mtn,
the highest point on the eastern seaboard and first in US to see the sun rise.
Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor covered in clouds.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

A week in Maine.

"Keep close to Nature's heart...
and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean..."
~John Muir

Sunset from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, July 22, 2007

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Have you seen...

It's usually the flowering phase of plants that attracts our attention and receives our compliments. Beautifully colored petals, all sorts of interesting shapes and scents--soon fade to a much less appreciated seed-- brown and boring.

The thistles in the field have gone by.

Their downy parachutes will be wonderfully soft in goldfinch nests.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

This coneflower is a new addition to my herb garden this year. The color is so rich--when the sun catches it, it glows!
Two-legged flying things are scarcely seen these days--it's all about six legs, now. Everywhere I look, in the middle of every leaf, coursing along every stem, ready to jump from every petal.

These bugs hatched a day ago from a collection of eggs on a gum leaf. From what I can tell, they're hemipterans of some sort--miniature versions of some adult bug. I can only imagine how many of this "litter" will actually survive to adulthood. They'll be someone's dinner--most likely a bird.

Where would we be without insects? Cleaning up the debris, catching our pests, feeding the birds.

This message was brought to you by Wheelbug-for-Hire.
"If they're buggin' you, we'll eat 'em."

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

A visit to the oak tree

Sunset from beneath Old Oak

I measure each season by its sounds.
The barred owls calling on a frozen, late winter's night--the hardest is behind us, ...soon spring.
The first few, brave, hardy peepers of an early evening--heralds of the warming days and thawing earth.
The birdsong on a fresh, crisp morning--waking us to the frenzy of new life,...so much ahead.
The sharp rasp of a tree frog on a humid afternoon--the woods are thick with leaves and air, heavy.
The cicadas ringing high in the branches above--the peak of summer swelter is here.
Tonight the katydids sing--this is the final act of summer.

I always associate the sounds of the katydids with the last evenings of summer. It was their singing I'd hear, sitting on the porch swing, talking with my girls, recapping our summer's adventures as they prepared to start the next school year.
Summer was our "family time"--and I hated to see it pass as quickly as it always did.

Theirs is the song of a summer's end.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Got Milk(weed)?

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

At last--the discovery of a monarch caterpillar! And although the field stands full of milkweed plants, this single caterpillar is all we can find. The milkweed flowers have turned to good-sized seed pods, in fact--soon to blow away in the wind.
There are no butterflies here. And no wonder--no food.

But, across the field the teasel has burst into blossom--delicate purple flowers on spiny towering stalks.
What a welcome sight--if you're a thirsty butterfly and arrived too late for a milkweed dinner!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Silver Spotted Skipper

Clearwing Moth


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Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer morning

Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glistening with dew

~John Milton

Dew on smooth phlox and horse nettle

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

One of the "good" guys

Here's a neat creature--posing so cooperatively for me on a gum tree leaf. He moves in slow motion--(which is wonderful for someone still learning to use the camera!) And as unfriendly as he appears, he seemed shy--more afraid of my long lens, than I of his long predatory beak.
He's a wheel bug, "one of the largest terrestrial true bugs in North America", about an inch and a half long, and among his favorite foods are Japanese Beetles.
He certainly must be having a good summer!
He's pretty interesting to look at up close--don't pick him up, though--nasty bite!! Reddish eyes, fine hairs on his legs, spiracles on the sides of his abdomen-- what are those tiny, shiny red dots behind his eyes? I'll have to find out!

Update: Ah ha! The wheel bug has a compound eye, with a simple eye (ocellus) behind it! Here's looking at you!

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Meet the neighbors

In the fifteen years we've lived here, I've become accustomed to some unusual neighbors.
The humans living in the "neighborhood" are seldom seen. I think most like it that way. What has brought us all here is our shared preference for distance. And, in a way, we're all a bit odd, if measured on a traditional scale.
The original 100 acre farm, of which we occupy the 1840 brick house, has been carved into several smaller home sites, each with at least 5 acres, usually more. Some own horses, some beef cattle, some chickens. We have goats. Others use the open spaces for great vegetable plots.
I would probably not recognize my human neighbors if I met them in the grocery store, but I see their animals almost every day.
These are my neighbors across the road.

Not typical southern Ohio cattle, but like I said--we're an interesting bunch.

Holy cow! There's a brand new calf among them. Brown at birth--it will turn gray or black as it matures.

It's almost like having a petting zoo across the street. They're friendly creatures, love attention. Love to have their pictures taken.
On warm summer nights, they stay down in this pasture. With our front porch door open, we hear them munching all night long.
Except for the occasional braying, I like my neighbors very much.

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