Category Archives: birds

Finding a new sanctuary

Big Meadows.


Not long after we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley more than two years ago, I sought a nature spot. I wanted a place where I could practice my photography, quietly watch birds, or simply do some walking.

I had many such places within an hour of our home in Holmes County, Ohio. They all had their unique features that attracted many folks in addition to fulfilling my photography, birding, and hiking desires. I had hoped to find one location close to our Virginia home that met those needs, too.

I have plenty of choices when it comes to getting out into nature for walks, birding, and photography in the Shenandoah Valley. I hit the trifecta if I can incorporate all three into one trip.

When you have a national park within the boundaries of your county, the answer seems obvious. It’s a 40 minutes drive to the park’s closest entrance. Shenandoah National Park was formed out of parts of eight Virginia counties, Rockingham among them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The park offers a host of options for visitors, though I have only been able to thoroughly explore a few so far. Big Meadows is one of those, and to date, it has been my go-to spot.

Big Meadows is a wide-open space on the summit of Skyline Drive at mile-marker 51. Its simplistic name perfectly describes its main feature. The place is a big meadow.

What’s it doing there, and why? With the park’s dense forests, fast-running streams that often lead to crashing waterfalls, Big Meadows is an anomaly to the park. No one seems to know how or why Big Meadows was formed. It’s certainly a fish out of water given the diverse geology, geography, and biology in Shenandoah National Park.

Big Meadows is and always has been lush with wildflowers, grasses, and low shrubs. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans camped in Big Meadows. Evidence shows they used controlled burns to flush out the abundant wildlife of the area. The park service still uses controlled burns to keep Big Meadows Big Meadows.

The area is more than a big meadow, however. The Byrd Visitors Center offers an informative display on the formation of the park, along with a gift store, and restrooms. A way station for hikers, an amphitheater, a lodge, restaurant, campgrounds, picnic areas, and multiple hiking trails can all be reached from Big Meadows.

A few photos from my most recent visit to Big Meadows. Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Of course, the Appalachian Trial runs on the west slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the edge of Big Meadows. Waterfalls are not far away along with some incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley.

On a hot summer’s day, Big Meadows is a pleasant escape from the valley’s heat and humidity. The temperature on the mountain can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

Even for those who aren’t able to hike very far, Big Meadows offers a lot. Visitors can sit in their cars while butterflies flit from one group of flowers to another. I’ve even seen dark-eyed juncos pecking for food around the Byrd Visitors Center in the summer.

The winter weather gets so wicked, however, that I tend to only visit spring, summer, and fall. Besides, the park often closes the Skyline Drive in the winter anyhow.

Everyone needs a place to get away, a place to relax, to take a load off, retreat from the hectic, pounding pace that we’ve come to know in the early 21st century. Big Meadows is such a place for me. Where is yours?

The view of the Shenandoah Valley from Big Meadows Lodge.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

9 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Why September is the golden month

September in the Shenandoah Valley.

My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.

“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.

As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.

An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.

I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.

Turning.

Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.

On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.

A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.

Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.

Not the usual V-pattern.

On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.

The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.

On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.

In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?

September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.

Pumpkins galore.

I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.

Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.

Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

9 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Atlantic Puffin


My wife and I booked the first wildlife and lighthouse boating excursion of the year out of Bar Harbor, Maine in mid-May. The guide had promised that we would see lighthouses, harbor seals, bald eagles, and Atlantic Puffins. It was the latter that most intrigued me.

I had never seen a puffin in the wild. I not only wanted to see some but photograph the cute birds, too. The tour guide and ship’s crew made good on all their promises. When we got to Petit Manan Island, Maine, everyone including the crew was surprised to see dozens of puffins. We stayed a safe distance away from the birds to ensure their safety. At first, small flocks circled the boat in a feeble flight. I snapped away.

While nearly everyone else was focused on the birds in the water and on the island ahead of us, I spotted a few loners in the ocean that appeared nearer the boat. I did my best to steady the camera and focused on one particular puffin bobbing on the choppy waves.

After taking several pictures, I checked to see if I had any keepers. I was pleasantly surprised to find this shot of a puffin with nesting material in its bulbous beak. Puffins are often photographed with multiple small fish sticking out of both sides of their bills. But nesting material was another matter. Another photographer on board had the same capture. We were both overjoyed to have a decent shot of something not often seen.

Adding the Atlantic Puffin to my life list was one thing. Capturing this shot was something else altogether.

“Atlantic Puffin” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

1 Comment

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

The colors of August

Wheat shocks at sunset.

The colors of August captivate me. Living nearly all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio gave me a full range of that summer paint pallet.

The pleasing contrasting greens and golds quickly got my attention. I admired the rolling contoured rows of lush green field corn against the toasted waves of winter wheat.

In the eastern part of the county, wheat shocks stood as sentinels guarding the fattening ears of corn nearby. Unfortunately, their presence seldom deterred the deer from nibbling the outer rows to the cob.

The blooming alfalfa brought pretty butterflies, honeybees, and other vital pollinators. The swooping swallows had their own feast, especially when the farmers made their August cuttings whether by tractors or horse-drawn mowers.

August was when the vibrant green leaves of deciduous trees began to curl in the heat, humidity, and parched soil. By month’s end, a few even turned brown or began to color.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I always enjoyed the flowers that bordered blossoming gardens or multiple flowerbeds like my wife cultivated to perfection. Hollyhocks were my favorite until the gladiolas raised their pink, red, yellow, and white flags.

I would be negligent if I failed to mention the summer birds, some of which had already begun their return flight south. Though not as vocal as earlier in the year, most still showed their breeding colors.

The flashing iridescent red on emerald of the male ruby-throated hummingbird and the flashy orange and black of Baltimore orioles spruced up any welcoming yard, if only temporarily. Sometimes the two species vied for dibs at the sugar-water feeders.

By months end, early morning coolness brought silent, silken fog that glowed bronze with the rising sun. If eyes were sharp, silver droplets dotted the dewy threads of spider webs artistically strung from one barbed wire strand to another.

Much of that changed, however, when my wife and I moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Like Holmes County, the Valley, as locals like to call it, is the breadbasket of the south. Agriculture still rules the rural areas.

Farming is a bit different here, however. Though the Old Order Mennonites still drive horses and buggies, they man the latest farm machinery invented. As thrifty as their Amish cousins, they often farm right up to the roadway.

Though the topography is similar, strip cropping is seldom used. No-till farming seems to be the in thing here. The result is wide swaths of wheat sown between two fields of field corn or the tallest soybeans I have ever seen. It’s still green and gold, just different species.

With soil that hardly ever freezes and being further south, the growing season is longer. Farmers and gardeners get an earlier start on planting and consequently harvesting. The colors I was used to in August begin to appear in July. Produce stands evidence that.

The produce peak, however, still seems to be August. My wife and I can attest to that thanks to the generosity of our son and daughter’s families. They gifted us a weekly produce box known as CSA, Community Supporting Agriculture.

End of August morning.

We have already enjoyed weeks’ worth of fresh, organic produce that is as tasty as it is luscious to admire. Mellow yellow summer squash, prickly green pickles, plump red tomatoes, sweet red beets, orange cantaloupe, and juicy red watermelon make our summer meals perfect.

Happy to merely admire the colors, I almost hate to have Neva slice, dice, fry, cook, and can the colorful lot. I change my mind, however, with the fresh salsa alone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

2 Comments

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

Dreaming on a dreamy day

A pleasant June afternoon.


It was only 3 in the afternoon, and I felt like taking a nap.

I had slept well, gone to physical therapy for my cranky back and my bothersome tennis elbow and had my ouchie knee taped. When I got home, I took my morning walk around the neighborhood.

After a light lunch of leftovers, I got busy writing and met my deadline. I grabbed the book I had failed to crack on vacation and headed for the sun-drenched patio adjacent to our back porch. I took a glass of clear, cold water with me and plunked down in a lawn chair with my back to the warming afternoon sun.

Earlier that day, a friend in Ontario, Canada had posted a photo of herself wearing a winter jacket. It was early June. I just chuckled and went on about my day. I was exceedingly glad that yesterday’s front had cleared out the heat and humidity from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, giving us this glorious day.

Instead of sleeping, I wanted to take advantage of the pleasant weather. So there I was on the patio, book in hand, my focus elsewhere. The sky was the bluest blue, occasionally interrupted by fluffy cotton balls that lazily floated high overhead.

Backyard color

Given the series of recent damp days, it was nice to sit outside without getting wet. However, at my age, I mind my dermatologist. I wear sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat in the bright sunshine.

The northwest wind that had brought the below normal temperatures also waft intoxicating floral fragrances from an unknown source in the neighborhood. I knew it wasn’t me. I hadn’t yet showered.

The high-pitched humming of lawnmowers from three different directions buzzed in my ears, grating against the loveliness of the heavens and the sweet-smelling aroma. Life isn’t perfect, I rationalized.

Besides, those necessary but annoying mechanical noises had competition. Northern cardinals sang their repertoire of melodies. I can’t prove it, but I am pretty confident sound engineers mimicked the cardinal calls when they invented electronic emergency vehicle sirens. They just gave them strange, non-avian names like yelp, warble, and power call.

Still, the birds crooned and chased one another. It was nesting season after all, and birds follow their innate instincts to protect their territories and their young. Common grackles attacked a common crow that likely tried to steal one of their babies.

On the wire.

That’s the only way I can explain why one would fly away with a baby rabbit dangling from its bill. Furthermore, the distraught mother bunny desperately hopped in feeble pursuit of the crow. I had recently witnessed the kidnapping unfold in our neighbor’s front lawn.

American robins joined the cardinal chorus as if it were dawn, not mid-afternoon. Chimney swifts twittered overhead. I wanted to reply, but unlike a certain important someone, I don’t tweet.

About then, an American goldfinch lighted briefly at the birdbath right beside me. It flew at my slightest first movement.

One by one, the lawnmowers ceased. Mourning dove coos lulled me back to my book. I read a chapter and headed back inside to take that nap.

It had been a busy day, and I didn’t even mention that I had made a morning trek to the county landfill to deposit yard clippings and recycling. While unloading the cardboard, I chatted briefly with a professional baseball player who lives in the county. He was gracious as usual, but I’ll admit to being mildly disappointed that he never mentioned my Cleveland Indians t-shirt.

It’s great to have fair weather, even if it’s only for a day or two. It’s better, however, to be retired to fully enjoy it.

A dreamy end to a dreamy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Spontaneity spices up every trip

I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better than this. I was wrong.

Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.

We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.

When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.

We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way. Of course, now that we are retired, we can really take our time. We often avoid interstates and expressways if at all possible.

Pointing the way.

On a recent trip to New England, we were traveling on U.S. 1 along the Maine coast when Neva had an idea. Friends had a summer home somewhere in Maine, so she decided to text her college friend to find out how near we were to their vacation place. It turned out we were really close.

Since I was driving, Neva read aloud the text replies. Our friend said they turn right at the Dairy Queen. I looked up and low and behold there was the DQ. We had to seize this moment that seemed meant to be.

I turned the van around and headed down the road. Meanwhile, Neva was getting the address and specific instructions to their house. They were perfect.

Even in the rain and fog, the sights along the way were breathtaking. We wound our way down the peninsula toward the sea, passing trees, houses, local businesses, streams, marshes, and estuaries.

Along the way, we found calendar-worthy real-life scenes. I noted places I wanted to photograph on the way back to the highway. Our first priority was to find their home. It wasn’t hard. Decorative homemade signs tacked to a tree got my attention, and pointed the way to Little River Road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had seen photos of the lovely seaside home and its vista before. Even though fog limited our view, we were immediately entranced. Surrounded by birds singing, gulls calling, waves crashing, the mingled fragrance of pines and ocean, we were smitten.

Neva stayed on the deck while the sea drew me down the slight hill. From the rocky beach, I spotted a small flock of common eiders floating offshore. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls claimed a sandy point across the way. It was the place our friends walked to at low tide.

I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. A sense of peace and longing overcame me, and I gladly embraced it. Standing there in person I felt like Walt Whitman.

I didn’t want to leave, but we had no other choice. I stopped several times as we headed back north. I photographed boats moored waiting for their owners, canoes cast aside long ago but resting as if their occupants had stopped for lunch. Forsythia bloomed bright against the fog and reflected mirror-like in the positively calm waters.

I was ecstatic, electrified at the surreal wonderland all around me. I was so glad we had played our hunch and made that U-turn.

Driving a scenic highway was one thing. Spending a little time surrounded by this unexpected beauty was quite another. Once again, spontaneity rewarded us with a sweet, memorable encounter.

Right where they were left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

6 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, birding, birds, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, weather, writing

Sensing a bit of home wherever we go

Catskill farmstead.


My wife and I enjoy traveling.

Planning for travel sometimes takes longer than the trips themselves. We prioritize the places we want to see, activities we want to do, and connect with any friends we can visit along the way.

We leave plenty of room for flexibility. Spontaneity spices up every trip. We also try to include some downtime, opportunity to recharge and reflect. As much as we travel, I never know when and how that time will arrive.

For me, travel is a multi-task opportunity. I bird, photograph, explore, meet the locals, and record the highlights. Occasionally, like on this trip, bad weather interferes with the plans we have made. We adjust accordingly.

Steady rain and low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains around us, which kept me inside. We were in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we caught up to spring’s emergence. Coltsfoot and lady slippers bloomed.

I birded by window watching. Five deer emerged from the newly leafing trees to graze in the grassy meadow that served as a yard around the house that we had rented. A pair of common yellow-throated warblers fed and frolicked in the dampened branches of a nearby bush.

This was so much like home, both our former Ohio home and our newer home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Together the mountains, forests, rushing streams from too much spring rain, and the wildlife made it feel like home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yet, it wasn’t home, either Ohio or Virginia. We were transients, merely passing through, seeing the sights, and taking in the grandeur of the fabled Catskills.

That afternoon, my wife and I drove around the countryside despite the dreariness and the constant rain. No cell signal rendered our GPS useless. The perpetually winding roads hugged the bases of the mountains like a child clinging to his mother’s apron. Steep wooded hillsides on one side, roiling waters raced over boulders on the other. In the summer, these would be braided streams, more rocks than water.

With the low clouds, the mountains all scrunched in around us, a myriad of curves on the rural roads. Road signs, either numbered or named, were few and far between. Priding myself on knowing directions, I had lost my bearings.

We stopped at the local post office for directions to our desired destination. Just then, a customer arrived and told us to go to the stop sign and turn right. The way he pointed and his casualness about turning at the stop sign renewed my hope. Reality set in. The stop sign was five miles away. I made the right-hand turn, and I regained my orientation.

In Holmes County, Ohio, we had rolling hills, and expansive woodlots, abundant agriculture, valleys carved by old-aged streams, and helpful people. The same was valid for Virginia, only mountains east and west dwarfed the valley hills and farmlands. In the Catskills, farmland is confined to hillside and floodplain pastures. Gardeners erect six-foot high messed wire fences in small truck patches to abate the deer.

One particular quirk became obvious. Everywhere we went scores of roadside, no trespassing signs warned people to stay away. Apparently, property owners and hunting and fishing clubs control access not only to the land but also the water flowing through. Places for public access to the alluring trout streams were far and few between.

The legalistic signs unsettled me and softened my comparison to the mores of our former and current home. However, they in no way spoiled our appreciation for all the natural beauty and genuine human kindness we encountered along the way.

Despite the dreary, wet weather, we felt right at home with scenes like this.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

4 Comments

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

May is for the birds

Birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

May is for the birds. Thousands of bird lovers young and old clearly would understand what I mean.

Birders live for spring migration. Birds large and small that headed south for warmer winter climes return north to their annual breeding grounds. May is the peak month for such movement.

Where the boardwalk begins.

Birders clamor for any and every chance to find rare birds or to compile as many species as they can see or hear in a day or week or month. There is no better place in North America to do that than a small state-managed wildlife area in northwest Ohio called Magee Marsh. Birds and birders both flock to the estuaries, marshlands, and small woodlots that abut Lake Erie’s southwestern shore.

Even if you don’t count yourself among the aviary flock, it’s worth a trip just for the experience. Cruise through the expansive parking lot, and you’ll find vehicles of all shapes and sizes with license plates from across the country and Canada. Human participants even fly in from foreign countries for the spectacular migratory happening.

Part of the draw is an organized and orchestrated event tabbed “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” sponsored by a little non-profit known as the Black Swamp Birding Observatory.

The “week” is actually multiple days in early May. This year it’s May 3-12. Many species of birds, especially warblers, use Magee Marsh and surrounding protected wetlands as rest stops before winging it over Lake Erie into Canada. The first landing spot for many is Point Pele near Leamington, Ontario, just across the lake.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The colorful songbirds sometimes hang like Christmas tree ornaments from tree branches. Birders ogle from boardwalks that wind their way through the trees and along ponds and wetland habitats.

Workshops and lectures are also held to inform interested parties about the latest findings on bird populations, behaviors, and dwindling habitats. Guided field trips are also available. Of course, you can also buy birding supplies, books, and equipment.

But it’s the birds that matter. Youngsters and oldsters, groups and individuals ply their skills at searching for the latest arrived species. Word of a Canadian warbler, a secretive bird with a quiet call, spreads quickly among the birders. Just locate the crowd with spotting scopes and binoculars aimed in search of the prize.

If by chance a real rarity shows, like the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the crowd suddenly shifts to add to their life list of seeing this worshiped species. Only a small number still summer in the jack pines of the Lower Michigan peninsula.

Yes, that is a Kirtland’s Warbler, and another one was spotted there yesterday, May 3, 2019.

Of course, northwest Ohio is not the only migration hotspot on the continent. Cape May, New Jersey, southern Arizona, the coastlines of Florida and California to name a few also host migrating birds and curious birders. Coastal regions and contiguous topography with natural waterways, ponds, and habitat provide flyways for the returning birds.

Sleepy.

Birds need cover, food, water, and safe spaces to rest and refuel to continue their journey and reach their destination. In the fall, they’ll repeat the process in reverse, only dressed in more camouflaged colors.

In many species, it’s the flashy colors that birders love to view, if only for a few precious seconds. Some of the species call northern Ohio home for the summer.

School groups, church groups, family groups, young birder groups, birding clubs, and just curious individuals celebrate these early spring days searching for any shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that happen to be passing through.

It’s spring migration after all when May really is for the birds.

Kim Kaufman (right) and her dedicated staff make the Biggest Week in American Birding happen.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

7 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, news, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

Red in the morning


I spend a lot of time at my desk writing and working on photos. From that vantage point, I can look out a front window and watch the day unfold in our little corner of the world. That includes watching birds come and go at the front yard feeders that hang from the red maple tree 20 feet from the house.

Of course, my binoculars and cameras are at the ready when needed. When this male Northern Cardinal perched on a limb in the morning sunshine, I grabbed my camera and clicked away. This was the only shot where the bird was not partially concealed by the unfolding red maple seeds. I felt fortunate to capture the moment, especially shooting through a double-paned window.

Such encounters help brighten each day. “Red in the morning” is my Photo of the Week.

4 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Enjoy each moment

The roaring stream.

Though my quirky back was acting up again, I ventured out to hike on a lovely spring morning to enjoy all the out-of-doors had to offer. I soon learned that included a few unexpected showers. Partially sheltered by the unfolding forest canopy, I managed to survive the spritzing.

Wanting to literally catch the early birds, I arrived at the trailhead an hour after sunrise. As soon as I exited my vehicle, I knew I was in trouble when it came to hearing the alluring calls of the warblers and other songbirds I sought. The nearby stream was running full force, roaring off the Blue Ridge Mountains eager to make the confluence of the majestic Shenandoah River only a couple of miles away.

The “easy” path.

I had chosen the trail for its undemanding topography. It was actually a fire and service road for the National Park Service. I knew the path would be relatively easy on my aching back unless I chose to venture off on more rugged terrain.

You can guess what happened. Though the road afforded me plenty of opportunities to view many blooming wildflowers and see and hear various birds on the wing, Madison Run called my name.

With my diminished hearing, the noisy stream drowned out most bird sounds for me. I didn’t complain. The variety and beauty of the many wildflowers more than made up for the lack of bird activity or my ability to find them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For eons, the stream has slowly eroded its winding path to the Shenandoah. Wearing down ancient limestone bedrock all those centuries, the watercourse relentlessly carves its way. Gravity is its master.

Madison Run has created its own flood plain, often wide, undulating lowlands laden with second growth oaks, wild cherry, maples, and tulip poplar. Mountain laurel, native hemlock, dogwoods, and redbuds predominate the undergrowth. In other spots, the rock-filled stream barely squeezes between the narrow mountain gaps it helped form long, long ago.

Pink, blue, and white phlox prettied the forest floor and outcroppings along the road. Blue and yellow violets dotted the roadside as well. The redbuds and dogwoods dabbed their lavender and white among the tender green shoots of the hardwoods below the broken gray cloud cover.

Tree swallows sailed overhead, dining on insects pollinating the incalculable blooms. Higher up, a lone raven glided silently above the treetops.

A particular birdsong again drew me off the trail towards the rushing water. Careful with my steps, I knew the bird was close, but I could not find it. The lilt of the Louisiana waterthrush more than compensated for my weak eyesight.

Further upstream, water rolled over a long-ago toppled ash, creating a mini-low-head dam. Here the generally shallow stream held pools of clear, deep water. Stones once part of the mountainside now served as river bottom and rocky shelves akin to sandbars.

I enjoyed whatever each moment brought me. In the few hours of my adventure, plenty of moments caught my attention. Therein was the secret of my success. The din of the world couldn’t reach me in this sacred place, this natural sanctuary.

Spring moments like these won’t last long. You can’t ask the spring beauties. They have already made their exit after their showy but all too brief appearance.

The great novelist P.D. James once penned: “We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.”

Standing in that forest surrounded by wildflowers, birdsong,
and the din of rushing waters, I graciously concurred.

A lovely setting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

3 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing