Tag Archives: nature photography

Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting

Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP

Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Milkweed Seeds

milkweed, blowing in the wind

Milkweed Seeds.

The late afternoon sun perfectly backlit the milkweed seeds and pods in our main flower garden. We let the milkweed grow to attract Monarch butterflies. They love the fragrant nectar and lay their eggs on the underside of the plant’s leaves. The resultant caterpillars thrive on the nutrients from tender, sticky, juicy leaves. The white specks are some of the seeds being propelled by the northwest wind.

The burnished leaves of the volunteer Shingle Oak sapling that sprang up this year nicely complimented the milkweed’s down. The sun also revealed how spider webs connected the milkweed and the oak.

“Milkweed Seeds” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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November’s arrival brings mixed emotions

autumn, Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country

October’s golden glow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always have mixed emotions whenever November rolls around. Like you, I know what it means.

After the excellent weather of October, I hate to think of what November might bring. I hope November doesn’t take offense.

I so enjoyed the string of amazing days we had during the height of the leaf looking season here in Ohio’s Amish country. Given the traffic jams I encountered, I wasn’t alone.

I cruised the back roads for calendar-worthy snapshots of the naturally painted landscapes. With the predominance of rolling hills and gentle dales, a Currier and Ives setting arose around nearly every corner. In some spots, I merely rotated to take multiple scenic photos.

The truth is I only had to step out my front door for a lovely sunrise photo. In the evening, it was the reverse. I have four seasons of brilliant sunset shots behind my Amish neighbor’s farmstead.

Once the leaves began to color this year, red, yellow, orange, gold and crimson rainbows basked in the sun for all to absorb. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe the landscapes.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Those inspiring scenes changed much too quickly for my liking, though. The colorful leaves have mostly fallen, and the dormant season is upon us. Welcome to November.

The Canada Geese fly from farm pond to harvested grain field where they glean to their gullets’ delight or some hungry hunter scares the flock to flying and honking with blasts of his 12-gauge. Given their numbers, I think the geese always win that war.

While the geese stick around, other waterfowl species wing it south. Pintails and Sandhill Cranes often lead the way. It’s a ritual that makes me smile and sad simultaneously. They’re a joy to watch, but it’s a sure sign of what weather is ahead.

I marvel at the majestic flights of all species avian. To have a Pine Siskin make a brief pit stop at your feeder brings momentary elation.

On the other hand, finding the first White-crowned Sparrow of the season checking the same feeder tells me I’d better get ready for another winter. Perhaps that is November’s ultimate purpose.

November’s fickle weather pattern is familiar by now. Its early days seem more like an October extension. A few deciduous holdouts flash the last of the lushest leaves before they drop overnight leaving only the burnished oaks to rustle in the wind.

By the month’s end, the world can suddenly change with the passing of one strong cold front. The silvery down of the milkweed seeds sail through graying skies only to be replaced the next day by the season’s first snowfall.

corn shocks, Amish farm

November’s look.

We’ve returned to standard time, accentuating November’s shorter days. It’s nature’s way of prepping us for colder, darker days to come.

In North America, we have concocted a dodgy purpose for the eleventh month. November ushers in the holiday season here in the United States. Commercially translated, it’s time to shop as if you needed a reminder.

Near month’s end, Thanksgiving rings in the festive mode and the glitzy commercials. Christmas then isn’t far behind.

October’s golden days are gone. The best we can hope for now is a late Indian summer. We’ll take it even if only lasts a day or two.

Ohio’s pleasant weather has melted away like a stick of butter on a hot griddle. It’s time to stack the firewood, put in the storm doors and enjoy a warm cup of mulled cider.

We have to face the truth. November is upon us.

November snows, Ohio

November snows in Ohio are not uncommon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Rejoicing with others along life’s variable journey

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks, WV. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the picnic table for nearly two hours admiring the scenery and serenity all around me. I hadn’t planned on staying that long. Life’s events have a way of altering your plans.

The previous day I had safely delivered our granddaughter back to her parents in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. On the way home, I wanted to hike up the enchanting Seneca Rocks, one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia.

I had previously taken several photos of this fascinating rock formation that juts straight into the sky. But I never had time to climb it. I did this trip.

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The switchback trail to the viewing platform at the north end of the ancient rock outcropping extends a mile and a half. In that short distance, the trail climbs 1,000 ft.

The cool morning was perfect for my adventure. An overnight cold front had cleared out the heat and humidity.

The trailhead began at the restored home of an early pioneer settler. A tour of the Sites homestead is informative and interesting. I could have been satisfied to watch the dozens of butterflies that flitted around the bee balm. But I had come to hike.

I only walked a few yards when I came to a pedestrian bridge that crossed a delightful river, the South Fork of the North Branch of the Potomac River to be exact. The stream’s lengthy name didn’t do justice to its placid beauty.

Once across the rock-laden river, the switchbacks began. I was more surprised about the excellent condition of the trail than its sudden steepness. A light breeze kept the insects away as I forged ahead beneath the leafy canopy high overhead.

It was comfortable walking in the shade of both the forest and the quartzite cliff, thrust upright from its original horizontal position millennia ago. I had the trail to myself until some early morning hikers passed me on their way down.

I made it to the viewing platform in 40 minutes. The sun’s strengthening light bathed the valley below and the mountains beyond. The businesses, houses and vehicles all looked like toys.

Just as I stepped onto the viewing area that protrudes away from the rock face, a southwest breeze picked up. Soon Turkey Vultures began to soar on the developing vortexes. I glanced back down to the river to discover an adult Bald Eagle had also started to circle in the quickly warming air. In just a few elongated loops, the magnificent bird was high above my head.

I think I smiled all the way back down to the car. I moved to a shaded picnic table to rest and eat the light lunch I had packed. As I ate, I scanned the still shaded western face of the Seneca Rocks with my binoculars.

Instead of birds, I found first one, then three, then 10 rock climbers scaling the huge, craggy outcropping. I was entranced.

I sat beneath a shade tree observing these men and women pick their way up this sacred place. One brave guy didn’t even use ropes.

I waited to leave until all had made it safely to the summit. I admired their courage, their determination, and their adept skills.

I was pleased to have walked to the top and back. It was even more satisfying seeing these remarkable folks reach their destination. They celebrated their perilous journey with fist pumps and shouts of joy that echoed far across the valley into my soul.

reaching the summit

Celebration time. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Beauty in the Garden

Tiger Swallowtail

Beauty in the Garden. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My lovely wife grows beautiful flowers. One of the side benefits of that is the flowers attract a variety of insects. I enjoy checking the flower gardens frequently, never knowing what I’ll find.

On one such foray, I spotted this incredible female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly flitting from coneflower to coneflower. Backlit by the morning sun, the colors radiated on this fresh, young butterfly.

“Beauty in the Garden” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Sleepyhead

sleeping barn owl, juvenile barn owl

Sleepyhead. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

When the farmer called me the other morning, I was away from home. He said he had two juvenile Barn Owls sleeping near his barn. My wife and I finally arrived at the Amish farm two miles from our home. The owls were still in the same place. Both were still sound asleep despite being only a few yards from a busy highway.

The owls had recently fledged from their nest box in the farmer’s barn. Rather than be disturbed by their younger siblings, still too young to fly, each owl found a personal, private spot to snooze. This one chose a silver maple tree in the farmer’s yard. The afternoon sun highlighted its breast feathers and some of the tree’s leaves.

“Sleepyhead” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Rippling sunset

sunset, reflections

Rippling sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Whenever I visit Lakeside, OH, rightly dubbed the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, I head to the dock if there is at all a chance of a decent sunset. Recently, this sparkling scene greeted me. Though I couldn’t coax a boat to sail into view, the shimmering oranges that glistened off of the rippling water caught my eye.

“Rippling sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Camouflaged

Camouflaged. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Camouflaged. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

I recently went in search of migrating warblers and other bird species at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor, OH. It was the peak of the Biggest Week in American Birding, sponsored by the Black Swamp Birding Observatory. Thousands of folks from around the world came to the annual event.

Magee Marsh has a well-maintained boardwalk for birders to observe up close the many beautiful birds that flit around. The boardwalk meanders through the various favorable habitats, woods, marsh, water. At times, the walkway is packed. People clump up to get a view of a showy or rare species, with birders helping birders to find the bird. That’s just how birders are. Well, most of them at least.

When I came upon this photographer aiming his huge camera at something, I had to take his photo. He was the only person I saw all day that totally blocked the boardwalk. This individual wore all the right clothes and used the best photography equipment.

He clearly only had one thing in mind, and courtesy wasn’t one of them. His camouflage outfit and camera said it all. He was there to shoot photos of birds. He seemed totally oblivious to the fact that thousands of others wanted to do the same and were unable to pass the way he was set up. Also, the boardwalk rules, both written and understood, clearly state, “No tripods.”

I’m glad this photographer was the exception, not the rule at Magee Marsh. “Camouflaged” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Farewell to the backyard garden pond

backyard garden pond

In its prime. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our backyard looks and sounds a little different than it has in a long time.

We recently bid a fond farewell to our little backyard garden pond. She served us well all these years. It was time to let her go, and allow others to embrace her captivating charm.

I didn’t relish removing the little pond and all its accessories. The artificial pond brought us many genuine joys, far beyond any expectations we could have imagined.

When I retired as elementary principal in 1999, my faithful staff, amiable students and supportive parents presented me with a very special gift. They gave me a hand-hewn birdbath and a gift certificate for a garden pond, something I had wanted for a long time.

I brought the weighty birdbath home and plopped it where the sidewalk curves to the front porch. Surrounded by luscious bubblegum petunias, it enticed many a bird to sip and bathe in the summer sunshine.

I located the pond just steps away from our back porch. It was also easily visible from the windows at the rear of our home.

I’ve had two different ponds over the years. The first was a rubber lining placed in a shallow hole that I had dug out. I added a miniature waterfall constructed out of an assortment of rocks I collected from farm fields and local creeks.

I added goldfish, oxygenating plants, water lilies, snails and non-toxic chemicals to kill the algae and keep the water as clean as possible. Of course, I had to feed the fish and regularly clean the pond pump filters.

Unfortunately, destructive varmints also were drawn to the water feature. Several years ago, I awoke to find that the pond had been nearly drained.

I discovered that some ground moles had created shortcuts to quench their thirst. To prevent a reoccurrence, I switched to a hard plastic pond. In the end, it turned out to be a better option for everybody, pond critters included.

The waterfalls provided practical and esthetic pleasures. The birds loved it, bathing and drinking the refreshing water. The sound of water falling mesmerized anyone who graced our porch.

I enjoyed watching American Goldfinches bringing young to the pond for the first time. I added a heater to keep the falls going in the wintertime. A variety of birds took advantage of the much-needed water when their normal sources froze.

Birds weren’t the only animals attracted to the little pond. Over the years, raccoons, garter snakes, groundhogs, squirrels and even deer came to the pond.

The grandchildren loved the pond, too. They couldn’t wait to feed the fish and count the frogs hiding among the lily pads and their pure white blossoms each time the grandkids visited. My wife and I will always cherish those fine memories.

As much as we loved the pond and its amenities, we needed to give it up. Given our situation, we simply couldn’t maintain the pond properly. A friend’s family is already enjoying its alluring magical sounds. It’s nice to know that another generation will continue the gratification that we received from the little water feature.

To keep a water source for the animals and birds, I relocated the sandstone birdbath from the front to the back and added a couple of others to keep it company. We transplanted hostas and placed several of the rocks leftover from the falls for some natural texture.

The birds have already discovered the water. I only hope the snakes and groundhogs don’t find it as desirable.

garden pond, birth baths

The new “pond.” © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A sign of spring

gulf fritillary butterfly, sign of spring

Gulf Fritillary butterfly. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

With spring set to arrive officially on Friday at 3:45 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, I thought a splash of natural color would only be appropriate. I captured this Gulf Fritillary butterfly flitting among sand dunes on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL in late January. The white spots on each wing indicate that it was a male.

“A sign of spring” is my photo of the week. Let’s hope we all see many more such signs in the days and weeks ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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