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.
Some time ago, Dr. Lori Drumm contacted me about writing a chapter for her next book, “Serving Heroes.” I shared with her a piece I had written about assisting my father on an Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In an email, Dr. Drumm asked if she could use my article in her forthcoming book. I was honored that she wanted to use what I wrote.
I had come to know Dr. Drumm through my dying father. I often transported my father from Walnut Creek, Ohio, where he lived in a retirement community with my mother. I was always impressed with how well Dr. Drumm listened to my father and reassured him as his prostate cancer returned with a vengeance 17 years after surgery to remove the disease.
At his last visit to the VA clinic in Canton, Ohio, my father pleaded with Dr. Drumm to find a spot for him on the Honor Flight plane. There was a long waiting list, and Dad knew he had little time left.
A few days later, Dad received notice that he was on the Honor Flight from Akron-Canton Regional Airport to Washington, D.C., on September 12, 2009. I agreed to be his guardian since he was on oxygen, had a catheter, and used a wheelchair.
Dr. Drumm had pulled some strings and ensured Dad was on the flight. When I saw what it meant to my father and the other veterans on board, I knew I had to write about it.
My article summed up the day, and I included photos. I sent the link to the article to Dr. Drumm, and she thanked me. I was forever grateful Dr. Drumm worked to get my father on that flight. Dad died three months later.
I never anticipated the story being a chapter in a book. But here it is. “Serving Heroes” is now available on Amazon.com and other book venues.
I found it on the way home from Florida. Without success, I had looked for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in South Carolina’s Cheraw State Park. I had also searched extensively for the rare bird in the tall pines of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Folkston, Georgia.
Since we would pass by Cheraw State Park on the return trip to Virginia, I decided to try again. We had the time, and I needed to stretch my legs and aching back. I stopped at the park’s welcome center and spoke with a ranger about where to look for the woodpecker. He gave me precise instructions, and I was where I needed to be in five minutes.
When my wife and I exited the van, we heard woodpeckers chipping, calling, and flitting high in the pines overhead. Were they the ubiquitous Downy Woodpeckers found in every state, or were they my nemesis bird? It turned out they were both.
To protect the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, scientists mark their cavity trees with rings of whitewash a few feet off the ground. That enables them to keep a close eye on the welfare of the rare birds. Look up, and the entrances to their nests are easy to find. Spotting the elusive woodpecker is a bit harder.
I was careful to stroll, always alert for any sound or sight of birds foraging. It didn’t take me long. Straight above me, a handful of small woodpeckers moved from limb to limb, pinecone to pinecone, searching for any moving insect protein.
I raised my binoculars and spotted what I was sure was a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. But birding alone is iffy, especially in search of rare birds. I briefly saw the big white patch on the bird’s cheek, a reliable field mark. But I had no one else to verify it was a Red-cockaded. That is protocol in IDing rare birds. My wife is not a birder, so I could not use her observations.
Soon, other small woodpeckers appeared and chased the Red-cockaded back to its nesting tree. Even with binoculars, it was hard to distinguish the Downys from the Red-cockaded. I took a few photos, hoping the rare bird was in one of them.
Still, I submitted my observations to eBird, the preferred app of birders. Of course, it flagged the Red-cockaded and told me what I already knew. My find was a rarity.
It wasn’t until we returned home, unpacked, and settled in that I could finally download my images to my laptop. With that done, I could enlarge the photos and see what I had captured digitally. My heart sank when I spotted not one but three different Downy Woodpeckers feeding in the treetops amid shadows and filtered sunlight.
However, one photo, taken without the zoom lens, clearly showed a large white patch on the bird’s cheek. About then, I got an email from a regional volunteer reviewer for eBird. He politely questioned my sightings and asked me to add details to verify my sighting. I did just that and added the two photos you see here.
That evening, the reviewer replied via email and thanked me for the additional information and photos. He certified that I had indeed seen a Red-cockaded Woodpecker! I was thrilled.
What’s the next rare bird on the list to find? The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, of course! (For you non-birders, that’s a joke. The Ivory-billed has been declared extinct, though a few supposed sightings occasionally pop up. None have produced evidence of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker).
I wish you could see the view from my winter window. It’s nearly the total opposite of the one from our home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Each winter, my wife and I spend a few weeks away from the cold and snow. We’ve done so for a dozen years. We always head to Fernandina Beach, Florida, a small town that anchors Amelia Island, a barrier island northeast of Jacksonville.
The weather is not usually balmy there. After all, Amelia Island is Florida’s northernmost spit of land. Still, it’s not northeast Ohio, where we used to live, nor Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we moved five and a half years ago to be close to our three oldest grandchildren.
So, we pack up the van and head south for brighter, warmer days during winter’s darkest. Of course, when you rent a condo on the Atlantic Ocean, the weather is as fickle as a two-year-old. Sometimes it plays nice, and sometimes it doesn’t. Nevertheless, we take our chances and hope for the best.
So far this year, sunny, warm days have been the rule rather than the exception. We couldn’t be happier.
I often sit at my computer in front of large plate glass windows and attempt to finish my work. By work, I mean doing morning devotions, checking emails, and reading stories online. That’s my routine in Virginia. Only I look at neighboring houses, vehicles, pedestrians, and dog walkers passing by.
But I am easily distracted in Florida. Besides being a writer, I’m also an amateur photographer. I bounce from desk to balcony to capture the menagerie of what I see. A beautiful sunrise over the ocean equals a pleasant start to any day.
Then there are the beach walkers, dog walkers, beachcombers, Navy helicopters from a nearby Naval station, and so much more. I gladly take it all in before my first spoonful of cereal.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
I watch the tide charts as much as I do the beach. I’m not alone. Joggers, runners, bikers, and shell seekers use the flat, wet sand as their personal expressway. I see the same people at about the same time every morning doing their separate things.
The dark, swarthy, tanned skin tones quickly identify the veterans. The pasty-pale pedestrians are asking for sunburns. The younger generations pass their elders rapidly unless they’re trying to steer a dog in the same direction and pace they want. I’ve witnessed many a canine confab between northbound and southbound owners and pets.
People aren’t the only regulars that come into my view. Brown Pelicans play follow-the-leader only inches above the rolling waves. Resident Ospreys sail overhead, hovering high above the gentle waters if they spot a potential meal.
I keep an eye out for dolphins and whales, too. The dolphins regularly feed in the waters a hundred yards offshore. Last year I was fortunate to spot an endangered Right Whale and her newborn calf floating at the surface like logs. The bright morning sun glistened over their dark, blubber-puffed skin.
Pelicans, an assortment of competing gulls, and terns often follow the dolphin’s lead hoping for spoils that manage to escape, if only temporarily. I especially enjoy the antics of the Forster Terns that zoom along and then climb in a glide over a school of fish. The terns divebomb toward the salty sea, hoping to scoop up delicate sushi morsels.
I especially enjoy watching the smaller shorebirds dash to where the water recedes along the soft sand. Willets and tiny Sanderlings drill and peck for small crustaceans deposited by the rhythm of the waves. Somehow the tiny Sanderlings always manage to outrun the encroaching foamy water. Their little legs seem to move 100 miles per hour.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
The ocean itself has been unusually calm so far this winter. Most passing weather fronts that constantly stir up the waters into angry waves have thankfully evaded us.
Still, I love the tender interplay between the sky and the Atlantic. Their colors intermingle, making it difficult to tell one from the other where they meet at the horizon near the Gulf Stream.
Every once in a while, rangers cruise up and down the beach in their off-road four-wheelers. Their primary duties are to clean the shore of any trash or driftwood and to keep an eye on early morning and after-school surfers. They also stop to chat with strangers who quickly become friends. The latter seems to occupy most of the rangers’ time.
Farther out in the deeper water, I use binoculars to watch shrimpers ply their nets 24/7 unless the dense fog obscures them. Occasionally freighters and dredgers sit in the channel that leads to the little port of Fernandina Beach. Their bright white LED lights punctuate the moonless night’s darkness.
I see all this and more through my winter window. I am most grateful I can take it all in before we return too soon to my more mundane vistas.
My wife and I come to Florida for a few weeks each winter. There are many reasons we do so besides the warmer weather. Magnificent sunrises and sunsets enrich our lives.
The sunrises come to us. Our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. I only have to walk from the bedroom to the front windows to enjoy dawn’s show. Sometimes I stand in awe at the glorious beauty before me.
Sunset is a different story. An hour or so before the time for sunset, I check the western sky. If it looks favorable, we delay supper, and my wife and I head to one of several locations for picturesque photos.
Depending on where we go, we’ll head out 15 minutes to half an hour before dusk to be ready for nature’s glory to unfold. The image below was taken near a marina on Egans Creek in Fernandina Beach. I was fortunate that these fishermen called it a day at the sunset’s peak.
I found this when I checked the potential for a lovely sunrise at 6:30 this morning. With sunrise still 45 minutes away, these clouds should have been turning all shades of pink, orange, and red at this stage.
Instead, the low clouds set a foreboding mood, as if denying the sun its daily duty. Then I noticed the crescent moon in the photo’s upper right-hand corner. And the phrase, “By dawn’s early light,” came to mind.
For citizens of the United States, those words should mean something. They are in the opening line of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics come from a poem, “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812.
I wondered how this sky compared to the one that inspired Key’s patriotic poem. Unlike the scene Key painted, thankfully, no bombs were bursting in the air here in Fernandina Beach, Florida, this morning.
But the mood of this photo, with the splinter of a waning January moon peeking between the clouds, also inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.
January’s Full Wolf Moon rose over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 minutes before sunset last evening, January 6, 2023. That made it rather difficult to find on the horizon. The moon easily blended with the pale pink background of the Belt of Venus.
I had my cameras ready, and my wife spotted it first. I aimed my 35 mm camera on the tripod and snapped away. I also used my point-and-shoot camera with a 1,725 mm lens when fully extended. I concentrated on holding it still enough to keep the photos from blurring. In addition, I took a few pictures with my iPhone.
The following photos show the sequence of the full moon rising. Please click on the images to enlarge them.
The photo above was my first shot once we spotted the moon. A large bird hovered over the ocean and appeared at about 11 o’clock on the moon’s face. The red object at the far right is a bouy that helps mark the channel into the St. Mary’s River that serves as the state line between northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
The moon became more evident in just two minutes as it rose slightly above the ocean.
This photograph provides the view from our third-floor condo. Note the freighter on the horizon in the upper right-hand section of the photo.
Nine minutes later, the moon hung unmistakeably above the Atlantic.
With the sun now set, the full moon dominated the eastern sky.
Watching the moon rise over the ocean is always a treat. The unobstructed view gives viewers the opportunity to fully appreciate the spectacular sequence and beauty of another rising full moon.
The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.
Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.
There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.
The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.
Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.
The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.
Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.
Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.
From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.
Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.
Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.
After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.
Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.
Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.
Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.
No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.
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