Category Archives: birds

Long days and slow sunsets

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH

Silo sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Summertime. That luscious word rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as butter melting on a steaming ear of sweet corn.

Officially, summer only recently arrived. The summer solstice just slipped by, technically ushering in the season we’ve already been enjoying. In other words, the citizens of the Northern Hemisphere have entered the sacred stretch of long days and slow sunsets.

Geneva-on-the-Lake OH, Lake Erie, sunset

Fun by the lake.

The sunsets really do linger longer than those occurring in other months of the year. Around the solstices, the farther the sun sets from due west, the shallower the angle of the setting sun. We reap the positive consequences with slower, magically glowing sunsets. How much longer? A full, beautiful minute. The same is true at December’s solstice.

That extra minute of bliss is but one of the bonuses of summer. There are plenty of others.

School children have been celebrating summer’s arrival for days. Consequently, lifeguards at swimming pools have already worn out their pool whistles. Lawn mowing, weeding, and gardening are old hat to dedicated growers. The outdoor supply inventories at big box stores and local nurseries alike have dwindled, causing latecomers to scrounge elsewhere or wait until next year.

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Big round bales, the regular rectangular ones, and even haymows prove first cutting successes. Row upon row of field corn stalks desperately tries to catch up to their sweet corn cousins. Tomato plants are simultaneously blooming and showing their first fruits in various shades of green, yellow, pink, and red.

Summer baseball, softball, and golf leagues have long been underway. Seasonal resorts are booming, welcoming newcomers and veterans alike. Multi-generations crowd miniature golf courses to enjoy the sunny days and exotic, extended evenings.

Is it just me or have the backyard bunnies multiplied exponentially this year? They’re everywhere in all sizes. I’ll let you explain that to the kids. Baby birds have long fledged, leaving the nest to begin life on their own. Several species are in the process of constructing their second nests.

It didn’t take me long to fully appreciate the shade produced by a fulsome crown of established maples in our Virginia yard. Either it’s hotter here, or the shade is thicker and cooler. Either way, I’m glad for the fully leafed trees.

scorpionfly, green raspberries

Scorpionfly on raspberries.

Lightning bugs by the billions light up lawns and fields and forests alike. It’s one of the treasures of summer to watch those signals flash while sipping the waning day’s last glass of iced tea. I’ll take decaf, please.

Folks who make their living outdoors, of course, love the summer weather. Road construction workers, farmers, carpenters, excavators, surveyors, delivery personnel, mail carriers, tree trimmers, garbage collectors, and landscapers bask in the sunshine. A rainy day or two gives them a break from the non-stop outside work that beckons to be completed before the fair days falter.

In the meantime, we all reap the benefits of those hazy, crazy days of summer. Fresh bouquets don our dinner tables, along with fresh fruit and vegetables. Shoot. There’s freshness all around.

Spaced somewhere in between all of these pleasantries are family vacations. Some go north to fish. Some go south to visit Minnie and Mickey. Others stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and just gape.

Scientists, astronomers, and amateur sky gazers may mark these longest days of the year in mere minutes. But the rest of us know better. We count our blessings in buckets of laughter, bushels of berries, and baskets of blooms.

Summertime is here. Let’s enjoy these long days and slow sunsets while we can.

Rockingham Co. VA sunset, Shenandoah Valley VA

A majestic sunset on Majestic View Rd.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, birding, birds, family, human interest, Lakeside Ohio, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Settling into our new home is settling

Mole Hill, Harrisonburg VA

Our new view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Moving is said to be one of life’s most stressful events. It hasn’t turned out to be that way for my wife and me. Taking a year and a half to make the transition from Ohio to Virginia likely took some of the pressure off of us. We are so glad we took our time.

We love everything about our new home, our new setting, and our situation so far. Please don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t easy leaving home, community, church, relatives, and friends that we were so attached to for all of our adult lives. Tears were shed to be sure.

For now, Neva and I have been busy arranging our new household inside and out. It’s been both a chore and a joy. Others who had experience moving advised us to take our time.

moving day

Moving in.

Sort one box at a time they said. And for the most part, that’s about the pace we have gone. Our expert movers helped make that happen by carrying and setting up all of the weighty and cumbersome furniture.

Our daughter’s family visited us a lot, helping us to unpack and put things away. Our IT son-in-law got us up and running with the internet, email, and the new smart TV he so kindly purchased for us with our money of course. I’m sure he’ll be over often to ensure that it’s working.

Most of our close neighbors introduced themselves, too. They all are as friendly as can be. One even brought homemade rolls and the best strawberry jam I ever tasted. That alone almost made the move worthwhile.

Of course, we moved to be near our grandchildren. Besides visiting us several times already, we’ve jumped right into their activities, too, sometimes simultaneously. Like when we attended our granddaughter’s violin recital. Her big brother was playing baseball two hours away. We covertly watched the action in animation on a smartphone.

We arrived in time to help our daughter celebrate another birthday. That’s something we haven’t had a chance to do in a long, long time.

We kept the unpacked boxes in the garage so as not to clutter the house. And did I mention that we love our downsized, one-story retirement home? We do, very much.

new home, transplating

Help with transplanting.

In fact, neither Neva nor I can stop smiling we are so pleased with how everything seems to be fitting into place. We rightly purged our belongings before we left. We are also glad we made the physical changes to our place that we did. It’s still a work in progress, especially the landscaping.

Most importantly, our new house feels like home. I didn’t think I would say that this soon after the move. But I did, and it does.

The day after we moved in we took a break to attend a May Day event at the elementary school where the two younger grandkids are students. It was a fun time even if it was a bit chilly.

Our creative daughter helped arrange a design for our new landscaping. We had the old, overgrown shrubs pulled for more palatable, harmonious plants. Spring rains made them easier to plant in the thick, sticky Virginia clay they call topsoil.

After the house was nearly put together, I set up my bird feeders. It didn’t take long for the usual suspects to find the free food. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows are some of the species so far.

Our feathered friends appear to be settling in much the way we are. It’s good to be at home this far away from home.

backyard birds, Virginia

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Contemplation

female rose-breasted grosbeak

Contemplation.

The Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak usually gets all of the attention for its stunning coloration. I think the female is attractive in her own right. The blended browns and creamy whites form an incredible pattern to help her hide from predators.

I captured this photo of a Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as she appeared to contemplate when and how to approach the black oil sunflower feeder in the backyard of our new home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I was pleasantly surprised to have this species arrive at the feeder not long after I had hung it in the Mountain Maple tree.

“Contemplation” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Saying both thank you and goodbye

trees in blossom, spring in Ohio

Goodbye blooms.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In a couple of days, the moving truck will arrive. Men I’ve never met will pack our selected belongings into the straight bed of a box truck. A couple of days later, they’ll reverse the process, and we’ll begin life anew in our new home in Virginia.

I have looked forward to this event. I have dreaded this event. I am excited to be close to our daughter and her family. I’m sad that we’ll be six hours away from our son and other family members along with a lengthy list of lifetime friends.

That’s the dichotomy of uprooting yourself after spending all of your quality years in one geographic location. A time to dance and a time to refrain from dancing as the scripture goes.

We recognized that this major decision came with both good and bad consequences. We will spend time with our grandchildren, watch them grow from adolescence into young adults, the good Lord willing.

We’ll also help out our daughter and her husband with their hectic work and household agenda. The grandkids’ and their parent’s schedules aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

We recognize, too, the friends, neighbors, and family we leave behind, the relationships that will forever change by not being able to commune together regularly. We will dearly miss that.

We have lots of folks to thank for their faithful support for us as we worked in the local public schools and the various community service endeavors in which we participated. We know we gained far more than we were able to give.

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Church, school, fire department and rescue squad, township, thrift store, friendships, neighborhood and family activities and gatherings all pieced together the crazy quilt that formed our active lives. We can never repay them all for the kindness, patience, acceptance, and including us in their lives.

We anticipate this transplanting will take some time for our roots to take hold in our new community endeavors. Virginia friends and new acquaintances have already begun to make us feel welcomed, and we haven’t even moved yet. That’s southern hospitality for you.

I’ll continue to write and share what I encounter as we settle in, explore our new surroundings, meet new folks, and experience all that is in store for us. My words just may develop a southern accent.

Friends and family have given us an extended send-off. These last few days have been bittersweet. We have been showered with hugs and kisses, tears and celebratory well-wishes. The fellowship we have experienced added spice to the already delicious meals we’ve shared with dear friends and relatives. Close neighbors even held a carry-in and gave us an unexpected monetary gift as goodbye presents.

Even the vegetation around our house blossomed a flowery finale for us. The flowering trees, shrubs, and plants bloomed the best and brightest that they have in our 38 years of living here. As the daffodils faded, the dogwoods and lilacs burst with vibrancy. Their fragrances were intoxicating. It was as if they had conspired to ensure us a very colorful goodbye.

The backyard birds joined the party, too. The Red-headed Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, the Pileated Woodpeckers, and even the resident Bald Eagles took turns bidding us an avian adieu.

Thanks to each one of you for all of your help along the way, and for your blessings as we begin this next phase of our lives. I’ll say goodbye, but not farewell. That has too much of a final ring to it.

I’ll see ya’ll later.

blooming dogwoods

Colorful sendoff.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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David and Goliath

downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker

David and Goliath.

The Pileated Woodpecker, 17 inches top to tail tip, is Ohio’s largest woodpecker. Conversely, the Downy Woodpecker is Ohio’s smallest at a mere 6.5 inches long.* The two are seldom seen together. If they happen to arrive in the same area, the Downy quickly knows its place. It is no physical match for the impressive Piliated.

I recently was watching and photographing a male Pileated Woodpecker feed on the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs in my backyard. Imagine my surprise when a male Downy Woodpecker suddenly dropped onto the feeder and seemingly challenged its mega-sized cousin. It was both a once-in-a-lifetime moment and a David vs. Goliath situation. I was extremely fortunate to capture this brief confrontation before the Downy decided to wait its turn.

“David and Goliath” is my Photo of the Week.

*Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, Kenn Kaufman, p. 214 & p. 218.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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The Eagle Has Landed

bald eagle, Holmes Co. OH

The Eagle Has Landed.

The frantic knock on the front door got my attention. In my dash down the hall and to the front entrance, I wondered if someone was in need of help. Had there been another crash on our busy county highway?

When I flung open the door, there stood my neighbor smiling. My negative concerns immediately vanished. I shook Doug’s hand as he excitedly exclaimed that an eagle was sitting in a tree across the road from his house. I quickly retreated to my office and grabbed my camera with the long lens. As we rushed over to his front yard, Doug told me how he came to see our nation’s icon.

As he drove over the hill south of our homes, Doug saw the eagle circling overhead and then dive to the grass on the east side of the road where a roadkill raccoon laid. As his car passed the big bird, it flew to a branch low in a thicket of trees only a few yards away.

I concealed myself as best I could behind a large tree trunk at the corner of Doug’s yard. The camera’s shutter clicked away as other drivers zipped along the road unaware of the sight they were missing. The many branches in front of the eagle made it rather difficult for me to focus the lens. When I looked down at the camera to check the quality of the shots, the eagle flew east, leaving his intended meal behind.

“The Eagle Has Landed” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Looking left

pileated woodpecker, Big Talbot Island FL

Looking left.

This energetic young male Pileated Woodpecker posed just long enough for me to capture a shot of it before it flew off to another tree, possibly in search of a suitable nesting site. Before this photo was taken, the incredible bird was in and out of the holes on this snag.

I especially liked the way everything in the photo is leaning left. I felt fortunate to catch this shot when the woodpecker looked that way, too.

“Looking left” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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On the hunt

American Robin, birds, spring

On the hunt.

It happens every year. The American Robins come out of seclusion in dense Ohio woodlots or return from a regional migration only to be greeted by a snowstorm. This year was no exception.

With no worms available due to the snow cover and cold temperatures, the Robins looked for other forms of food. The bright red holly berries fit the bill for a few of them. This male robin especially enjoyed flitting in and out of the bush next to our house. I was fortunate to be able to capture a few shots of him on the hunt for the round red delights. He would sit on a small branch in the snow, look around for a berry, then pounce on it as if it were going to make a getaway.

“On the hunt” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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The older I get, the colder I get

main beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Beach walkers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it. The older I get, the colder I get. That’s how the math works for me.

The equation yields opposite results for my dear wife, whose thermostat seems to be heading in the other direction. Her female peers know what I mean.

All this is to say I can’t take the cold winter months anymore. My old bones shiver just writing that sentence, and I’m wearing a wool sweater. The goose bumps on my arms give testament to that fact, too.

While others wear shorts and t-shirts, I dress in pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, and maybe even a jacket to stay warm. That’s how cold I get. Part of the chill is a side effect of some of my medication. I take it and dress accordingly, often in layers.

Being cold isn’t the only consequence of growing older in Ohio winters. My fingers swell, stiffen, and are continually cold. The skin on my fingers cracks in the damp, chilly weather. I realize those are minor problems given current world conditions. It’s still annoying.

grandkids sled riding

Good memories.

In my younger years, I enjoyed the cold, especially if it was accompanied by a decent snowfall. I’d join my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and sled ride for hours.

Once hunger and snow blindness set in, we’d head home to warm up with soup and hot chocolate. Our cheeks were rosy to the point of stinging, our noses red from the frosty air, our fingers tingling numb. We would change into dry clothes, and off we would go again, cascading down Winton Avenue as if we owned the road.

Sledding was at its best in an undeveloped section of a local cemetery. We felt charmed if we made it all the way downhill to the creek bank, dragging our feet in the snow like parachutes slowing a dragster.

Those days are long gone. I probably couldn’t even get on a sled. Now my wife and I spend the coldest parts of winter in northern Florida. It’s usually not always balmy there, but it’s not Ohio weather either.

Our hiatus from the northern cold affords us more benefits than warmer days. Neither my arthritis nor my bum right knee hurt as much thanks to the combination of the warmer weather and the many walks we take. The ocean was the front yard to our rented condo unit.

We walked south one day, north the next. Our preference was to stroll the compacted, moist sand at low tide. But walking in the softer sand at high tide worked, too. I felt warm either way. It was better than crunching snow.

Other times, I would head to nearby Egans Creek Greenway, an ecologically friendly nature preserve set in the middle of the island. The walk in the bright sunshine warmed my body and my spirit. Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, marsh rabbits, river otters, white-tailed deer, assorted turtles, butterflies, and baby alligators all coexisted in the diverse habitat of salt marsh reeds, grasses, and shrubs, and the hardwoods, cedars, and pines of the tropical hammock.

I am grateful to be able to make these snowbird trips each winter. I don’t take that lightly at all. I know the time will come when that modus operandi, too, will end.

But until then, Neva and I will likely continue to seek shelter from winter’s harshness by heading south come next January. That’s a warming therapeutic algorithm sure to solve any chilling problem.

sunset, Amelia Island

Until next year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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On their way

monarch butterfly

On their way.

Just before we left Fernandina Beach, FL, I took one last stroll around the marvelous Egans Creek Greenway that runs through the center of Amelia Island. It’s a paradise.

I went with a friend to see what we could find, and even at low tide, we found plenty. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, marsh rabbits, and of course, baby alligators sunning themselves in the late afternoon sun.

But it was this male monarch butterfly that really caught my attention. It was bright, fresh, brilliant in color. Bathed in the slanting rays of the sun, the butterfly was stunning. More than that, it brought hope that spring indeed was on its way because the monarchs are on their way north, too. Migration has begun!

“On their way” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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