Saturday, June 26, 2010

A June Slice of Florida's Space Coast

I've just spent a week with Marge Bell of Space Coast Beach Buzz in South Brevard County, Florida, exploring beaches, summer wetlands and inland meadows with naturalists in the area.  Among my activities, wildflower walks, exploring sunrise beaches, and guided moonlight walks to witness Loggerhead sea turtle nesting.   
White Ibis foraging at sunrise along a barrier island beach in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge   

Loblolly Bay blossom with assassin bugs at Wickham Park

Ghost crab blending with the sand at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Cricket on Pitcher Plant blossom in an inland meadow

A Limpkin among the Indian Blankets at Viera Wetlands

Sea Oats at sunrise

And this is just a preview.  More details on the nature I enjoyed during my visit coming up.    

Links and resources:

Space Coast Beach Buzz
Space Coast Eco
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge
Wayne Matchett - Space Coast Wildflowers
Jim Angy Photography
Charlie Corbeil Photography
Vince Lamb Photography

To see posts from my January visit to Brevard County's Space Coast click here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Songs of Sugar Creek

When you participate in WV's New River Birding and Nature Festival where every day holds so much to see, it is hard to pick any day in the field that is your favorite.  Each day is packed with special memories.
Wild Geranium

But there were several birds on my last day at the festival (May 1st), plus some flowers and a special lunch spot, that made the Sugar Creek trip settle in my memory with special contentment.  You couldn't ask for better.
On the first day of the festival I learned a new bird song, "teacher, teacher, teacher", and it now rings in my head whenever I think of the Oven Bird (above and below).  I became acquainted with this bird back in Tennessee at our Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge banding station.  But this day I enjoyed an exceptional look on territory.  He landed on a limb and walked along its length just as if he were on the ground, then threw back his head and sang.
Further up the ridge, we stopped in an area that over-looked brushy habitat in search of a Kentucky Warbler.  This is truly the first time I've ever looked down to find a warbler. As our guide and host Geoffrey Heeter commented, "How often do you get to see the color of the tops of their heads?!" 
Kentucky Warbler

Geoff Heeter

There was reason to also scan the ground.  It was still early spring in the higher elevations and the woods were peppered with early spring flowers.  Below a Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

And right before taking our break for lunch, the song of a Swainson's Warbler, my second spectacular look at this illusive bird.  This male perched on a limb nearby and continued to sing.
Our river-side lunch spot.
I could have spent the rest of the afternoon sitting here with a sketchbook.
Below, left to right:  Mark Garland, one of our expert guides, with Steve Mattan, and Laura Hardy.
The best news about the New River Birding and Nature festival, it happens every year!  Mark these dates on your calendar for next year--May 2-7, 2011

Visit Jeffrey Gordon's blog to see his great images of a Swainson's Warbler
National Park Service, New River Gorge 
Laura Hardy - Somewhere in N J
Steve Mattan - Recycled Photons

To see all my posts on the New River Birding and Nature Festival click here.
Coming up:  A June Slice of Florida's Space Coast

Monday, June 14, 2010

Babcock Park and a Black-throated Green

Babcock State Park in Clifftop, WV, was my primary destination on day five of the New River Birding and Nature Festival (April 30th).  The Glade Creek Grist Mill greets you near the visitor's entrance, a mill constructed as a reproduction of the old Cooper's Mill that once ground grain on this creek before the park was established.  The Glade mill was assembled from a collection of other historic mills that once dotted the state.
The historic mill and the roaring sound and mist of Glade Creek forms a relaxing center piece for birdwatching and hikes in the park.  And right here at the visitor's center we were greeted by a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers, the male and the female, both busily foraging in a large evergreen near the parking lot.
The male found a worm as we watched.
And got it situated...
and in position for the big swallow.
And just as he was perching for departure, the female (below) popped into view.  Notice that she doesn't have the solid black under her throat, but white with a spattering of black markings on her upper breast.
Here's most of our group, with Connie Toops behind the camera...
pausing just before we took our delicious stroll along the creekside trail.  Plenty of other people were enjoying a day of fishing along the creek's shores.
Below, one of the many Black-and-White warblers we encountered.  This warbler was around us throughout the day and if we didn't see them, we could hear their song, a high- pitched "weesee weesee weesee".
The Black-and-White is known for its creeping like motions while foraging, similar to that of a nuthatch.  This one flew to a trunk beside me, foraged for a moment, then off again to another tree
More often, they hung out over our heads.
Below, two of our leaders for the day, Lynn Pollard (second from right) and Donna Hershberger (right).  Molly Daly is to the left with binoculars raised.  
And below, Connie Toops, one of our bird and botanical experts.

As we boarded the bus before departing this trip, Bill Thompson III stepped inside, "Hey, I want to go on this trip.  You're all chicks in here!  It's a Chick Trip".  I looked around, and yes, we were all females, including our bus driver.

I don't know if this helped account for the laid back nature of the day, or if I should credit the sun warming us to short sleeves, or simply the prevailing mood of field-day five, but our Babcock trip was a relaxing and charmed day of birding.
A patch of Bluets aka Quaker Ladies near the visitor's center.

Female Black-throated Green Warbler with sketch, my first sighting in TN
WV's New River Birding and Nature Festival
Opossum Creek Retreat
National Park Service, New River Gorge 
Babcock State Park
Connie Toops--Lost Cove Farm
Donna Hershberger--The Music of Nature
Molly Daly--The Catbird Seat
Bill Thompson, III- Bill of the Birds

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #94 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cranberry Glades and a Porch Full of Bloggers

The 750 acre Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, located in the Monongahela National Forest, protects the largest area of bogs in West Virginia.  In the midst of these bogs, a magical boardwalk has been constructed to enable visitors like me to stroll through a portion of these bogs as easily as walking through a backyard garden.  Needless to say, curiosity about this habitat and its unique plants formed the highlight of this scenic trip.
Bogs are acidic wetlands more commonly found in the northern US and Canada.  These WV bogs are located 3400 ft. above sea level in a natural mountain bowl.  Historically they were influenced by the movement of glaciers 10,000 years ago.  While the glaciers didn't actually reach this area of West Virginia, many northern species of plants and animals migrated south and still remain here at there southern-most location.  One of these interesting plants is the carnivorous Purple Pitcher Plant pictured below.
The bog floor is covered with Sphagnum moss and beneath its surface, dead and decaying moss extends several feet, creating the sponginess that is characteristic of bogs.  The trail took us through open, tree-less areas as well as wooded areas where shallow-rooted Red Spruce, hemlock and yellow birch survive the wet conditions.  The same shallow root structure that aids their survival also makes the trees susceptible to winds.   Many fallen trees criss-cross open areas and in turn, nurse logs are formed to aid in the re-establishment of seedlings.

Marsh Marigold (above)
Bog Rosemary

I'm not sure what was more fun, the collection of unusual plants found in the bog, or the intimate moments with birds.  The first was a very vocal group of Ruby-crowned Kinglets (below), foraging and chattering at eye-level.  This was the first time I had heard this kind of kinglet interaction and I could have lingered for another hour just listening and watching.
A little further down the boardwalk we encountered this very cooperative Yellow-rumped Warbler (below).  While many birders seem to take this bird for granted, I counted seeing him at such close range among my satisfying warbler moments.  While he wasn't a new warbler for me, I more often see him in his duller (but still beautiful) fall plumage. To have this male catching insects and even singing at eye level was an exceptional treat.
And how many times do you get to see all three yellow patches visible in one pose?  (Don't miss the yellow spot on his head.)  An experience worth taking time to enjoy...

and time to sketch.

Below, a Skunk Cabbage in bloom...
and one of the few bog cranberries the birds and animals had not plucked!
Below, fellow blogger and bog explorer, Debbie Barnes, drops to her tummy on the boardwalk to get a close-up view of a violet.  There's actually a camera in those hands.
And at the very end of our tour, we enjoyed some good looks at an Eastern Comma butterfly near the parking area.  The name-sake comma marking is visible only when the butterfly's wings are closed.
As with each day at the New River Birding and Nature Festival, our day of exploring the glades was followed in the evening by a dinner gathering, presentation and a chance for everyone to compare their finds for the day.  And this particular day-end ritual had an extra perk, the arrival of blogger, writer, NPR commentator and artist, Julie Zickefoose, along with husband, Bill Thompson III, blogger and editor of Birder's Digest and the rest of their clan, Phoebe, Liam, and the infamous Chet Baker.  This was my first time to meet  them in person and it was great fun to enjoy their company and talents for the remainder of the festival.
Julie with Boston Terrier, Chet Baker

Our New River "Flock" of nature bloggers gathered on the porch for a photo opportunity.  Bill Thompson III was gracious enough to hold the camera.
Back, l to r:  Nina Harfman, Debbie Barnes, Murr Brewster, Kelly Little Orange, Julie Zickefoose, Phoebe Thompson, Front, l to r:  Vickie Henderson, Susan Kailholz-Williams, Sarah Stratton, Mary Moore Ferracci.

Links and Resources:
Cranberry Glades Nature Center
WV's New River Birding and Nature Festival
National Park Service, New River Gorge Website
Nina Harfman - Nature Remains
Debbie Barnes-DJB Photo Adventures
Murr Brewster-Murrmurrs
Kelly Little Orange-Kelly LittleOrangeGuy
Julie Zickefoose-Julie Zickefoose 
Susan Kailholz-Williams--Susan Gets Native
Sarah Stratton-Little Orange Guy
Mary Moore Ferracci- Mary's View
Bill Thompson, III- Bill of the Birds

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Friendships and the May 10th Tornado

I joined the blogging community and the Nature Blog Network just two years ago, having no idea how this community and activity would expand my world and bring me into contact with so many new and talented friends.  In the process of visiting other blogs, I discovered the inspiring work of artists and bloggers, Julie Zickefoose and Debbie Kaspari.
In the photo above you see, Julie (right), Mary Moore Ferracci (left) and myself at the 2010 New River Birding and Nature Festival, one of those rare occasions where bloggers meet and enjoy each others' company, putting faces and voices together in the richness of in-person..  The photographer who collected us together for this "Periwinkle Trio" image was fellow blogger, Susan Kailholz-Williams.  

Just twelve days later we all learned about the devastating tornado that destroyed Debbie Kaspari's home in Oklahoma. And today, a month later, I'm joining Julie and the Nature Blog Network community with an invitation to you to visit Julie's blog, meet Debbie and Mike Kaspari's and read the amazing story of their survival of the May 10th Oklahoma tornado.  

I couldn't read this account or the detailed account on Debbie's blog, The Anatomy of a Tornado, without  tears.  Their story is real and terrifying, evoking both fear and gratitude.  On Julie's blog, you will also find easy ways to send financial support.  If you have the means, I hope you will join us in our endeavors to support the Kaspari's recovery.            

The story is presented on Julie Zickefoose's blog in three parts:  
The May 10 Tornado (June 10).     
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham