The joyous return of the migrating birds


As the colorful leaves fade and twirl in the wind, another splash of luster arrives to dot the landscape. Migrating birds appear to see the winter through. I relish their return.

Many of the birds, of course, merely pass through on their way to much warmer southern climes. The ruby-throated hummingbirds, for example, have long been gone. A stray late one might yet be seen. Most are far south of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley by now.

I’ve had two tube feeders hanging from the red maple trees in the front and back yards for weeks now. Many of the year-round regulars have begun to partake in the free sunflower seed buffet.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The noisy red-bellied woodpeckers are hard to miss. Their iridescent red-striped head and contrasting black and white ladder back are as flashy as their aggressive behavior. They’re not bullies. They just know what they want and help themselves.

Our smallest woodpecker, the downy, is much more pensive and much less flashy. Only a blotch of red on the back of the head identifies the male from the similarly marked black and white feathered female.

Every now and then, a northern flicker or two will show up at the birdbaths or forage for ants in the mulch on warmer days. With their earth-tone coloration, they are handsome birds for sure.

An array of bedecked songbirds frequents the feeders, too. A cheery chip, chip, announces the presence of the bright red northern male cardinals and their khaki-colored mates. That color combination enhances any bird feeding station.

Northern Flicker

It’s the richly feathered Carolina wrens, however, that keep the cooler fall air filled with music. Their protein preference is to search for dead insects than to settle for seeds. Even the peanut butter suet isn’t their first choice.

The beautifully patterned song sparrows might belt out a chorus or two. However, it’s the plaintive call of the white-throated sparrows that thrills me. They have only now just begun to arrive. Their hop, kick, and scratch feeding tactic is a joy to watch as well.

The white-crowned sparrows are the showpieces of the sparrow species. Their distinctive black and white stripes can’t be missed. Their looks alone qualify them as the feeder referees.

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

A lone eastern towhee made a brief appearance in the back yard recently. It foraged beneath the pines that border the neighbor’s property. It was a first for my Virginia yard list.

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the appearances of a small flock of purple finches. Though less colorful than their male counterparts, the females stood out with their creamy patches and brown streaks. Neatly attired red-breasted nuthatches also appeared intermittingly. I’m hoping all of them return.

Given the recent report on the loss of nearly 30 percent of North America’s bird population in the last 50 years, I’ll be happy with whatever birds do arrive. Several species have even been declared extinct. Europe is experiencing similar losses of bird species.

The extensive study covered nearly the exact timeframe that I have been watching and feeding birds. All the while, bird populations have slowly been declining. Losses of habitats in nesting, migrating, and wintering locales have hurt the bird numbers. Climate change and herbicide usage are other suspected causes of the birds’ demise.

Despite the bad news, I’ll continue to feed the birds in the fall and winter. The birds provide welcome entertainment during the dormant months. The way it’s going, the birds will need all the help they can get.

A male Northern Cardinal braved an ice storm in search of food.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Shenandoah Fall


The morning sun cast an illuminating light on the colorful deciduous trees west of Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the pastoral Shenandoah Valley. Cloud shadows played across the Allegheny Mountains that divide Virginia from West Virginia and served as a quiet backdrop for the colorful foreground. Also, note the rolling fence in the front of the scene mirrors the undulating mountains in the background.

“Shenandoah Fall” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Enjoy each moment as it occurs

I didn’t realize how much I charged through life until I couldn’t. Getting a new knee will do that to you.

Much like my late father, I wanted to get as much out of life as I could. Dad would come home from work, eat supper, and off he would go to his next adventure. His chosen activities ran the gamut of his interests: softball, arrowhead hunting, fishing, hunting, or attending one of his many organizational meetings.

With all this time on my hands in recuperation mode, I have come to an insightful realization. I mirrored my father for too long in my life. I had and still have many interests. Besides my career in public education, community service consumed much of my time.

Volunteer firefighting, township trustee, hospital trustee meetings, and church leadership all demanded my time. Those days are over. I still enjoy the out-of-doors just as Dad did. In my open-air times, I shoot birds, too, only I use a camera.

The inspection.
This time of year, the leaves are usually my main focus. Given my current limited mobility status, however, that has mostly changed. Unless I go for a drive with my chauffeur wife, I enjoy the colors that I can see from home.

What better time than October to change gears, relax, and just embrace each moment as it arrives. The air has cooled. The front and back doors are propped open, inviting a refreshing and gentle breeze to flow through the house.

The morning sun illuminates our neighbor’s home across the street. A glorious blue sky serves as the backdrop, and a handsome birch tree and a tinting red maple stand as bookend accents. Their fall decorations of yellow mums and cluster of orange pumpkins give a warm welcome.

To the south, the sun bathes the backyard, too, highlighting the pale green, elongated leaves of the shingle oak we transplanted from our Ohio home. Those leaves, also, are slowly transforming to a gilded brown and will rustle in the winter winds until springtime buds displace them.

A family of house finches chatters softly in the blue spruces above the white picket fence of another neighbor. Northern cardinals chip in adjacent pines before taking turns at the black oil sunflower feeder. A family of eastern bluebirds checks out a birdhouse for possible winter habitation.

With the afternoon sun beaming, I return to my reading on the patio. The natural warmth seems to enhance the book’s enlightening content. To keep my leg limber, I shift positions as often as I turn pages.


Towards evening, it’s rush hour at the birdbaths. American Robins, unseen and unheard for days, suddenly swamp the three aquatic venues available. The hand-honed sandstone bath proves the most popular. Others settle for the water dish and the old cast iron pedestal basin.

Living life at my modified and sometimes stationary pace is inspirational. In my reposed state, I marvel at the rosebuds outside my office window, closed tight in the morning, and fully opened by mid-afternoon.

Both the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon have come and gone. The first frost has ended the growing season in many locales while others have experienced their first snowfall. Winter is knocking on the door. October’s showiness will soon be over.

It is with great gratitude that I embrace each moment as it arrives, glad that my previous busyness is history. My sincere hope is that I’ll still apply this moment-by-moment attitude when I no longer have to sit icing my elevated knee.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A Veiled Hunter’s Moon


Thin clouds hung over Massanutten Mountain as October’s Hunter’s Moon rose near Harrisonburg, Virginia. The result was an eerie effect as the moon began to rise above the clouds.

“A Veiled Hunter’s Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

October is the nostalgic month

A typical fall scene in eastern Holmes Co., Ohio.

If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.

As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.

We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.

Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.

If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.

During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.

We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.

When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.

Our Ohio October view.

The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.

But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.

It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.

On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.

The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.

We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.

I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Recognizing the virtue of September’s silence

Listen. Did you hear it? If not, there’s still time. In a few short days, September’s most significant gift will be gone.

The changing leaves too often get all the attention, especially the gorgeous sugar maples. I have no argument with that whatsoever. September merely sets the stage for Nature’s colorful artwork.

Inexplicably, that wondrous, warming rainbow leaves leafy trails to this September virtuous quality. Can you guess what it is?

In the pondering, we uncover this gracious gift the world is too often too busy to unwrap. September’s silent specialty is all around us. Do you hear it? That rhetorical question is no joke.

Silence is golden as the saying goes, and from beginning to end that silence is never more so than in September. Listen again to see if you agree.

September gives us ample opportunity to embrace her unique child. Her silence never sleeps. She is as still as still can be 24-hours a day.

At every dawn, September’s stillness is broken not by the sun, but by humankind winding up for another day of work. Unnatural sounds break the silence and intrude upon our slumber.

The morning train whistles reverberate up and down the valley warning of its impending crossings. Even with the house windows closed, we can hear it from miles away.

Tires hum on the variegated macadam where country and city roadways meet. On occasion, sirens tell a tale of disrespect, distress, or disorder that further disturbs September’s sacredness.

With the initial rush over, my wife and I settle on the back porch for a simple breakfast. Too fascinated with the month’s hush, we seldom interrupt it or one another’s thoughts.

Thinking the coast is clear, mourning doves swoop in for morning refreshments at the birdbaths. One slight movement by either of us and the spell is broken. The ripple of wind that propels them to safety in the neighbor’s blue spruce tickles my neck.

A rabbit nibbles freely at the fibrous greenery. Its oversized eyes sparkle in the sunshine, its floppy ears twitch without disturbing the quietude.

We take up the same positions at lunchtime. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds squawk their arrival at the nearby feeder. Too much like humans, they spend more energy chasing each other away rather than learning to share the nourishing liquid nectar.

The leaves and needles of the neighborhood trees hang limp and still. Even if a slight afternoon breeze gently bounces them around, they remain faithful to the code of September silence. They hit the ground inaudibly.

Beneath those shady limbs, lawnmowers roar back and forth, back and forth. When the last blade is cut, the glorious silence returns. Does anyone hear it?

If not, the ubiquitous gangs of bellowing blue jays are sure to enforce it with their host of calls and cries. Their intentions are righteous; their methods are inadequate and contradictory, to say the least. Still, once gone, September’s silence is palpable.

Twilight may be the best time to catch a glimpse, a snippet, a pocketful of September’s hush. With the day’s work done and supper over, the last of the season’s crickets sing the silent song into the night.

Overhead, the Milky Way, dim as it is in the potentate sky, twinkles its approval of the welcome stillness. The day is done. Though many have tried sunup to sundown, September’s silence has thankfully prevailed.

Much like the rest of us, September’s days are numbered. Listen for her calming silence while there is still time.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Finding a new sanctuary

Big Meadows.

Not long after we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley more than two years ago, I sought a nature spot. I wanted a place where I could practice my photography, quietly watch birds, or simply do some walking.

I had many such places within an hour of our home in Holmes County, Ohio. They all had their unique features that attracted many folks in addition to fulfilling my photography, birding, and hiking desires. I had hoped to find one location close to our Virginia home that met those needs, too.

I have plenty of choices when it comes to getting out into nature for walks, birding, and photography in the Shenandoah Valley. I hit the trifecta if I can incorporate all three into one trip.

When you have a national park within the boundaries of your county, the answer seems obvious. It’s a 40 minutes drive to the park’s closest entrance. Shenandoah National Park was formed out of parts of eight Virginia counties, Rockingham among them.

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The park offers a host of options for visitors, though I have only been able to thoroughly explore a few so far. Big Meadows is one of those, and to date, it has been my go-to spot.

Big Meadows is a wide-open space on the summit of Skyline Drive at mile-marker 51. Its simplistic name perfectly describes its main feature. The place is a big meadow.

What’s it doing there, and why? With the park’s dense forests, fast-running streams that often lead to crashing waterfalls, Big Meadows is an anomaly to the park. No one seems to know how or why Big Meadows was formed. It’s certainly a fish out of water given the diverse geology, geography, and biology in Shenandoah National Park.

Big Meadows is and always has been lush with wildflowers, grasses, and low shrubs. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans camped in Big Meadows. Evidence shows they used controlled burns to flush out the abundant wildlife of the area. The park service still uses controlled burns to keep Big Meadows Big Meadows.

The area is more than a big meadow, however. The Byrd Visitors Center offers an informative display on the formation of the park, along with a gift store, and restrooms. A way station for hikers, an amphitheater, a lodge, restaurant, campgrounds, picnic areas, and multiple hiking trails can all be reached from Big Meadows.

A few photos from my most recent visit to Big Meadows. Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Of course, the Appalachian Trial runs on the west slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the edge of Big Meadows. Waterfalls are not far away along with some incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley.

On a hot summer’s day, Big Meadows is a pleasant escape from the valley’s heat and humidity. The temperature on the mountain can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

Even for those who aren’t able to hike very far, Big Meadows offers a lot. Visitors can sit in their cars while butterflies flit from one group of flowers to another. I’ve even seen dark-eyed juncos pecking for food around the Byrd Visitors Center in the summer.

The winter weather gets so wicked, however, that I tend to only visit spring, summer, and fall. Besides, the park often closes the Skyline Drive in the winter anyhow.

Everyone needs a place to get away, a place to relax, to take a load off, retreat from the hectic, pounding pace that we’ve come to know in the early 21st century. Big Meadows is such a place for me. Where is yours?

The view of the Shenandoah Valley from Big Meadows Lodge.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019