I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had heard a Mourning Warbler singing before, but I had never seen one. I always attributed that to their habitat and skulking behavior. It could have been my poor eyesight, however.
Mourning Warblers tend to stay closer to the ground than the one I spied 15 feet high in a dead wild cherry tree. They favor low brushy habitats, not bare tree limbs. Yet, here it was, and I was pretty happy to be able to capture a few photos before this beautiful bird with a lovely song dropped into the underbrush and out of sight.
Most Mourning Warblers nest in boreal forests in states and Canadian provinces well north of Virginia. However, there is a small area in the Allegheny Mountains along the boundaries of Virginia and West Virginia, where they also breed.
When I learned that other birders had spotted Mourning Warblers near Reddish Knob, a mountain summit on the Virginia/West Virginia border, I decided to go for the bird. The drive to that area is less than an hour from my home in the Shenandoah Valley.
Other birders had the same idea. The bird was easily heard, and with six pairs of eyes, the target bird was soon spotted. However, I didn’t expect it to be so out in the open. But I had to act fast. Mourning Warblers seldom sit still. As you can see, this bird was already looking down and dropped out of sight right after I snapped this photo.
I was grateful for the help of the other birders, who were equally happy that I was able to get the photographs I desired. The Mourning Warbler was only one of several bird species I saw that day, but it was the best.
I appreciate the simplistically specific way of naming roads in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roadways are numbered, of course, but the colloquial names are what people know. Slab Road is a prime example.
Hardly a half mile long, Slab Road connects two main county roads. Between the two is the Dry River, often devoid of water. A solid cement slab serves as the roadbed that crosses the riverbed from bank to bank. Thus, the unusual but appropriate name for a public road.
After some recent rains, the river flowed steadily over the slab, forming a mini-waterfall. I wanted to gather some rocks for a water feature I was assembling for our backyard birds. The high water limited my search to the south side of the slab. While collecting a few stones, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the evening sun filtering through the trees and reflecting off the smooth surface of the now not-so-dry river.
The need for a few flat rocks drew me to this inspiring scene that warmed my soul during this day’s golden hour.
Don’t let those lovely calendar images of spring fool you. The gorgeous photos of tulips, daffodils, dogwoods, and any other flowering plant or tree may last all month in the picture hanging on your wall. But you better hurry outside to see them before they rudely disappear.
That’s Spring in a nutshell. It can be as fickle as the weather because the weather, especially in the age of rapid climate change, affects when things bloom and for how long. Throw in a heavy frost or two, and the blossoms’ purposes are lost until next year.
I don’t mean to be sounding doom and gloom. After the long, dark, and in many places, cold and snowy winter, we celebrate Spring’s arrival. But we need to get out and enjoy it while we can. We can easily take the many blooms and fragrances for granted until they are gone.
I’m as guilty of that as anyone. The older I get, the colder I get. Consequently, I avoid being outside too long on blustery, chilly days. I know. My age is showing.
I’ll admit that I’m a fair-weather kind of guy. I need the sun to keep me warm no matter how many layers of clothing I wear. Still, I love taking in the rapidly changing spring scenes. The leaves start to unfurl once the blossoms fade. Depending on the species and the weather, it is not long until the plant or tree leaves are in their fullness. As the leaves mature on some plants and trees, they darken into a rich green.
We are fortunate here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The first spring blossoms show themselves in the forests in late winter. Witch Hazel blooms can easily be overlooked. The white snowdrop petals are easier to see against the burnished leaf litter.
This year, February and March traded their weather. Varieties of daffodils and crocuses bloomed early and stayed late. As Spring progressed and the weather cooled, they became the exception. Pockets of the Glory of the Snow, Spring Beauties, Bloodroot, and Coltsfoot soon joined them.
The Redbud trees were gorgeous unless back-to-back freezes nipped their pretty pink blossoms. The impatient leaves soon pushed the petals to carpet the ground. Even the maples were in a hurry to begin their chlorophyll duties.
Soon neighborhoods, roadsides, and forests were ablaze with color in April. The azaleas, rhododendrons, Virginia Bluebells, tulips, wild geraniums, and poppies put on a show. The pollinators buzzed high and low.
So, here we are in May. The dogwood blossoms have faded, while their leaves stand ready, awaiting touches of sunshine and rain. They need both.
Together let’s pledge to get out and enjoy whatever is blooming in our neck of the woods. If we wait too long, we’ll only have the calendars to remind us of what we missed.
Whenever I go birding, I inevitably discover many other curiosities to photograph. Such is the life of a retired senior citizen.
On my most recent outing, I came upon this wild cherry tree that had been struck by lightning sometime last year. I hated to see the stately tree destroyed since it was one of only a few in this small state park. All kinds of wildlife depended on its flowers and berries for sustenance.
Since the tree is about halfway around the lake, pictured in the background, I usually pause my hiking for a rest here, admiring the beauty of the tree’s bark and splintered wood. This time, however, I noted something fascinating. Tender shoots of new branches were growing from the tree trunk, as seen in the foreground of the determined hardwood.
Such is nature’s way of producing life, where we humans see only demise. There is a lesson to remember here: No matter your situation, never give up.
On a recent birding expedition to a local lake, I spotted these spent heads of last summer’s crop of Black-eyed Susans. The buttery petals had fallen off or been eaten by birds or insects, and several hungry bird species had devoured the nutritious burnished seeds in the center of the wildflowers.
The morning sun kissed the bulbous cones, creating a two-toned effect. It was a fun find.
Every year since 1970, April 22 has been observed as Earth Day. It’s a day to recognize humankind’s responsibility to respect the planet on which we all live.
The marking of this day found 20 million Americans striving for cleaner air, water and conservation of the land and its natural resources. The movement eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of several U.S. environmental laws.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 200 million people in 141 countries coordinating to improve the environment in their various locales. It lifted environmental issues onto the world stage.
So, here we are 53 years later, still striving to care for our precious planet. What plans do you have to commemorate Earth Day?
Redbud trees are in full bloom in the Shenandoah Valley and across the entire Appalachian region. The mountain drives are gorgeous right now.
Redbuds are one of the earliest blooming trees, and they grow in all sorts of conditions. They are one of my favorite trees, especially in bloom.
That’s because there is more to their beauty than meets the eye. The unique way the individual blossoms form is the secret. Clumped together, it’s not easy to see. Get up close, and focus carefully. You can see that each separate flower closely resembles a hummingbird.
Not convinced? Perhaps the photo below can help you see the pink little hummingbirds. I hope you have a chance to check out this phenomenon in person.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 52nd anniversary. We did so quietly.
Initially, we considered driving to Washington, D.C., to view the cherry blossoms at their peak. We had never done that, and living only two hours away, we could easily view the iconic flowers and be home before dark. We weighed our options and decided instead to stay close to home, which was my wife’s preference.
That decision paid dividends we didn’t expect. First, we slept in, which is not our routine. We usually awaken at first light. It felt good to start our big day well-rested.
After a quiet, light breakfast, we continued with a habit we started during the pandemic. We played cards and drank our morning decaf coffee. With the temperature hovering slightly above freezing, we were in no hurry to head outside for a few local adventures.
Traffic was light for the 10-minute drive downtown for an early lunch at a favorite restaurant. Since it was a Monday and not yet noon, there was no wait. We enjoyed our meals and the quiet atmosphere. They even had gluten-free bread for my brisket sandwich. It was nice to sit in the serenity of the ordinarily bustling restaurant. Our waitress even took her time bringing the check.
After lunch, we drove to a local arboretum and strolled around the artificial pond. Both buttery yellow and white daffodils colored the forested hillside surrounding the murky pond. Some flowers were already fading, while others were beginning to bud.
The aptly named star magnolias were also losing their luster. We admired some snappy-looking white and orange daffodils and various wildflowers beginning to grace the forest floor.
A young man approached us as we sniffed the blooms. He was the new marketing person for the arboretum, and we enjoyed an extended conversation with him about photography. My constant snapping of the shutter gave me away.
By then, the sun had taken the chill out of the air. That meant one thing: ice cream. We drove to a local ice cream parlor in a neighboring town. A kid’s cup is suitable for us now. My wife was more adventurous and ordered a caramel salted chocolate chunk while I stuck with my tried and true chocolate. We chose a table outside where my wife sat in the shade while I preferred the sun on my back.
On the way home, we stopped at another smaller arboretum at the north end of the small town. The place is more park than a botanical garden. A small, tree-lined stream called Cooks Creek winds lazily through a green space. Cooks Creek Arboretum is sandwiched between a hillside condo complex and a farmer’s still-fallow field stretching up to a big red barn.
Once the flock of pesky common grackles flew off, we heard a barred owl calling softly from inside an owl box fastened to a giant sycamore on the creek’s bank. The harmony of the owl’s twittering and the silvery gurgling of the stream brought a smile to both of us.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
With the return of the noisy grackles, we detoured to Silver Lake to check for migrating waterfowl. A quartet of ring-necked ducks floated and dived, floated and dived on the shallow lake’s surface. The lake’s Civil War-era mill attracts people far and wide.
Shortly after we arrived back home, the doorbell rang. A young woman handed my wife a bouquet from her sister and her husband, who live in Ohio. We appreciated their kind and loving gesture.
We snacked for supper, and after sunset, I drove to a high point in the countryside to take photos of three planets. Venus shown bright in the night sky, but I couldn’t find the conjunction of Saturn and Mars near the horizon. An invisible haze hung over the Allegheny Mountains, obscuring any starry beauty.
When I returned home, another kind of darkness fell. We learned of the horrific mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. The sad news snapped us out of our anniversary bliss into the reality of today’s life in the United States. Our peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable anniversary day with my loving wife ended with a tearful thud.
I don’t know about you, but the Common Grackles have taken over my birdfeeders and birdbaths. If you are interested, I’d gladly sell you a few or all of them.
Of course, you know I’m kidding. I couldn’t resist since April 1 is better known in the U.S. as April Fools Day. When I was a principal, the students loved to fool me on April 1 with all means of shenanigans. I was always glad when April 1 came on the weekend, like today.
So, April Fools Day! And in case you are interested in the grackles, please contact me a.s.a.p.
I finally got it. I’m no longer a Covid-19 virgin. Since its known arrival in the U.S. in early 2020, I have fought the good fight to avoid getting this dreaded disease.
I followed the latest developments and the daily charts on cases and deaths. The grim statistics gave me pause and determination not to get this novel contagion. I was elated when Covid-19 vaccines became available. I got all the shots, including the latest boosters.
My wife and I were cautious in every way. We masked whenever we went into public indoor places and avoided crowds. We washed our hands thoroughly and frequently. Last year, we traveled in several states and Europe, flew on airplanes, rode buses, attended outdoor concerts, and made it through unscathed. While others succumbed, we persevered. I thought I was staying ahead of the Covid game.
Before our annual wintering in Florida, we enjoyed the holidays with family and friends, always careful about masking and following the other suggested guidelines. We were excited about spending nearly six weeks in the sunshine state until we weren’t.
Without boring you with the ugly details, here’s an outline of the sequence of events that spoiled our Florida island winter stay:
On January 19, I woke with severe lower back pain after sleeping on a too-soft mattress in our rented condo.
Four days later, I visited an express care facility and received a shot and pain meds.
With no noticeable relief, I returned to express care days later. My meds were changed, and I had an MRI the next day.
The MRI showed multiple issues with my spine and discs, and an epidural was scheduled.
On the morning I was to receive the epidural, I had a gastrointestinal (GI) bleed. That led to another two days in a hospital.
Three days later, a fellow snowbird friend from Ohio was struck and killed by a motorcycle going 75 mph in a 35 mph zone. All alone, his poor wife called us. She was hysterical with grief. We were the only people she knew on the island. We comforted her as best we could until her two adult sons arrived via air later that night. We were all heartbroken.
Of course, they had to make all the complex arrangements and fill out legal forms for the authorities before returning to Ohio. The sons packed up their parents’ things so they could leave in a couple of days.
The day after they left, I finally got my epidural. I had immediate relief from the intense pain. However, I still had to make the 12-hour drive home to Virginia, with an overnight stop in North Carolina.
We arrived home and unpacked, and by the weekend, I was feeling much better, but I continued to grieve the loss of my friend. I couldn’t erase the horror of the accident from my mind.
Little did I know that with my mental and physical reserves at rock bottom, Covid-19 would sneak its ugly symptoms into my body. But that is precisely what happened.
After a meeting with a friend over coffee to talk about all that had happened to me, I returned home not feeling the best. I was stuffy and had a sore throat.
I took a home Covid-19 test. It was positive, but I wondered if I had done it correctly. So, I took another with the same results. Now I could physically identify with the millions of global people who had it. But it would get worse before it got better.
Just when I thought my emotions couldn’t sink any lower, they did. I called my friend and told him I had Covid-19. He agreed to call another friend we had seen at the cafe, and I notified others with whom I had had recent contact.
I texted my wife, who was volunteering at a local thrift store. I was very discouraged but knew we needed to make a plan to keep her from getting the virus. I claimed our bedroom with a bath, and my wife functioned in the rest of the house. I knew how much she cared when she dragged my recliner to the bedroom door. It was much more relaxing to sit in than the bed.
I called my primary care provider to see about getting Paxlovid, given to seniors testing positive for Covid-19 and who have compromised immune systems. After all that I had been through, mine certainly was.
A telemed conference was arranged with my doctor the next day. She told me to isolate for five days and then mask and social distance for another five. My wife picked up the Paxlovid and a nasal spray the pharmacist recommended.
By that time, most of the noted symptoms of this pandemic disease had introduced themselves to my body. I was exhausted and achy, and yet chilled. I had an unproductive cough, which soon gave me a headache. Plus, my blood pressure was high again. In short, I was miserable.
I took the Paxlovid as directed, and I could feel it begin to work its slow magic in my weakened state. I slept a lot and had very vivid dreams.
I texted my wife if I needed anything, and she texted me when she needed to leave the house. She brought me food, drink, and snacks. I married an angel.
I kept drinking fluids to stay hydrated and ate lots of fresh and dried fruits, eggs, and nuts for protein. But the virus hung on, and I adjusted my intake accordingly as my symptoms changed daily. As much as I had read and heard about Covid-19, that aspect caught me off-guard.
Listening to other Covid victims, I knew the cough and stuffiness would linger. I didn’t expect, however, that the virus would attack my already quixotic intestinal tract. I have difficulty keeping that in line without invisible pandemic infestations complicating my regularity. That’s all the details I’ll offer.
Consequently, I’m still working on recovering. The five-and-five formula offered by my doctor didn’t fit my situation. I isolated myself for a week and still tested positive.
I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back to my established daily routine. Given all I’ve been through, I’m unsure what that is anymore.
This 75-year-old body now knows the depths of the effects of this inconvenient, indiscriminate, horrible disease. Those effects can’t be shown on any medical chart.
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