Twofer Tuesday: Gray Jay edition

One of the friendliest bird species out there, here are two Gray Jays at our campsite in Mueller State Park. I know they have a reputation as “camp robbers,” but I enjoyed their presence and was glad whenever I had another sighting or heard them making their assortment of sounds off in a tree somewhere.

October 19, 2022

While running on the trails one morning, I nearly had to come to a full stop to avoid running over a jay in the middle of the trail. Not even my 9,000-feet-elevation huffing and puffing could scare it away.

A friendly and self-assured species, those Gray Jays.

Twofer Tuesday: nuthatch edition

Last week I spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch at the feeder and snapped two quick photos. All I got was a blurred image followed by an empty feeder tray. As I peered out the window, trying to locate the nuthatch again, it hopped up onto the window sill right in front of me. My subject was just inches away! Once again, it moved too quickly for me to photograph, disappearing as quickly as it’d appeared.

But then the nuthatch took pity on me and posed on the rail with a safflower seed in its beak.

September 8, 2022

And it even gave me a profile shot.

Such a thoughtful feathered friend.

Twofer Tuesday: grasshopper edition

This robin held those two grasshoppers in its beak for about ten minutes. When I first spotted it on the wire, I refrained from running for my camera because I was sure it would fly off and I didn’t want to miss watching it. I was curious about how it would ingest two grasshoppers at once.

July 29, 2022

But after several minutes of the bird staying put while turning its head side-to-side, I went for the camera AND took the time to switch out the lenses. Still there! I took a bunch of shots, playing with the settings, and then went back to watching. Soon, a house finch landed on the wire a few feet away. It also appeared curious about the robin’s intent. Then, from off in the distance, another bird flew toward the wire. Before I could identify it, the finch and robin took off.

They knew what was up: a Cooper’s Hawk! The raptor landed in the tree, but all its potential meals had disappeared. We were both disappointed. I’ll never know if that robin was able to eat both grasshoppers.

Twofer Tuesday: Mallards

Mallards are a common sight throughout North America and because of this, I sometimes forget just how stunning they are. Can you imagine going through life with a head like that?

May 9, 2022

Here’s a fun fact I just learned via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • The standard duck’s quack is the sound of a female Mallard. Males don’t quack; they make a quieter, rasping sound.

Who knew that between the less-striking females and the males with the gaudy green heads, the females are the quackers? Wow. Guess that would seem like overkill for the males to be loud and reflect light off those shiny heads.

Twofer Tuesday: thistle edition

Took my camera into the open space over the weekend where it’s not nearly as colorful and vibrant as last summer. The majority of wildflowers have already been and gone. However, the thistles had ample representation.

July 2, 2022

Thistles are an invasive species and I certainly don’t like coming into contact with their thorns as I run the trails, but they are fiercely beautiful. And the bees and butterflies appreciate their presence. As does this non-pollinator.

Twofer Tuesday: wading birds edition

Both of these birds were photographed in on the same May day in 2019. Florida isn’t my favorite state, but I sure do appreciate the wading birds. As I headed out that day, I saw this Yellow-crowned Night Heron patrolling an irrigation ditch.

May 6, 2019

And a few minutes later at Kapok Park, I peered through the foliage to see this Limpkin:

If you look closely at the above photo, you’ll see the left foot is raised in preparation for some elaborate screeching sounds. The foot remained aloft throughout the Limpkin’s tongue-waggling communication.

And then back to silent contemplation in its leafy green hideaway.

Possibly dreaming of its next meal of apple snails.

I took numerous photos of the heron (in hopes of getting at least one good photo), but the pose never changed. Whereas the Limpkin moved about and became very vocal, the heron made like a statue. Hence, one Heron pic to three Limpkin on this Twofer Tuesday.

Twofer Tuesday: raincatcher edition

Birds frequently perch on the wire outside my kitchen window, but I’ve never seen this before:

June 6, 2022

It’d started to rain and these two Mourning Doves each lifted first one wing and then the other to catch the moisture, and then proceeded to groom themselves.  It was almost like watching synchronized swimmers (although I’m pretty sure the doves didn’t have to hold their breath) and I felt strangely honored to witness their routine.

I just did a quick online search for information about this phenomenon and came across a few posts on forums stating the equivalent of “I didn’t know doves did this” and “Very cool to witness.”

Have any of you seen doves bathing in the rain?

Twofer Tuesday: antelope edition

Last week after leaving the Crow Valley Campground, we drove the 21-mile Birding Tour in the Pawnee National Grasslands. Alas, due to strong winds and dust, there weren’t a whole lot of birds out and about (aside from a huge number of Horned Larks which we’d never seen before plus some hawks on the ground that were too far away to identify).

However, we were gifted with antelope sightings. This small herd ran away from us as we sat idling on the road way far away from them. It seems antelope do not take any chances and will bolt at the first sign of danger.

April 21, 2022

And here they are after reaching a distance far enough away to feel safe. They stopped and wheeled around to watch us.

The scenery for that entire bumpy drive on the gravel roads was brown-brown-brown and we constantly scanned for movement. My (hopeful) eyes were often tricked into believing I saw running antelope, but it was almost always tumbling tumbleweeds blowing across the desolate landscape. Those tumbleweeds moved very quickly and I would’ve loved to see one blowing alongside the running antelope in order to compare speeds.

The antelope, though, brought me the most joy. No contest.

Twofer Tuesday: prairie dog wisdom

Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.        ~ William S. Burroughs

South Boulder Creek Trail. March 1, 2022

Now I know the things I know, and do the things I do;
and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you.
~ Dorothy Parker

Twofer Tuesday: feline edition

When the brothers began a joint grooming session this morning, their synchronized licking (back legs held high) made for a great photo, and I hurried to grab the camera. But by the time I returned, the session had come to an end.

Loki & Marcel. March 22, 2022

They’ve been napping there for hours (surprise-surprise) and the entire time, Marcel has kept watch over my project notebook. When I gently removed it from beneath his sleeping body just now, the pages were warm. I choose to interpret that as a positive review for my latest middle grade novel.

Twofer Tuesday: snow birds

We woke to a snowstorm this morning (hooray!) and it’s been fun watching the birds. The usual suspects have shown up — Eurasian Collared-dove parked in the feeder dish while a Mourning Dove perched on the rim of the heated bath — along with a visit from a Blue Jay. We do see them now and again, but they are a bit more rare, so it was a nice surprise when I spotted this one through the kitchen window.

January 25, 2022

Wildebeest and Zebu are coming for a visit and we’ve been spending lots of time cleaning the house that has become quite messy over the past months. “Wash windows” was on my to-do list but that hasn’t happened yet which means my bird photos suffer. This Red-breasted Nuthatch would appear more vibrant had I washed the window as planned.

Ah, well. As long as the glass doesn’t become opaque, I guess it’s okay.

Twofer Tuesday: House Finch edition

These finches (look closely, there are two) offer a good representation for my current emotional and mental state.

January 1, 2022

Sometimes my feelings are bright, cheery, and upbeat–as they were yesterday while walking in the sunshine with Emma Jean-Jean–and other times my emotions feel more drab and less hopeful, as this morning when tears overwhelmed me during my first yoga session in a while.

The good news is that nature always provides. During that same yoga session, feeders outside the window were visited by a flock of twenty or so wee Bushtits, reminding me of the power of community. Bushtits stick together, chipping and twittering as they forage in a tree and move on to another.

We’re not alone in this difficult reality and I’m grateful for my communities, including this one here.

Twofer Tuesday

I can imagine no more comfortable frame of mind for the conduct of life than a humorous resignation. ~ W. Somerset Maugham

October 9, 2021

As documented earlier, Marcel and Loki “cooperated” with Zippy for a very good cause in that photo session and no felines were injured in the making of this photo.

Twofer Tuesday: known and unknown

Funny how something is an instant “known” and then, upon closer examination, can turn into an “unknown.” For example, this insect I photographed back in August while visiting the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Clearly a grasshopper, right?

August 20, 2021

Well, I just went down the proverbial rabbit hole in an attempt to more specifically identify the type of grasshopper. I’m admitting defeat. Apparently, there are over 100 species of grasshopper in Colorado and to my eye, the markings on their legs are quite similar.

On the other hand, this immediately “unknown” insect was quickly identified via an online search as Tetraopes texanus, otherwise known as the Milkweed Beetle. Oddly, this particular beetle is not on a milkweed (and no, I’m not even going to try to identify this plant).

On this cold, damp, gray November afternoon, I’m basking in the warm memories of that visit to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge where keen eyes reap intriguing rewards.

 

Twofer Tuesday

Here are two of my favorite things: honey bees and lavender.

July 18, 2019

We still have a few late-blooming stalks of  lavender (this photo was taken a couple summers ago), but not a lot of bees around. Which is why I was surprised over the weekend while reading outside on a bench I’d pushed up against the side of the house to avoid the wind. Surrounded by concrete and brick, engrossed in the pages, I became aware of a faint buzzing that got louder and louder. A honey bee flew next to my outstretched leg before landing on my arm and then my chest. After a brief pause there, it flew to my collar. Much closer to my ear (bzzzz bzzzz ). And face.

Bees fascinate me more than freak me out, however, I admit to feeling a bit nervous about this buzzing visitor. Still, I maintained my calm, congratulating myself on the chill attitude. Until . . . the honey bee moved down to the end of my sleeve and crawled in my sleeve. Chill attitude officially over!  I shrieked and shook my arm to dislodge the bee, which seemed to take forever due to the layers I wore.

When the bee safely flew away-away, I chided myself for panicking. And then I remembered the terrifying bees-in-clothing experience I had years ago, and cut myself slack.

Fortunately, this latest bee interaction was entirely friendly and bees still rank among my very favorite things.

Twofer Tuesday: feathered friends

This Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove shared a tree as the sun went down on our first day of camping in Moby, the Great White campervan, in late April. We were walking around Lake Hasty (John Martin Reservoir State Park) at the end of a lovely day when I spotted them.

April 28, 2021

We receive many doves (Mourning and Eurasian-collared) here at our backyard feeder, but Red-winged Blackbird sightings are more rare. I have childhood memories of them singing their beautiful song as they perched on cattails along the train tracks.

I’m posting this picture to commemorate the end of our camping season. Yesterday we unloaded Moby in preparation for a trip to the shop to have a pop-top installed. Next year, we’ll be able to stand up inside. Can’t wait to get back out there to bask in the glories of the natural world.

Twofer Tuesday: mule deer edition

I’d just gotten on the gravel road leading away from Cataract Lake Campground when a pair of enormous ears poked up from behind a shrub. I stopped Moby (our great white campervan) and handed the camera to Zippy in the passenger seat. By the time he had it up, another set of ears had joined the first and then the two mule deer kindly stepped out into the open.

Photo by Zippy. September 29, 2021

They very calmly watched us and seemed prepared to do so for as long as we wanted to sit there. We bade them a good day and continued our drive back home, smiles on our faces.

Twofer Tuesday: Eagle eye edition

My friend spotted a large bird in a tree off in the distance as we walked around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge last month. Was it a hawk? Too big. What was it?

We slowly and quietly moved closer to the tree. This not-great quality photo was taken from quite a ways away.

August 20, 2021

My friend thought maybe a Golden Eagle, which seemed like a very good guess. We very carefully moved a bit farther on the trail until we were on the other side of the tree.

Hello there, regal raptor with the sharp beak and talons! Thank you for allowing us to gawk.

When I returned home and got the photos up on my computer screen, Zippy suggested it wasn’t a Golden Eagle, but a juvenile Bald Eagle. After a little more research, we decided he was correct.

I recently wrote a work-for-hire book about birds around the world and was limited to 100 birds. I didn’t include the Bald Eagle in the Birds of Prey section because I figured kids were already pretty familiar with them. Apparently, the editor felt differently because when my author copies arrived, there was a Bald Eagle on the cover. I checked inside and discovered the Black-thighed Falconet, which weighs 1.23 ounces and is one of the smallest birds of prey in the world, had been replaced by the mighty Bald Eagle. I admit to being disappointed by that switch.

However, I was not at all disappointed by this Bald Eagle sighting. Also? My friend could not have spotted a sparrow-sized falconet from that distance. Amateur birders such as ourselves definitely benefit when the sightings weigh in at close to 14 pounds of pure fierceness.

Twofer Tuesday: perching birds

We spent one night at Jackson Lake State Park in late May and were gifted with many bird sightings. This male Bullock’s Oriole patiently posed on  a post while I took photos, turning this way and that, allowing a complete view of his plumage.

There were several swallow species flying about and I took many photos of them in flight, none of which turned out well. This Barn Swallow was very considerate and graciously perched on a roof.

Later, as Zippy and I walked along a trail, we spotted a flash of red up ahead. He studied the bird through the binoculars and said, “Wow, it’s some really big red bird” and then passed the binoculars to me. I also briefly thought it was some unknown big, red species, and then my brain kicked in: we were looking at a House Finch, a species we see every single day in our yard. Yes, it was an unusually red male. But was it truly a large bird? No! It only appeared that way because of the binoculars. You know, that tool we use to help see things better via  magnification?

Birding. The gift that keeps on giving.

Twofer Tuesday: cormorant edition

As we walked along the shore of Lake Ladora at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge last week, my friend interrupted to point and say, “Watch the water right over there. Something’s going to pop up.”

She was correct.  A Double-crested Cormorant emerged and then went underwater again, only to reappear next to the lone cormorant I’d been calling The Sentinel.

August 20, 2021

The Sentinel had been perched alone on that rock while a sunning** of approximately 15 cormorants gathered on a cluster of large rocks about thirty feet away and I wondered whether the swimming cormorant was making a play for the sentinel role by loudly splashing with its flapping wings. Or, maybe the lone cormorant wasn’t keeping watch at all. Maybe that particular water bird is like me and requires time alone to recharge. Perhaps a better name would be The Introvert.

Confession: I’m taking especial delight in not only having a photo of two cormorants for this edition of Twofer Tuesday, but also the fact that they’re Double-crested. 🙂

** collective nouns for cormorants also include a “flight,” “gulp,” “rookery,”  and “swim.”

Twofer Tuesday

I struggled to get out of bed this morning, knowing air quality was abysmal and that temperatures would (again) reach the high 90s. I finally hauled myself upright and for the second run in a row, ran inside on the treadmill. While I’m grateful to have that option, it’s unnerving to run inside during the summer.

I’ve dipped into the photo archives from the days of yore, when wildfire smoke didn’t choke the air and I could spend hours outdoors. Here are two of the many American White Pelicans I saw paddling around at Barr Lake State Park last April:

April 8, 2021

I find them quite stately despite those bumps on their bills. I hope they continue to do well, wherever they are.

Twofer Tuesday

Twofer Tuesday is doing double-duty today. In addition to the two blooms in this photo,

Hayden Green Mountain Park. June 24, 2021

my online research tells me this plant (Argemone polyanthemos) is a member of the poppy family and that one of its common names is “Thistle Poppy.” (Woot! Two plant species in one!)

Also? Every bit of this plant, including the seeds, is poisonous. So, be sure not to lean in too close when admiring the photo. 🙂

Twofer Tuesday: grackle edition

Common Grackle, Jackson Lake State Park. May 27, 2021

I spent several enjoyable minutes watching another grackle stride through the vegetation, snapping at insects it’d kicked up. While it was a very efficient process, it unfortunately didn’t seem to make a dent in the insect population.