Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pleasure Before Work

Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is the closest NWR to Louisville, so we like to make the easy one hour drive up there whenever possible. They had lots of rain and flooding in June, but not much at all since then. All the lakes, which are shallow at best, are covered in duck weed, with dead trees sticking into the air. One lake seems to have dried up completely, and the Killdeer called mournfully as they walked over the mudflats. A small group of Wood Ducks, some Great Blue Herons and a single Green Heron braved the heat. White droppings under a dead tree branch led us to suspect it to be the favorite perch of an owl.

We did have a mystery bird in the shallows. Logically, it should have been a Lesser Yellowlegs, common in the area, but it seemed a lighter, smoother color of tan with a whiter belly. The field guide said Lesser Yellowlegs can easily be confused with the Stilt Sandpiper, an Arctic breeder. The winter plumage for the Sandpiper did look more like what we saw. Well, the Arctic birds have to pass through the middle of the country when they migrate, so I guess it might not be impossible. We spooked a collection of vultures at Lake Linda when we stopped for a picnic lunch, and found they were lunching on a dead deer. Addendum: Here's a link to a photo comparing the Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson's Phalarope, all taken at the Falls of the Ohio. I think our bird was the Phalarope.

The autumn wildflowers and butterflies were simply outstanding. Monarchs and Viceroys posed for us, along with an Edwards Hairstreak and Painted Lady. Don't you just love the names these butterflies have? The autumn colors are so bold - orange Butterfly Weed, yellow Goldenrod and Asters, purple Ironweed, and scarlet Cardinal flowers all nodding in the breeze. We picked some Goldenrod with galls at the request of a Bernheim friend who wanted some for a presentation she's working on. I didn't realize they even had galls, but it wasn't hard to find at all.

Sometimes the yellow and red are early changing leaves. The Tulip Poplars are losing their leaves fast and furious. No stealthy walking on the trail today - too many crunchy leaves. Someone has made an effort to plant native grasses in the restored areas as well, and their plumes waved as we crept down the gravel roads at 7 mph. The dragonflies didn't seem to mind the shallow water at all. Some of them were bigger than hummingbirds, I think.

The bookstore at the Visitor's Center has a terrific collection of nature books and field guides. Dick picked up one on caterpillars and Discover Nature Close to Home by Elizabeth P. Lawler. I came this close to getting one on sparrows and finches, but decided to restrain myself. A glance at the bird observation area behind the Visitor's Center gave me a photo of a hard working chipmunk. I just couldn't decide if he was stuffing those seeds in his cheeks to store for the winter, or planned to chow down during the football game!

This is Labor Day weekend, and when we got home, we started cleaning out the accumulated clutter in my daughter's room, so it can be cleaned for wedding guests. Your children grow and go away for college, but they never really leave home. I suppose her children will enjoy playing with Mommy's stuffed toys and books, just as I did at my grandmother's. There is a large pile going to Good Will and another large pile going out for the trash, while a third large pile got transferred to the basement for further storage. I don't know what to do with the saddles, tack and other horse gear left over from our years showing Saddlebred horses. Perhaps a call to our old trainer can find a home for some of it, at least. Progress, after all these years! You can walk through the room without falling over boxes!

How do you like the new paint job on the blog? I was starting to feel boxed in with the old template and decided to make a change.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sunset on the Rocks

Summer is winding down. It's been dry, and the trees look like they are ready for autumn already. The cottonwoods are surrounded by layers of dead crunchy leaves on the ground. The river at the fossil beds is lower than it was last year, which was lower than the year before.

When we returned from vacation in North Carolina, someone asked how things are going... What a mistake that was! Coming back to work after vacation...bummer.

Our daughter is getting married on September 27, now less than a month away. She's moving out of her old apartment this weekend. We have volunteer things we both want to do, but the wedding is more important this month. Try to squeeze it all in somehow. Pick up the clutter so the cleaning crew can find the floor. Where will we put all that STUFF in the bedroom/warehouse? Make sure we send checks to everyone who needs money for wedding services. (My wedding wasn't this complex, was it?)

Can't even have a nice glass of wine to ease the tension. The calories from wine take 2-3 days to work off, and I've been so good about losing 30 pounds in the last 5 months. Oh, transportation on the day of the wedding...who can drive? It isn't far enough to be worth the cost of limos. The new in-laws have health issues ... hope nothing bad happens. Brunch the day after the wedding... how many can come? Special dietary requirements? When can I shop/prepare for this? The person I thought could cook can't due to other obligations.

We are going to Gulf Shores in October, and the kids are taking a cruise to the Caribbean for their honeymoon. Please God, let there be no hurricanes! Dick goes to Portland for an Interpreters convention in November, and I think he goes someplace else the first part of September. THEN it will be Christmas fer cryin' out loud! In January we plan to go to Wings over Wilcox, a birding festival near Tucson, that I'm really looking forward to.

I told my boss I need about 4 months off. I'm too busy to come to work. She thought I was joking. Yeah, right. ARGGHHH!! If my daughter is reading this,
it's OK Sweetie, I'm not really freaking out on you. I'll be your calm,reliable, in control Mom, until Monday after the wedding. Then I'll collapse. May need to take a personal day to recover.

I really need some quality time with my husband, and the birds and my camera. Just keep looking at those sunset pictures. You will survive this. They will be married. Everything will be OK.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Butterfly Collection

Isn't this cool? I saw a collage image on Swampthings' blog, and she made it with Picasa. So I got the software (for free) and tried it too. This is a much better way to make a butterfly collection than pinning them to a board. Of course, there is the challenge of deciding what kind of butterflies some of them are. Any takers?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Secret Friends

I have some secret friends
I haven't known them long
They share their lives and thoughts with me
I think we'll get along.

We all love birds and nature
With camera in hand
We go out to the wilderness
Of backyard or far lands.

One lives in the desert
Another near a swamp
The Internet brings them near each day
No matter where we romp.

They see the world with fresh eyes
With laughter or with tears
Their words draw brilliant images
I'll treasure through the years.

They lead me to new friends
They all seem to know each other
Someday perhaps I'll meet them
At one festival or another.

Just click the links within my blog
To meet my special friends
You'll be glad to know them
And see beauty through their lens.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NC Birds

I suppose that mid-August is not the best time for birding. The nesting season is over and migration is barely begun. In North Carolina, the most populous birds were Goldfinches and Blue Jays, followed by Black Vultures. This lovely Bluebird sang sweetly from a crab apple tree on a clear morning. I kept expecting to see soaring hawks, but not one appeared.
This Hummingbird dove as deeply as possible into a trumpeter flower. The rhododendron jungle along Bent Creek at the North Carolina Arboretum hid the Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice that scolded us along the trail. You can't find them either, can you? A Chipping Sparrow celebrated the seed he found along the sidewalk. On Lake Lure we found two Great Blue Herons, two Green Herons and a vocal Kingfisher, along with a family of Canadian Geese. As the sun went down, a Turkey flock (called a rafter-- never heard that one before.) came out for dinner on the golf course. There must have been 10 0r 12 of them, including this year's young. We used the flash on this shot, trying to see anything at all. I call this the vampire turkey - look at his eye!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

America's Biggest Home

Anyone going to the Asheville, NC, area should make a stop at Biltmore Estate, America's Biggest Home. We went not so much for the house as for the landscaping and gardens. The Beach Boys concert that night was already sold out, so we had to miss that.
Frederick Law Olmsted was the landscape architect in charge of the landscaping and forest development when the "house" was built in 1889. Think about that title. An architect designs buildings for a purpose. I never thought of landscaping in quite that formal manner. If his name doesn't sound familiar, he also designed Central Park in New York City, and all the city parks here in Louisville, Ky, among many others. Biltmore has a combination of formal gardens and winding paths through more natural forested areas. As we walked down the hill to Bass Pond, pictured above, I wondered how often the turn of the century society ladies actually took this stroll in their long skirts and corsets! I was breathing heavily on the way back up myself! We were accompanied by several Eastern Towhees and Carolina Wrens along the path, and met by soaring dragonflies and butterflies along the pond's edges. In fact, this is the first decent picture I've ever taken of a Towhee.
The walled garden closer to the mansion is an inspiration to gardeners everywhere. They are famous for their roses, but we were impressed by the thousands of annuals planted in the beds, and how much work is involved in replacing them each season. I bet all these gardeners have at least a Master's degree in botany, as well as a green thumb. Bees and butterflies abound. The ripening grapes in the arbor smelled sweeter than the flowers! A hummingbird landed on the trumpeter vines to rest before sticking his whole head in for the next drink of nectar.

The Vanderbilts wanted their property to be self-sustaining, and operated a commercial dairy, timbering, and farming during their tenure. Their descendants follow that tradition, but concentrate on the tourist industry, offering tours of the mansion itself, a gardening center, outdoor recreation and a farm for city kids, an Inn, sales of home design accessories, an equestrian center, and the Biltmore Winery. We learned about the wine making process, and most importantly, got to sample all their products! Yum! To support this endeavor, we purchased a few bottles to take home. Of course, restaurants abound on the property. We had to stop and take photos of the sunflower fields bordering the corn fields.

Now, to me, "home" is where you live all the time. The mansion advertises itself as a home opened to friends, children and dogs. George Vanderbilt was literally master of "all he surveyed" from any window. As high society at the turn of the century, George Vanderbilt was an art collector, and I kept thinking that our Speed Art Museum would kill to have the collections in this "home." Also, as high society, the Vanderbilts had "homes" in New York and Paris, as well, if not Newport and Washington, where they also spent time. Maybe my concepts of home are too limited.

Maybe I would think differently if I were the heir to that much money. They did provide jobs and homes to the people who worked for them all those years, whether the Vanderbilts were actually in residence or not. During those times, I imagine such jobs would have been hard to find in the mountains. They did provide the land for the Mount Pisgah National Forest to be established. I was surprised that family members are still involved with the active management of the property. But I must admit to a prejudice against conspicuous consumption when there is so much need in the world today. On the other hand, much of the world would consider my modest lifestyle to be conspicuous consumption too. I guess it just depends on your perspective.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Blue Blue Ridge Mountains

Yes, the Blue Ridge Mountains really are blue as you gaze into the distance. Up close, however, they are green and gray. At Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, the gray is granite and gneiss cliffs towering over the valley, and filling the stream beds with huge boulders. I couldn't walk more than a few yards on the trails without finding another really "gneiss" shiny rock to pick up and and stash in my pocket. At one point, I even found some sandstone that crumbled in my fingers, and white feldspar. My rock collection has some very nice additions from this trip. Driving on winding mountain roads is a challenge for someone from the flat lands of Kentucky. We averaged about 30 MPH on the steep switchbacks going about three-fourths around Lake Lure to reach our condo complex.

The Chimney which is the major attraction of the area is a 315 foot chunk of rock which eroded away from the main cliffs. An elevator goes up the inside of the mountain, or you can take a path with about 700 steps. Then a walkway crosses out to the Chimney itself. Although I am uncomfortable around (make that "afraid of") heights and falling therefrom, I firmly took my stomach in hand, and followed Dick across the chasm and up to the railed area. The view is spectacular, but I let him climb to the next level alone while I returned to the gift shop for coffee. We later heard that a young child was out on the rocks and fell to his death a few weeks ago. Why anyone would take a 2 year old on those high trails above the Chimney is beyond my understanding. I firmly believe that acrophobia is a survival trait passed on by my successful ancestors. The park advertises a pair of Peregrine Falcons on the cliffs, but we saw no raptors all week, except the Black Vultures of course. They soared high above the tops of the mountains, then roosted on the lifeguard chairs at the beach on Lake Lure at night.

North Carolina is in a drought again this summer, and the rhododendron leaves curled into little pencil shapes on the sides of the mountains. Hickory Nut Falls barely trickled water, but it was enough to cool off the hikers, and support lush ferns and wildflowers among the fallen rocks along the trail. Tulip Poplars are already starting to drop golden leaves. A very loud helicopter flew back and forth all morning, and we couldn't quite tell what it was doing, except that it had a red canister of something below it. If this were California, I said, I would expect that copter to be hauling water for a forest fire, dipping into the lake for refills. We learned that this was, in fact, exactly what was happening, even though we did not smell or see any smoke from the fire which had burned since July 29.

Lake Lure is down three or four feet due to drought as well. Many people with pontoon boats can't launch them because the water around the docks is too shallow. Even the captain on the lake tour we took was very careful not to bottom out in the mud. Last week he and two passengers had to jump in to push the boat back into deeper water! A kayak is the best way to get around on the water. The real estate industry does well in the area. We heard tales about the three most expensive houses, and how they belonged to the same family. Steep slopes rise from the lake to the vacation homes, requiring retaining walls which cost more than my whole house in some instances, and moving steps for rich people to ascend from the boat house without having heart attacks. I have real issues with anyone spending millions of dollars for a house they may come to a few weeks during the year, when other people don't even have a place to spend the night. In the next post, I'll talk about our visit to nearby Biltmore Estate.