Category Archives: birds

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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The many benefits of a snowbird breakfast

dawn, shorebirds, Atlantic Ocean

Contentment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During our winter’s stay in northeastern Florida, my wife and I often took our snowbird breakfast on the small porch of our condo that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the temperatures in the 50s, you can do that if you’re in Florida and the morning sun is brightly beaming, warming the chilly air.

We set the little glass-topped café table in the usual fashion. Cereal bowls, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and the necessary utensils, spoons, and binoculars fulfill our needs.

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

The beachfront setting offered a menu much greater than our simple fare of cereal and granola. Rolling waves, gliding dolphins, a multitude of shorebirds, and the ocean’s salty bouquet organically stimulated all of our senses.

The configuration of the porch itself enabled our outdoor dining. The condo is built like a bunker with walls of cement. You can hear but not see your neighbors since the walls protrude beyond the edge of the portico. The effect is one of being tucked into a cave entrance where only the sun welcomes you and the wind simply whistles on by.

The boxy porch with concrete walls and floor and glass sliding door behind served as an oven of sorts. The sun’s rays warmed us perfectly, compromising the cooler morning air. The little whiffs of steam rising from our coffee mugs proved the science of this hands-on experiment.

The glass-topped café table that bore our breakfast gave testament to our seaside setting. A thin coating of fine sand and sea salt covered the tiny table top.

Earlier the sun had made its usual predawn show of things, glowing orange the length of where the sea met the sky. A jagged but unbroken line of dark clouds, like a poorly constructed picket fence, identified the Gulf Stream’s boundary.

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As dawn neared, the sky washed away the hardy orange with pale pastels. The sun peeked above the watery horizon right on schedule. Seconds later, a blazing orange ball balanced on the ocean, then slowly rose and brightened.

Black skimmers and brown pelicans flew in standard formations inches above the water’s surface. The skimmers modeled their name with their levered lower bill by scooping small fish as the birds zoomed along. The pelicans flew in the single-file line for aerodynamics. Beyond them, a small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins foraged south to north, the sun glistening off their wetted backs and dorsal fins as they appeared and disappeared in purposeful rhythm.

A few early birds walked their dogs, jogged, searched for seashells, while lone fishermen drove their plastic pole stands into the soft, moist sand. Tiny sanderlings scampered out around them and then returned to where the low tide lapped at the shore. The little birds probed their pointy black bills into the sand like sewing machine needles as they sought their breakfasts, too.

The ocean was unusually calm. A million ripples played where waves usually rolled. Expectant young surfers bobbed on their boards waiting and watching for a wave to ride.

The sun, of course, continued on its expected ascent into the morning sky. Its rays transformed the mother-of-pearl sea into a field of dancing diamonds. The show was so dazzling, so luminous that you could hardly look at it for hurting your eyes. And yet, you could hardly turn away, the performance was so beautiful, so enthralling.

We basked in our cozy breakfast cubical. The cereal bowls and glasses were all empty. Our spirits, however, overflowed with wonder and joy.

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL

Morning on the beach.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Backlit Great Egret

great egret, Egans Creek Greenway FL

Backlit Great Egret.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Backlit Great Egret” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Multitasking

female red-bellied woodpecker sunning

Multitasking.

Sunshine in northeast Ohio in November and December tends to be a rare treat. When the sun does shine, all of God’s Creation soaks it in, including this lovely female Red-bellied Woodpecker. She took a break from enjoying lunch at the peanut feeder to warm herself on a chilly late fall day.

“Multitasking” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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The unforeseen rewards of sleeping in

Amish homes

Pleasant morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I slept in. It was Saturday after all. It’s the way lots of folks begin their weekend.

For me, though, arising after 7 a.m. was abnormal even on weekends. I like to beat the sun to its dawn.

I needed the sleep after two consecutive late night outings. Now, the terms “late night” take on significant and liberal interpretation when you are a grandparent and not a teenager.

Thursday I attended another fun night in Cleveland with a good friend. I arrived extra early to avoid the guaranteed congestion since the Indians weren’t the only act in town. Sir Paul McCartney was playing next door to the Tribe, and the Browns lost another football game in front of their faithful mass of masochists.

In other words, the town was full of excited folks. Having lived and worked in the city many moons ago, I walked around the downtown area a bit to kill time and to view the remade public square. I was impressed with the space and the all-around cleanliness of the place.

Downtown Cleveland

Fun in Cleveland.

People sat at street side tables in front of restaurants enjoying the cuisine, drinks, and one another. I found the corner where three decades ago I had crossed the street with 30 first and second graders and their teacher. A religious street barker with hand-printed signs and tracts stopped his doomsday bellowing and moseyed up to me. He quietly asked me if the children were Pilgrims. I stoically replied that they were Amish, and followed the class across the intersection.

I spent a marvelous evening at the ballpark with my friend Rob. Happily, it was another last at-bat win for the Indians.

Elvis, Mark Lonsinger, Millersburg OH

Elvis.

Friday evening was just as much fun. My buddy Tim and I went to hear our friend Elvis perform his last gig for the summer in Millersburg. We weren’t disappointed and met lots of other friendly fans.

Both nights I was up way past my bedtime. So I wasn’t surprised that I had slept through sunrise on Saturday. I needed the rest.

Well behind my usual start time, I wanted to get my walk in before the late summer Saturday warmed too much. I discovered that being tardy had its enjoyable rewards.

I usually walk uninterrupted. Not this day.

morning walk

Where I walk.

Good neighbor Mary was already weeding her roadside flowerbeds. We chatted a while as Baltimore Orioles chased one another in the grove of trees at the south edge of my property. Their brilliant orange blazed neon in the sharp-slanting morning light.

An Eastern Phoebe called from a cluster of hardwoods just as I ran into Brian, another neighbor. We talked about his work, the warm weather, and the exhilaration of yet another fantastic Indians comeback victory.

I turned the corner and met my next-door neighbor, Trish, who was in the home stretch of her morning walk. I didn’t delay her long.

Girls in cerulean dresses pedaling bicycles and families in jet-black buggies silently greeted me with head nods and quick waves of hands. It felt good to be alive.

On the return trip to home, another young neighbor caught up with me on his four-wheeler. He was out scouting hunting spots with the season about to begin. A mourning dove sat atop a snag of a dying ash tree, perhaps eavesdropping on Tyler’s hunting secrets.

Annie Yoder

Annie.

I floated with elation the short distance remaining to my house. I was that invigorated by the gorgeous morning, the multitude of spontaneous interpersonal connections I had had, all after two enjoyable evenings with friends.

In the afternoon, I drove to Wooster to celebrate with my friend Annie on the release of her new album “Thousand.” True to form, she belted it out to the delight of all who attended.

Maybe I need to sleep in more often.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Sights, sounds say August is waning

field corn

Rows and rows.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a calendar to know we’ve past August’s midpoint. The sights and sounds, signs and symptoms abound.

Day by day, the sun rises brilliant and bold closer to the center of the horizon. Ghostly layers of morning fog drift above row after row of tan tasseled field corn, the stalks stunted by the parching summer heat and subpar precipitation.

Teachers’ cars already sit early and stay late in school parking lots while their masters slave away in the sweltering classrooms on their own time, already preparing for the year ahead. Mothers, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews accompany the fortunate ones, cutting out letters for holiday bulletin boards or hanging artwork to brighten the sterile schoolroom.

Workdays and evenings repeat the same preparations at Amish parochial schools. Schoolyards get mowed, windows washed, desks and books readied, backstops repaired, all to ensure everything is a go for the teachers and scholars on day one.

The busy buzz of back to school sales replaced the monotonous cicada chorus. Youngsters were glad for both.

The Holmes County Fair is over, this year celebrating not just another successful week, but its new digs. Farmers secretly wish the county commissioners would move up the start of the fair by a month just to get the rain when it’s needed the most. It poured right on schedule.

Multi-shades of brown paint the landscape. Flowers, well watered in the morning, wilt by afternoon.

Applesauce, sweet corn, and tomatoes are canned and frozen within days of one another. There is no rest for the gardeners, chefs, and lovers of all things natural, homegrown, and home-cooked. Succotash in January is the plan.

Orange barrels multiply overnight. Everyone’s pace quickens, except in construction zones. Time is fleeting, but we can neither increase nor decrease its speed.

At night, windows are thrown open even in homes with air conditioning. The concerts of the katydids and crickets are the reward.

The Perseid meteor showers, even more spectacular this year than most, are waning, along with the lightning bugs. Nature’s fireworks announce autumn’s awakening like an opened wedding invitation.

The boys of summer are sorting themselves out in some divisions, and bunching up in others. It’s marvelous to see the Cleveland Indians giving it ago, and those annoying Yankees not so much.

Footballers, pro, college, and high school, practice in the heat. Come playoffs, you can see the quarterback’s breath bark out the plays, we’re that close to the cold.

This year the Olympics caught the tail of summer’s dog days if one cared to watch. I chose to view the evening sky’s gold, silver, and bronze as the insects sang.

American Goldfinches, some of the last birds to incubate, escort their young to the feeders. Their thistledown nests will soon weather away in the forsythias.

August sunsets try hard to outdo the sunrises. Often the orange ball simply slinks out of sight, leaving only contrails glowing in the west.

From month’s beginning to end, nighttime quickens, too, and we wonder where both August and the summer went. They’re still here, just in shorter increments.

Despite the mini-drought, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables color local produce stands. Yellow, gold, crimson, and purple early blooming mums clash with the ubiquitous Bubblegum petunias. No one complains.

Wildfires burn out west, the result of global weirding and human intrusion on wildlife habitat. Like the drought, the fires will end though the intrusive expansions will not.

As August fades, life’s steady heartbeat thumbs its way into September. Are you ready?

Olympic sunset

Gold, silver, and bronze.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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The joys of a perfect midsummer day

oat shocks, Amish farm

Field soldiers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day began as another sleepy sonnet in a series of hot, muggy, midsummer dog days. It turned out to be an inspirational novella.

In keeping with my fair weather routine, I took my morning stroll. I typically immerse myself in the sights, sounds, and morning fragrances of field corn and fresh laundry.

Not this day. The air was thick, moist enough to ring it out and still be left holding a damp rag. Breathing even became a chore.

Already sweated, I dove into necessary yard work back home. I wanted to complete it before the elements became even more oppressive.

I donned my trusty work gloves. Out came the noxious poison ivy. Out went the volunteer walnut and oak seedlings sprouted from the nuts that the squirrels and blue jays had planted in the flowerbeds last fall. They conveniently abandoned them for my birdfeeders.

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Even with little rain, the shrubs seemed to have grown a foot while we were away. I grabbed the trimmer and snipped the wiry branches.

After cleaning up, I took breakfast in the shade of the back porch. With the high humidity, the chances of rain looked promising.

I checked the progress of the road repair in our rural township, the prettiest in the state. No, I’m not up for reelection. As a trustee, I just enjoy inspecting the roads, conversing with folks, and breathing in the beauty of the picturesque landscape.

My camera is my faithful sidekick on my rounds. I’m mindful of respecting Amish ways when it comes to photography. I focus on the agricultural artistry. The golds and greens are at their peak of brilliance even in this mini-drought.

While away, the neighbor mowed the adjacent alfalfa much to the delight of the swooping swallows and the purple martins. They harvested insects in concentric circles around the sturdy workhorses and their mowing master.

To the east, thunderstorms built fast and furious, their anvil tops reaching 60,000 feet. Our meteorological ingredients fed the liquid fortunes of folks 100 miles away.

In the afternoon heat, I turned to writing in the comfortable air conditioning. I confess to guiltlessly adding my two cents worth to global warming.

Neva worked her magic with dinner. We enjoyed a summer feast of fresh veggies and fruit washed down with freshly brewed garden mint tea.

As the storms moved further east, the air here cleared and cooled, if only because the dew point and humidity took a temporary break. Feeling refreshed, we walked around the parched flower gardens and discovered the season’s first monarch caterpillars.

It was about that time that a friend rode by on his bicycle and waved hello. We returned the gesture and moseyed into the house. We weren’t in long when the doorbell rang. It was Mark. He had turned around, and come for a spontaneous visit, the best kind.

Mark was a former student of mine. With more tea poured, we began a marvelous time of reminiscing on the back porch. He filled us in on his family and former classmates. We happily learned that he is now a grandfather.

We cherished his presence and friendly update, despite the unintentional reminder of how old my wife and I are. It was one of the main perks of living and working in the same community over time.

Rank and location have their privileges. So does having a view to the west. A stunning sunset proved a fitting end to a perfect summer’s day.

sunset, Holmes County OH

Stunning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Summer’s peak is upon us

Amish farm, wheat shocks

Grains of summer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

At this time of year, I especially like to frequent one particular lofty spot a few miles from home in the township where I live in Ohio’s Amish country. The view alone keeps me inspired, thankful and refreshed.

From there I watch the sky dotted with patches of cottony clouds tease the earth. Sun and shadows ripple across golden wheat shocks, lush rows of cornstalks, and ripening honey-colored oats. Green alfalfa already blankets the floor where the shocks stand.

I look west far across the Killbuck Valley to the up sloping hills miles away. Tin topped roofs twinkle in the morning light as the clouds and sun play their game of tag.

eastern bluebird eggs

Eastern Bluebird eggs.

Turning east, Berlin bustles with the business of tourists and locals alike. Even with binoculars, I couldn’t see the money exchanging of course. It just does as cash is traded for fresh peaches and cucumbers and t-shirts.

All the while I unknowingly entertain a family of Barn Swallows teetering and twittering on a power line. Eastern Meadowlarks fly their funny flight from fence post to nest, gurgling all the way.

Back home, the House Wrens begin their second nesting in the ceramic nest bottle hung up for them. The adult Baltimore Orioles lead their fledglings to the grape jelly feeder, encouraging them to partake. The young just squeak and childishly flap their wings.

The Eastern Bluebirds carefully attend their bright blue eggs in the box attached to the old clothesline pole. A bowl of fine grasses and soft pine straw caress the delicate eggs. It’s their second clutch, too.

The Chimney Swifts are as active as any time since they arrived in early April. Their young prattle their pleasure each time the parents swoop into the chimney with a force that rattles the fireplace doors.

The birds made quick work of the ripened black raspberries while we were away for a few days. They left their thank you notes where I was sure to find them, splattered on the sidewalk.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

At my neighbors, the Purple Martins hold court discussing their eventual departure. Too soon, they’ll join the orioles and others on their long journey.

Other symptoms also point to the fact that we indeed are halfway through the summer. Queen Anne’s Lace, bulbous red clover blossoms, and cerulean chicory blooms decorate even the busiest country road.

Well-attended domestic flower gardens are in full bloom. Roses have replaced tulips, and dainty poppies with pastel crepe paper petals wave in gentle summer breezes. Fragrant milkweed flowers sweeten the air, attracting bees, butterflies, and other assorted insects.

The first tomatoes, like green golf balls, swell on the vines. Warm nights and bright sunshine will soon transform them into juicy redheads if the rains return.

I got a surprise verification of summer’s peak from a rare source. I encountered a small wagon train of folks traveling the local roads. They have done so in early July for 22 years now. The troupe from northwest Ohio camps at local farms always energized by the hearty welcome they receive.

Towns and civic organizations hold annual festivals to celebrate the season of plenty. They also try to make a little money while they’re at it.

The heart of summer beats loud, strong, and sure this time of year. I love to take its pulse. Its healthy palpations are life-giving, uplifting, invigorating, and transforming.

This summit of summer enables us to appreciate all of life’s goodness. Let’s enjoy the momentous moments before they wane.

grain crops, Amish farm

The long view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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