Category Archives: nature photography

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

bullfrog, St. Patrick's Day

Kiss me. I’m green!

I’ve never been one to engage in the all-out celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. However, since March 17 is upon us, I thought I would dedicate my Photo of the Week to highlight that universal holiday.

I took this shot of what I believe to be a bullfrog sunning itself in a wildlife reserve section of a park in Albany, Oregon last August. It was the photo with the most green in it that I could find in my files. In keeping with the tradition of the day, the frog was likely singing, “Kiss me. I’m green.”

“Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


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

A Pile of Trouble

baby alligators, Egans Creek Greenway, Fernandina Beach FL

A Pile of Trouble.

This tangle of young alligators wasn’t as menacing as it looked. After a long and cold winter in northern Florida, the pile of two-year-old babies was merely sunning themselves on the shore of a channel in Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach. Their watchful mother enjoyed the sun at the surface of the water not far away.

This group of youngsters was only a part of the dozen babies that I could find amid the thick underbrush that hid their nest. When they first emerged last winter, I counted 22 young. Clearly, several of the younger alligators fell prey to predators or perhaps were eaten by their mother, a fairly common trait.

As you can see, the alligators, each about two-feet long, appear to be more than capable of fending for themselves. As the weather warms, mom will chase them away so she can begin the reproductive cycle all over again.

“A Pile of Trouble” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


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

Be the good in life

Florida sunrise, rays of hope

Morning rays of hope.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our lives are filled with bad news almost daily. Much of it is minor, insignificant. Too much, however, is horrific. News of flooding, earthquake, or another school shooting dominates the feeds on our electronic devices all too often.

Every now and then, however, a piece of good news manages to appear. It’s not always in the headlines of newspapers or featured on the trending social media of the day. Good news occurs nonetheless.

I believe that humans are still good by nature. A few prove me wrong, sometimes in a big way. However, adverse events can generate the best in people, often times spontaneously.

When two New York State Police officers working curbside at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport noticed a young woman sobbing after exiting her ride, they asked if she needed help. That’s when the good news story began to unfold.

Jordana Judson headed to the airport when she heard that a good family friend, Meadow Pollack, had been one of the 17 victims at the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Judson had graduated from that same school.

nature walk, mother and son

A mother hugs her son.

Judson wanted to fly home to attend a vigil for her friend. Only she was so distraught that she could hardly talk when the two officers, Thomas Karasinski and Robert Troy, approached her. Together they directed Judson to the proper counter to purchase her airline ticket.

When Judson was told that the one-way ticket would cost $700, she broke down again, exclaiming that she didn’t have that much money. Still crying, she tried to call her mother. In the process, Karasinski and Troy, who had never worked together before, each reached for their credit cards.

Judson tried to wave them off from making the purchase but was too late. The officers handed her the ticket. Judson said she didn’t know what to say about the officers’ exceptional kindness, but gave them each a hug before boarding her plane. Their instinctive act of kindness enabled Judson to attend the service for her deceased friend.

A spark of hope amid all the despair flickered when I read this marvelous story of compassion by the two police officers towards the distraught Judson. The story was so much more than the purchase of a plane ticket. The officers modeled what it means to be the good in life.

We should follow their lead, and we need not wait for a major tragedy to show kindness. Plenty of opportunities to be the good await us every day. We just need to be alert and respond when they present themselves.

Volunteer at a food pantry. Give your neighbor some flowers. Bake cookies for a friend. Buy coffee for a stranger in line behind you. Hug your spouse, your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was in the midst of writing this when a photographer friend in Florida shared with much excitement how her new day had begun. An anonymous person left a note of appreciation on her car door. Every morning Lea makes a point of photographing the ocean and seashore at sunrise, even if it is cloudy. She posts the results on social media for all her friends to see. Lea was effusive about the unexpected note. She concluded, “The greatest joy is giving joy to others.”

Lea is right. If we want to ensure that virtue occurs in the world, the awareness and compassion have to begin with each one of us.

sunrise, shorebirds, photographer

My friend Lea in action.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, news, photography, writing

Walking with the dolphins

Fernandina Beach FL, bottle-nosed dolphins

The walk begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love it when I can walk with the dolphins.

The time of the day is insignificant. I consider the stroll up or down the beach a blessed and rare privilege. The bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to mind at all. I doubt they are even aware of my presence. The closest ones surface and resurface just beyond the breakers.

If the relentless waves would soften their drumbeat upon the sand, I might even be able to hear the dolphins’ high-pitched squeaking and chatter as they undulate north or south, feeding, playing, the young ones occasionally showing off, jumping out of the water like flying fish. The rest of the pod continues with the business of foraging in the giving sea. The youngsters circle back, never far from mother’s side.

We watch for the dolphins from sunrise to sunset. With below average air and water temperatures this winter, the walks with the dolphins have been fewer than previous snowbird ventures. That only heightened my joy at each opportunity. Once I spot the dolphins, I hurry down the steps, across the wooden walkway to the gritty beach sand and begin my stroll.

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I walk fast trying my best to stick to the wetted sand where footfalls are firm but pliable. I have learned that my natural striding equals that of the dolphins’ cruising pace unless they change course or have their routine interrupted for some reason. I assure you, if they do, it’s not because of me. I watch them more than where I am going. They, however, don’t know I exist, which is my preference.

When I pass other beachgoers, perhaps walking their dogs or also just out for a morning or afternoon stroll on the beach, I ask, “Did you see the dolphins?” There are only two possible answers, whether verbal or nonverbal. A nod or “Yes” and I smile and keep walking. A “No” often followed by “Where?” and I point and wait until they, too, see the rhythmical appearing and disappearing fins, thank me, and walk on.

dolphins, Atlantic Ocean, Florida

Dolphins playing.

Dolphins are smart. They most often appear when the weather and water agree on calmness rather than a calamity. The dolphins slip through the water silently, hardly making a ripple. We seldom see them during a nor’easter, where the waves and wind collectively and relentlessly crash the shore.

I especially enjoy the walks at low tide when the ocean and the sky join forces to show all their true colors. Even on cloudy days, blues, pinks, purples, tans, greens, and frothy whites chase one another through the never-ending cycles of ebbing and flowing.

Overhead, Forester’s terns and squawking gulls trail the pods like kites on strings. The Forester’s hover and dive to the water’s surface, grabbing breakfast or brunch that have eluded the playful dolphins.

I inhale the sea spray and salty freshness simultaneously, joyfully, though I know my glasses will need a good cleaning once I return to our winter’s nest beyond the seashore dunes.

I stop to investigate a shell or take a photo with my cell phone of some artistic designs the sea and sky have jointly sculpted. I look up, and the dolphins are gone.

I retrace my footsteps, occasionally checking beyond the folding waters for any gray fins or reflective glints of the sun off wetted backs. Seeing none, I walk on, my heart and soul both warmed by the encounter that strengthened not only my muscles but my spirit, too.

That’s why I cherish each chance I get to walk with the dolphins.

natural art, sand, seashore

Seashore art.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under human interest, nature photography, travel, weather, writing


designs in the sand, beach


Sunny days or cloudy, high tide or low, the ever-changing elements of a walk on an oceanfront beach stir my senses and imagination. I try to keep a sharp eye out for the unusual. When I spotted these etchings in the sand, I saw a cross-section of roots reaching deep into fertile soil far below the floor of a magnificent forest.

In reality, these markings are nothing more than the tracings of pebbles and shells first being washed upon the shore and then just as quickly drawn back into the sea by its never-ending motion. They still looked like tree roots to me.

“Roots” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography

The Beach Lady’s lasting legacy

American Beach, Amelia Island FL

American Beach today.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In the United States, February has been designated as Black History Month for many years now. Some schools, libraries, and other institutions give the theme only cursory attention while others plan meaningful and memorable events, including art shows, lectures, and dramas.

When my wife and I discovered Amelia Island’s American Beach on one of our Florida snowbird retreats, our interest piqued. We quickly learned a lot about decades of injustices, discrimination, and intolerance of blacks in our society.

Black History Month art

Art for Black History Month.

The American Beach Museum is a tidy, organized, and informative exhibition hall on Julia Street in a secluded historic district on the south end of this Atlantic Coast barrier island. The place may be tiny, but it is packed with facts, stories, relics, and photos that make your head spin trying to absorb it all. The volunteer guides are the most gracious people one would ever want to meet, and gladly help explain and amplify the historical information.

The short video featuring the Beach Lady, MaVynee Betsch, is the highlight of the tour. It makes you want to have been on that tour bus with her to hear her passionate stories of experiencing racism, discrimination, personal career success, her genuine love of nature, history, family, and the Creator who gave us the responsibility for caring for this marvelous earth.

In her case, the Beach Lady cut short a lucrative and professionally successful career as an opera singer in Europe to return to her beloved American Beach to ensure its preservation. She had her ups and downs in that endeavor. In the end, the Beach Lady’s efforts prevailed, even years after her death from cancer.

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For her persistence and persuasive hard work, MaVynee left her mark everywhere around American Beach. The beach itself is the most obvious result. Its sand dunes are some of the highest in the state. The beach’s sands are white and smooth, much desired by island developers. However, due much in part to the Beach Lady, the National Park Service now supervises the 80 some acres of the area.

American Beach was the only one on which blacks were permitted on Amelia Island. That segregation lasted until 1970. American Beach was founded in 1935 by the Afro American Insurance Co. president A. L. Lewis, the Beach Lady’s grandfather. American Beach provided a place for recreation and relaxation without humiliation during the Jim Crow era. It offered a place of hope in a time of despair for dark-skinned people.

Ironically, the original 100 by 100 ft. plots of land were always integrated. Some of the original buildings still exist, though they are not in the best condition. Evan’s Hall, a gathering place for music and dance, is one of them. Today some of the beachfront houses are worth millions of dollars.

American Beach, Amelia Island FL

Historical marker.

The museum holds photographs, artifacts, and displays of the legacy of the Beach Lady, including her seven-foot length of hair. Some thought her eccentric. Others knew better. Her devotion to family, nature, and her beloved beach remains for all to see today.

Each winter, we always make a point of visiting the museum and American Beach itself. We do so as a personal reminder of segregation in this country, of those who worked so diligently to overcome it and the sacrifices they made in doing so. MaVynee, the museum, and American Beach are testaments to what was, is, and yet needs to be done to indeed guarantee equality for all in this great country of ours.

Amelia Island FL

Volunteer guides at the American Beach Museum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, history, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

Long-tailed Duck

Silver Lake, Dayton VA, birding

Long-tailed Duck.

I only had a few hours to give to the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This would be my first for Rockingham Co., Virginia. I had participated in several CBCs before, all in Holmes Co., Ohio. I primarily served as a driver for the many Amish birders who turned out each year on the designed day. CBCs are conducted at various dates near the end of December each year around the country. They help keep track of the numbers and species of birds seen from year to year.

Weather often plays a role in the varieties and the total number of species seen. This particular day in Rockingham Co. began crisp and clear. I decided to spend my limited time searching around Dayton, a small community five miles south of where we live. I hoped the man-made Silver Lake would yield some unusual species. I wasn’t disappointed.

The bright morning sun had burned off much of the haze. Right after I had parked my vehicle, I spotted this beautiful Long-tailed Duck, a rare visitor to Rockingham Co. With the morning light in my favor, I was able to capture this photo of the stunning duck in its winter plumage. I particularly liked how the churned water of the paddling duck reflected the turquoise sky in sharp contrast with the more murky surface of the lake.

“Long-tailed Duck” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Beginning anew with feeding the backyard birds

tube feeder

Male Red-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I knew when we moved from our home in Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that my backyard birding experiences would change. I just didn’t know how much difference there would be.

Our Virginia ranch home is one of nearly 500 in an established housing development west of Harrisonburg in Rockingham County. Mature trees, shrubs, and well-manicured lawns surround the many-styled houses. However, none of the vegetation is as dense as we had had in Holmes County.

Over the years, I tried to create an inviting habitat around our rural Ohio home for birds of all species, whether they nested or just needed the cover to approach the feeders. Neva complemented my efforts with beautiful flowerbeds all around the house. Birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife thrived.

a bird in the bush

Male Northern Cardinal.

The wide variety of cover and available water and food sources for birds near our home enhanced the variety of species seen on or near our Holmes County abode. White-winged crossbills, bald eagles, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, various warblers, barn owls, long-eared owls, and screech owls were just some of the amazing birds we had seen in the 38 years we lived there.

I wondered what birds would find their way to our Virginia home. I hung birdfeeders and placed birdbaths in the front and backyards not long after moving in. Our one-third acre only had two red maples, one in the front yard and one in the back. Nearby properties held sycamore, white pine, wild cherry, pin oaks, sugar maple, mimosa, and various shrubs and flowerbeds. The closest stream was a half-mile away.

The rolling hills and broad valleys are reminiscent of those in Holmes County. But they are not the same, and I didn’t expect the birds to be the same because of that. They haven’t been.

I was thrilled when red-breasted grosbeaks and northern cardinals showed up at the feeders soon after I erected them last May. I had the ubiquitous house sparrows and house finches, too. But once the common grackles arrived with their new fledglings, the more desirable birds were crowded out. Even the bossy blue jays headed for cover. I took the feeders down for the summer.

I rehung the feeders in early fall, including the suet feeder, in hopes of attracting some woodpeckers and other suet-eating birds. Again, songbirds found the food quickly. The northern cardinals and house finches returned. A small flock of American goldfinches followed, too, along with mourning doves.

As the weather cooled, more birds arrived. A red-bellied woodpecker found the suet and often came early morning and late evening. A male downy woodpecker appeared irregularly. Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows scratched at offering on the ground below. I was especially ecstatic with the latter. Their melancholy song seems to linger in winter’s frosty air.

Other yard birds included flocks of American robins. Unlike Holmes County where robins seek shelter in dense woods or migrate altogether, robins in Virginia linger longer. They forage on berries, crabapples, and grubs they find in yards and beneath mulch in flowerbeds. The robins particularly enjoy the birdbath for drinking and bathing.

A troop of European Starlings replaced the grackles as the rascals of the feeders. They’re pretty birds, but they can devour four cakes of peanut butter suet in a day. The woodpeckers shared my disapproval.

My bird feeders may not have attracted the variety of birds we had in Ohio. I keep them up anyhow to enjoy the ones that do appear. It’s a pastime that both my wife and I find more than worthwhile.

robins, birdbath

Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


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

Ripple Effect

shorebird, Florida

Ripple Effect.

I intended merely to capture an image of this shorebird, which I believe to be a willet. I was pleasantly surprised when I viewed the photo on my laptop. The light breeze of the evening rustled the water’s surface to create a dynamic background for this drab-looking bird.

“Ripple Effect” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under birding, birds, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography

Standoff at Cooks Creek

black angus steer, bald eagle, Harrisonburg VA

Standoff at Cooks Creek.

Birding is so much fun. You just never know what you will find, see happen, and be able to document.

As I was returning home recently, I spotted a Bald Eagle high in a sycamore tree right beside the highway. I turned the car around as quickly and safely as I could and parked well away from the bird. Just as I exited my vehicle, the eagle flew low across Cooks Creek and landed in a pasture field. I was in luck but didn’t know just how fortunate I would be.

As I hurried along the roadway, I noticed a black Angus steer move towards the eagle. The steer was about half-way between the eagle and me. Soon it broke into a gallop, which drew the eagle’s full attention. The steer stopped at the west side of the creek bank opposite the eagle on the east side.

If they had a discussion between them, it was short. The steer bounded down the embankment and towards the eagle. Of course, the eagle flew straight back for the sycamore tree. At the last second, the magnificent bird changed course and zoomed back over the steer and out of sight.

Whether you are a birder or not, this indeed was a once in a lifetime occurrence. I’m exceedingly glad I got to see and document it.

“Standoff at Cooks Creek” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017


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