Nature In The Time Of Covid-19

It may go against our initial reaction, but if it illuminates a greater understanding and appreciation of life and it’s inter-relatedness, we are blessed to live in the time of Covid-19. Not since before to the advent of modern medicine and most notably antibiotics, has serious illness and death been so relevant to the way we live our daily lives. Stories of mass death due to plagues and other pestilence, in what to us seems like the distant past, are well documented. More recently there have been periods where death has been a greater part of our awareness, WW II comes to mind, but in that war few in the civilian population of the United States had to worry that their “number” might be called. Now the lethal enemy could be lurking in the smiling face of someone just a few feet away and so we find a kinship with those in our more distant past.

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One can only guess how most folks dealt with outbreaks of cholera before there was any idea of how it came to be or spread. Certainly fear, and the hope that through prayer to god one would be spared, was a big part of it. But then what? Suppose you were blessed with another day? How did you experience it? My guess, and I’m sure that of most, is that there was a heightened value placed on each day, if one was not grieving the death of a loved one.

I have reached the age where cherishing each day is no longer just an intellectual concept but one that is experienced. Still, events of the last few weeks have heightened that awareness.

During this time, walks in nature have been an escape but have also served as a reminder of what it has to teach. Learning about the natural world, and appreciating all that comprises it, has been a passion for a number of years. As a result, like any passion, whether one is a painter, gourmet cook, or restores antique cars, while so engaged, one can be totally in the moment and for a time all else is forgotten.

However, this passion for, and love of, the natural world not only has provided times of escape from many of life’s cares but has evoked an awareness of being part of something greater. This goes against our usual mindset, undoubtedly fostered in part by the sheer number of humans on the planet, that we are exceptional, and are somehow above and separate from other living things. But a virus doesn’t know whether it is invading the body of a human or a frog. In either case, the results can vary from just an annoying illness to one that is fatal. Bacterial infections, although often treatable by modern antibiotics, may have the same range of outcomes. But viruses and bacteria are nature and are essential to life as we know it, and often death.

A walk in the woods is a reminder that living things are constantly being born and dying and that to our eye the beauty of autumn color is often as captivating as a spring wildflower attracting pollinators, birth and death. Nothing lasts and any illusion we have of permanency is just that. So Covid-19 has come knocking at our door with an unrelenting song of illness and death and with it the fear that even though we may not have many of the of the high risk criteria no one can be too sure. A new normal at least for a time. We have reluctantly become part of the humanity of history, of the black plague, and of the polio vaccine. We share their fear and joy.

A quiet walk on a wooded path challenges one to be alive now as fungi is seen thriving on a dying tree while a bluebird, with captured insect, flies to it’s nest bringing food for it’s young. It challenges us to hold all life as sacred informed by the humble realization that until the very recent past we were but a small part. In our ephemeral moment the call to us all is to be relevant to the needs our world, to those around us, and to all living things, to reach out in love.

Birds Being Birds

Early migrating spring warblers and other birds are moving through the area. With that in mind we’ve spent a fair amount of time in recent days looking into bushes and up into trees. Yellow-rumps have been found almost everywhere, but for yellow-throated warblers we had to look into the very top of tall sycamore trees making a good picture a challenge. Along with early warblers, many Ruby-crowned Kinglets were seen with males often displaying their ruby crown.

As if to throw out the welcome mat, spring wildflowers, including Large-flowered trillium compliment the beauty of migrating birds.

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While trying to find warblers along Griggs Reservoir we were distracted by the behavior of other birds. In the last few days that has included a crow, eastern bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds.

American Crow, fish for brunch:

Along the reservoir a crow carries off a scavenged shad in it’s beak, flying overhead it lands in a nearby tree and proceeds to dine, (Donna)

We were not sure whether this was a normal practice but the head was soon separated from the body, (Donna).

Then on to the main course, (Donna).

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The more common Virginia Bluebells add their color to the welcome mat.

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Eastern Bluebird harmony, then not.

As a male and female bluebird were busy with “homemaking” tasks I took a few shots:

Female Eastern Bluebird

The male.

Together with nest hole visible.

Leaving the happy couple I walked to our nearby car as my wife trailed behind. Putting my gear away I looked back to see my wife with her camera pointed at the ground. Apparently another female had decided to challenge the status quo resulting in an epic battle which went way beyond mere posturing. We have heard that competition during mating is not restricted to males and that often rivalry’s between females can be even more spirited. What we witnessed certainly bore that out.

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(fight action by Donna)

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Normally white, this Cutleaf Toothwort shows just a hint of pink.

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As we tried to listen for the faint treetop call of a yellow-throated warbler, a red-winged blackbird made it’s presence known:

Male Red-wing Blackbird.

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 Not far away a blue jay was enjoying the hazy morning sun.

Blue Jay

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Chickadees seemed too busy to notice anything but the task at hand.

Carolina Chickadee

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Dutchman’s Breeches also graced the landscape.

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Oh yes, we did manage to see a few warblers and even kinglets but their behavior wasn’t nearly as entertaining as that of some of the park’s normal residents.

Male Yellow-rumped Warbler. Right now the yellow-rumps are by far the most common.

 

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Yellow Warbler

Male Palm Warbler. A bird that’s quite common in Florida in the winter.

Male Black-throated Green Warbler with what appears to be nesting material. A bit unusual as this bird is not indicated to breed in central Ohio.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglets seem to be everywhere.

Okay, one more picture!

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As of the date of this post there have also been reports of Northern-Parula, Pine, and Yellow Warblers all of which we have yet to see. In the coming weeks, as the spring migration continues and before the trees fully leaf out and obscure the view, there should be no shortage of birds to entertain.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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The Other Florida Herons

This post covers the other herons seen in Florida. Unlike the Little Blue and Tricolored which are most commonly seen in Florida and the gulf states these other herons can be seen further north. In our case as far north as Ohio. In fact In our travels we have even observed Green and Great Blue Herons north of Ohio in states such as Michigan.

While it’s amazing to see a Great Blue Heron spear large fish and than undertake the seemingly impossible task of swallowing it (not always successfully), the herons in this post have their preferences but will eat just about anything that gets too close. Black and Yellow-crowned Night Herons can be observed feeding during the day as well as at night but as their name implies they prefer the night. And yes, I did say spear, as most herons often spear their prey rather than grabbing it with their bill. What follows, as the heron goes through a multi-step process to manipulate and position the fish so that it can be swallowed head first, is fascinating to watch.

Hillsborough River, FL.

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As mentioned in a previous post, a canoe is a good tool to use when observing birds that make their living along the shoreline of various bodies of water and we certainly found that to be the case for the birds in this post. An added plus is the beautiful areas that we get to explore even when the birds aren’t present.

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Green Heron:

Silver River, FL. (Donna)

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron:

Silver River, FL.

***, (Donna)

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Great Blue Heron:

Hillsborough River, FL.

Payne’s Prairie SP, FL.

 

Myakka River SP, FL.

 

Myakka River SP, FL.

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Alligator Lily, Hillsborough River, FL.

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Black-crowned Night Heron:

Myakka River, FL.

Immature Black-crowned Night Heron, Hillsborough River, FL.

Myakka River SP, FL.

Silver River, FL.

Myakka River SP

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Myakka River, Myakka River SP.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to the other Florida herons. We find looking for them, as well as observing them once found, to be endlessly entertaining. Thanks for stopping by.

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They Eat Skunk???

This was supposed to be a post about spring wildflowers and migrating warblers but the other day, while I was bicycling with a friend, my wife was busy exploring the park near our home. What she discovered goes against everything I would have thought possible.

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A Red Tailed hawk eating a skunk!

Immature Red-tailed Hawk with skunk.

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I case there are any doubters, “Maybe it was someone’s unfortunate Tuxedo Cat”, my wife indicated that while capturing the repast, the fragrance was unmistakable. Stay tuned for wildflower and warblers in the next post.

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Thanks for stopping by. 

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PS: If this post leaves you wondering about our feathered friends ability to smell, click on Can birds smell?

 

Florida’s Pelicans and Spoonbills

Almost no matter where you travel the diversity of birds found can’t help but inspire a feeling of awe. For us this feeling has been heightened by the many hours spent observing bird behavior in their various habitats.

The Hillsborough River in Florida is a great place to observe birds by canoe.

To the casual observer many birds will be seen and then quickly dismissed with the thought, “another little brown bird” or if it’s something spectacular, “that’s a cool bird!” The birds in this post will get the attention of even the most casual observer. For us they are endlessly fascinating.

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In doing a little research on the Roseate Spoonbill, the only spoonbill found in Florida, we were surprised to find that it is a member of a family of spoonbills including the: Eurasian spoonbillBlack-faced spoonbillAfrican spoonbillRoyal spoonbill, and Yellow-billed Spoonbill. The spoonbills curious feeding technique involves moving it’s partially open bill from side to side in shallow water until something edible is detected and then closing the “trap”.  As can be seen from some of the shots below the appearance of males in breeding plumage can be striking.

Spoonbill and a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Spoonbill pair.

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Male in breeding plumage.

Affectionate touch, (Donna).

Spoonbill with Ibis.

Making a point!

Beautiful from any angle!

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The Brown Pelican is another bird commonly seen in Florida, most often near saltwater. It’s easy to dismiss when compared it to it’s larger cousin the White Pelican but a closer look reveals it’s unique beauty. Like a large tern, we often see them plunging into to water after prey with some impact and a large splash.

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Taking flight.

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Taking flight.

Stretch!

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In flight the White Pelican is arguably the most majestic and beautiful bird we see. Flying in formation, their large size gives the impression of a graceful slow motion aerial dance.

A size comparison between a White Pelican and a spoonbill. The spoonbill is not a small bird!

 

***, (Donna)

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White Pelicans gather in shallow water. Note the size of the one brown pelican in the picture.

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One pelican, apparently with no great effort, comes up with quite a mouthful while the others not seeming to care continue to preen. It took quite some time to get the fish properly orientated and then swallowed.

Gators and pelicans are often in close proximity.

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Unlike the beauty of the much smaller birds such as warblers, no binoculars or special equipment is required to appreciate spoonbills and pelicans. They are a gift of nature to us all.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

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An Early Spring Paddle

In recent days bird activity betrays the fact that from a distance the landscape is still more reminiscent of a snowless winter day than spring. Hearing but not seeing any first of the season migrating warblers we’ve nonetheless been entertained by other birds engaged in spring preparations or just passing through.

Eastern Phoebe

White-throated Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

It’s a male!

Female Cardinal.

An illusive Brown Creeper

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It’s not just the sight and sound of birds, but the call of spring peepers in low lying flooded areas, that bring music to the day. Much easier to see but not nearly as vocal, bullfrogs are also present. Under budding bare branches in wooded areas a closer look around our feet reveals spring wildflowers sparkling in last year’s leaf litter.

Spring Beauty

Bloodroot, (Donna)

Twinleaf, (Donna)

Bullfrog

The very small flowers of Harbinger of Spring, (Donna)

Dutchman’s Breeches, (Donna).

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Recently, after arriving at a local park, a magic moment occurred when a large group of White Pelicans were spotted overhead on their way north. Something we don’t recall ever seeing in central Ohio before. By the time cameras left their bags, etc., there was time for just one shot before the birds were obscured by nearby trees.

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The chocolate milk color of water in most central Ohio reservoirs says spring and offers proof of recent heavy rains and runoff from yet to be planted farm fields. However, yesterday we ignored the water’s uninviting color, given that it was an otherwise a perfect day, and launched the canoe to go exploring. As we headed out, numerous Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Bonaparte’s Gulls continued to feed on small dead or dying shad (as they have for the last couple of weeks), while turtles took advantage of the warm sun.

Almost ready to launch on Griggs Reservoir in our fast 18ft Sawyer Cruiser.

Red Eared Sliders enjoy the sun, (Donna).

Many trees are starting to leaf out. There were very few boats on the reservoir for a Saturday.

Great Egrets in breeding plumage, (Donna).

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This large beaver lodge has been at the north end of Griggs Reservoir for years.

A lighter Red Eared Slider and a Map Turtle.

My wife had numerous opportunities to photograph Wood Ducks during our paddle. This was one of her best shots.

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So hopefully warbler spring migrant pictures will grace the pages of a blog in the near future but in the mean time we’ll continue to celebrate all of the other things seen.

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Stay safe and as always, thanks for stopping by

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