Hiding in Plain Sight

A male Mourning Warbler.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had heard a Mourning Warbler singing before, but I had never seen one. I always attributed that to their habitat and skulking behavior. It could have been my poor eyesight, however.

Mourning Warblers tend to stay closer to the ground than the one I spied 15 feet high in a dead wild cherry tree. They favor low brushy habitats, not bare tree limbs. Yet, here it was, and I was pretty happy to be able to capture a few photos before this beautiful bird with a lovely song dropped into the underbrush and out of sight.

Most Mourning Warblers nest in boreal forests in states and Canadian provinces well north of Virginia. However, there is a small area in the Allegheny Mountains along the boundaries of Virginia and West Virginia, where they also breed.

When I learned that other birders had spotted Mourning Warblers near Reddish Knob, a mountain summit on the Virginia/West Virginia border, I decided to go for the bird. The drive to that area is less than an hour from my home in the Shenandoah Valley.

Other birders had the same idea. The bird was easily heard, and with six pairs of eyes, the target bird was soon spotted. However, I didn’t expect it to be so out in the open. But I had to act fast. Mourning Warblers seldom sit still. As you can see, this bird was already looking down and dropped out of sight right after I snapped this photo.

I was grateful for the help of the other birders, who were equally happy that I was able to get the photographs I desired. The Mourning Warbler was only one of several bird species I saw that day, but it was the best.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

Enjoying the Light Show

Our first look at the falls.

After celebrating our grandson’s first birthday, my wife and I headed west along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We stopped a couple of times to bird at state parks and were pleased with the few warblers, flycatchers, and a Northern Harrier we saw.

Then it was on to Niagara Falls, Ontario. We had been to the Canadian and American sides of the falls before. However, I had never seen the light show that lit up the falls after dark. I especially wanted to view the falls illuminated with rainbow-colored lights.

After a nice dinner, we walked down to the falls after dark. We didn’t have to wait long. The first lights, though, were light-colored and then pastel. The evening air was getting chilly, aided by the wind-blown mist from the falling waters.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

At exactly 9:30 p.m., we got a pleasant surprise. A colorful fireworks show lit the night sky on the Canadian side directly across from the American Falls. As soon as they finished, the lights changed to vivid colors that kept changing from gaudy green to brilliant blue to the ripest red.

At 9:45, my wish came true. Both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls flashed all the rainbow colors. I was happy as a 10-year-old. Satisfied with my photos, my wife and I walked hand in hand back to the motel, ready for a good night’s sleep.

Excitement at Niagara Falls.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

A Grand(son’s) Celebration

Grandson Teddy amid his 1st birthday celebration. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

May 14th was Mother’s Day. It was also our youngest grandchild’s first birthday. Of course, that took precedence.

My wife and I happily drove 450 miles north to Rochester, New York, from our home in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley to help celebrate Teddy’s big day. We wouldn’t have missed it!

After a flurry of morning preparations, everything was set. Since Teddy is affectionately referred to as Pizza Boy Teddy, pizza was the theme for the day.

Early in the afternoon, the invited guests of family and close friends of Teddy’s devoted and proud parents began to arrive. Teddy got to know his relatives up close and personal as he passed from aunt to cousin to family friend.

Please click on the photos to enlarge and read the captions.

Besides the numerous assortment of pizzas from four of Rochester’s finest pizzerias, other foodie offerings included birthday-frosted sugar cookies, pizza goldfish, and pizza gummies. No one went away hungry.

Since it was a birthday party, the cake took center stage. In the bright afternoon sunshine, Teddy got his first taste of birthday cake. His fun parents made sure he fully enjoyed it. With cameras and cellphones snapping away, they provided Teddy with a full-sensory experience.

First, Teddy’s fingers tested the frosting. Then he gingerly settled his face into the sticky but tasty frosting. He eventually got to the cake, too.

As the saying goes, a good time was had by all, especially Teddy.

Teddy’s toes.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

The Dry River Wasn’t Dry

The Dry River spills over Slab Road, Dayton, Virginia.

I appreciate the simplistically specific way of naming roads in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roadways are numbered, of course, but the colloquial names are what people know. Slab Road is a prime example.

Hardly a half mile long, Slab Road connects two main county roads. Between the two is the Dry River, often devoid of water. A solid cement slab serves as the roadbed that crosses the riverbed from bank to bank. Thus, the unusual but appropriate name for a public road.

After some recent rains, the river flowed steadily over the slab, forming a mini-waterfall. I wanted to gather some rocks for a water feature I was assembling for our backyard birds. The high water limited my search to the south side of the slab. While collecting a few stones, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the evening sun filtering through the trees and reflecting off the smooth surface of the now not-so-dry river.

The need for a few flat rocks drew me to this inspiring scene that warmed my soul during this day’s golden hour.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

Spring Flowers: Here today, gone tomorrow

A redbud tree at peak bloom at a local arboretum.

Don’t let those lovely calendar images of spring fool you. The gorgeous photos of tulips, daffodils, dogwoods, and any other flowering plant or tree may last all month in the picture hanging on your wall. But you better hurry outside to see them before they rudely disappear.

That’s Spring in a nutshell. It can be as fickle as the weather because the weather, especially in the age of rapid climate change, affects when things bloom and for how long. Throw in a heavy frost or two, and the blossoms’ purposes are lost until next year.

I don’t mean to be sounding doom and gloom. After the long, dark, and in many places, cold and snowy winter, we celebrate Spring’s arrival. But we need to get out and enjoy it while we can. We can easily take the many blooms and fragrances for granted until they are gone.

I’m as guilty of that as anyone. The older I get, the colder I get. Consequently, I avoid being outside too long on blustery, chilly days. I know. My age is showing.

I’ll admit that I’m a fair-weather kind of guy. I need the sun to keep me warm no matter how many layers of clothing I wear. Still, I love taking in the rapidly changing spring scenes. The leaves start to unfurl once the blossoms fade. Depending on the species and the weather, it is not long until the plant or tree leaves are in their fullness. As the leaves mature on some plants and trees, they darken into a rich green.

We are fortunate here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The first spring blossoms show themselves in the forests in late winter. Witch Hazel blooms can easily be overlooked. The white snowdrop petals are easier to see against the burnished leaf litter.

This year, February and March traded their weather. Varieties of daffodils and crocuses bloomed early and stayed late. As Spring progressed and the weather cooled, they became the exception. Pockets of the Glory of the Snow, Spring Beauties, Bloodroot, and Coltsfoot soon joined them.

The Redbud trees were gorgeous unless back-to-back freezes nipped their pretty pink blossoms. The impatient leaves soon pushed the petals to carpet the ground. Even the maples were in a hurry to begin their chlorophyll duties.

Soon neighborhoods, roadsides, and forests were ablaze with color in April. The azaleas, rhododendrons, Virginia Bluebells, tulips, wild geraniums, and poppies put on a show. The pollinators buzzed high and low.

So, here we are in May. The dogwood blossoms have faded, while their leaves stand ready, awaiting touches of sunshine and rain. They need both.

Together let’s pledge to get out and enjoy whatever is blooming in our neck of the woods. If we wait too long, we’ll only have the calendars to remind us of what we missed.

The fresh leaves on our Rising Sun Redbud.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

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