Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Little Downy Woodpecker

I didn't recognize him immediately. After all, this was a very unusual posture for a woodpecker. We see woodpeckers in our woods every day, but they are almost always climbing up or down, or clinging to the side of the tree. This Downy Woodpecker was sitting on a limb, almost crouching, and very still. Perhaps a hawk had been seen. For whatever reason, he sat very still for a while. Then he looked at me and flew to the suet feeder.

Seeing him at the feeder made me feel rather foolish. How could I not have instantly recognized him? I see him all the time. Perhaps it was the presence of our Rose-breasted Grosbeaks with their black and white wings. And the posture in the tree certainly contributed to my temporary confusion.

We have several different woodpeckers as regular visitors. Because the Downys are the smallest, we almost always call them "Little Downy Woodpeckers" as if "little" were part of the name. We were fortunate this summer to have at least two mating pairs of Downys and were delighted to see them bring their fledglings to our suet. The little Downys often had to wait in the trees for the Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Hairy Woodpeckers to eat their fill. The Red-bellied male consistently chased the Downys whenever he saw them. He will still occasionally chase the Downys, even though nesting is over for the season. Perhaps it just becomes a habit.

The little Downys are so accustomed to our presence, they will come to the suet even when we are sitting on the deck. They announce themselves with their "teek...teek...teet" as if they are annoyed that we are there. Then they seem to remember that we are non-threatening and fly to the feeder. They are fun to watch and we always welcome them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More than a Molt?

For a week now, we have had an especially ragged American Goldfinch visit our feeders. As you know, the goldfinches undergo two moltings every year; once in the spring for their summer plumage and once in the fall for the winter plumage. Most of the finches here are molting now.

This particular goldfinch is quite different from the others. So different in fact, that I wonder if he has some leucistic properties along with his molting. He is much lighter in color with his main body more white and light gray than yellow. His wings are dark black and his chest is more yellow than the rest of his body.

I have tried to photograph him in a tree, but he eats from the feeders, or drinks from the birdbath and then disappears into the woods. I haven't seen him in a tree so I haven't had a good look at his chest.

I am far from an expert on birds. If you have an opinion about this goldfinch, I would love to hear it.

Headlines from our newspaper: "Gas lines shorter, most stations out of gas."

Well, of course the lines are short if there is no gas. Two stations received small supplies of gasoline this morning and sold out within two hours. We're still fine, although it would be nice to drive through the mountains again. Hopefully the shortages will end soon and we can "splurge" and take a drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Welcome, Visitors

I had seen him in the trees for a couple of days. He didn't have the brilliant plumage of the adults, but he sat with confidence. I mistook him for a female at first, even though no other females had arrived. Finally, I saw him in the sun and he showed me his reddish breast and black wing feathers. I wonder if the others call him "girly-man" since the other juveniles have more distinct areas of red.

Welcome to our woods, Master Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We have enjoyed the journeys of your grandparents and great-grandparents and we are delighted to welcome the new generation.

We always look forward to the fall migration, especially the return of the grosbeaks. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks do not winter or summer here and we have but a few brief weeks to enjoy them in the spring and the fall. They are so beautiful and have such a distinctive song that even I can recognize it.
-----We now have several males, both adults and juveniles, visiting our feeders. The females will join them soon and we will drink in their beauty for a short while. Then all of them will take off to parts unknown.
So, it's a rather quick "Hail, and Farewell" to our little friends. We do enjoy your visits.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Having a pet is wonderful therapy. Studies have proven this over and over again. In this troubled economy and uncertain future, our dogs give us great comfort.

Since we share our property with all sorts of animals (some who live here and some who pass through), there are wonderful scents to be smelled every morning. After a long walk, our dogs are allowed to roam freely in the woods behind the house. Every single morning is the same. The girls catch the scent of something and follow it as if they were hunters. Sometimes they work as a pair, but most often they investigate things alone. I don't think they can differentiate the smells...deer, opossum, racoon, or bear, but they do know that something has passed this way and they are really interested.

Lucy is always the first in line.

Come on, you guys! Let's get going.
She waits patiently until we arrive.

I'm all ready to go. I can smell something already.
Ellie is onto something. She concentrates on following the mysterious scent.

Wonder who was here last night?
Ellie stops briefly to check out her surroundings.
It's always good to take a breath and reset your nose.
Lucy checks out the trees, always a good place to find new scents.
I'm sure this was really something big and important!
Lucy looks as if she just woke up.
Maybe I'm just not a morning person.
Finally, after thoroughly checking the back and pronouncing the area safe, the girls climb up to the house for breakfast.

Another job well done!
What a strange Friday this is. Such turmoil in the market and Congress. Very strange Presidential race. Still very little gas in the mountains.
-----We are pretty much confined to areas within walking distance of our house. But there is still plenty to do.
-----As we approach the last weekend in September, I hope you will have a safe and fun-filled one. Try to do something that makes you happy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Economic Bailout

Ever wonder how Congress seems to view handling your tax dollars? To the tune of 3/4 trillion (yes, trillion) dollars? And that's just a guess. Oh, and if we don't pledge it without restriction or oversight we will enter the Great Depression on Monday, September 29, 2008.


(Thanks to my son for sending this to me.)

BTW: Don't tell the Golden Girls I put a kitten picture in my blog.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What do September Showers Bring?


We had an inch of rain recently. When I went walking out back, I was amazed to see that the ground had exploded with mushrooms. I've never before seen so many mushrooms of so many different types. I must admit that the only mushrooms I can identify (outside the grocery store) are morels.

We've had so little rain that it seems very strange indeed to see so many of them. So here, then are shots of some of the different mushrooms I found in my back yard. I did not include all the different types and I cannot identify a single one of them. Except for the ones in the last picture.

So how is it that I can identify the mushrooms in the last picture and not any of the others?
Because I purchased them from my favorite potter. They are not real.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cleansing Breath

Whenever I need to think and sort out my feelings, the very best thing is to take a drive through the mountains. I stop at a viewing area and just look in all directions. I take deep, cleansing breaths and somehow I feel better. Unfortunately, our little town has no gas today, so such a drive would not be reasonable and would be wasteful. So I take a walk in the woods and look at recent pictures of the mountains.

These are from a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Pisgah.

A blanket of fog lies in the valley.

A pair of dead trees with Funnel Top Mountain in the background.

Another valley filled with clouds.

Cold Mountain, the top obscured by clouds.
-----So why are we still without gasoline at this late date? Simply put, we are far away from the pipelines. The gas is delivered to metropolitan areas with easy delivery and the mountain areas are last in line. It costs more and is more difficult to bring the gasoline up the mountains. Panic among the drivers contributes to the problem as people want to "top off" at any time they find gasoline. This drains the pumps more quickly and the cycle continues.
-----Severe shortages exist in Asheville as well and police are often called to manage the crowds whenever a service station gets a gas delivery. Many fights have erupted among frustrated customers. Some people cannot get enough gas to drive to work, especially home health workers or others who must drive from place to place. Charitable groups are having fewer volunteers, and the meals-on-wheels programs cannot find enough drivers.
-----So while I miss my drives through the mountains, I am in so much better shape than many others. We have a pantry and freezer full of food. We have plenty to do in our own neighborhood. And we have great neighbors. We notify one another if we have to drive to town and make a list of items another neighbor might need. And, at least in our little town, no one is getting physical at the gas pumps.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Georgia Execution Scheduled

[Update, September 23: The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has stayed the execution!!! The Court will hear a request to appeal the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on Monday. If the Court decides NOT to accept the appeal request, the stay order will be terminated immediately and the execution will proceed. If the Court accepts the request for appeal, the stay will continue until the SCOTUS issues the ultimate ruling.]

Regular readers know that I do not use this blog for religious or political commentary. Tonight, however, my heart is so heavy that I have to share what I consider a great injustice.

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a GA police officer in 1989. He has maintained his innocence throughout. The case against Davis was entirely circumstantial based on witnesses who offered inconsistent testimonies even at the time. There was NO physical evidence presented at the trial, and the murder weapon (a gun) was never discovered.

Troy Davis was sentenced to death. Since the time of the trial ALL BUT TWO witnesses have recanted their testimony, many of them signing affidavits that they were coerced by the police to testify against Davis.

Over the last several years, an active movement has tried to help Troy Davis. Even the Pope has been involved. However, the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles has refused (most recently on Friday) any pleas for clemency. There is currently no stay for the execution scheduled for tomorrow (9/23) at 7:00 PM.

Photo from Amnesty Internation Website

This case has been widely reported in the news, especially in the last year. So why bother telling you about it now? Because it grieves me so. If you are so inclined, please visit the Amnesty International Website to learn more about this case so you will be informed about what has happened.

Whatever your beliefs about religion or the death penalty, please follow this story. It will be much in the news tomorrow whether or not a stay is ordered. And it will be much in my heart. I ache for Troy Davis and for his family.

[ September 23, 1:20 PM UPDATE: The Georgia Supreme Court last night denied requests to stay the execution. Now, within hours of the execution, only the Supreme Court of the United States can do anything to stop tonight's execution.]

One Mystery Solved

Regular readers may recall a post I did about my favorite hanging basket that has three hummingbird feeders attached. It is quite attractive and the hummingbirds love it. We hang it over the deck.

A red glass flower rests in each hummingbird feeder. One morning we went out on the deck to find all three glass tops missing from the feeders. We found them lying on the ground far below. Each of the feeders had been drained of nectar. What a mystery. A gray squirrel has been know to hop on the basket to climb from the deck railing to the tree and might occasionally knock one of the flowers off. But all three? And emptying the feeders as well? And at night? Not likely.

This happened for three consecutive mornings. Meanwhile, we also noticed a hole in the screen on one of our bedroom windows. Could this be at all related to the vandalism?

The moon was full at the time and shines directly into our bedroom. That night my husband awakened to see a huge rodent on the floor next to the bed! Then he realized it was a shadow on the floor and not something inside the house. He looked at the screen just in time to see a flying squirrel launch from the screen and glide in the direction of the hanging basket. Mystery solved. The flying squirrel had glided from a nearby tree to the screen. From the screen he glided to the basket, removing the glass tops and sipping all the nectar.

Photo from
I removed the hummingbird feeders from the planter. We have other feeders for the hummingbirds. As we looked around the house, we found another screen that was damaged by the flying squirrel. I have no idea why he can't use the shingles for a launching pad. We haven't heard the squirrel on the house since we took down the feeders in the plant. Perhaps he decided to search for himself since our diner was closed. I certainly hope so.
Now, if I could just solve the financial market mystery...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My First Hawk Watch

Yesterday, I attended my first Hawk Watch at Caesar's Head State Park. While the park is in South Carolina, it is not far from my house. Every year, people gather to watch the migrating raptors soar through the air along the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. They glide effortlessly as the thermals and uplift keep them aloft. It was a cool day; hazy but with sunshine periodically.

I must tell you up front that "watch" is the operative word here. Just like "askin' ain't gettin'," so "watchin' ain't seein'." In case you are hoping for shots of soaring raptors, I will tell you that not one hawk made an appearance. There was a lot of talk of all the Broadwings and Red-tailed Hawks that were seen on Friday. More than 200 raptors were counted Friday. That was not to be the case on Saturday. In truth, I did not stay for the entire four hours, leaving after only an hour. So it is possible, even likely, that after I left the hawks soared through.

[Disclaimer: I have never before photographed a bird in flight, so keep that in mind.]

When I arrived, several people were gathered at the observation area.

They were looking in all directions. Most of them stopped to welcome me to the group. The Ranger scanned the skies (along with everyone else) hoping to get that first glimpse.

Not a hawk, but a vulture appeared on the horizon. This was sufficient to excite everyone in the crowd.

A Turkey Vulture soared past us. Despite the fact that these are relatively common around here, we all watched as if we'd never seen one. Seeing a vulture high in the sky is one thing; seeing one gliding below you is another.
More and more vultures appeared, much to the delight of everyone.

I just loved the way the group banded together. Within twenty minutes we were all on a first-name basis. As I was taking pictures, Miriam (whom I had never met before) suggested I take a picture of the little flower growing in a tiny hole in the large rock formation below us. So this one is for Miriam:

So I left my first Hawk Watch without seeing a single hawk. Was this a bust? Absolutely not. It was a WONDERFUL afternoon. Where else but during a bird watch would some stranger hand you a $2,000 pair of Swarovski binoculars and say, "Take a look through these, Carolyn." The group enjoyed sharing information about cameras, lenses, binoculars and experiences. One woman told her husband, "But I thought you said you have the Cadillac of binoculars." The husband replied, "Yes, but John here has the Masarati." I don't know if all bird watching groups are so friendly and congenial, but this one was wonderful and I truly enjoyed the time I spent with them.
-----The final picture is one of the trees below us. There is a tiny hint of the spectacular color to follow. I can't wait!

Fortunately, the hawks do not select one specific day to fly the escarpment. My husband and I will drive down there during the week to see if we can find some raptors. And I will do more practicing in photographing flying objects to give you some better pictures.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Our dogs follow us around the house all day. They simply want to be wherever we are.

Lucy loves to be on the deck so that she can watch the animals and birds. If there is no action, she gets a bit bored and lies down on the job.

She loves to rest her head on almost anything, the lower railing working just fine.

The other evening, the girls were on the deck while my husband prepared the grill. He came inside, thinking both dogs came with him. I heard Lucy whining at the door and looked around to see why she was whining. It seems Ellie had not come inside and was now wondering what to do. She is not accustomed to being on the deck alone.

Sometimes, the girls find themselves on the wrong side of the door. I was out on the deck taking some bird pictures, and Ellie was quite upset that I didn't invite her out with me.

The worst times for them are when we are working in the front yard. They will stand at the dining room window, looking out at us until we come inside the house. Notice that Ellie is carrying a tennis ball in her mouth as usual.

Today is truly a golden day in the mountains. We are having cool, sunny days with a hint of autumn in the air.
Whatever the weather, I hope you have a wonderful weekend. If you still do not have enough gas to go far, explore your own yard and neighborhood. Have a fun-filled and safe weekend. Here's hoping all our midwest friends have power.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dueling Hummingbirds

We seem to have more hummingbirds around lately, and they are not getting along well at all. These two birds were in constant conflict at our front feeder. I watched from the window for several minutes. They jockeyed for position and flew against each other, going straight up like a pair of tiny helicopters. I decided to step out on the porch to see if I could catch a picture or two.

Here is one of the birds in a rare moment at the feeder alone:

Here is the other bird, also at a rare moment alone at the feeder:

I love the hostile look on the hummer's face. Clearly does not want to share.
In fact, I think I can take you on:
Yeah, you and who else?
The two of them go at it, swirling and rising and falling.
A shaky peace is reached for a while, but each bird briefly challenges the other periodically.
Suddenly, a third hummingbird enters the scene. I don't think this is going to work. The bird on the left is not going to stand for this.

So now we have three birds involved. I wonder how such activity can be in the hummingbird's best interest? They have a very long migration ahead of them and hardly anyone gets any nectar this way. No one seemed willing to give up the conflict and come back later.
It was quite a sight to see, probably the longest hummingbird duel I've witnessed.