Category Archives: nature photography

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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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather

Spring is just around the corner, I hope

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you live in northern Ohio, you know there is one sure way to tell that spring is just around the corner. Snow has covered the freshly opened daffodil blossoms. Snow never smelled so fragrant.

blooming daffodils

From this…

Those of us who have grown up in northeastern Ohio aren’t surprised by this meteorological conundrum. Snow-blanketed flowers in Holmes Co., Ohio in March is as common as horses and buggies.

daffodils in snow

…to this.

It’s March. It’s Ohio. It’s just a matter of when and how much snow we will have.

March snows are notorious for being heavy, wet, and timed to dampen our spirits along with the countryside. That’s especially true after a relatively mild winter like we’ve experienced this year.

With the temperatures balmy, the sun shining, people get antsy to get out and about to shake off any remnants of cabin fever they may have contracted. And so they do.

Bicycles are dusted off, tires pumped up, and excursions on the Holmes Co. Trail begin. Gardeners are anxious to ready their truck patches and flowerbeds for the soon-to-begin growing season.

That’s when the excitement rises. Coaxed awake by the unseasonably warm winter weather, luscious green shoots emerge from the bulbs through the moist, loamy soil, through the woody mulch, and into the light.

blooming crocuses

Rejoicing in the sun.

Crocuses and a few spring beauties join the trumpeting daffodils to happily announce spring’s debut. In some areas, trilliums even dot forest floors. Of course, they are all premature thanks in part to the warmest February on record globally.

The early taste of warmth spoiled us. So when the weather returns to more seasonal conditions, we go into shock along with the blooming flowers.

Other signs of spring unaltered by the weather also appear to whet our warm weather enthusiasm. College’s annual March Madness basketball tournaments fill TV screens in the quest for men and women’s champions. High school basketball and wrestling tournaments are drawing to a close, signaling the end of winter and the birth of spring.

For me, no other sport says spring more than Major League Baseball. After all, the boys of summer are in the midst of spring training in Arizona and Florida. So it must be spring, right?

Not so fast. Even in the southern United States, where azaleas, hibiscus, iris, lantana, and poinsettias bloomed brightly, caution was the word. Citizens had to be weary of frosts and late winter storms of ice and snow, too.

Those events are rare but all too real. It’s different in Ohio and neighboring states. March sometimes delivers the season’s heaviest snowfall. The problem is the storms often arrive just in time to douse any anticipation of spring’s benefits, like being outdoors, throwing open the windows and doors to replace winter’s staleness with spring’s freshness.

After a few days of airing things out, breathing in warm, fresh air, working in the yard, it’s rather hard to return to winter’s harshness. Nevertheless, that always seems to be our plight. Only we’re back outside covering those tender plants from hard frosts, inches of snow, and biting winds.

Backyard bird feeders get restocked. We tote in more firewood to replenish the supply for the wood burner or fireplace. The hard truth is that there’s just no turning down the damper on the fickle force of nature.

Spring is just around the corner. We just don’t know how long it will be until we reach that particular junction to fondly welcome spring’s return.

Amish farmer, plowing in the snow

Plowing dirt and snow.

© 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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Wispy Clouds

cirrus clouds, beach

Wispy sky.

These wispy cirrus clouds caught my attention as I walked along Main Beach on Amelia Island, FL.

“Wispy Clouds” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Illumination

thunderstorm, Atlantic Ocean, rainbow

Illumination.

Under the watchful eye of the waxing February moon, a rogue thunderstorm glided over the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida/Georgia line. The slanting rays of the early evening sun beautifully illuminated the billowing cumulonimbus cloud and created a colorful rainbow in the process. Of course, the moon, too, reflected the sun’s warm light.

“Illumination” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Everyone needs an enjoyable day

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean

Sacred moment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In my dreams, this is how I pictured retirement. Only, this particular day wasn’t a dream. It was a blissful reality. From sunup to sundown and beyond, the day had been uplifting in every way.

After considerable effort, the sun finally broke through the usual cloudbank that persists over the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. I embraced dawn’s golden glow that shimmered in the quiet sea from the horizon to the shore.

I photographed the sunrise, and after a simple breakfast, we said our goodbyes to friends who had been visiting for a few days. They needed to return to their new home in North Carolina to finish settling in.

fairbanks bed and breakfast, Fernandina Beach FL

The Fairbanks House.

Then it was off to tour Amelia Island’s historic lighthouse with friends from Millersburg, Ohio, Carl and Judy. Their daughter was a student in my wife’s very first kindergarten class. The couple had secured a condo one floor above us for a month.

We were more than happy to show them the island. They enjoyed similar perks of the barrier island. The Amelia Island Lighthouse was just one of them.

The guided tour was so full that another van had to be used to shuttle the visitors to the sheltered icon. The all white lighthouse with a black top stands nearly hidden on a bluff in a residential neighborhood three-quarters of a mile west of the ocean beyond the beach, beyond the towering sand dunes, and beyond Egans Creek Greenway.

At night, the nautical light flashes its salient signal above the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, across the dormant, brown reeds of the salt marsh, across the protected dunes at Ft. Clinch State Park, across rooftops of condominiums and beach houses, and finally the beach itself. The lighthouse beacon brings personal surety to seafarers relying on impersonal electronic guidance.

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After the lighthouse history lesson, we gawked up the monument’s spiraling granite steps and snapped a few photos. We headed for an early lunch at a local eatery that boasted offering the best burgers on the island. Their milkshakes are pretty good, too, especially when consumed amid congenial company while sitting outside in the warming winter sun. This was Florida after all.

We strolled the streets of this historic town with our friends, viewing its quaint cottages, stately mansions, and inviting bed and breakfasts. Wherever we walked, people were out working, raking dried leaves and fallen palm frawns, scraping peeling paint, patching roofs. When you live in a tropical climate, property repair is non-stop.

We relaxed in the laziness of the afternoon and took in the sunset down by the river in front of the bocce ball court. The pesky no-see-ums, gnat-sized insects that you can’t see but feel their fierce bites, couldn’t deter our enjoyment of the orange and gold, pink and blue living art exhibit.

After a light supper, Neva and I completed the fulfilling day with a quiet evening together watching college basketball on television. She multi-tasks with jigsaw and crossword puzzles while I just enjoy the game.

You don’t have to be retired or be in some exotic locale to have similar experiences. Only look all around you. Examine the place where you are. Listen to the people you are with.

Work or play, engage in the activities at hand. Appreciate, absorb, inhale, touch, and improve your particular environment wherever you may be, whatever your life circumstances.

Why? Because. Every now and then, everyone needs a day like this day.

Amelia River FL, sunset

Nature’s art show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Believe it or not, it takes work to retire

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After all these years of work, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It takes extra effort to learn to retire.

I officially retired at the turn of the New Year. I intentionally timed that major life event to coincide with the calendar and our annual winter trip to northeastern Florida. It just seemed logical.

After having worked my entire life, I decided to phase out of employment gradually. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what retirement would look and feel like. My hope was that this snowbird time would help me reorient my routines and priorities.

My wife and I are still relatively new at this snowbird business. We are downright raw rookies at retirement. Parking yourself on the ocean’s doorstep has served as an excellent approach to finding our way through this new, uncharted territory.

I knew this particular geographic location well enough from our previous visits. Neva and I have wintered on Amelia Island, Florida’s northeastern most barrier island, for the last few years.

Cutting the ties to my part-time jobs would be the challenge. On our prior trips, I especially kept a close eye on events at home out of necessity. I daily maintained the social network page of the coop-marketing group I facilitated.

Ohio's Amish country, snow, Amish farm

Meanwhile back home.

I had township trustee issues and responsibilities to hash out from time to time. If snow was in the Northeast Ohio forecast, I couldn’t sleep well even though I was 800 miles away from home. I kept wondering how the road crew was doing.

Occasionally, residents would contact me to report a problem. Despite sketchy cell phone service, I’d have to try to communicate with the other trustees or our workers. Sometimes multiple calls were needed just to complete a single conversation.

Now that I was retired, all that was history. Those responsibilities disappeared. I will admit, though, that I have done a lot of the same old wondering this first month off the job. Old habits die hard.

I still checked the weather, both for home and for Florida. I did so more for comparison than anything else. I wanted to see what friends and family back home were enduring.

black skimmer, breaking waves

Magic in motion.

For our part, I focused my attention on the tide charts and when the sun rose and set. That way I could time my morning and evening photo shoots and plan our strolls on the beach. Of course, when you’ve camped yourself where the ocean is your front yard, alluring tactile distractions abound.

It’s much more enjoyable to walk at low tide than high. Shorebirds linger by the tidal pools and sandbars probing and fishing for food. The moist, flatter, firmer sand made for easier walking, too.

I also watched the weather forecasts to plan day trips to nearby state parks for events like outdoor lectures, photography walks, and plain old exercise. Saturday mornings were reserved for attending the fabulous farmers market where we purchased locally grown produce, homemade goodies, and fresh, locally caught shrimp.

I know. It sounds like a tough life.

I hope I don’t come across as rubbing it in. I just wanted to assure you that life on this side of retirement seems to be working out, excuse the pun, perfectly.

Neva and I will enjoy this life of bliss while we can. Once we return home, this version of retirement will come to an abrupt end.

So far it’s been hard work learning to retire. But I think we’ll survive.

shoreline fishing, Atlantic Ocean

Mauve morning.

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