Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rare birds and rare birders

birdersatsunrisebybrucestambaugh

A beautiful sunrise greeted these birders in search of a Snowy Owl.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Birding is one of my many hobbies. I’m no expert birder to be sure. I merely enjoy the sport, and try to weave birding into every travel opportunity.

Birding is an activity enjoyed by folks of all races, religions, cultures and countries. I’m usually side-by-side with men, women, boys and girls wherever I bird.

When these good folks discover I’m from Holmes County, Ohio, I often am asked the same question. Why do you have so many rare birds there?

I smile, pause, and give them my standard answer.

“It’s not that we have any more rare birds than other places,” I say. “Rather, we just happen to have a lot more rare birders.”

That’s when I get the looks. Some vocalize their consternation. The nonverbal cues from others reveal their puzzlement. Still others get it right away.

I believe that the Holmes County, Ohio area has so many unusual bird sightings because it has so many outstanding birders. Many of them are teenagers or young adults.

bird habitat, Ohio's Amish country

Attractive habitat.

The varied habitat of the Killbuck Valley and adjoining manicured farmlands east and west create familiar, safe harbor for a wide variety of birds. Marshes, ponds, brushy fencerows, and extensive stands of woodlots provide excellent cover and feeding grounds for birds big and small.

Birders who reside here know to keep a look out for anything extraordinary. If they see or hear something unusual, they tell someone. An authoritative local birder identifies the bird, and the word spreads near and far.

Many of these bird watchers are Amish. It’s a hobby embraced by their culture and family structure. To be sure, birding is an exercise in which all family members can participate, and be out and about in the nature that they love and embrace.

It’s no coincidence that Amish folks have discovered many of the rare birds sited in the area. Now, it’s not simply because they are Amish that they find the birds. No, they see the birds because they pay attention to their surroundings.

Swainson's Hawk, Holmes Co. OH

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk.

Take the latest rarity, the juvenile Swainson’s Hawk discovered recently in a newly mown alfalfa field half way between Berlin and Walnut Creek. Workers at Hiland Wood Products noticed particular peculiarities about this bird, its behavior, its flight pattern, its coloration, and its diet.

When the bird was pointed out to skilled birder, Ed Schlabach of Sugarcreek, he easily identified it. Ed works at the company and is a reputable birder.

Ed not only knew what the bird was; he knew that it was a very rare find for Ohio. In fact, the typical range of this buteo is well west of the Mississippi River, and mostly in the southwest, and only in summer.

What the hawk was doing here was a mystery. Ed knew that birders everywhere would want to see this magnificent specimen. The word went out through phone calls, birding lists, emails, texts and social media.

There is always a rush to see a rare bird. Most often such birds do not hang around for very long. This young bird chose to stay for several days, and also picked a spot to easily observe it, whether on the ground or in the air.

For many birders, the young Swainson’s Hawk was a “life” bird. That is, it was the first time they had ever seen this species.

Once again, we can thank the many rare birders who reside and work in our pastoral abode for this latest mega-rare find. Rare birders find rare birds.

Amish birders, Holmes Co. OH

Amish birders.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under birds, column, Ohio's Amish country

Explosive Cloud

clouds

Explosive Cloud.

I love clouds. Their various formations, ever-changing shapes, and interplay with light intrigue me.

I had just arrived home after an all day drive from out of state when I spotted this cloud seemingly exploding over the hill behind our home. The cloud was so thick the late evening sun barely filtered through, creating varying color patches among the grays and silver.

“Explosive Cloud” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Photo of the Week, photography

Where did summer go already?

corn shocks, Holmes Co. OH

Corn shocks already.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems like only yesterday that we were asking ourselves, “When will summer arrive?” I think that was in June when it was still cool and very wet.

Well, a lot has changed since then. It seemed like the summertime months turned on themselves. It was a Jekyll and Hyde summer to be sure.

The persistent rains of early summer suddenly ceased. After the deluge that created localized flash flooding in Holmes County on July 14, regular rains were scarce. We lapsed into a dry spell that lasted too long to help the corn kernels swell with sweetness.

July flash flooding, Holmes Co. OH

Flash flooding.

Initially, truck patches struggled with mildew, mold and rot in the chilly dampness of early summer. Later, though, as crops matured, their unquenched thirst did them in. They ripened ahead of schedule, withered on the vine or failed to produce the desired yield.

So here we are, the autumnal equinox upon us, and we’re wondering, “Where did summer go already?” As humans, we can be as fickle and contrary as Ohio’s crazy weather. It’s in our nature, and we have the grievance gene working overtime.

Therefore, now that September is waning, it seems only fair to wonder what happened to summer. My best answer is, “I don’t know.” I do know, however, that the signs of summer’s end have shown for some time.

School started weeks ago for many students, always a sure omen of summer’s demise. Summer flies other white flags, too.

Spurred on by the early rains, rows and rows of field corn sprouted lush and fertile, growing taller than tall. Without regular August rains, they have withered and turned brittle brown overnight. It’s been a long time since I remember seeing cornstalks standing like mustered soldiers this early in the harvest time.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Fireflies faded, and crickets increased amid the dryness. Our feathered friends have dawned their duller wardrobe for safety sake. Their luxurious singing has muted with their habitat’s colors.

Migration is in full swing for birds and butterflies alike. Look quickly. They won’t stay. They have long, challenging journeys ahead.

Another obvious indication of summer’s passing is just how soon sunset seems to arrive each evening. And that’s after the sun was late in rising daily.

With the reduction in daylight hours, the air has cooled considerably overall. Of course we’ll still have some splendid days ahead. But day-by-day, week-by-week, the evening and morning coolness forces us to dress in layers to adjust to the daily variables.

Summer has gradually been waving goodbye in a very colorful fashion for weeks now. Deciduous leaves have been slowly changing from their summer greens into fall’s warmer fashionable trends of crimsons, yellows, and russets. Many leaves have just simply fallen off.

Healthy stands of goldenrod bend and recoil with the slightest breeze. Wild sunflowers separate highways from pastureland. The American Goldfinches couldn’t be happier, gorging on their fresh fruit.

Funny how we humans too often seem to want what we don’t have, and when it does arrive, we long for something else. I think that pretty much sums up summer and answers our rhetorical questions about summer’s arrival and departure.

We can’t control the weather or the seasons. We can only enjoy them whatever weather they bring. The key is to embrace the moment at hand, so we don’t have to look back and wonder where the time went.

Summer is about to depart. Let’s send her out with joy, as we usher in the harvest season with gladness and thanksgiving.

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH

Goodbye summer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under column, nature photography, photography, writing

Fall Textures

gourds, pumpkins

Fall Textures.

I love to visit the local produce auction located just north of our home. After each visit there, I feel uplifted by the fragrances, colors and variety of offering the farmers bring to sell. The buyers and sellers reflect the range of produce and flowers sold. It truly is an enjoyable place.

I am inspired by the cadence of the auctioneers as I roam around the spacious grounds photographing various shots. The vivid fall colors and the crazy textures of these gourds and pumpkins particularly caught my eye.

“Fall Textures” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under food photography, Photo of the Week, photography

Rooted to the earth

Amish farms, Holmes Co. OH

Pastoral scene.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood and talked with the farmer as he rested his team of horses beneath a tree along the road. For the end of May, the morning was muggy. Both he and the horses needed a break from their bucolic labor.

The horses stamped and snorted and swished their tails to discourage any bothersome insects. The conversation with the Amish gentlemen turned toward appreciation and care for the environment.

Across the weedy fencerow, we lapsed into a philosophical discussion on how we all are rooted in the soil regardless of where we live. The setting was perfect for such a stirring chat.

The musky smell of the sweated horses, the pungent fragrance of fresh earth turned, the sprouting leaves of the black walnut tree that served as our shady shelter together fueled our ideas and ideals. We were of one mind.

We concurred that it was too easy to ignore such a simple concept as caring for the good earth. We wondered if society’s reliance on modern technology and our fast-paced global order have dulled us into forgetting our roots.

He pointed out all the construction in our local area, the continued depletion of farmland and wildlife habitat. Little by little, our pastoral landscape was transitioning.

Amish, plowing

Plowing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

He wondered if people today understood where their food originated. Did they know all of the effort or any of the processes needed to put food on their table? Was the younger generation becoming so fixated on electronic screens to even care?

We both shook our heads in wonderment of what lay ahead, not so much for us, but for future generations. Will they get to enjoy the beauty of the natural world the way we do?

And with that, my friend encouraged his workhorses to giddy up. Soon a squadron of winged insect eaters swooped overhead, exacting an instinctive aerial harvest.

As I continued my morning walk, I mulled over the conversation. A scene from 35 years ago popped into my head. My family and I were at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts. The place is a living museum where folks can go to see how rural life used to be long before the industrial revolution. Another option would be to visit Holmes County, Ohio.

Amish farmstead, Holmes Co. OH

Amish farmstead.

We stood outside the dairy barn near a group of school children and their teacher, who pointed to the Holsteins.

“That’s where milk comes from,” he said.

His students were in disbelief. One even countered that milk came from the store. We walked away quietly.

The sweet-sour aroma of fermenting silage stirred my senses and brought me back to reality. That earthy smell represented the soil, the seeds, harvesting, the manpower and machinery needed to feed the cows to provide milk or meat.

That’s what being rooted to the earth does. It makes you take note and absorb and appreciate all that is around you.

The creeks and ponds, the marshes, and the mudflats are of equal import as much as the grain fields and pastures. Together they provide habitat and balance to earth’s fullness.

Rooting yourself to the soil is critical in caring for the earth no matter where we live or what our occupation. Yes, we need industry and growth to feed, clothe and house the planet’s population. We also need the earth to be healthy and respected to accomplish that goal.

If you want to feel rooted to the earth, you are welcome to walk by my neighbor’s barnyard. I’m sure neither he nor his herd will mind.

rural sunrise

Rural sunrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, column, nature photography

Evening Sky

sunset

Evening sky.

The sun always sets in the west. However, some of the best colors of a sunset occur in the other directions of the compass. This photo that I recently took in Harrisonburg, VA is an example of that. The golden glow behind the Allegheny Mountains to the west created magnificent colors elsewhere. The high, wispy clouds in the southern sky danced with brilliance. The trees and house in the foreground accentuated the variable pink and blue evening sky.

“Evening Sky” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography

A strong work ethic is a universal trait

Amish produce stand

Produce stand.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been working since I was eight years old. To earn a little spending money of my own, my first job I went door-to-door selling seed packets. I’ve been working ever since, and that’s a very good thing.

There is great satisfaction in earning money through hard work. That was especially true as a youngster who grew up in a family that had pittance left over for life’s extravagances. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich by earthly standards either.

Rather, our wealth came in the joy of working together as a family and learning to enjoy work’s energy and accomplishments, whether we earned money or not. If it benefited others, payment was received in ways that far exceeded any monetary gain.

If my siblings and I earned money helping others at businesses or homes, you could be sure we used the profits for wise choices. The candy store was just five minutes away. Of course, our folks taught us the advantages of saving and giving, too.

I have my parents and grandparents, and likely generations before them, to thank for instilling work as a personal core value. Dad worked 43 years for the same company as a tool engineer. Mom was a household engineer before the profession was so christened.

Living in Holmes County, Ohio, all of my adult life, I have come to appreciate the community’s emphasis on exercising a robust work ethic. I marvel at seeing it played out every day.

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I only have to observe my neighbor’s family gathering crops. Three generations are often literally bringing in the sheaves.

That should be no surprise. Having a strong work ethic is common and a highly valued principle here. It’s one of the reasons our region consistently has one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates in Ohio.

County residents pride themselves on enthusiastically employing their work ethic. That’s ironic for a society that holds humility in equally high esteem. Folks manage to balance that apparent contradiction for self and others successfully.

The method to instilling the work ethic to the next generation is simple. Folks here both model and include younger generations in work. In other words, the adults give the youngsters responsibilities that result in projects completed.

Children on farms help with chores. Feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, walking the dog all count as productivity. Drive around and you’ll likely see children including work in their play.

I always get a chuckle when I see Amish children playing horse and buggy. A couple of toddlers sit in a wagon while an older sibling plays the horse. A short piece of rope serves as the reins.

Amish children playing

At play.

From time to time as a principal, I would get a note from home asking that Johnny be permitted to visit the local store to buy some grocery items needed for that evening’s supper. I usually approved the request by driving to the store and letting the sixth grader do his deed.

At the produce stand we frequent, the entire family chips in to make the business go. From time to time, a request is made for an item not available on the shelf. Junior will gladly fetch the requested item from the field to accommodate the customer.

It’s all in a day’s work. Of course, the work ethic extends far beyond our insulated world. Working and earning are universally esteemed characteristics.

I’m glad we have Labor Day to remind us of that fact.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, column, holidays, human interest, nature photography, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Uncategorized, writing

Clouded Blue Moon

August full moon, high clouds

Clouded Blue Moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I hoped to get a shot of August’s blue moon rising on the horizon. That didn’t happen. I have Ohio’s fickle weather to thank for that. A thick blanket of clouds filled the evening sky making such a shot impossible.

Determined to get a photo, I kept checking the sky. A little after 9 p.m., I was surprised to see the moon shining behind broken clouds, which were quickly closing. I was able to capture this shot before the clouds closed in on my window of opportunity.

“Clouded Blue Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

4 Comments

Filed under Ohio, Photo of the Week, photography, weather