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.

Twofer Tuesday: snow play edition

The snow has started falling again, much to the delight of these four kids.

It’s been fun seeing the many snow caves and tunnels and quinzhees around the neighborhood. When I lived in Anchorage, my good friend Anne S. did a weekend wilderness class during the winter in which they had to build quinzhees and then spend the night in them. She invited me to take the class with her, but I declined. When Anne returned, she regaled me with stories of a woman named Betsy who struggled throughout the weekend, constantly complaining about cold, wet, hunger, discomfort, etc.

I looked at Anne and said, “I would’ve been the Betsy of the quinzhee.”

True then and true now.

Twofer Tuesday: tuckered hikers edition

Emma and I just returned from a sunny and warm excursion in the open space. We hiked up the mountain as fast as we could and then ran down. Well, we did some running. My short-legged companion doesn’t like the heat and slowed to a walk multiple times. At one point, she even did her signature “goin’ on strike” move.  She stopped and dug in to pull the leash taut, then flopped on her belly with pink tongue hanging out.

I’d already offered her water from my cupped hand when we were at the top of the mountain, which she refused. So when she was on her belly, I tried another approach: pouring water in front of her. Instead of lapping it with her tongue, she ignored it. Silly dog, refusing libation when hot and thirsty. Well, I wasn’t willing to take no for an answer and pried her jaws open to pour water in her mouth.

Worked like a charm! Emma got up and ran almost the entire way back to the street. Such a good doggo.

(Note: Zippy took the photo with the camera still set for shooting the Brown Creeper in low light even though Emma and I were in bright, bright light. I salvaged the photo via a filter. Artsy, no?)

Twofer Tuesday: shadow edition

I’m making a concerted effort to focus my gaze on activities and topics that bring joy rather than churning anxiety. Today, along with Zippy and Emma, I went out in the BLOWY sunshine to hike/run on the trails. I felt so much better as a result, even if I did have to carry my running hat that would NOT stay on my head.

Yesterday’s act of self-care was to photograph lovely shadows on the patio. Here are two of my favorites (the one on the right also contains sunflower stalk shadows):

         

So much going on in the world demands our push-back, but sometimes I need to  lower my gaze and focus on the small stuff. Sunshine, wrought-iron patio furniture, and shadows. Who knew?

Twofer Tuesday: goat therapy

I gave myself the day off and spent it in bed reading adult fiction (Tana French’s THE WITCH ELM). Self-care without guilt. Write my 1,000 words? Only if it felt right. I wasn’t going to butt heads with myself and turn it into a negative situation.

Photo by Hans Lindgren from Pexels

I’m happy to say I’m now in the head-space to crank out my daily word count. Thank you to these adorable goats for their role in helping me get there. And now I’m off to write . . .

Twofer Tuesday: bee tales

Yesterday, Zippy told Wildebeest a story from when we lived in Alaska (before Wildebeest was born). It was a summer night, and Zippy and our dog Packy were out in our large yard where there was a pile of branches and grass clippings left by the previous owners. (We, being basically lazy people, had left it there with the rationale that it provided wildlife habitat). Zippy noticed something white in the branches, something he thought was a volleyball.

Image by Tidy from Pixabay

He proceeded to poke at the “volleyball” with a stick. (I know, I know. Who arms themselves with a stick when approaching a piece of sports equipment?)

Well, you can guess what happened. BEES!

Zippy yelled, “Run, Packy! Run!” The bees swarmed them as they ran to the safety of the house.*

As I listened to his story, a memory tickled my brain. And then I remembered: Have I Got a Story for You. Read it and weep (with laughter).

*Zippy wasn’t stung and as far as we know, no stingers penetrated Packy’s thick fur.

Twofer Tuesday: Grackle edition

Grand Island, NE. June 2, 2020

These are hard days and I’m trying to find joy wherever I can. This photo lifts my spirits not only because I love the composition, but also the memory of taking it. I sat outside my little KOA cabin last June, watching the birds and bunnies moving about, and was completely engrossed in my surroundings. I remember the joy I felt aiming my camera at all that activity. So much life on display.

It’s a beautiful planet.

Twofer Tuesday: Barn Swallow edition

I stayed in a KOA cabin in Grand Island, Nebraska, earlier this month. The cabin was cute and cozy, but the highlight was the Barn Swallow presence.

June 4, 2020

June 4, 2020

They’d built a nest on the beam above the front porch and were very active. I was so focused on photographing this pair I didn’t realize I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I shudder to think how many bites I would’ve gotten if those swallows weren’t there to catch and eat mosquitoes on the wing. I’m definitely on #TeamSwallow when it comes to biting insects.

 

Twofer Tuesday: Hell yeah edition

ONE: I was worried I wouldn’t have iris blooms this year, but here’s the first to flower. The dependable purple comes through yet again!

Iris bloom on May 13, 2020.

TWO: Yesterday’s writing session was angsty and difficult as I flailed about, trying to find my way through the revision. I brainstormed last night before going to sleep and then instructed my brain to help me find the best path forward. I woke this morning with the answer (which wasn’t even on the list). Today, working on my book was a joy.

Hell, yeah!

Twofer Tuesday

This photo is from earlier this month during a foray into the open space with my blanket and camera. It was taken from quite a distance and, at the time, I thought I was looking at two magpies. It wasn’t until  I downloaded my photos that I realized it was one Black-billed Magpie and one American Robin.

Open space. April 1, 2020.

In the majority of the pictures of these two, the birds face the same direction, as if their heads swiveled in unison. Magpies get a bad rap for aggression, so it’s nice seeing this peaceful coexistence.

Twofer Tuesday: House Finch edition

I took these photos on Valentine’s Day, but can neither confirm nor deny these two finches are partnered. All I know for sure is they are energetic birds that make me smile.

 

 

Other bird species come and go, but there isn’t a day that goes by without a House Finch or two (or twenty) paying a visit to my backyard. May that always be the case.