. . . With A Little help From Our Friends,

Yesterday, at a park near our home on a rather nondescript winter day, we ushered out 2020 with a little help from our friends. These friends have been reliable companions through a difficult year, but on the year’s last day, or perhaps because it was the year’s last day, their importance hit home more forcefully. There is no need to reflect on the love that develops between a person and their pet as most of us have known that. However, to experience a similar connection with creatures that make a living in the environment of trees, brush, fields, and waterways that surround us, owing us nothing, is truly special. Some days, as we walk, their numbers may be less, and the cast of characters may vary, but with their often cheerful dispositions and curious antics they are always there. For just a moment in time we celebrate the shared experience of life.

Downy Woodpeckers are common winter residents in central Ohio,

There are always Mallards but in December we’ve also been fortunate to see Hooded Mergansers on a regular basis along the Scioto River.

The White-throated Sparrow is a favorite winter friend,

A few days ago we spotted Sandhill Cranes heading south. On that day there were numerous sightings around the city.

Song Sparrow.

In the past week we’ve enjoyed numerous Hermit Thrush sightings along the Scioto River.

It was a good December for Brown Creeper sightings.

We can always count on hearing, then seeing, Carolina Wrens.

Numerous pairs of Eastern Bluebirds occupy Griggs Reservoir Park in the winter. There almost electric blue never fails to put a smile on our face.

As long as there’s open water the Great Blue Herons will be busy.

On quiet cloudy mornings Bald Eagles can be seen along Griggs Reservoir.

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Wishing everyone all the best for the coming year. One where time spent with friends and family again becomes the norm.

Woods along Griggs Reservoir.

 

 

First Snow

It was a cloudy windy morning with temperatures near the freezing point. While not a day that beckoned, the enticement to get outdoors was season’s first snow. In this time we’ve learned to celebrate each day, “welcome mat” or not. Wishing that there had been a little more snow we contented ourselves with only a light dusting. It was enough to outline the sometimes graceful arc of a nearby branch or a pine tree’s seasonal shape. The path along the reservoir’s shore was quiet. With few people around there was no real need to worry about a Covid mask or social distancing. Walking, the north wind was strong enough to remain us that a scarf, as well as mittens rather than gloves, would have been a good idea, but we were thankful for the promise of the day. 

Griggs Reservoir.

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Not far from shore a pair of Hooded Mergansers were seen. The first spotted on the reservoir this season.

Hooded Mergansers are not a common sight on the reservoir.

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With the snow, hidden beauty.

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A few moments later a Bald Eagle passed high over head, flying out of sight so quickly that it was just captured by the camera.

Bald Eagle over Griggs Reservoir.

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Through the trees.

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On a day that held low expectations, with the sighting of the mergansers, the eagle, and a Carolina Wren that was almost close enough to touch but evaded the camera lens, we were awake to the moment. Having barely gotten out of the car, the question of what would be seen next was answered by downy woodpeckers, chickadees, and robins but only one other bird chose to pose .   .   . 

In a landscape of black and while, color. Eastern Bluebird.

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A hint of things to come.

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The coming of the first snow opens a door into a world of new perceptions, awaking the awareness of time passing and change, and leaving us with thoughts of things lost and things to be.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Autumn On Griggs Reservoir

By mid to late October in central Ohio, should we be blessed with a nice day, we wonder if it might be the season’s last opportunity for an enjoyable paddle.

It’s true that on days with little wind, if colder temperatures can be tolerated, one can usually paddle through December on Griggs Reservoir. But once the trees and leaves part company, the landscape takes on a stark appearance, and the experience becomes less intimate. One feels more exposed with only bare branches to separate the paddler from shoreline homes and the now much louder traffic noise from the adjacent highway.

Of the larger birds that can still be enjoyed; gulls, Great Blue Herons, and Belted Kingfishers will remain throughout the winter in areas where there is open water. There is also some compensation in the fact that, along with the Red-tailed and Coopers Hawk, the bare branches make spotting the resident pair of Bald Eagles much easier. Concerning living things other than birds, on a December paddle a few years ago we did see a few turtles enjoying the sun. However, that was a rare exception as, for the most part, by mid-November wildlife becomes scarce. Great Egrets, cormorants, vultures, and osprey have all headed south. Of the smaller birds, with the exception of a few yellow-rumped warblers that may hang around all winter, the others warblers have long since passed through. 

Motivated by these thoughts a few days ago, we put the boat in the water on what could turn out to be the last really nice day.

Looking for birds and other critters.

Those of you that have followed this blog for a while may have heard us reflect that one never knows what will be discovered when paddling our local reservoirs. We often go some distance without seeing anything other than a few of the usual suspects,

High overhead this Great Blue Heron watched as we paddle by.

.   .   .  then just when we’re about to assign the outing “well, it was a nice paddle  .   .   .” status, we stumble upon something that charms and amazes us. Such was the case when we happened upon three killdeer at water’s edge engaged in what seemed to be some sort of dance. They postured, positioned, and pursued each other for as long as we chose to watch. Mating behavior in autumn? We were left to wonder.

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Griggs Reservoir is a long narrow body of water bordered by homes on one side and a highway and city park on the other.

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Paddling into a breeze that reminded us how long it had been since we were in the canoe, we left the killdeer behind and headed back to our launch site still excited about what we’d witnessed and telling ourselves that, even if we saw nothing else, it had been a great day.

A small Map Turtle cooperates for a picture which is not usually the case for these very wary turtles, (Donna).

A female Wood Duck’s portrait gets photo bombed by a mallard, (Donna).

These mallard Ducks are apparently not “locals” as they took flight as we got close. The year round residents would not have flown, (Donna).

We actually got close enough for an acceptable picture of this male Belted Kingfisher. Anyone who has ever tried to photograph these birds realizes it’s not an easy task, (Donna).

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While not possessing the beautiful autumn color of a Vermont maple this sycamore does it’s best.

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As we “headed for the barn”, our day just about complete, we noticed commotion in a dead tree at waters edge. Moving closer, a number of Eastern Bluebirds were observed very actively checking out what had been a tree swallow nesting cavity earlier in the year. Surely they weren’t getting ready to make little bluebirds this late in the year. (It turns out the bluebirds may nest more than once a year.) We were almost as entranced as we had been by the killdeer and moved on only when our curiosity had been satisfied and maintaining the boat position, in the increasing windy conditions, started to seem like work. 

Male and female Eastern Bluebirds check out a nesting cavity, (Donna).

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A few hundred yards later, we pulled the canoe out of the water and stowed the gear in the car. It had been a good day. Would it be the year’s last nice one for a paddle?

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Thanks for stopping by.

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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What Are They Eating?

We love watching the behavior of the birds at our front yard feeders. Each species seems to have a slightly different style for relieving a feeder of it’s contents. Chickadees fly off to a nearby branch with just one seed, then, while holding it between feet and branch, devour it before returning for another. It would seem that this method expends more energy than is consumed but apparently not. House sparrows are at the other extreme. They make expectant squirrels on the ground below happy as they gorge themselves, scattering seeds everywhere, and bickering with each other the whole time. However, even though we enjoy the feeders, we have found the foraging behavior of birds in their natural habitats to be the most fascinating.

Observers of golden-crowned kinglets know they are constantly in motion. They flutter from branch to branch, sometimes landing sometimes not, grabbing food items that are often too small to see. So on a winter day with temperatures well below freezing what are they finding on the many small nondescript branches, some less than a quarter inch in diameter? If they were probing crevasses in gnarly tree bark it might be easier to guess. Cornell Lab, All About Birds says; In winter the kinglets also eat small amounts of seeds and may forage in brush piles and under-story trees. .   .   .   Golden-crowned Kinglets forage in similar parts of a tree as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and chickadees.” Since, even when studied with the binoculars, the branches appeared to contain no seeds or dormant insects, the menu items were only obvious to them. A mystery not completely solved.

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Later the same day, we watch a downy woodpecker work over a small branch. In this case it was a little easier to see what was going on but in some ways no less mysterious. An obvious hole had been made in the branch but certainly no insects would be living below it’s very thin bark. Was the bird after tree sap? Again referring to All About Birds; Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They eat pest insects including corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains.”  Since tree sap wasn’t mentioned we’ll have to consider it an unsubstantiated best guess.

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A few days later, it was dull and drab but warmer. Perhaps warm enough to wake dormant insects. Along the rain swollen river bluebirds were perched on the low branches of a sycamore looking for any movement on the ground or in the air. They occasionally swooped to the ground and grabbed something (an insect or a seed?) and then returned to their perch. In the mystery, what ever they found was good enough because tomorrow we will see them again.

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Stage Perfectly Set

On a long urban hike to work off the transgressions of the holidays, the morning was dark, cold, and wet, with light rain trying to turn to snow, and wind periodically gusting to remind one that it was colder than originally thought. Heading for the park through quiet residential streets, I wondered if any of the small friends that often inhabit the trees and brush along the river, would be there to greet me.

Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Easter Bluebird, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing.

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Perhaps it was the chill and dreariness of the day, kept at bay by the pace of my stride, until, pausing for a time, I was warmed by the sight of such seemingly delicate creatures “cheerfully” going about their business. I do not know for sure. But in the contrast of the moment I was captured by their magic. A play of pure joy and color acted out against the seasons dull colors of gray and brown on a stage perfectly set.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Celebrating The Season

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I wished for a white Christmas and hoped the snow, with periodic additions of fresh whiteness, would stick around until spring. While my wish was never completely realized, being 150 miles north of where I live now, winter was a more satisfying if not tiring experience.

(Images may be clicked on for a better view)

The low December light pierces the open canopy revealing patterns in leaves and the geometry of trees and river.

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A few days ago, we woke up to a light covering of white. We rushed down to our local city park before too many foot steps marred it’s beauty. Now, despite colder temperatures, the snow is mostly gone, the victim of wind and sublimation. Winters are like that in central Ohio. Cold temperatures, when they come, often leave the dry, naked, and shivering landscape wishing for a warm white blanket. But while not a paradise for lovers of snow, for those willing to venture out and look carefully, this time of year provides an opportunity to enjoy a subtle beauty and be entertained by creatures making this place their winter home.

With snow, the forms of water and trees becomes sublime.

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It was very faint but unmistakable. You know how woodpeckers can be. Looking up into branches in the adjacent woods, it seemed hopeless. How about just looking for dead branches  .   .   .

Working on a warm winter home?

A female Downy works away.

. . . as the male goofs off on a nearby branch.

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Quiet early winter morning along the Scioto.

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One advantage to living in an area subject to cold temperatures, but with little snow, is that ice is free to express itself.

Small icicles and patterns in ice.

Interesting shapes form as river levels recede, (Donna).

Near the river, a small frozen pool, and solstice ice.

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In the summer we don’t notice as many Eastern Bluebirds, a gift of the colder months?

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Taking flight.

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Not far from their downriver nest, Bald Eagles are seen more often along the reservoir this time of year.

Perched across the reservoir and too far away for a really good shot..

Doing it’s best to avoid a photograph.

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At river’s edge, the roots of a sycamore struggle to maintain their hold.

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With the reservoir frozen, a pair of Hooded Mergansers were spotted in the open water of the river just below the dam. Eventually, if the reservoir stays ice covered, they will be joined by Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and other waterfowl not commonly seen in the area.

Hooded Mergansers on the Scioto River.

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These images were taken before realizing that the White-breasted Nuthatch it was eating lichen. An unexpected revelation.

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A quick look through the binoculars revealed it to be a Mockingbird which was a real treat as we couldn’t remember the last time one was seen in the park   .   .   .  then, one very average photo, and it was gone.

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There are a countless number of American Robins in the park this time of year. They are everywhere, and with their antics provide endless entertainment.

***, (Donna).

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Brown Creepers are not easy to spot. Sometimes their faint call is heard before they are seen. Their erratic movement make them a difficult subject to photograph.

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While working on a dead branch, this male red-bellied woodpecker really showed off it’s red head.

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Other local residents, as will as migrants from the north, have also entertained us in the last few days.

Tufted-titmouse, (Donna).

Carolina Chickadee, (Donna).

White-throated Sparrows can be found in Ohio in the winter but call the forests across Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the northern Midwest their summer home.

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A fox squirrel ran up the tree and hid just as I walked up causing my wife to miss a “good” picture. She had to make due with the image below.

***, (Donna).

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Winter along the Scioto River.

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This morning while standing in front of our church greeting incoming worshipers, a ruby-crowned kinglet flew into a nearby evergreen, paused for a moment as if to look my way, then flew off. Enchanted by what was an unusual occurrence, I had an extra big smile for the next group of parishioners. In nature the usual can also become enchanting, and in that enchantment, we may lose ourselves and in doing so find that we have become part of something much greater.  We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year!

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Thanks for stopping by.

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A Rare Bird

From time to time during our walks close to home we see a rare bird. Two days ago we were excited to see an American Kestrel in an undeveloped area south of Duranceaux Park which is located on the west side of Griggs Reservoir. A particular treat as this small falcon has been in decline in recent years. As with many birds this is most likely due to the destruction of suitable habit. In years past, when more time was spent bicycling Ohio’s quiet rural roads, this small robin size bird was seen on a regular basis, sometimes in the middle of a “lunch” consisting of a field mouse, but always taking flight from the roadside power lines before one could get very close. If not perched, they were often seen hovering over an adjacent field waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey. 

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Much more common than the American Kestrel, a number of Red-tailed Hawks have been seen recently. 

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Some of the more usual suspects have also graced us with their presence, providing an affirmation that much is well with the world. We’re endlessly fascinated by their behavior as they go about the day making a living in the trees and low lying brush of Griggs Reservoir Park. 

Female Northern Cardinal

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Red-bellied Woodpecker, (Donna).

Song Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing, (Donna).

Downy Woodpecker

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During this stark, seemingly lifeless, time of year it’s not always easy to be optimistic about what will be seen when heading into the woods. But even in December’s landscape we seldom return home with empty hearts.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Neighborhood Migrants

Warm days, now noticeably shorter, are giving way to colder nights with the landscape increasingly graced with the colors of autumn in Ohio.

Autumn reflection in central Ohio.

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During the past couple of weeks we’ve made a concerted effort to look for birds passing through Griggs Reservoir Park on their southern migration. We’ve avoiding the temptation to travel further afield thinking it would be fun just to see what is or isn’t passing through our “neighborhood”. There have been reports of birds that have eluded us, such as the Blackpoll and Yellow-throated Warbler, but all in all the effort has been rewarding.

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The Black-throated Green Warblers were very cooperative:

***, (Donna)

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Only one Cape May Warbler was seen:

Female Cape May Warbler

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A fair number of Northern Parula Warblers were spotted:

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This Yellow-throated Vireo is not sure he wants to eat a stink bug:

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We had only one sighting of a Black-throated Blue Warbler:

Good enough to ID the bird but that’s it.

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The fairly common Yellow-rumped Warblers are often seen eating poising ivy berries:

***, (Donna)

 

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A Nashville Warbler was also part of the mix:

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One Ruby-crowned Kinglet tries it’s best to hide while another jumps right out and poses. To date more kinglets have been heard than seen.

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Contrasting with last year, this has not been a good year for seeing Black-crowned Herons on the reservoir. However, on a resent paddle we were rewarded:

Juvenile, (Donna).

Adult, (Donna).

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While looking for warblers a group of very active Blue Birds was hard to ignore:

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A young male Wood Duck has been hanging around the park for the last couple of weeks. By it’s association with a group of mallards it appears to think it’s one:

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We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge some of the other birds that have fascinated us while we looked for fall migrants.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk seemed curious about what we were up to.

Something has this Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker’s attention, (Donna).

A Mallard Duck, bathed in autumn light, swims across the reservoir.

A pair of Northern Flickers, (Donna).

A Tufted Titmouse acts cute like titmouse do, (Donna).

A White-breasted Nuthatch goes about it’s day.

One of the many Cedar Waxwings seen in the park in recent weeks.

A female Downy Woodpecker poses for a picture.

A Great Blue Heron strikes a graceful pose along the Scioto River, (Donna).

This Blue Jay has quite a mouthful, (Donna).

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It’s a dark gray rainy morning as I finish writing this so it’s hard to imagine what nature will offer in the coming days and this is the time of year when things tend to wind down. However, if past experience is any indication, it will only take another walk in the woods to again experience the magic. Thanks for stopping by.

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A Journey Through Spring

It feels like we’ve been dodging raindrops at lot lately. However, the wetter than average spring, perhaps the new normal, has been great for the area wildflowers. We’ve continued to explore Griggs Reservoir Park near our home but have also made several trips to Glen Echo Park, Kiwanis Riverway Park, O’Shaughnessy Nature Preserve, and have traveled west to Cedar Bog as well as north to Magee Marsh, to name some of the other places explored. With a partial record in pictures of things seen, this is a celebration of all that this fleeting season has given us. Of particular note are the Yellow-billed Cuckoos that decided to make Griggs Reservoir Park their home for a few days recently. We also saw Scarlet Tanagers in the park after seeing few to none last year. What a treat!

(Should you desire, click on the image for a better view.)

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Birds:

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are one of the more entertaining birds to watch as they forage for food, Griggs Reservoir Park. They’re not a bird we see that often much less have an opportunity to photograph, (Donna).

A shot showing the distinctive markings of the underside of the tail.

This Tree Swallow was perched not far from it’s nesting cavity, Griggs Reservoir Park.

There are always a few Bluebirds to see at Griggs Reservoir Park undoubtedly due to numerous trees that provide nesting cavities.

Catching this female Wood Duck out of the very corner of my spectacled eye as it flew into a nearby tree I at first thought it was a Morning Dove.

On a sunny cool spring morning this male Mallard Duck just wanted to catch some rays.

Every year we look forward to the arrival of the Baltimore Orioles at Griggs Reservoir Park. This year was no exception.

They are another very entertaining bird to watch.

As if all the migrating warblers at Magee Marsh weren’t enough we see this guy, Great Horned Owl owlet.

A male Red-winged Blackbird in all it’s splendor. A common resident at Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

Cedar Waxwings in love, Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

Being an acrobat.

Great Crested Flycatchers are heard more often than seen, Griggs Reservoir Park.

A Kingbird ready to take flight, Griggs Reservoir Park.

An curious young male Cardinal, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Just finishing up a snack of “warbler”, this Red-tailed Hawk stares us down, Griggs Reservoir Park.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee is caught in a cute pose at Bigelow Pioneer Cemetery, (Donna).

Oblivious to our presence, a Prothonotary warbler collects nesting material, Magee Marsh.

Scarlet Tanager, Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

Scarlet Tanager at Magee Marsh.

A Warbling Vireo seems to stare us down, Magee Marsh.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magee Marsh.

Blackburnian Warbler, Glen Echo Park. This small park centered around a stream and ravine is a hotspot for observing spring migrants.

Wood Thrush. Glen Echo Park.

Red-eyed Vireo, Glen Echo Park.

A male American Redstart plays hide and seek, Glenn Echo Park.

Magnolia Warbler, Magee Marsh.

“I’m eating a bug, do you mind!” Carolina Wren, Kiwanis Riverway Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker, the first ever sighting at O’Shaughnessy Nature Preserve.

Nest building, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, O’Shaughnessy Nature Preserve

Summer Tanager, Glen Echo Park.

Eastern Phoebe, Greenlawn Cemetery.

A busy Song Sparrow, Kiwanis Riverway Park.

A Yellow-throated Warbler looks down from above, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Yellow-throated Vireo, Glen Echo Park, (Donna).

Couldn’t resist another view of this lovely bird.

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Other things:

How many turtles are on this log? Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

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Wildflowers:

Purple Rocket turns white with age, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Cabbage White on Dame’s Rocket, Griggs Reservoir Park.

These Toadshade Trilliums from a few weeks ago were some of the last seen, Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

Pawpaw blossoms, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Hoverfly on Spring beauty from a few weeks back.

Solomon’s Seal, Glenn Echo Park.

May Apple blossom from a few weeks ago, O’Shaughnessy Nature Preserve.

Jacobs Ladder, Amberleigh Park.

Fleabane, Cedar Bog.

We were surprised to see this Morrel mushroom emerging through the mowed grass at Griggs Reservoir Park.

Wild Rose, Griggs Reservoir Park.

Blue Flag Iris, Cedar Bog.

Wild Geranium, Glenn Echo Park.

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We hope you enjoyed this journey through spring into what now feels like early summer. We sadly leave the spring migrants behind for this year but experience tells us that there is always something new to see when exploring nature.

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Future seasons become easier to count and the present one more precious with the passing of time, but in that scarceness we become richer with the sense of their magic.  

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Thanks for stopping by.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, Cedar Bog.

 

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