I was fortunate enough to catch this male Eastern Bluebird looking over its shoulder. Like a good father, this bluebird seemed concerned about the welfare of its mate. The female was nearby, having landed on a bluebird box where all indications were that the pair had young. Both had been carrying insects into the box.
I loved how the afternoon sun accentuated the bird’s colors. For those old enough to appreciate the title, I couldn’t help but think of the 1959 song by the Fleetwoods, “Mr. Blue.”
August is rapidly coming to a close. For our family, that means that Neva is in her comfort zone doing what she does best.
Neva loves to help others. It’s in her DNA. In the fall, our daughter’s busy family becomes the center of our attention. In part, that is why we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.
Carrie is the women’s volleyball coach at Eastern Mennonite University. Her personal and professional schedules are head-spinners. Practices and meeting with players consume Carrie’s time. Once the regular season starts soon, it gets to be grueling.
Of course, our daughter has a family to care for as well. That’s difficult to do, even with a helpful and talented husband. That’s where we come in, especially my wife.
Before our move from Ohio’s Amish country to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Harrisonburg became our temporary home in the fall. Neva lived there August into November. I shuttled back and forth during those months as work duties called.
Now that we are retired and live just five miles away, we can quickly assist our daughter and her family. When it comes to Neva, “assist” is an understatement.
My energetic wife puts all she has into helping our daughter’s home run as smoothly as possible. It’s a must do situation with three active grandchildren and both of their parents working full-time.
With Neva taking the lead, my wife and I gladly step in to do what we can. Me? I do whatever I’m asked or told to do. If you are a betting person, wager on the latter.
Of course, the grandkids and our son-in-law all do their part. We fill in the gaps when work and school schedules preclude household chores being completed.
When it comes to domestic skills, I can’t hold a candle to Neva though. She plans and prepares family meals. I set the table and clean up. Occasionally, Neva prepares food for the entire volleyball team. I’m the gopher. I go for this and go for that.
While Neva is cooking or cleaning or shopping, I might be running the oldest grandchild to the gym for workouts or picking up the middle grandkid from after-school activities or accompanying the youngest to her soccer practice.
See what I mean? All that coming and going keeps us active, energized, and helps us sleep well at night.
In addition to all of this activity, our son has taken a new job in a different state seven hours away from us. With Neva leading the way, we helped him ready for this significant transition in his life, too. We were glad to do what we could.
Why does Neva do all of this? It’s all she knows how to do. It’s how she loves. Her compassion manifests into tasty, nutritious meals, quality time spent sharing her gifts and wisdom with the grandkids, and a sense of security for our son, daughter, and son-in-law.
I marvel at Neva’s determination, fortitude, skills, and drive to aid others. It’s definitely that time of year again, and we all reap the benefits of Neva’s generous gift of hospitality.
Our fall schedules are hectic to be sure. Neva and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To paraphrase the late Arthur Ashe, we do what we can with what we have right where we are. At our age, at any age really, that’s all that can be expected. In Neva’s case, she exceeds any and all expectations.
From little on up, everything about butterflies intrigued me. The sizes, shapes, colors, flight patterns, unpredictable behavior around flowers, they all got my attention. They still do.
In August, when late-summer wildflowers are in full bloom and butterflies are migrating south, I am awestruck each and every time I see one of these flying beauties.
Even though I know certain species of butterflies frequent woodland habitats, I am always amazed when I see them flitting among stands of mixed hardwood forests. Butterflies seem to be able to find blooms that we humans ignore. Perhaps that’s a lesson for us. Slow down. Take notice of your surroundings. Enjoy what you discover. Sometimes it takes a butterfly to guide you to the flowers.
That was not the case, however, when this beautiful female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly lighted on this Joe Pye weed blossom. Joe Pye weeds grow to be six-feet tall, and their multi-headed flowers are lovely, fragrant, and serve as butterfly magnets. Other pollinators love them, too.
I used my telephoto lens to capture this shot recently in southeast Ohio. “Butterfly Season” is my Photo of the Week.
There we were, two couples sitting around a table at 10 o’clock on a beautiful but sultry Monday morning playing cards. Our only objective was to win the game.
Nana Neva and I had taken an extended weekend break from our part-time grand-parenting duties to explore a less-familiar area of Virginia with another retired couple.
We had worked all of our lives to reach this point. Playing cards followed by a round of dominoes seemed like the perfect way to begin a new week, especially on a hot and muggy morning.
We played until lunch and then walked down the slanting limestone driveway to a cozy eatery in a marina for some fabulous homemade ice cream. Choosing which flavor became the toughest decision we made all day.
The location had much to do with our buoyant attitude. We had rented a cottage situated on a point overlooking a man-made lake where the dam generated hydroelectricity. The lake was long and narrow, the product of a few creeks damned up to fill steep valleys in southern Virginia.
Such a project brought more natural benefits than producing power. Wildlife thrived.
On its perch.
The eagle eye.
Each morning and evening a resident bald eagle perched on a favorite snag, often on the same limb a quarter of a mile across the bay from us. We had a perfect view from our deck that faced the water, made murky by a series of recent heavy rains.
Before breakfast, I spotted an osprey perched on a dead pine farther up the narrow bay. The “fish hawk” stood tall and stately in the morning mist.
Pileated woodpeckers called and flew back and forth across the water, too, landing if only briefly in the sizable wild cherry tree in our front yard along the shoreline. An eastern kingbird, a much smaller species, chased the much larger woodpecker upon every approach. Fierceness is the kingbird’s nature.
The ripe fruit of the lakeside tree drew songbirds, too. The kingbird didn’t seem to be as bothered by the Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, and even young redheaded woodpeckers. I could have stayed there all day to watch that show.
The previous day we ventured to Rocky Mount, the county seat where my maternal grandparents were born. We researched family records in the historical society. The lilt and soft, southern accent of our hostess could have been my grandmother’s.
In the process, I was a boy again, standing in the hot Virginia sun inserting a nickel into a parking meter for my father. Dad had to finish the task because I wasn’t strong enough to turn the knob so the coin would activate the meter. The street meters have long disappeared, just like the department store where a relative had worked.
We visited the Booker T. Washington National Monument where the famous educator was born and freed as a slave. The sweltering heat and humidity made it easy to envision the slaves toiling in the parched fields.
Back at the cottage, boats rippled the reflected sunset as they headed in for the evening. Spiders devoured gnats trapped in the delicate webs on the deck just as a young eagle glided across the dusk’s burnished light.
This is what retirement was meant to be. We are grateful to be at this phase of our lives.
That said a palpable quietude subdued any thought of celebration. Too many others would not know the same joy and appreciation. Empathy should temper our golden years. Compassion must rule the way to ensure a purposeful retirement.
In today’s world of youth baseball, it’s not always easy getting shots of your grandson in action. High chainlink fences wrap around the playing fields wherever we go to watch him play. I surmised that there are practical reasons for that. They serve as barriers between the spectators and the playing field, where only the players, coaches, and umpires are permitted.
The fences are an impediment to photographers who want to get the best shot possible of their children or grandchildren. In this case, I photographed my grandson batting. I used manual focus to blur the mesh fencing. When he hit a sharp liner to center, the ball skipped by the diving outfielder and rolled all the way to the outfield fence.
Our grandson raced around the bases and slid headfirst into home. The powdery red dirt ubiquitous in Virginia went flying. He was safe by a whisker for an inside the park home run.
Now, I love autumn, and birding is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s just that bird seasons don’t quite match up with those designed by us humans.
When the calendar flips to August, fall bird migration season has officially begun. It ends come December.
Migration, of course, isn’t confined to only those months. Some shorebirds started their long journeys south in July. Many of them have a long ways to go. For example, pectoral sandpipers nest in the high Arctic tundra and winter throughout South America. Consequently, they need plenty of time to fly those thousands of miles north to south.
The start of migration varies significantly according to the numerous species. Besides shorebirds, different types of birds of prey, songbirds, and waterfowl all migrate.
Those four months are needed to allow all varieties of birds to complete their journeys. Winter in the bird world runs December through February. Spring is March, April, and May. That makes summer the shortest season with just June and July.
It’s not like the birds take notice or even care about months. They behave on natural instincts with recent research indicating that some birds can actually see the earth’s magnetic poles. Stars and the position of the sun in the sky also may motivate our avian friends to embark on their extended trips.
Some birds will migrate only short distances, say from mountainsides to the valleys below. Others migrate medium distances, moving just a few hundred miles south.
Not all birds migrate, however. Some, like American robins, often congregate in flocks once the nesting season is over. Sometimes extreme weather pushes them out of their normal range where they can find the necessary food supply to survive.
Other birds, like eastern bluebirds, will also group up for both warmth and safety. It’s not unusual in the throes of winter to find several bluebirds huddling for warmth in one bird box.
Fall and spring are the seasons most birders relish. They long for the opportunity to see birds that are only passing through the area. They may just get a glimpse of a rare and endangered bird like a Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that nests in the jack pines of northern Michigan and winters in the Bahamas.
In the spring, birds are in their brightest mating colors. The males are the most colorful. The females tend to be duller for practical reasons. They need to be subtler so as not to attract attention to their nests.
It’s just the opposite in the fall. With the breeding season over, the birds transform into less noticeable color schemes. They need to blend in with their surroundings as best they can to be less conspicuous to predators.
When it comes to living, birds need the same essential elements as the rest of us. Water, food, and habitat are crucial for birds to survive, whether nesting or on the move. Forests, fields, fencerows, dead trees, mudflats, marshes, ponds, and waterways all serve as vital habitat, depending on the bird species.
Food is a primary motivator for those that migrate. Swallows and purple martins thrive on insects. That’s why they arrive in the spring and leave when the insect supply diminishes. Of course, they require appropriate shelter, too.
More than half of the 650 species of birds in North America migrate. With migration already underway, it’s why birders everywhere have their binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras ready for action.
On behalf of birdwatchers everywhere, welcome to fall.
In last week’s Photo of the Week blog post, I featured a teenager photographing flowers. I told her parents how inspiring it was to see a young person so interested in photography, something far beyond selfies. When the young woman joined the conversation, I gave her some advice. I told her to look around when everyone else is looking at the obvious and showed her an example of what I meant. She and her parents thanked me, and we parted ways.
“Looking Up” is an example of taking my own advice, something I too often fail to do. Just ask my patient wife. While recently photographing a sunset after the passage of some summer thunderstorms, I was ready to leave when I happened to look overhead. This is what I saw, the remaining rays of the day highlighting some roiling cumulonimbus clouds.
I couldn’t believe all of the beauty that was right above me while I waited on a spectacular sunset that didn’t materialize. As I told the young photographer, look all around you. You just might find something spectacular to capture and share.
Several years ago, our lifetime friends Dave and Kate built their dream house on a hill overlooking Millersburg, Ohio. They picked the perfect spot.
From that lofty vantage point overlooking a lovely valley, Dave and Kate can see the county courthouse clock tower, the school where they both taught, and the hospital where their children were born.
The setting is marvelous, the view fantastic. Still, through hard work and creativity, the couple has managed to improve their surroundings, not only for themselves but for the wild things, too.
About five years ago, Dave decided to turn work into play so to speak. He kicked the cows out of the five-acre, pastured hillside that surrounded the house. His goal was simply to let nature take her course.
Before the European invasion 300 years ago, a dense, mature forest covered most of what is now Ohio. Dave wanted to test an old theory that the land would replenish itself if allowed to go fallow.
So instead of cows grazing, grasses, plants, and seedlings began to sprout freely. Today, the results are impressive, producing rewards that even the amiable couple could never have imagined.
On an all-too-brief return to our Ohio haunts, Dave led me on a walking tour of his mostly-spontaneous prairie. We traversed a looping pattern of mown paths that crisscrossed the rolling hillside topography.
Up and down and around we walked. All the while Dave pointed out some of the changes that had already naturally occurred. In some spots, he had helped things along with saplings and young trees he had planted. He checked on them like a mother hen guarding her chicks.
Of course, he encaged the plantings with wire mesh to stymie the ubiquitous and free-ranging deer that nibble the tender and tasty leaves and stalks. Sometimes it worked.
Wildflowers and plants now flourished in the prairie plots where heifers used to munch. The floral growth attracted appreciative pollinators that flitted and buzzed about while we ambled along. Bees and butterflies, flies, dragonflies, and damselflies all made appearances.
Several pairs of eastern bluebirds tended to their nests in boxes Dave had erected. Some had eggs, some second brood hatchlings. Others were empty. When we cleaned out an old nest from one birdhouse, a bluebird pair began building anew a short time later. Dave’s face glowed.
At the bird feeders, Ohio’s smallest to largest woodpeckers and several species in between vied for the suet offerings. Both pileated and red-bellied even brought their young to learn to forage for the protein.
On the parameters of the property, red-tailed hawks dove from shaded oak perches, unsuccessful in snagging a mammal breakfast. An indigo bunting began its song but stopped short, a typical behavior this late in the summer.
Cedar waxwings preened in the morning sunshine on dead ash snags. American goldfinches harvested thistledown for their late-season nests.
The gnarled, amber trunks of giant Osage orange trees served as living statuaries in the young reclaimed landscape. Their coarse-skin fruit hung lime-green and eerie, like so many Martian brains.
Once dormancy dominates the prairie, Dave will mow down this marvelous and necessary wildlife habitat to eliminate the human-made nuisance multi-flowered rose bushes. Of course, he’ll save the trees, both those he planted and the multitude of volunteers that are thriving.
That adage is coming true. Left to grow on its own, this come-what-may former pasture is an ever-changing habitat for all things bright and beautiful. The environmentally friendly owners couldn’t be more grateful.
I was intrigued by this teenager’s keen interest in photographing the beautiful flowers at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania. We kept running into one another as we wound our way through the many colorful displays of flowers, pools, fountains, and outdoor gardens.
From my long-lived experience as a father, grandfather, teacher, and school principal, photography wasn’t a top priority for most teenagers. This young girl was the exception. After I took this shot of her capturing yet another lovely flower, I spoke with her parents, who stood at a distance, proudly admiring their daughter’s unabashed desire to photograph the gorgeous floral displays.
I showed them this photo and identified myself as a retired principal. Curious, the girl came over to us and viewed my shot of her shot of the flower. She smiled, and I showed her another shot I had taken nearby of a glass ceiling with steel girders. She liked it, so I answered a question she didn’t ask but was on her face. I had taken the abstract-looking photo while others were busy observing the apparent displays all around them. I looked up.
That was my photographic tip to this inspiring and aspiring youngster. “When others are looking one way, you look the other,” I told her. “You never know what inspirational subjects you will find to photograph.”
Next week, my Photo of the Week will be an example of that ditty of advice. For now, “Young Photographer” is my Photo of the Week.