Category Archives: weather

Beautiful bird, beautiful song

Dickcissel, Shenandoah Valley
When a friend posted on social media audio of Dickcissels singing at dusk, I wanted to see the birds. Dickcissels are rare here, according to birding records and range maps. Dickcissels are listed as scarce for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley breeding maps.

With my morning and early afternoon tightly scheduled, I knew I had a small window of opportunity to find this beautiful bird with an even more beautiful song. Severe storms were forecast for the area for the early evening. I headed north 10 miles as soon as I could. When I reached the intersection where the birds’ song had been recorded, I immediately heard them upon exiting my vehicle. Finding them was a different story.

I had seen my first Dickcissels in similar habitat in Ohio. Unfortunately, they are drawn to alfalfa fields dotted with weeds like ironweed that grow taller than the legume the farmer planted. Sure enough, using my binoculars, that’s where I spotted the first male Dickcissel. I felt pressured to photograph the birds. Thunder rumbled in the distance near the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles west.

To my surprise, a Dickcissel rose out of the thick foliage and flew directly towards me, landing on a tree branch right above my head. As I raised my camera to capture the bird up close, it took flight and perched on an ironweed plant nearly a football field away. I clicked away anyhow.

I scanned the field in the direction of other Dickcissels that I heard. I found a pair about 50 yards south of my location. Just as I started to walk south, a male and female flew to the woven-wire fence that surrounded the hayfield.

I immediately stopped and found a place to brace myself to steady the camera. Even before I could get off my first shot, the female flew, leaving the male to sit along, singing eloquently. I clicked away hoping for some decent results. A light rain had already started obscuring the sun, which gave me less light to work with.

Finally, when a car approached from the south, the beautiful bird flew in the direction of its mate. I headed for the car, happy to have witnessed both the bird and its enchanting song.

“Beautiful bird, beautiful song” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Full Moon Rising

pink moon, full moon, Harrisonburg VA

Full Moon Rising.


Precisely at 8:05 p.m. on April 29, 2018, the full moon rose over the Massanutten Mountain range just east of Harrisonburg, Virginia. I stationed myself atop a hill behind Eastern Mennonite University on the city’s northwest side to ensure I had a clear vantage point to view the moonrise. I wasn’t disappointed as the moon peeked right at a change in elevation in the landmark mountain ridge. Massanutten runs through the center of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from Harrisonburg northeast to near Strasburg.

I was fortunate that the evening was clear and the humidity was low, which allowed for a perfect view of the full moon. “Full Moon Rising” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Patience and a warm coat required

spring, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley

What spring should look like in VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been a long winter. That’s true whether you live in Minnesota, where winter seems eternal, or here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where consistent spring weather should have arrived long ago.

When it comes to weather here, there are no guarantees. Put another way, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. It will change.

I’ve heard people say that about the weather in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Florida to name a few locations. Regardless of the state of residence, they are all correct. Apparently “here” is a relative place. Weather in many areas is even more fickle than politicians or used car salesmen.

That seems especially apt now when winter seems determined to hold her icy grip on the good folks in many states. Just when we think spring has arrived with a lovely warm day, the next day brings cold and wind and too often more unwanted snow.

snowstorm, Virginia

An early spring snowstorm blanketed Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

People mumble about the unseasonable cold, impatient to get outside in shorts and t-shirts and work or play in decent weather. Excavators, contractors, and landscapers make promises they can’t keep to customers, and then justifiably blame the lousy weather for the delays.

Temperatures far and wide are 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more below average for April. It isn’t the first time, however, that the weather has played havoc with people’s springtime schedules. Record lows are in the teens from bygone years long forgotten.

I can remember a frost on June 2. My wife recalls snow on her birthday, May 27. Our young son once endured a nine-mile ride home in a four-wheel drive fire truck from a friend’s house during an April snowstorm that dumped 20 heavy, wet inches on Holmes County.

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Of course, two days later, the only remaining evidence of the storm was the snow piles from parking lots being plowed. The weather did warm up. It will warm up again, eventually.

After all, haven’t the daffodils bloomed? Aren’t the tulips ready to show their bright colors? Aren’t the tree buds swollen or even already unfurling? Has your lawn been mowed? Aren’t the robins calling out their territorial cacophonies? I bet the answers are mostly in the affirmative to that little springtime quiz.

Yes, it’s been a long, cold, wet winter, but nothing that we haven’t seen before and will likely see again. It’s just that we are so anxious for warming sunshine and frolic outside that we often lose our perspective. No matter what state of residence, we forget that all of this has happened before, not in the same order perhaps, but with the same frustrating results.

white-throated sparrow, Virginia

A handsome male White-throated Sparrow.

The other day I observed a brief, hopeful moment in my backyard that exactly proves my point of this year’s overlap of winter and spring. Side-by-side, a white-throated sparrow jumped and scratched for seed on the ground while a chipping sparrow pecked at the same offerings like a couple on a dinner date. The latter may stay, while I’ll soon miss the former’s magical song.

Seeing those two species together served a not so subtle reminder. Life goes on, just not at the pace or with the climatological conditions we humans desire. But eventually spring will indeed out-muscle winter, the weather will warm, and we’ll soon be complaining about having to mow the lawn twice a week.

Humans, you see, can be as capricious as the weather. In truth, the annual transition of hibernation to rebirth will find closure. Just be patient and keep a warm coat handy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birds, column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Fogbow

fogbow, Little Talbot Island SP FL

Fogbow.

I’m a weather nut, geek, groupie, whatever you want to call me. The weather has fascinated me since I was a child. My wife will verify that I get antsy in severe weather. I’ve tried to channel that excitement and energy into practical action. I’ve been a severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service since 1975.

Imagine my surprise when the fog rolled in off of the Atlantic Ocean while walking a beach near Mayport, FL one afternoon. I was surprised and thrilled to see this rare fogbow appear. I was extremely fortunate to be at the right place at the right time because fogbows don’t last long and are seldom photographed.

Fogbows are cousins to rainbows. Fogbows form from the sun reflecting in millions of tiny water droplets that make up the fog. Since it takes one million cloud droplets to make a single rain droplet, the fog droplets are too small to adequately refract the colors that create rainbows. Consequently, the fogbows shine bright white but only for a brief time. Because of their color, fogbows are also called ghost rainbows, white rainbows, or cloud bows.

You can get a feel for the size of the fogbow by comparing the people below the far left end of the weather phenomenon. “Fogbow” is my Photo of the Week.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Give thanks for springtime

Amish farm, sheep, green fields

Springtime in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Spring! It’s a word that rolls off our tongues with joy and passion. I give thanks for this vibrant, vernal season, especially after the long, cold winter too many of us had to endure.

This past winter surely tested our patience. But patient we must be. As much as we welcome springtime into our lives, she, too, can be fickle and bring mixed messages. Much like fall, springtime weather can embody all four seasons. Still, let’s give thanks for springtime.

I realize that in our North American society, Thanksgiving is reserved for the fall. Canadians annually celebrate their Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. U.S. citizens wait until the fourth Thursday in November.

The Thanksgiving holidays acknowledge all that we have. The reflective focus is on the harvest, glad to have reaped the benefits of all the hard labor used to produce the yield. But we also need to be thankful for the spring. There are no apples without the blossoms and the pollinators.

I’m grateful for springtime even though some years, like this year, she takes her good old time making her presence known. Still, I say, let’s all express our thanks for spring’s debut.

Spring’s arrival creates a variety of reasons to rejoice often based on where you live and what activities ensue. Much action has an agricultural bent. Suburbanites will gas up their lawn mowers for the first of many rounds around the yard. City dwellers will pot tomatoes, peppers, and petunias to baby on their balconies.

More ambitious gardeners with sufficient plots of land will plant their seeds and seedlings, always keeping a wary eye on any frosty forecast. Flowerbeds will be mulched, windows washed, and if time allows, neighborly visits will resume right where they left off last fall.

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Songbirds fill the twilight with concertos. Dormant lawns, long browned from winter’s sting, green up from an overnight shower. Azaleas, daffodils, dogwoods, redbuds, and forsythia brighten the awakening landscape. Shouts of children riding bicycles or skateboards echo through neighborhoods regardless of setting.

For all of this, I am thankful. Why not? It is the season of renewal, and after the winter that wouldn’t end we all need a breath of fresh air, we all need to inhale those sweet fragrances, we all need to enjoy each moment as the bees, birds, and butterflies reappear.

No matter how long spring takes to settle in to fit our particular comfort level, we should be most thankful that the season of hope and renewal is upon us. In keeping with that regeneration, it’s good to express our thanks to others each and every opportunity we can. Share your joy with others the way a mother robin cares for its young. Spouse, plumber, daughter, son, grandkids, stranger, receptionist, parents, waitress, checkout person, or whomever you meet will do.

Life is in a constant state of change. Spring is that reminder to us to embrace not just the new season, but life itself. The message of the purple crocuses is to put away your fears. Spring is here. Life is good.

Without the season of renewal, there can be no harvest. At this sacred time of year, let our thankfulness replicate our gratitude for life itself, the life we have lived, are living, and the experiences yet to come.

I’m thankful for spring’s freshness, its vibrancy, virility, brightness, and renewed blessings. Life’s eternal cycle of renewal has returned once again. Let’s rejoice and be glad in it!

blooming crocuses

Rejoicing in the sun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Snow on the Mountains

Allegheny Mountains, snowstorm, Gap WV

Snow on the Mountains.

Nature ushered in springtime with a significant snowstorm in the eastern part of the United States. We received at least seven inches of heavy, wet snow in Rockingham Co in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Though I would have preferred a warmer welcome to spring, the storm beautifully blanketed the landscape far and wide.

In this photo, the tree-studded Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia show the stunning results of a substantial March snowstorm.

“Snow on the Mountains” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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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

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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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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

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Repurposed?

lost hat, fire hydrant, repurpose

Repurposed?

Much of the United States is in the throes of a massive cold spell brought on by a polar vortex courtesy of our neighbors to the north and a truncated jetstream. At first glance, it might seem that a good Samaritan wanted to repurpose this child’s stocking cap by helping to keep this fire hydrant from freezing. However, a more accurate guess would be that a youngster lost the hat and the finder merely placed it atop the fireplug in the hopes that its owner would find it.

When I walked past the hydrant a couple of days later, the hat was gone. I hope its actual owner retrieved the headwear.

“Repurposed” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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