Gina and the Magnolia Warbler

This Magnolia Warbler remains perched all day

This Magnolia Warbler remains perched all day

The next hardest part after getting someone to agree to pose for you is to find a setting to shoot them in.  Lucky for me, the ravine at the end of Gina and Gill’s street provided a lovely backdrop.

After seeing the critters that had been collected in the ravine that day (see yesterday’s post), we paused to check out Gina’s bird under the overpass.  A group of people had gotten together to raise money to have a mural painted under an overpass in the ravine.

Gina's Magnolia is a bit bigger than life-sized

Gina’s Magnolia is a bit bigger than life-sized

The idea was less about making it pretty and more about preventing people from touting whom they love in the not-so-public forum of graffiti on rarely seen walls.  Interestingly, graffiti artists do not usually graffiti over top of someone else’s art.  So, putting a mural on a space that gets graffitied a lot can be effective when it comes to combatting the problem.

I am particularly fond of the bird mural in Gina’s neighborhood ravine.  Gina and Gill sponsored the painting of a Magnolia Warbler.  They didn’t know they were sponsoring a Magnolia Warbler until after it was done and they were informed of what type of bird they had funded.

What's that birdie on your shoulder?

What’s that birdie on your shoulder?

The Magnolia Warbler is partially responsible for growing my interest in birds sufficiently that I started learning more about them.  My mom had tried to get me interested in birds for many years.  I did have some interest, but not enough to go out and learn much beyond feeder birds.  Then, I met a woman at work who asked me to sponsor her in a fund raiser for the local chapter of the Audubon.  This is when I first learned to open my ears and eyes and see birds I would have sworn I’d never seen before.

With a little more flash

With a little more flash

One spring, I was working from home back when my office window looked out into several trees.  As I sat at my desk diligently working, I looked up briefly–just long enough to notice a beautiful small bird sitting on a branch.  I watched it as long as I dared.  I was torn between running upstairs for the bird book to identify it and staring at it for as long as possible so I could sear the image of the bird into my brain and identify it later.

Creating a little drama with a Snoot

Creating a little drama with a Snoot

Realizing I didn’t really know (yet) what to look for and probably would have forgotten the bird by the time I got to the bird book, I decided to make a run for it and see if I could get the book and get back before the bird flew away.  I didn’t, but I did manage to remember what it looked like.  Of course, it took both looking it up in a bird book and talking to my friend the next day to confirm that it probably was a Magnolia Warbler I’d seen before I believed it.

It was such a surprise to learn such small, beautiful birds are really a common sight.

What a beautiful day in the park

What a beautiful day in the park

Ravine Critters

I swear there is a mouse in this photo

I swear there is a mouse in this photo

Sometimes when you go for a walk, even if it’s in a relatively familiar place, you end up seeing something you’ve never seen before.  Gina and I took a short walk to a ravine at the end of her street.  The ravine has a lovely little park in it, complete with an arched bridge over a large creek.  Given that it was one of the first sunny, warm days of the season, the park was fully of people.

A little bit more of our white-footed friend is showing in this one, but not much

A little bit more of our white-footed friend is showing in this one, but not much

We were there to do a little practice portrait shooting.  As we wandered around looking for a good spot, we saw a group of tables set up under an overpass where the creek flows under a major roadway and continues its course downhill towards the nearest river.

Under this overpass, about 5-6 naturalist-looking people wearing naturalist-like attire had a bunch of critters they had collected on display, along with a microscope and some  other types of collections that weren’t moving.  I wasn’t well equipped for shooting these critters, but I did the best I could given they were in glass containers and I was shooting with my 70-200mm lens.

I forget what this was, but I think it's some kind of salamander

I forget what this was, but I think it’s some kind of salamander

Having to stand back when shooting through glass is a major disadvantage.  The smudges and reflections on the glass show up quite a bit more than I would like.  But, to be honest, I didn’t take these images with the expectation that they would win any photography awards.  It’s just pretty darn interesting to learn what critters are crawling all around us that we’re mostly oblivious to.

We were introduced first to a white-footed mouse.  The mouse ran out and posed for us just long enough for me to get my lens cap off and my camera turned on.  Then, he ran back under the leaves in his cage, rolled up in a ball, and promptly fell asleep.  I tried shooting from several angles, but all I could get was a spot of brown fur amongst brown leaves.  Trust me.  He was really cute.

One of the most frightening creatures in the mid-west:  the Wolf Spider

One of the most frightening creatures in the mid-west: the Wolf Spider

The group had also collected a snake and a couple of spiders.  While I am a fan of snakes, I have a bit of a problem with spiders.  I love spiders and their contribution to the balance of the ecosystem.  I particularly love their webs.  However, I love both their webs and them a lot more when they are not on the same side of a window as I am

I appreciated when the ladies holding the spiders for us decided to put them back in their containers–I would never have shot them when they were running around outside the containers, I was too busy jumping.

I was too nervous to remember what kind of spider this was

I was too nervous to remember what kind of spider this was

When we asked the group what they were doing, they told us they were both trying to get people interested in the flora and fauna in the ravine and getting a baseline of what was there so that as they work to restore the native habitat, they can see how many more species start appearing.

My baby boy in a blur--I'm so happy he rejoined me

My baby boy in a blur–I’m so happy he rejoined me

Road Trip

Gina looking fierce in front of unwanted graffiti

Gina looking fierce in front of unwanted graffiti

Loading the car for a road trip used to be simple.  It was a matter of throwing in a small bag with some clean underwear, a change of clothes, maybe some special face soap, and, of course, my purse.  Now, it takes a whole lot more.

This would be a little more timeless without the sunglasses

This would be a little more timeless without the sunglasses

There’s the additional wardrobe required for business meetings.  This, of course, must be accompanied by additional baggage required for a laptop, a phone, a tablet, 3 chargers, headphones, business cards, and miscellaneous forms of paper.

Then there’s the additional wardrobe required for hanging out with friends and encountering a variety of social settings.  Limiting myself to 2 pairs of shoes is quite a challenge.

This reminds me of the kinds of photos my grandparents used to take

This reminds me of the kinds of photos my grandparents used to take

But the mass of what I loaded into the car was photography equipment.  It took two big bags of stuff plus my tripod–that’s without my umbrella stands.  Had I brought Tisen with me, the volume of stuff would have doubled.  Fortunately, my husband is taking care of Tisen for a few days and we’ll meet up later.

I managed to get the car loaded in one trip with my husband’s help.

I like driving.  At least, I like it until miscellaneous body parts start going numb, my shoulders start burning, and I realize I’m clenching my jaw like I’m performing one of those rope tricks in a circus where a lady is spun and swung all over the place while she bites on a rope.  Then, I would like a more comfortable seat and perhaps a massage.

I keep thinking I should make the drive at a leisurely pace, stopping to shoot interesting sights and exploring the area each time I stop.  Unfortunately, I never have that kind of time to get from one place to another.  This time, I opted to drive a few hours the night before I needed to arrive at my destination.  Then, I stopped at a hotel for the night before driving the rest of the way.  This divided the drive up nicely, allowing me to get a decent night’s sleep and also to miss rush hour traffic outside a major city in the morning.  Had I not stopped, I would have needed to leave by 5AM to make sure I got to my meeting on time.

Gill and Gina looking strangely contemporary in this tintype-effect Hipstamatic shot

Gill and Gina looking strangely contemporary in this tintype-effect Hipstamatic shot

After doing my work stuff, I got to have some time to relax with my hosts, who we like to call Gina and Gill.  It’s a beautiful sunny day for a change.  Gina and Gill have the perfect porch for a sunny day.  We ended up hanging out on said porch, enjoying the warmth and the breezes.  I decided that the big front porch on their 100+ year old house was the perfect setting to pull out the Hipstamatic app and use the tintype film.

After taking a few shots of Gina and Gill on the front porch, Gina and I took a little walk where we found some unpleasant graffiti to shoot her in front of.  I like the urban look.

Tuesday Night

Exactly how much stuff does it take for a road trip when I decide to take my DSLR?

Exactly how much stuff does it take for a road trip when I decide to take my DSLR?

Every Tuesday we eat the same thing.  This is our way of simplifying.  We have 3 nights a week when we always eat the same thing.  Or, as close to the same thing as a given restaurant gets.  It always surprises me how much variability there can be from one week to the next between the way a meal is made.

There are times I like surprises and then there are times I want my food to be utterly predictable.  Food items like pizza should be predictable, in my opinion.  I have never picked a favorite pizza joint on the basis of how frequently the way the pizza tastes changes.  Yet, one of the things that probably keeps us from getting bored with our eating routine is that we cannot predict how the pizza will taste or how the sushi will be prepared from one week to the next.

This is especially true of the pizza.  We usually eat Mellow Mushroom pizza having not found a mom and pop shop that we like yet.  We like Mellow Mushroom pizza about half the time.  The other half, it’s either over cooked, under cooked, or cold.  I’ve always wanted to be a fly on the wall in the kitchen to figure out exactly what goes wrong half the time.

Food art at a nice restaurant on the road--a far cry from the sushi

Food art at a nice restaurant on the road–a far cry from the sushi

Our Tuesday night choice is not pizza, however.  It’s the Rice Boxx.  This is a Chinese/Thai/Japanese place that has decent Chinese and sushi.  I have found a couple of dishes I like, but I tire of them quickly.  I have been ordering 1 shrimp tempura and 1 sweet potato roll every Tuesday night for months.  The sushi is OK, but once again unpredictable.  The thing that is predictable is that there will always be a surprise in the fortune cookies.

Sometimes it’s a missing fortune.  Sometimes it’s a fortune that is a weather forecast instead of a fortune.  Sometimes it’s the cookies themselves, which go from thicker to thiner styles and back again yet always come in the same wrapper.

On this particular Tuesday night, I was running around like a mad woman trying to pack for a road trip.  I had decided at the last minute, after working late, to leave that night instead of the next morning so I could avoid hitting Knoxville during the morning rush hour.  Pat went and picked up our food without me so I could finish packing.

I stopped running around like a mad woman long enough to sit down to eat when Pat returned.  There was a new sushi chef and he made the sushi smaller and tighter, making it easier to get the pieces in my mouth without making a mess.  When I finished my sushi, I opened up my fortune cookie, already smiling with anticipation as I tore open the wrapper.

Does this really count as a fortune?

Does this really count as a fortune?

This is what it said:  “An alien of some sort will be appearing to your shortly.”  I keep watching out for bright lights in the sky, but so far, nothing.

Hawk Hunt

One of the best wren shots I've managed to capture--this little guy posed about 6 feet away from me

One of the best wren shots I’ve managed to capture–this little guy posed about 6 feet away from me

On a Saturday afternoon, with only 1 day left in a “Birdathon” (a competition to find as many bird species as possible in a 3-week period), what’s a girl to do after returning home from spending 3 ½ hours wandering around a wetland looking for birds?

You guessed it–go look for more birds.  Never mind that it’s the afternoon and not exactly prime birding.  Never mind that I’d just spend all morning walking around straining my neck.  Never mind that I had a dog that needed to go for a walk.

There was still a good chance of picking up a species or two in the afternoon, I would drive to the trailhead to reduce the walking, and Tisen would just have to go birding with me to get his walk in.

The only question was where to go.  Since I hadn’t been up to Stringer’s Ridge during yet and I knew there were Cooper’s Hawks nesting up there last year and I didn’t have Cooper’s hawks on my list yet, I thought Stringer’s Ridge was a good place to go.  Besides, if anyone is likely to be up and active during the middle of the afternoon, it’s a Cooper’s hawk.

Tisen peering back at me through trailside brush

Tisen peering back at me through trailside brush

Tisen and I gathered up our respective equipment–binoculars, birding book, and camera in my case; Pink Elephant in his–and made our way to the car after a brief potty break for Tisen.

Stringer’s Ridge is close enough to walk to from our place, although it’s probably a good mile away and part of that mile is up a steep climb.  I was happy I’d decided to drive as we made our way through the neighborhood and up to the parking lot, my back was already aching from the wetland walk.

We parked in the empty lot and I enjoyed being able to let Tisen walk off-lead for a change with no one else around.  Tisen was pretty happy about getting to explore, too.  One problem with birding with Tisen is that he doesn’t really do a great job flushing birds for me.  He tends to scare them off in the opposite direction.  I found myself contemplating whether I should try to train him like a hunting dog to circle around and flush the birds towards me.  I decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

My sweet boy coming back to Mommy after wandering aways ahead

My sweet boy coming back to Mommy after wandering aways ahead

There weren’t many birds for him to scare away that day.  The occasional drumming of a distant woodpecker reached our ears and the ubiquitous Carolina Wren seemed to be following us along the path, but no Cooper’s Hawks were to be found.  Thankfully, as we made our way along a loop trail that gave us a nice walk through the woods that was probably less than 2 miles long, I heard a Wood Thrush singing its glorious, wistful song.  If you’ve never heard a Wood Thrush, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.  You can play its flute-like song here:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Thrush/id

 

VW Plant

This is not a broken, black ping pong ball but rather a common fungus

This is not a broken, black ping pong ball but rather a common fungus

There comes a time in every bird walk when someone much more knowledgable about plants than I am suddenly stops and points out a plant.  Often, the plant is a fungus.  Is a fungus actually a plant?  According to http://herbarium.usu.edu, it is not.  Rather, fungi have their very own kingdom–and what a special kingdom it is.

Photographically, I am always challenged when we encounter cool fungi or plants along the trail while birding.  This is because I only take one lens with me birding.  It’s my 100-400mm and it doesn’t really perform well for macro photography.  This doesn’t stop me, of course, from trying my best to get a shot of the life forms we encounter.  Realistically, I am not going to tote my tripod and macro lens on birding walks to capture these plants better up close, so I will just have to live with the motion blur and shallow depth of field I end up with when shooting with the 100-400mm.  It’s still better than what I get with an iPhone.

The first really interesting fungus we encountered looked like a block ping pong ball that hand been broken open.  In fact, it looked so manmade to me that I would have assumed it was litter had we not had one of our plant experts on the walk.  It amazes me when I see things like this in nature that we ever think we invented anything on our own.

"My what big ears you have!"

“My what big ears you have!”

The second interesting fungus was a group of wood ears growing along a fallen log.  They really do look like slightly slimy ears growing on wood.  I believe this may be the birthplace of the idea for Mr. Potato head.  Perhaps the wood ears were growing on a potato and someone thought, “Hey!  That looks like a face with ears!” and then the idea grew from there.  You never know.

What kind of buckeye is that?

What kind of buckeye is that?

The next interesting non-bird we saw was, in fact, a member of the plant kingdom.  It was of particular interest to me because my Tennessean friends called it a Buckeye tree.  As a person from the buckeye state, I can tell you that I have never seen a flower on any buckeye tree that looks anything like this one.  I have read on more than one occasion that the buckeye tree is indigenous to Ohio and not found anywhere else.  I had doubted the truth of that, but now am wondering if perhaps what people call a buckeye down in Tennessee is not really the same tree at all.  Whatever it is, it’s quite beautiful.

An immature red-tailed hawk sends us on our way

An immature red-tailed hawk sends us on our way

We made our way out of the wetland a bit tired after such an early morning start.  We found many birds in the 3 hours we spent wandering about.  As we stood listening to a Cerulean Warbler just before calling it a day, we were surprised by the appearance of a Red-tailed Hawk, soaring happily overhead.  I managed to get this image of the immature hawk flying over head.

Private Moments and a Merlin

My first Green Heron of the season--usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

My first Green Heron of the season–usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

Continuing our excursion through the VW wetland, we made our way around to the far side of the wetland from our entry point.  This side was on the VW plant side.  They were doing a lot of construction between the wetland and the plant, but they had installed a protective barrier between the construction zone and the wetland to keep runoff from the construction from upsetting the balance of the ecosystem.

Because water does need to run from the construction area to the wetland, they installed a large pipe between the two that went under the barrier.  At the end of the pipe leading to the wetland, they installed what might have looked like a giant balloon waiting to be inflated and twisted into a life-sized balloon horse except that it was a dull, opaque black color.  It laid on the ground piled on itself looking lifeless and discarded.  Our guide told us it was a silt bag used to collect all the dirt and silt in the construction runoff.  When water is running through quickly, it does indeed inflate.  However, no one has yet tried to twist it into a life-sized balloon horse.

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

As we made our way around the end of the wetland, we got closer to the array of solar panels.  It was pretty darn impressive to see the field of panels growing electricity.  Our guide told us that over 20% of the power consumed by the plant comes from the solar panels outside the wetland.  This is an impressive amount of electricity when one considers how much power a manufacturing facility like that uses.  The Eastern Meadowlark definitely thought it was worth singing about–he perched on the edge of the panels and sung his heart out for us.

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

This was also about the time that everyone’s last cup of coffee kicked in.  First one person disappeared into a wooded area.  Next, another one started wandering towards the woods.  When we started following her, she stopped, turned and said, “I need a private moment.”  We all laughed at ourselves for blindly following her.  Next it was my turn.

This is one of those occasions when being able to spot poison ivy makes the difference between life and painful suffering.  I am skilled at spotting poison ivy at any stage of development–young poison ivy vines before the leaves sprout, fresh purple leaves dripping with toxic oils when they first burst forth, ancient hairy vines twisted around the trunk of a tree.  Unfortunately, I know all this because I’ve gotten it so many ways over the decade I’ve been allergic to it.

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

After I rejoined the group, I discovered they were all looking at a Merlin.  It graciously  remained in full view, perched long enough for me to get quite a few shots, although being about 100 yards closer would have yielded some really amazing images.  This was a life-list bird for me–I’ve never seen one before.  What a great day.

Off goes the Merlin

Off goes the Merlin