Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Closer Look at the Northern Flicker

A Northern Flicker enjoying our backyard.
In late January we posted this picture of a Northern Flicker on our Facebook page. The picture was taken last may. The only members of the woodpecker family that commonly feed on the ground, we also went on to say that, due to their diet, which consists mainly of ants and beetle larvae, we weren’t expecting to see them until late spring. Then, two days later, and much to our surprise, Mother Nature threw us a curve ball.

A male Northern Flicker in Western NY in February?
February 1st we noticed a winged visitor in the sumac trees on the edge of our property. Nothing unusual there, as we’ve seen variety of birds attracted to the sumac drupes. But this time something seemed a bit different. Amid the flutter of wings, we saw a splash of yellow. And that splash of yellow is what made me go for the camera. Imagine my surprise when I zoomed in on the object of our curiosity and watched as a male Northern Flicker feasted on the sumac drupes. 

You might say February 1st was a day of firsts and a bit of avian education for Claudia and myself where the Northern Flicker was concerned. Prior to that day we had never before seen a Flicker so early, at least not that we noticed. It also was the first time we had noticed them feeding anywhere other than the ground.

This Northern Flicker is listening for an answer to his mating call.
While we learned a thing or two this month regarding the Northern Flicker, we aren’t total strangers to its habits. A few years ago we were rousted from sound slumber bright and early each morning for several days. Come to find out, it is part of the Flicker’s courting ritual and also to proclaim its territory to hammer away on dead limbs and also tin roofs. We didn’t have a tin roof but at least one male Flicker found the aluminum flashing above our sun porch suitable for his early hour courtship reverie.    

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rethinking the Ways of the Blue Jay


A Blue Jay attempting to "rule the roost".
Claudia always chooses to see the good in something, just one of her many fine traits. Suffice it to say, she has never shared my disdain for the Blue Jay. There was a time in the not so distant past when I regarded Blue Jays as nothing more than plunderers and pillagers. Unlike Claudia, rather than seeing their beauty, I chose to see them as pirates of the bird feeder, bullies who chased smaller songbirds away.   
                 
A pretender to the throne, perhaps?
Moreover, I considered the Blue Jay a noise maker of raucous shrieks and harsh cries. While the non-stop squawking of a single Blue Jay was bothersome enough, it was those occasions when several banded together in a single tree producing a relentless non-stop cacophony that was particularly annoying. Then a strange thing happened. I learned to appreciate and admire Blue Jays. First and foremost, they photographed quite nicely. However, that was hardly the sole reason for my attitude adjustment toward the Blue Jay. 

Equal in size, a Red-bellied Woodpecker is
unfazed by the Blue Jay's presence.
Sometime after we got involved with nature photography we began taking the time to observe and study Blue Jays. Though I had long known them to be aggressive and pesky rascals, I also discovered them to be curious and intelligent and, at times, quite beneficial. In fact, they are even known to serve as nature’s tree planters, albeit unwittingly. One can only guess how many oak trees exist east of the Mississippi River as a result of forgotten acorns stashed underground by hoarding Blue Jays.   

Singing it's own song of Joy to the Lord, and all who care to listen.
They can make a variety of sounds, including the rather gentle and musical sounding queedle-queedle. As a songbird it may not produce the rich sound of warblers and wrens, yet for sheer looks the Blue Jay can hold its own against anything the avian world has to offer.   

A striking bird, against a similarly striking sky.
I am no longer a detractor of the stately-looking Blue Jay. After all, who am I to argue with their Creator? In the first chapter of Genesis we find these words: “He created every winged bird according to its kind….And saw that it was good.”  

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Avian Melody: the Cardinal’s Song of Joyful Praise

This male Cardinal is taking a respite in our apple tree between trips to the feeder.

We enjoy feeding the birds year round, but in winter, when the surroundings can be rather drab, the Northern Cardinal certainly brightens the landscape. But these days it’s much more than simply watching the birds at the feeder. Watching the songbirds, particularly the wintering Cardinal, has raised questions. Is the Northern Cardinal, like others of the avian world, something more than simply a vividly-colored songbird? They forage, they procreate & raise their young. They do their utmost to survive, oftentimes in cruel and unforgiving elements. And still, they see fit to fill the air with a sweet melody.
A female Cardinal belts out a tune, much to our great delight.
The Cardinal’s cheery song is easily recognizable and while most songbirds are heard only during the mating season, Cardinals can be heard any time of year. The Cardinal’s delightful song is often heard while the songster itself remains hidden out of sight.
Such vivid imagery!
Other times they are spotted quickly thanks to a backdrop of blue sky. In the case of the Cardinal, such a contrasting background only serves to enhance nature’s palette.  
Winter serenity.
There once was a time when we didn’t give a whole lot of thought to their existence. Eventually, there came a day when we were perhaps more than a bit in awe of their ability to cope with and survive the harsh conditions of winter. Pondering this, it occurred to us that Cardinals, like all songbirds, are something special – a Godly handprint if you will, a gifted species of creation that sing of the majesty and wonders of their Creator and send their lavish praises skyward. One can't help but believe that perhaps they have ample reason for doing so.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them”….. Matt. 6:26

Until next time,
Jim & Claudia

Monday, December 26, 2016

J.D. BARRETT: AVID PADDLER FOR ALL SEASONS

J. D. Barrett - has canoe, will paddle
J.D. Barrett sets out each year to match his age with the number of times he goes canoeing during the calendar year. Four years ago, at the age of 87 his 87th trip entailed paddling Black Creek as it flows through Genesee and Monroe Counties.  It was December at the time.  

Canoeing in December? Was there ice on the water? You bet, but not enough to deter J.D. and some well-wishing fellow paddlers who were on hand to help commemorate the occasion. On that day the group of seven launched their solo canoes in Churchville Park and paddled upstream a few miles before stopping for a celebratory hot lunch on shore.

The man in his element.
One might figure that given J.D. Barrett’s yearly quest, last year, at age 90, he would make ninety paddling trips on the waterways he so enjoys. Not quite. “God was willing” as J.D. might say, to see him complete 105 canoe outings on the lakes, creeks and rivers he favors. 

Some years J.D. meets his “quota” and other years, well, let’s just say age throws unforeseen snags in his path. This year shoulder problems prevented him from pursuing his outdoor endeavors as much as he would have liked. Still, he put in ample time both canoeing and fly-fishing.

Regardless of the weather, there's nothing better than being on the water.
In addition to paddling, J.D. has fashioned many a canoe and kayak from scratch and is well known for his custom paddles which he often presents as gifts to friends.  A skilled and meticulous craftsman, the time J.D. has spent making canoes and kayaks or helping friends do so is considerable, yet it is surpassed by the time he spends on the water in pursuit of one of his favorite pastimes. 

J.D. doesn’t spend all his time on the local lakes and streams or in his woodworking shop. A Stafford resident who is highly regarded in both the canoeing and fly-fishing communities, he has also been a member of Grace Baptist Church in Batavia for the better part of six decades.  In addition to serving as a deacon and on various committees, J.D. has used his musical talents as an accomplished pianist as part of the worship service for many years at Grace. 

The look of genuine contentment. 

A devoted family man, J.D. and his wife, Dorothy celebrated their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary earlier this year. To those who know him best, his attributes are many; good husband & father, adept canoeist, skilled fly-fisherman, talented musician, and a faithful servant of the Lord. A diverse and laudable repertoire indeed, one befitting a great American and a Godly man.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Voice of The Lord

Psalm 29:14 “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty."

Have you heard the voice of the Lord?
From His throne on high He directs the world.
With a powerful voice full of majesty
He brings seasons of blessings for you and me.

In spring comes the rain to water the ground.
In fields and gardens new plants abound.
Cute baby animals are born every day.
God calls forth new life in so many ways.

In summer He brings forth the radiant sun
To warm the ground and everyone.
Summer flowers and beautiful skies
Rejoice the heart and delight 

In autumn God paints the leaves as the air turns cold.
Red, orange and yellow – beauty untold.
The harvest begins and His blessings we reap.
Animals tore food or get ready to sleep.

In winter God calls forth the ice and the snow.
We light warming fires; our faces aglow.
Children sled on hillsides of white,
Snow sparkles like diamonds in the bright sunlight.

Reflect on the ways you’ve heard God’s voice;
Sounds that bring peace and help you rejoice.
A world full of wonderful sights on display
To call forth our praise and worship each day

(Poem courtesy Sally Barrett Fry)

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An Evening Paddle on the Tonawanda


Serenity can be found just steps from our back door.
Because it borders our property, we’ve paddled Tonawanda Creek more than any other local stream during the past three decades. While anytime we get the opportunity to paddle together is a good time, it’s during the fall months that we most enjoy being on the water. During the last half hour of daylight is an especially magical time, as day fades into night. It is then, as darkness slowly permeates our surroundings that the sounds of the nocturnal denizens penetrate the still of the evening – perhaps the trill of a Screech owl or the loud splash of a beaver sounding the alarm.

It's at about this time – on ultra clear nights - stars will start appearing overhead. There'll be one or two at first while there is yet a faint orange flow on the horizon, then, as the heavenly recesses become inky black, the night sky suddenly resembles a celestial display of diamonds scattered on black velvet. At such times I'm reminded of a passage from the Book of Psalms….”The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

"He leadeth me beside still waters....."
Whether paddling night or day on a slow-moving stream, this autumn has been nothing short of spectacular, and a great season for seeing first hand an awesome display of God’s Handiwork.

Until Next Time, 
Jim & Claudia






Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Dragonfly - A Stealthful Hunter


A Twelve Spotted Skimmer alights on a Spiraea twig.
Fascinated with nature at an early age, I spent a great deal of time in my formative years inspecting insects. Those most readily available and easy to catch were crickets, grasshoppers and sow bugs. Among those not so easy to catch were dragonflies and back in those days, nobody I knew wanted to catch one anyway. There was a reason for that.
 
None of the other kids from my neighborhood called them dragonflies. They called them “darning needles” or “sewing needles” because it was rumored that they had the ability to sew your eyes, ears or mouth shut. While I may not have fully believed that story as a lad there was probably a time or two when, if I did happen to see a dragonfly while outdoors, I kept a wary eye on it until it flew out of sight. Over the years, as my outdoor horizons expanded, my interest in dragonflies also grew and I discovered that, like all creatures of the wild, the Good Lord saw to it they came equipped to take care of themselves.  For example, they do have incredibly sharp mandibles, but use them only for capturing prey, not to sew little boys eyes and ears shut.

Truth be told, all dragonflies, like the Whitetail seen here, are no threat to humans.

A sighting of the Bluet Damselfly often harkens one back to summer days gone by.

The Bluet as seen above, was a frequent “visitor” in my early years, especially if I was fishing. It seems like whenever I was wetting a line, they would land on the tip of my fishing pole and be content to stay a while if left undisturbed.    
The Jagged-Edge Saddlebag is so named due to the
tell-tell markings along its thorax.
Despite the delicate look of a dragonfly's gossamer-like wings, they provide it with maneuverability unequaled in the insect world. They possess two pairs of wings, and can operate each wing independently of the others. They can fly forward, backward and even sideways and hover in one spot for an indeterminate amount of time.  This unique trait in the flying insect kingdom is one of the primary reasons they are such skillful and stealthy aerial hunters.   
The dragonfly's bulbous eyes give it outstanding vision.
A dragonfly's field of vision is nearly 360 degrees, with its only blind spot directly behind them.  Their compound eyes consist of 30,000 facets – or “smaller eyes” each of which provides information regarding the dragonfly’s surroundings. Combine their extraordinary vision with their flight skills, and you have a predator that can either intercept or ambush its intended prey in mid-air without slowing down and, thanks to those sharp mandibles, consume it while still on the fly.  

In this instance, the hunter became the prey.
Despite their being skilled predators, likewise the dragonfly is preyed upon by a number creatures including but not limited to fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and spiders. Pictured above is a Black-and-yellow Argiope spider wrapping a Red Skimmer in a silk cocoon for a later meal. Bon Appetit!       

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia