Fall has arrived, but we already knew that

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At the produce auction. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Ready or not, fall has arrived. It is an understatement to even say that the signs of autumn are all around us.

Even so, I couldn’t be happier. I love almost everything about fall. The colors, the cooler, less humid weather, the crispness of the air, the foggy mornings followed by clear, lustrous skies, the lulling sounds of crickets, and the rich, airy fragrances all captivate me.

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Verdant farms. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
On one recent morning, when the fog filled the lowlands long before dawn, I decided to take a drive around the countryside. I wanted to see what I could see, read autumn’s early signs like so many billboards. They weren’t hard to miss.

By the time I began my trek, the strengthening sun had melted the mist away, revealing a cloudless, deep blue sky, the kind you see in paintings, but seldom take note of when it’s right overhead. I wanted to put my busyness aside, and truly absorb all this glorious day had to offer.

It offered much. I rejoiced that I had traded my time for her blessed offerings.

If I looked close, butterflies zigzagged around the abundant autumn blossoms. They adored domesticated gardens and roadside wildflowers indiscriminately.

Lush fencerows of oaks, maples, ashes and sassafras seemed a tad thinner, losing single leaves with every pulse of the morning breeze. A few trees showed signs of succumbing to the shorter and cooler days. They blushed while their neighbors held fast, verdant.

Commercial businesses joined the celebration, too. Showy seasonal displays of mums, corn shocks, and pumpkins bedecked old vehicles or wagons or wheelbarrows in front of stores. Nature’s natural marketing had friendly competition.

Along roadways, streams and farm fields, remnants of summer’s floral display stood stark and brown, even before a killing frost. Winged insects and assorted animals would munch the seeds of this unsightly bounty.

The rays of the late morning’s sun created beautiful landscapes. Bright red barns, though not newly painted, boldly contrasted with the green, green pastures that surrounded them.

Many a farmer outside our area would love to see such a scene given their parched situations. Years of drought have taken their toll. I am grateful we have been under the extended cooling care of the polar vortex since last winter.

Like giant puffy marshmallows, large, round hay bales covered in white plastic rested side by side along outbuildings and edges of fields. It’s just one more reminder of how productive the hay harvests have been this year. It’s also good to know that the plastic covering can be recycled.

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Migrating birds fall out of the morning sky to feed and rest in freshly mown hayfields, or in marshy woodlots. They’ll be off with the next weather front or a favorable north wind to help speed them on south.

Prudent caretakers have lowered and cleaned Purple Martin houses, and covered them for the season. Come the Ides of March, they’ll be spruced up and hoisted for their tenants return.

That may seem like a long time away with the fall only just begun, and dreaded thoughts of winter pondered. However, the older I get, the faster time seems to fly.

That’s why I wanted to spend this morning just seeing what I could see, before October’s steely clouds rush low overhead, spitting fat flakes. That thought alone makes me shiver.

If fall has a fault, that’s it. It leads to winter. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute of everyday fall sends our way.

How about you?

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Nutrition and beauty. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Birds and birders: Two of a kind

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The west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk is a great place to begin the birding.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Birds and birders have a lot in common. This thought struck me on my latest trip to northwest Ohio’s birding mecca, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Billed as the Greatest Week in American Birding, the event coincided with the peak of the spring warbler migration. Warblers, and other migrating birds, use Ohio’s airspace as their launching pad to their northern breeding grounds.

Before the birds cross Lake Erie, they tend to rest along its shores. There they replenish their strength by devouring insects that flit around the budding and blooming deciduous trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Shorebirds scour the marshes and shores for their nourishment.

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This American Woodcock chose the median of the parking lot to make her nest.

As an amateur birder, I enjoy watching backyard birds and observing passers through with equal zeal. But if I want to see a multitude of colorful migrating birds packed into one location, Magee Marsh is the place to go.

The marsh and its 2,200 surrounding acres serve as a sprawling wildlife sanctuary with varied habitat types, including estuaries, marshes, scrub lands, woodlots, rocky areas, beaches and of course the lake itself. The area also provides sportsmen with seasonal controlled hunting and fishing.

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Magee Marsh has many habitats that attract several species of migrating birds.

During bird migration season, the only shooting of birds permitted is with cameras. Believe me, plenty of shots are fired in search of the perfect picture of the incredible songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey.

In my meandering around the boardwalk, trails and beach, I discovered something that should have been obvious. Birders have a lot in common with the birds they watch.

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Birders checked out warbler on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh

Like their feathered friends, birders come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Just like the birds, birders sport different hues and clothe themselves in a variety of colors, including camouflage, worn more to soothe the birds than hide from predators.

There are other comparisons, too. Some birders maneuver and forage in solitude for their targets. Others travel in organized groups. Most birders are quiet, but some let loose with an effusive chatter when a flashy warbler or rare bird is spotted.

When a shorebird captures a fish, it often finds itself quickly surrounded by others hoping to also steal a bite. When a birder discovers a coveted find, others gather around hoping to capture the image through their spotting scopes, binoculars, or cameras. Those without scopes are graciously invited to better view the often-concealed bird. Birders are genuinely kind people.

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A young family took a break from their birding at Magee.
When a bird is located along the boardwalk at Magee, birders bob and weave, stretch and stoop to get just the right viewing angle. Birds do the same in search of food or checking out habitat. Most birders go in search of birds, like the many warblers that flit from limb to limb decreasing the insect population. Others sit and wait for the birds to come to them, like a Great Blue Heron patiently waiting for a fish to spear.

Camaraderie and sharing are normal in the sport of birding. Staunch birders make life lists, month lists, day lists, yard lists,

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This Cape May Warbler dined on insects before heading across the lake.
state lists, annual lists, and just about any other kind of list you might imagine. That’s how serious they take this popular sport.

If someone finds a bird they can’t identify, a more expert birder gladly assists in teaching how to properly confirm just what species it is. Teaching and learning are just as important as appreciating the birds and their habitats.

Perhaps that is why birding is one of the most popular sports in the world. During the Biggest Week in American Birding, global citizens flock to northwest Ohio in hopes of seeing a special species.

To hear the various lyrical birdsongs and behold the flashy mating plumages first hand is truly a treat. To see the smiles and satisfaction on the faces of the elated birders is equally rewarding.

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Birders tend to be pleasant, engaging people.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

The little things of spring are spring

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After a long, chilly and wet winter and early spring, true spring has arrived in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Finally, it really is spring! I was beginning to think we would never receive its blessings.

I for one am certainly glad to embrace May. In Ohio, it’s the calendar’s conduit between a long cold, wet winter and early spring, like we have experienced this year, and summer’s usual balmy offerings.

Springtime has much to offer nature lovers. She is especially mesmerizing. Spring lulls you to sleep with her vivaciousness, her lusty beauty and verdant perfumes.

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Once the weather warmed and the days brightened, the leaves of the deciduous trees quickly unfurled.
However, you have to be alert, or you could miss a few of her best offerings. In our hustle and bustle to catch up to what we think is important we may miss her most amiable samplings.

May is one of the main accomplices to this annual transition from hibernation to horticulture. The month has a lot to offer.
We have to pay attention though to absorb it all because the transforming processes evolve so quickly. One day we notice the maple tree buds swelling. The next, it seems, the full canopy has unfurled. How and when did that happen?

To grasp the full measure of spring requires the honing of all of our senses. For those poor souls with pollen or grass allergies, no reminder is likely needed.

Spring, and especially May, is anything but quiet. The spring peepers are the first to break loose. Their noisy outbursts are their celebrative acknowledgements that spring has arrived. The amphibious cacophony is music to our ears.

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Wild yellow and purple violets are in full bloom now in Ohio’s woodlots.

Just one sunny spring day beckons buttery coltsfoot and dainty spring beauties. They brighten dusky roadsides and carpet forest floors and spacious yard-lots alike. Yellow and purple wild violets and lacy trilliums soon follow in all their grace and glory.

Clumpy lawns have already been mowed, evening the emerald patchwork from one neighborhood to the next until the prodigious dandelions appear and reappear. Try as you might, there is no obliterating them. Overnight, their yellowy blooms turn to silky seedpods, which succumb to certain spring gales and find a home just around the corner.

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The beautiful sights and calls of the Baltimore Orioles fill the woods and neighborhoods in Ohio’s Amish country in and around Millersburg, OH.
For avid bird lovers, this is prime time for migrating birds, especially songbirds. A whole host of magnificently colored wood warblers, Golden-winged, Yellow-rump, and Black and White among them, pass through our area on their way north. A few, like the convivial Yellow Warbler and gregarious Baltimore Orioles, will stay to nest and brighten the days with their vigorous choruses.

American Robins have already chosen their first nesting spots, and not always in the choicest locations. Mud-based nests on door wreaths or porch lights are only temporary inconveniences to those who enjoy their early morning wake up calls without setting the alarm clock.

The sooty Chimney Swifts have returned and chatter as they snatch dinner with spring’s first batch of insects. American Goldfinches seemingly changed to their day glow yellow and contrasting black overnight.

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For once the magnolias bloomed without fear of a killing frost in northern OH.
Native shrubs and ornamental flowering trees light up the landscape with their rainbow of colors. One day the neighbor’s giant Magnolia is bursting in pink bloom. The next, her Cinderella gown morphs into a colorful comforter spread on the ground beneath.

Just like a fast moving thunderstorm, the rubies of spring don’t last long. Will we grant ourselves the privilege to gather them in?

It pays huge personal dividends to be alert and watch as spring magnifies the hills and hollows with sights and sounds and fragrances for all to behold. Spring is here. Let’s enjoy it before it’s gone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013