Tufted Titmouse

A most attractive and affable bird.

Tufted Titmice are some of the cutest, most personable birds around. Their fairly plain coloration belies their personalities. These acrobatic birds are welcome at any backyard bird feeder. You can often hear them coming before you see them. Their variety of clarion calls are music to my ears. They whistle and call in a variety of ways, sometimes sounding as if they are scolding. Tufted Titmice are often accompanied by the local Chickadee patch.

Seen across much of the eastern United States, these active birds devour black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts. They are fun to watch and seldom sit still. I felt fortunate to be able to snap this profile of this Tufted Titmouse. It enables you to see all the bird’s identifying features: its stubby black bill, black forehead, pointy crest, its dominant gray color with rusty sides. The bird’s beady black eyes against its pale face make it easy to see where it gets its name.

“Tufted Titmouse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It’s an old-fashioned Ohio winter

Except we live in Virginia.

Just another snowstorm in northeast Ohio.

So far, this certainly has been an old-fashioned Ohio winter. The only problem with that statement is that we live in Virginia.

I was afraid this might happen since my wife and I decided to forgo our usual weeks-long hiatus to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. It wasn’t always warm in our snowbird retreat there either, but at least it never snowed.

My preferred winter morning scene.

I don’t mind the snow so much. It’s the cold that gets to me. The older I get, the colder I get. My doctor blames that phenomenon on some of the medications that I take. Still, the results are the same.

My wife and I determined it best for us to stay close to home here in the Shenandoah Valley during the pandemic. We didn’t want to miss our chance at getting our virus vaccines since we were in a priority category to receive the shots.

We decided that it was better to endure the usually milder winters of Virginia than those of the Buckeye State we knew so well. This year there’s hardly been a difference.

Scenes from Ohio winters.

We have had cold, windy, wet, snowy, and often gray winter days. It hasn’t been as bad as living in the northeast Ohio Snowbelt. But we still feel those cold Arctic northwest winds nevertheless.

The Allegheny Mountains to our west help block some of the storms, and their western upslopes receive much more snow than we do here in the valley. However, if a storm tracks east of the mountains, we get our fair share of the white stuff, too. Snow and cold have been the rule, not the exception this winter for us.

So far this winter, we have had multiple measurable snowstorms. Some even lasted for a couple of days. We are used to seeing more sunny days here than we did in Ohio. Not this winter. I miss my frequent doses of vitamin D.

There is one good thing about snow in Virginia. It shuts everything down, significantly decreasing the number of drivers trying to test their macho mettle.

In Ohio, severe winter storms also closed schools, businesses, and highways. But that didn’t stop hardy souls from enjoying the snow. In extreme storms, snowmobiles ruled the roads until the snowplows ruined the fun.

Friends have teased us about all the winter storms we’ve had so far this year. “I thought you moved south,” they jest. My rational reply always is, “Yes, just not far enough south.” For the record, we are at the same latitude as Cincinnati.

Of course, we moved here for the grandkids. I’m pleased that they also have sledding hills to conquer and snow forts to build, as we did as youngsters. I’m contented to hear about their fun rather than join in.

Scenes for Virginia winters.

Snow brings more than recreation, though. The aesthetic results of valley snowstorms are a marvel. Like our former home, rolling farms dot the landscape of our expansive county. When blanketed with inches of snow, the already pastoral scenes turn majestic.

The mountainous landscapes become black and white panoramas of steeply sloped woods sprouting from white forest floors. Old Order Mennonites in buggies and on bikes don’t let the slippery stuff stop their endeavors. In that regard, it feels just like Holmes County, too.

The nice thing is that we don’t have to leave our home to enjoy the snow-sculpted scenery. Frosted branches of the neighbors’ evergreens bend low from the wet, white weight. We miss the Florida sunshine, but Neva and I are enjoying the beauty of wintertime in Virginia just as much as we did in Ohio.

Snow-covered Old Order Mennonite farms at the base of the Allegheny Mountains.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The helpfulness of neighbors

When it is least expected and most appreciated

What is it about a snowstorm that brings out the best in people? Is it the commonality of being snowed-in?

Is it the down-deep desire to be helpful in any way possible? Is it the freshness of the pure white landscape plastered with inches of snow? Or is it the clean, cold, wholesome air?

Or maybe it’s out of the genuine goodness of people’s hearts, the opportunity and ability to help where help is needed that stirs folks into action. Perhaps it is all of these things rolled into one.

Whatever the motivation, the results are the same. Neighbors come together for the common good of all simply because there is a job to do.

In this case, it was to clear driveways and sidewalks.

Our National Weather Service office did an excellent job of warning the good people of the Commonwealth that a winter storm was imminent. Just the mention of snow in the forecast in Virginia, and schools, factories, and offices close.

Even if you had missed the winter storm warning announcement, the crowds at every grocery store should have raised an internal alarm. Supermarkets become jammed the day before, with folks buying enough supplies to last for weeks. I figured for this storm that the only milk left in the county belonged to the dairy cows still in the milking parlor stanchions.

So, yes, we were ready for snow, and when we woke the next morning, we weren’t disappointed. A beautiful five-inches blanketed everything animate and inanimate all around our suburban neighborhood.

The forecast was for the quick burst of heavy snow followed by a lull with more snow once the low hit the east coast. The wrap-around snow later from the nor’easter provided another three inches over a much more extended period.

After I had measured the snow depth at 7 a.m., I shoveled our front sidewalk and a path out to the street. I came back in to send in my snow report via email to the National Weather Service and eat breakfast.

Before I could return to the shoveling, Neva hollered that our neighbor Frank was snow-blowing our driveway. I hurriedly dressed for the elements and headed back outside. I thanked Frank but told him that he didn’t need to be doing our driveway.

A beautiful early morning snow.

Frank chuckled and modestly said that his snowblower needed the dust blown out of it. Given how little snow we usually receive in the Shenandoah Valley, I understood his comment. However, this winter has been different, and this was Frank’s first opportunity to use his machine.

Frank had already cleaned his driveway and that of another neighbor before doing ours. When he finished at our place, he went to Janice’s across the street.

To our surprise, our good-neighbor assistance continued. Frank had no sooner left when our next-door neighbor Wayne showed up and started shoveling the remaining snow. I tried to wave him off, but he was determined.

Then out of nowhere popped Jonathan and his mother, Deb, our across-the-street friends. They joined Wayne in clearing all the leftover snow. Of course, Neva and I helped, too.

I could hear snowblowers on other streets in our nearly 500-home development. We weren’t the only recipients of neighbors helping neighbors.

Neva and I were both thankful and humbled by the spontaneous actions of generosity. It would have taken me much longer than the few minutes that Frank and his impromptu crew needed to clear our drive.

But where were we going to go? Virginia was closed for the day and, just for good measure, the next day, too.   

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Fly Me to the Moon

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Standing at the kitchen sink yesterday morning, I happened to notice the crescent moon hanging in the southeastern morning sky. I grabbed my camera and headed out to the patio to shoot the moon so to speak before the sun blinded it from view.

I took the photo and turned to go back inside since it was 15 degrees outside. I happened to notice a jet streaking through the sky to the left of the moon. I braced myself against the frame of our porch door and took this handheld shot just as the jet crossed in front of the moon. Immediately, the lyrics of Count Basie filled my mind. Of course, it was Frank Sinatra’s voice singing this iconic song.

“Fly Me to the Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Inside Out

Always look up. You might be surprised by what you see.

I debated about how to title my Photo of the Week. Posting an apparent abstract photo is unusual for me. I even thought about holding a contest as to what the content of this photo actually is. But, I decided against it, and instead gave you a hint in the title as to where this photo was taken, which was inside my house.

I also considered titling the photograph “Winter Abstract,” but settled on “Inside Out.” Any guesses as to what this photo shows?

This my friends is actually a shot of the skylight in our great room. The crinkly pattern in the center of the photo is six-inches of snow atop the curved glass. It drew my attention when my wife and I noticed how dark it was in that portion of the room. When I investigated, I knew I had to share this beauty.

“Inside Out” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021.

Full Moon Rising

Though this might resemble a nearly empty ball of yarn, it’s actually December’s full moon rising behind some trees. I’m posting this as a reminder to watch for tonight’s Wolf Full Moon. Hopefully, it will be clear where you live so you can enjoy its splendor without any obstructions.

“Full Moon Rising” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Birds bring me peace

Why I enjoy birds.

A male Northern Cardinal chows down on safflower seeds.

I’m thankful for birds. That’s one reason I spend the money, time, and effort to keep them happy most of the year-round. That’s never been truer than now.

Usually, my wife and I would be on Amelia Island, Florida, right now, enjoying the birds, wildlife, and strolls on the beach. The coronavirus, of course, changed all of that. We decided to continue to stay close to home. We also didn’t want to miss out on getting the vaccines to protect us from the virus.

So, instead of searching for great egrets, little blue herons, American white pelicans, willets, sanderlings, and black skimmers, I’m settling for mostly seedeaters this winter. I’m just as happy.

Watching the various birds interact, feed at the different stations I have set up in the front and back yards, and at the heated birdbaths helps the time pass. Like humans, food and water are essential ingredients for the birds and too many aggressive squirrels during the cold and dark days of winter.

I have the feeders placed where I can watch them from where I spend most of my time. I can observe the comings and goings from my office window facing the street or enjoy the multiple feeders in the backyard from the bathroom window. Those who know me well will clearly understand that logic.

Three feeders dangle from the front yard red maple, and cracked corn is spread around its trunk. In the back, a suet feeder attracts members of the woodpecker family, the neighborhood northern mockingbird, and Carolina wrens, to name a few.

A squirrel-proof tube feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds draws in northern cardinals, house finches, Carolina chickadees, a few tufted titmice, and white-throated nuthatches. Dark-eyed juncos peck the ground for what other birds drop or miss.

Most of these birds are relatively regular to the feeders. The more elusive birds, like the purple finches and pine siskins, are inconsistent with their visits. Still, I am delighted when they arrive, even if it is only for a brief time.

Of course, I miss heading to Spoonbill Pond on Big Talbot Island to see an everchanging variety of shorebirds, waterfowl species, and raptors. But an occasional strafe of a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk or a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead helps keep my mind focused.

Last year was a universally challenging year in nearly every aspect of life. A year into the virus, hope for relief grows closer by the day. The virus, however, has likely yet to peak.

In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to stay close to home and enjoy whatever birds come our way. I like watching the different habits and behaviors of the birds and their wildlife counterparts.

One particular white-throated sparrow prefers the confines of a hanging feeder made of a hollowed-out limb. This sparrow jumps and kicks at the safflower and black oil sunflower seeds as if it were on the ground scratching for food. That’s what the rest of the white-throated do.

Recently, a lone American crow began visiting. It feeds on the cracked corn spread beneath the red maple. I know it’s the same bird because of its persistent limp.

Despite their bossiness, I even enjoy the squadron of blue jays that loudly announce their arrival as a warning to the other birds. Then they divebomb onto the feeders and ground and gulp down dozens of seeds.

I miss Florida’s birds, but I enjoy the birds that fill each day here at home. They salve my soul.

Brown Pelicans arrive to roast for the evening along the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Splish, Splash!

Northern Cardinals in a birdbath.

I was fortunate to catch this pair of Northern Cardinals making good use of the birdbath in our backyard. A heater keeps the water from freezing so the backyard birds have access to water year-rouncd.

If you are not familiar with Bobby Darin’s hit rock and roll song, “Splish Splash,” click the link.

“Splish, Splash” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Horses in the snow

Horses in the snow.

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

Seeing horses was an everyday occurrence when my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio. We would see horses pass by our home on the busy county road daily pulling carts, buggies, and wagons.

The Amish still use workhorses, like the ones shown here, for their field work. Mechanical power was shunned in order to literally ground and keep the Amish connected to their earthy roots.

This photo shows a pair of workhorses amidst a wicked snowstorm in bitterly cold conditions. Since they could not find grass on which to graze, their owners would bring hay and feed to sustain them. In the distance at the bottom of the hill, the fallen snow had already been started to be cleared so Amish youngsters could skate on the thick ice.

“Horses in the Snow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Evening Grosbeaks

I had heard that flocks of Evening Grosbeaks were in the Rockingham Co., Virginia area. However, I could never discover where they were showing up on a regular basis. Then a friend from Ohio, where we used to live, sent me a text with a photo of Evening Grosbeaks that were regular visitors at her brother’s feeders. He lived a little more than 10 miles from our home.

I called and received persmission to photograph the birds. The home owner, also a birder, said the birds usually fed in the morning between 7 and 9. My wife and I arrived around 8 a.m., and I drove slowly up the farm’s long driveway. As soon as I reached the back of the house where the feeders were, about 30 Evening Grosbeaks flew to trees not far away. I lowered the van windows and waited for them to return.

And return they did! I had both of my cameras along, and I clicked away. I had seen Evening Grosbeaks before, but never this close or this many. Normally, Evening Grosbeaks don’t venture this far south in the winter. But during irruption years, they appear almost randomly at various locations in the east and midwest. It is thought that an irruption occurs when the hatch rate of birds is high, but their usual food supplies can’t match the demand. Other species, like Snow Owls, also appear in irruptions. The Evening Grosbeaks were feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

“Evening Grosbeaks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020