Saturday, December 31, 2011

Did you catch the rainbow yesterday? was one of the brightest, largest, and most defined rainbows Rick and I have ever seen. Rain was falling gently, the sun was shining, and dramatically dark clouds were behind us. To top it off, it was late in the afternoon and the sun was low on the horizon. Perfect rainbow conditions...

...must be a huge pot 'o gold at the end of this rainbow!

...nothing like a dramatic sky to add to a rainbow's beauty.
(...and what a perfect way to ring out 2011 and welcome 2012--Happy New Year!)

532. The Rainbow
William Wordsworth. 1770–1850

MY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where is our snow?

I miss it. Last year at this time we had well over a foot of snow on the ground, and when I looked out our living room window, I had cute little birds like this staring back at me... American Goldfinch in the snow.

...he's killing me with the head tilt! That little move ratchets up the cute-o-meter like nothing else...

Male American Goldfinches are always pretty, especially in the summer when their breeding plumage glows gold in the sun, but in the winter, when they return to their basic plumage, they fade to an olive brown with only a hint of their former glory around their eyes and neck. Suddenly, they blend with the browns and greys of dead winter and barely raise a second glance, but when snowflakes fall and they sit with a backdrop of bright white snow, they once again glow gold and demand attention!

"I'm a ball of fluff, and I can melt any heart..."

Yesterday we had three flakes of snow. It was supposed to be an inch, but it fizzled into rain. I have snow gear galore—boots, gloves, down pants and a down coat, and a panda bear hat to top it all off—but unfortunately, no where to wear it! Hurry up and get here snow...

(I took these photos 12-12-10. We had snow, snow, snow then.)

About our rain...
We've had our wettest year on record. It has rained almost every other day this year...about 72 inches of rain, which scored us another record—the wettest city in the nation's top 100 largest cities. My hubby, Rick, filled me in on the stats last week. We normally get 137 days of rain. This year, we've had 187 days. If only all the rain this month had been snow... :-)

P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Classic Carolina Wren

A Carolina Wren makes everybody smile!

I recently restocked my mealworm feeder (a tiny birdhouse), and within three days this Carolina Wren found the stash. Two days later, he brought a little friend with him. Now I have two Carolinas singing out to the world their hearty praises of mealworms. I love to hear that song (loud and demanding) in the dead of winter!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Leave a peppermint stick for old St. Nick...

Wishing everyone a very Chiggy Christmas
filled with love, peace and joy.

The Carol of the Birds
(a traditional Catalonian Carol)

When rose the eastern star, the birds came from a-far,
in that full night of glory.
With one melodious voice they sweetly did rejoice
and sang the wonderous story,
sang, praising God on high, enthroned above the sky,
and his fair mother Mary.

The eagle left his lair, came winging through the air,
his message loud arising.
And to his joyous cry the sparrow made reply,
his answer sweetly voicing.
"Overcome are death and strife, this night is born new life",
the robin sang rejoicing.
When rose the eastern star, the birds came from a-far.

(addendum...I forgot to mention this was painting 100 in the 100 Painting Challenge! I've completed two years of the challenge and now have 200 paintings to show for it. Time to start year rest for the wicked!)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Great Egret on its nest...

A Great Egret stands atop what appears to be a scattered lump of twigs. Of course, it's nothing of the kind. It's a platform nest, and although it may look flimsy and non-enduring, the weight of the twigs added over time locks everything together and makes the nest secure:
"The simplicity of the architectural blueprint for the piled-up platform nest is deceptive, as it creates some of the most monumental and enduring structures in the avian world. Birds of prey including eagles, kites, and ospreys build platforms, as do herons, egrets, storks, and spoonbills." (Source: "Avian Architecture; How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build," by Peter Goodfellow, pg 36.)

A Great Egret on its nest at the Ibis Pond rookery on Pinckney Island (from June of this year). the nest the once over? Our egret appears to be studying something!

I saw more Great Egret nests on Pinckney Island this summer than past years. The Great Egret nests were much further away from the the moat and harder to see than the Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets, but this one, although pretty far away, was easily seen.

...a Great Egret takes flight through the reeds at the water's edge.

by Mary Oliver

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
the mosquitoes
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.
And that's how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
wrinkled suddenly
into three egrets - - -
a shower
of white fire!
Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them - - -
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.

I've always loved this poem by Mary Oliver. It's in one of my favorite bird anthology books, "The Little Big Book of Birds," edited by Lena Tabori and Natasha Tabori Fried, pg. 258. I tried twice to format this poem as it appears in my book, but both times, Blogger stripped out the formatting when I posted. I tried...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Bird Count—Cincinnati, Western Hamilton County

I went on the Cincinnati Western Hamilton County Christmas Bird count today. Although it was the first time for me, the Western Hamilton County CBC is in its 46th year. I'm so glad I went. I had a lot of fun and met several new birding friends! I was also introduced to west-side cuisine at the Sunshine Cafe during our lunch break--yum, I loved it! Highlights for me were Rusty Blackbirds, a Northern Harrier, and right at the end, in the glowing light of the fading sun, an immature American Bald Eagle...yeah!

A flock of about 20 Rusty Blackbirds was in the woods along the Great Miami River off 128 near the soccer fields.

I dig those rusty heads and bright eyes! I've never seen Rusties on the Little Miami river close to where I live. I'm going to have to look a little harder. They are really cool birds...

I was on the team with Paul, Joe and Judy. Paul just emailed me that the final tally was 87 species, 1 short of the record of 88. I had to leave before the tally to watch Rick and Matty play in a hockey tourney. Next year I'm staying for the tally. It sounds fun!

Two American Black Ducks flying past, their blue wing patches flashing brightly. (If you think the quality of this photo is bad, wait until you see what's coming...)

...a most excellent shot of a Northern Harrier. You can SORT-OF see his owlish face...and just a hint of his white rump feathers.

...and an even better shot of an immature American Bald Eagle (in the golden light of evening no less)! If you squint and think happy eagle thoughts, he will come to life right before your eyes.

...finally, a quick pencil sketch I did at home of the Brown Creeper we saw and heard by the river.

Thanks Paul, Joe and Judy for taking me along with you! I had a wonderful time! Next year I'm going to learn how to digiscope for these long-distance shots...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link, Spink, spank, spink..."

Do you remember that line from the poem "Robert of Lincoln," by William Cullen Bryant? I learned it when I was in the fourth grade, and it always stuck with me. When I saw these shots of the Bobolinks from the "rejected June" photos, that line kept running through my head...

"...Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink..."

A male Bobolink in the High Meadow at Voice of America (VOA) Park

Since I was going back to my childhood with this post, I pulled out my first field guide—"Teach-Me about Birds, Flash Cards in full color" to see how they described the Bobolink's unique and beautiful song. Their description is spot on: "A bubbling series of musical notes given in flight or from a perch." It's simple and perfect...."a bubbling series of musical notes..."

A female Bobolink is pretty. Just like a cardinal, she has that "understated elegance."

I like this photo because it clearly shows his pointy tail feathers! can see those pointy tail feathers just a bit here, but this shot really emphasizes his strong feet and legs. For his size, they really are beefy!

"When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again."

I wanted to find the poem, so I looked it up and found a free eBook that has it. Click here for the online version of the book "Poems That Every Child Should Know—A Selection of the Best Poems of all Time for Young People," edited by Mary E. Burt (1906)

Robert of Lincoln
by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

Merrily swinging on brier and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers,
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gayly drest,
Wearing a bright black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders and white his crest
Hear him call in his merry note:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Look, what a nice coat is mine.
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln's Quaker wife,
Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a patient life,
Broods in the grass while her husband sings,
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Brood, kind creature; you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
Chee, chee, chee.

Modest and shy as a nun is she;
One weak chirp is her only note.
Braggart and prince of braggarts is he,
Pouring boasts from his little throat:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Never was I afraid of man;
Catch me, cowardly knaves, if you can!
Chee, chee, chee.

Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
Flecked with purple, a pretty sight!
There as the mother sits all day,
Robert is singing with all his might:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nice good wife, that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
Chee, chee, chee.

Soon as the little ones chip the shell,
Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
Gathering seeds for the hungry brood.
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln at length is made
Sober with work, and silent with care;
Off is his holiday garment laid,
Half forgotten that merry air:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Nobody knows but my mate and I
Where our nest and out nestlings lie.
Chee, chee, chee.

Summer wanes; the children are grown;
Fun and frolic no more he knows;
Robert of Lincoln's a humdrum crone;
Off he flies, and we sing as he goes:
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
Chee, chee, chee.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Black-eyed Susans, Deptford Pinks, and Ox-eye Daisies in a summer meadow...

This winter when all the color has been drained from the Cincinnati landscapes and only cold greys, bleached beiges, and spotty browns can be seen, I'll come back to this post to remember what a the warm yellows, bright greens, and hot pinks of a summer meadow look like...

Black-eyed Susans ( Rudbeckia hirta) and Deptford Pinks (Dianthus armeria) danced among tall grasses in a warm summer breeze in the High Meadow at Voice of America (VOA) Park.

Black-eyed Susans ( Rudbeckia hirta) in June. VOA Park is one of the few remaining prairie settings in our area. It is fast succumbing to succession because the park officials have not mowed or burned the High Meadow in years. Let's hope they do something this winter so the Boblinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, and Henslow's Sparrows have a habitat to return to, and so we can sit in the middle of a summer meadow and watch the wildflowers and grasses sway in the heat and breezes of a summer afternoon...

...another grouping of Black-eyed Susans ( Rudbeckia hirta) scattered throughout the fields, their characteristic summer yellow drawing the eye in. American Goldfinches flew overhead in up and down arcs, chattering the day's news while waiting for some of their favorite seeds to ripen...

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are native flowers. Originally they could be found only on the prairies, but now can be found scattered in any field.

Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) is not a native wildflower. It was introduced from England but has naturalized throughout Ohio. The flower petals have shaggy edges and are covered in white spots.

The Ox-eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) is also a European import. I remember I was surprised when I read that years ago. I always had thought it a native because it's such a part of summer...

...a video of a field of Black-eyed Susans, Deptford Pink Dianthus, and Ox-eye Daisies swaying in a warm summer breeze in June. Not a lot of action, but the day was so perfect I videoed the scene so I could come back to it in winter for a reminder of what's waiting on the other side of the grey and cold days...

For more of that summery meadow feeling:
Click here for a post on a Savannah Sparrow from the same day.
Click here for a post on Red-winged Blackbirds from the same day.
Click here for a post on Eastern Meadowlarks from the same day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Eastern Meadowlark in a summer meadow...

I found an online version of "The Complete Prose Works of Walt Whitman" today and read a few passages out of "Specimen Days" (click here for a link to the online version of this book). If you jump to page 196, you'll find the following entry for March 16, "A Meadow Lark:"
March 16.—Fine, clear, dazzling morning, the sun an hour high, the air just tart enough. What a stamp in advance my whole day receives from the song of that meadow lark perch’d on a fence-stake twenty rods distant! Two or three liquid-simple notes, repeated at intervals, full of careless happiness and hope. With its peculiar shimmering slow progress and rapid-noiseless action of the wings, it flies on a way, lights on another stake, and so on to another, shimmering and singing many minutes.
It was such a beautiful entry and reminded me of an encounter with an Eastern Meadowlark I had this summer at Voice of America (VOA) Park. I went back to look at the photos I took, and decided this time around they were good enough to post. Back in June, when the living was easy, and the birds were lit by warm sunlight, I was a lot pickier. These photos didn't make the cut back then, but now......after weeks of gray clouds and rain, those happy, summery, blurry yellow chest feathers look just fine to me... Eastern Meadowlark sings sweetly at VOA Park in West Chester, Ohio.

It was beautiful day when this Eastern Meadowlark sang out his song. I remember wanting to lock the feelings was warm, sunny, and breezy, and lots of Bobolinks, Red-winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks sang from every corner of the meadow. All the birds were busy sitting on nests or feeding babies, and insects buzzed nonstop. A breeze whipped the June energy through the grasses...and the daisies, Black-eyed Suzans, and hot pink Dianthus nodded approval with each gust. Summer was at full tilt, and it was a perfect day.

Eastern Meadowlarks are short-distance migrants and can be found year-round at VOA, but the birds you see perched amid falling snowflakes in the winter may not be the same birds braving the heat in the summer. Many of our wintering meadowlarks will migrate further north for the breeding season and will be replaced by more southern birds completing their short-distance migration, so this bird and the birds that are at the park now, are probably not the same.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Santa Kitty, hurry down my chimney tonight...

Santa Gargoyle...

I know, I know...Bip, our Cornish Rex cat, looks evil and scary and not at all happy, but he's actually really sweet and didn't mind parading around as Santa Kitty at all. This is the first time I ever fell prey to a pet costume. Target's point-of-purchase marketing display worked on me. Grrrrr...

...or is it Santa Claws?

" prosaic," said the cat.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amanita mushrooms under the pines...

One afternoon back in October, I was walking through a stand of pines at Fort Ancient listening for birds. Up ahead I saw several little golf balls on the ground, and headed over for a closer look. As I got closer, I could see they weren't golf balls, but early developmental stages of amanita mushrooms, maybe the yellow and white varieties of Amanita muscaria...the famous Fly Agaric, but maybe not. I don't know enough to positively ID the species. Poisonous? Probably. Hallucinogenic? Maybe. Cool looking? Definitely...

From a distance, this amanita mushroom looked like a golf ball teed up and ready to go! The volva of the mushroom (the cup at its base) was so perfect I had to stop for a closer look.

I don't know a lot about mushrooms. I'm good with Shaggy Manes and puffballs because they are are so distinctive and I've seen a lot of them, but since I'm not a mushroom hunter and don't eat wild mushrooms, I never took the time to learn details about the poisonous varieties. When I saw this one, however, I knew something was up, because I saw the "cup" at its base. The only thing I remembered about poisonous amanita mushrooms from past reading was to watch out for the "cup of poison," which is what I called it as a memory jog. I wanted to know more, so to help me learn about poisonous amanita mushrooms, I bought the following two books:
  • "Mushrooms Demystified," by David Arora. This book is 958 pages long and contains extensive scientific descriptions and photographs of mushrooms. Pretty much everything you need. I learned a ton...
  • "Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares--the Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms," by Greg Marley. This book contains detailed historical, literary and scientific references, ancient lore, recipes, and even poetry--really interesting, and I learned another ton...
How to identify poisonous amanita mushrooms
Amanita mushrooms are not the only poisonous mushrooms out there, but they account for 90% of all fatalities, and since they were the mushrooms I saw and photographed, that's what I'll cover here. There are three easy ways to spot an amanita mushroom:

1. Look for remnants of a "universal veil" by the presence of a volva (cup) at the base and warts or scales on the cap. Amanita mushrooms have a universal veil that encapsulates the mushroom when it forms. At this stage, it's called a mushroom button and resembles an egg (at this stage it can also resemble a puffball mushroom, but if you slice the amanita open, you'll be able to see the form of the amanita's cap and gills inside--a puffball would be solid). As the mushroom button grows, the stem lengthens pushing the cap up, and the veil separates. The volva forms at the base (which is often underground, so you may need to dig down to find it). As the mushroom gets taller the volva may become less distinct. On the cap, the universal veil shows as warts or scales.

...the volva looks less like a cup as the mushroom grows, but is still clearly bulbous.

...bits of the universal veil cling to the cap of an Amanita mushroom and look like warts.

2. Look for remnants of a "partial veil" by the presence of an annulus (or ring) on the stem. To complicate things, another veil is sometimes present, called a "partial veil." It only covers the mushroom's gills and stays intact until the mushroom is old enough to form spores. As the gills mature, the partial veil pulls away and leaves behind a ring called the annulus. The annulus ring can come in many forms. In the following photo, it is easy to see. It can also be skirt like, collar like, or barely visible.

...the annulus forms a ring on the stem as the partial veil pulls away during growth. This annulus is distinct, but often they are not this obvious.

3. Look for white gills and a white spore print. Gills are the rib-like structures under the cap where spores are dispersed. Amanitas have white or pallid gills. To take a spore print, lop off the stem and press the gills (the underside of the mushroom cap) against a piece of white paper. Spore color can be black, gray, yellow, etc. Amanitas, however, will always leave behind a white spore print.

...papery white gills of an amanita mushroom.

...even as the amanita mushroom ages, the gills stay light or white.

...powdery looking white spores line the edges of the gills. When you press the gills against paper, they leave a white spore print behind.

What kind of amanita mushroom is it?
There are lots of types of amanita mushrooms. Deadly poisonous are the "death cap" and "destroying angel" amanitas, but not all are poisonous and some are hallucinogenic. I don't know the amanita species of the mushrooms I found at Fort Ancient. They may have been the muscaria magic mushrooms--the sorta-kinda deadly if you eat large quantities of them, but mostly you'll just experience intestinal distress, vomiting...or hallucinations and inebriation, but I don't know enough to be sure.

Are the whitish mushrooms I found Amanita muscaria var. alba? Alba has a white to grayish-buff cap, which seems to match this amanita, but alba is also supposed to be rare...

...there were two other varieties of Amanita scattered under the pines along with this white-colored mushroom...a red-capped mushroom and a yellow-capped variety:

I think, because the gills are yellow and there was no real ring on the stem this is Amanita parcivolvata and not muscaria.

...the bright yellow of this cap caught my eye. It was so much more intense than the white version. My guess is Amanita muscaria var. formosa. If there are experts out there, please let me know which varieties I have here.

When I wrote about Poison Hemlock and Queen Ann's Lace a few months ago, Matty wrote a little poem to help remember how to tell the two plants apart (here), so following in his footsteps, I put a rhyme together to help remember how to identify a poisonous amanita mushroom...
A tiny cup of poison,
with gills of lily white,
when accompanied with warts on top,
could give you quite a fright!