Category Archives: nature photography

At rest


Everything in this photo seems to be at rest. The placid water, the low-hanging morning mist, the boats moored patiently waiting, the deciduous trees pushing forth their new growth, the evergreens standing stately, the limp American flag all resting.

A wondrous peace fell upon me as I surveyed all the elements of this scene along the coast of Maine. I hope it brings you the same refreshing repose.

“At rest” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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At long last, summer!

Breaking through the morning fog.

Summer! Having endured this seemingly eternal winter, that sunny, heart-warming word just rolls off of your tongue with glee and jubilation. It’s June, after all.

The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks away. But North American society can’t wait. Summer it is! As proof, many schools have already dismissed for the year or soon will. Family vacations are being planned.

After a long, damp spring, the weather warmed up rather quickly over a large geographic area in the U.S. In fact, the National Weather Service in two New England states issued weather statements cautioning the public about swimming in streams and ponds with water 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Hypothermia was the primary concern.

Lawn mowing has become a regular task.

Summer’s fresh fragrances have already caressed most of us. Not only that, it looks like summer, too. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, the deciduous trees are all leafed out, their tender new shoots having turned from their infant lime green to a more vibrant, darker fullness. Shade trees can once again shelter hammocks.

Despite the wet spring, the first big round bales of hay stand rolled up in fields and ready to be hauled to storage. Farmers and suburbanites alike are planting crops and backyard gardens. We’ve already enjoyed fresh, crisp lettuce courtesy of our kind neighbors.

Given the warm days and nights and the frequent rains, lawn mowing has become a full-time profession. The grass is growing that fast.

People walking their dogs have exchanged their coats and stocking caps for shorts and t-shirts. Instead of leading their masters, the canines are lagging behind, tongues dangling.

Anglers have begun to ply their skills in rivers, ponds, lakes, and the oceans wherever and whenever they can. Don’t forget the sunscreen and mosquito spray.

The Knockouts.

Daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs have all had their show. Gaillardia, larkspur, coral-bells, and blue sage have taken their places. Loaded with bright, showy blossoms, the knockout roses really are knockouts.

American robin, eastern bluebird, common grackle, song sparrow, pileated woodpecker, and bald eagle chicks have all fledged their nests while other bird species are just now building theirs. The adults are doing their absolute best to protect the youngsters.

Strawberries have come and gone already in the Shenandoah Valley. Further north, folks are just now beginning to stuff themselves with the luscious redness. They are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside. My resourceful wife even made a strawberry pie for her birthday topped with real whipped cream.

Summer’s emergence doesn’t necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. Witness the frequent severe storms that have already brought death and destruction via tornadoes and flooding.

Cutting fresh strawberry pie.

Another negative is the abundant pollen filling the air from oaks, cottonwoods, and maples. Those with grass allergies have had a tough time of it as well. That being said, I can endure fits of sneezing for those rosy summer sunrises and sunsets.

Road construction zones are more numerous than dandelions. Having just driven nearly 2,700 miles on vacation, my wife and I can affirm that U.S. infrastructure definitely needs the repairs.

Summer picnics and reunions will soon occur along with organized and pickup baseball games for young and old. I can satisfyingly attest to the fact that grilling season has definitely begun.

Soon fireflies will begin their annual light display. Small town festivals and big city extravaganzas with outdoor concerts will commence. Festive parades and fundraising races have already started.

Relax on the back porch with a refreshing glass of mint tea and the first of several captivating reads. It’s summer, after all. Let’s all enjoy it together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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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.

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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

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

Spring Bouquet

Spring bouqet.


My wife is quite the gardner. This spring bouquet in her main flower garden at our former Ohio home was proof of that.

Colorful peonies, irises, lilies, and daisies were only some of the flowers that comprised this large flower garden. It took a lot of work. But clearly, all of her efforts paid off. In fact, we often received compliments from passersby on our busy county highway. They appreciated Neva’s beautiful floral display. I hope you do as well.

“Spring Bouquet” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Balancing Act


I’ll just let this photo of April’s full moon speak for itself.

“Balancing Act” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Maunday Thursday Sunset


Maunday Thursday is a solumn, sacred holy day in the Christian tradition. It is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day Christ shared His last Passover meal with the disciples.

The blood-orange tint of these clouds coupled with the dark, foreboding color of the foreground seemed an appropriate scene to set the stage for the historical trauma of Good Friday.

“Maunday Thursday Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Spring’s colors brighten dreary days

Backlit daffodils brightened a forested hillside.

Yesterday was bright, warm, and sunny. Today it’s cooler, and a gentle rain soothes the parched landscape. Contrasting back-to-back days, yet my heart still sings.

We spent six weeks in Florida, but even felt the sting of this year’s too long winter there and in Virginia after we returned home. Spring arrived, and yet we still bundled up in layered clothing under warm coats and covered ourselves with blankets at our grandson’s high school baseball games. The north wind felt like it was straight off of Lake Erie. But this is Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, not northeast Ohio.

For the longest time, the rural and suburban landscapes wore their dull winter coats of mixed gray woodlots and wind-burned grasses. The orangey-red clay fields even looked worn and tired in their weathered muted rusty browns. That stood to reason, given all that the earth had to weather enduring storm after storm. Usually full of sunshine, The Valley lingered in cloudy, foggy, gray day after day.

All of that is now history, thanks to real spring weather’s decision to stay in the Shenandoah Valley. Blossoms of all colors have brightened landscapes far and wide. For days, folks have been posting photos of wildflowers and cultivated garden flowers blooming brightly in points south of us. Now, finally, it’s our turn.

The passage of a strong cold front seemed to do the trick for the Old Dominion. Skies cleared, and the sun ruled for several consecutive days. Petals unfolded and poked through forest leaf litter. Honeybees, wasps, flies, and even a few butterflies celebrated in unison.

Crocuses, daffodils, maples, magnolias, wildflowers galore, all awakened the sleeping landscape. Fields of winter wheat and suburban lawns laid fresh green carpets at every turn and corner.

A single hyacinth flower was the first to emerge at our place. Sequestered in a corner where the house meets the screened in back porch, a single pale pink head trumpeted forth. As it matured, the flower blushed to heart’s passion pink.

Other pinks soon arrived. The redbud tree we planted last year popped tiny frilly buttons on every branch. Across the street, our neighbor’s magnolia took days to gracefully unfold her lacy pink blossoms. The wait was well worth it.

At a local arboretum, a naturalist escorted a group on a wildflower tour of early bloomers. The first had already dropped their petals, while many others were only now showing. More beauties were yet to come.

Various varieties of daffodils brightened the forest hillside floor. Dutchman’s britches were ready to wear. Pretty bloodroot flowers speckled the decaying browns with their white petals and yellow centers.

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Ornamental weeping cherry trees fluffed their fragrant flowers to the delight of a host of pollinators. The bees also swarmed the crimson flowers of the red maples.

Rain or shine, the ubiquitous grey squirrels that came with the house romped amid the splashes of color. Were they celebrating or were the squirrels just being squirrels?

Song sparrows sat contentedly in the morning sunshine, singing their familiar, welcome melody. In our backyard, an American robin perched at a hanging seed feeder, a very unusual behavior. Below, a rusty red fox sparrow made a first-ever appearance as a yard bird.

All the color and warmth drew humans outdoors, too. Mowers hummed, mulchers mulched, pruners pruned, and gardeners gardened. It was a collaborative symphony and natural art show.

Yesterday was bright, warm, and sunny. Today it’s cooler, and a gentle rain soothes the parched landscape. Contrasting back-to-back days, yet my heart still sings.

A pair of American Robins roost in the twilight of a spring evening.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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