Category Archives: Around Home

Moving In

A pair of Titmice have decided to set up house-keeping in one of our front boxes.  I joined them in my lawn chair and watched them move in.  My presence didn’t bother them at all.  In fact I was waiting for one of them to ask for my help in exchange for pizza!

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This load was too big to fit through the front door.  I’ve tried that before myself and have not had good results.

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The pretty little Titmouse spouse watched and “bossed” from a nearby tree.  You know how it is.  Spouses can’t ever do it the “right” way…

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(below)  ” Wonder what comes out of here…?”

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This moss might work well for new carpet.  Too bad it’s the color that everyone HAD to have in the ’70’s.  These Titmice don’t seem to mind the out of date color at all…

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Suddenly a bluebird arrived.  He had his eye on the same house.  But the Titmice outdid him and got there first.  Maybe they made a better offer to the seller?

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(Below)  This is a once in a lifetime shot.  I was focused on the Titmouse, and only seconds later noticed there was a bluebird in the same shot.  A VERY quick aperture change, and wa-la!

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One of the proud new home-owners…

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Is there ANYTHING on the planet that is cuter than this???

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Hot off the Easel

I’ve been painting up a little storm this fall and winter.   Below are some new paintings!

This first painting was inspired by time spent on my beloved kayak this past fall.  Belted Kingfishers are one of my very favorite birds.  They are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they are flilghy and frankly kind of spastic.  They love to tease and taunt photographers.   I’ve been very lucky to get fairly close to some of them in my boat.

The Kingfisher below is a female.  She has just caught a minnow in a cove on a nearby lake.  She will gulp it down VERY quickly so that other Kingfishers in the area won’t have a chance to steal it from her!

“Maid of the Mist”

(Belted Kingfisher)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

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“Here Kitty-Kitty”

(Cougar)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

This painting was done to pay tribute to one of North America’s great predators.  The epitome of secrecy and stealth, cougars are now being found in areas far east of where they are normally expected.  They can live right under our noses without our notice.

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“Breakfast Berries”

(American Robin)  9″ x 12″ acrylic on masonite.

I often refer to robins as “mind their own business birds”.    They are in just about every backyard east of the rocky mountains.  Although common, I think they are beautiful birds and love their way of staying out of the “drama” often caused between other bird species.  Robins just go about their business and stay out of trouble.

This painting was inspired by watching robins gorging on berries this past fall.  I loved the idea of doing a painting that used largely one side of the color wheel (red, orange and yellow).    This Robin is just about to snatch a berry.  If you blink, you’ll miss it!  :-)

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Tools of the Trade

When the average person runs the idea of a “tool” through their mind, an image of a hammer, screwdriver or table saw might pop up first.  Tools of course differ greatly from one profession to another.  Wildlife artists and photographers have their own set of challenges.  The subjects that they pursue for their life’s work are largely afraid of them.  Animals and birds in the wild can disappear within a millisecond, IF you were lucky enough to see them in the first place.

My recent acquisition of a kayak (an early Christmas gift from my husband) has been a real game changer as far as wildlife reference gathering goes, in particular my experiences with birds.  Animals and birds are not naturally as reactionary to things that they don’t already associate with danger, such as a small craft silently approaching in water.

A recent trip to Truman Dam in Southern Missouri, revealed not only an abundance of stunning views, but also some really special wildlife viewing and photographing opportunities.   From within my trusty kayak, I could watch animals and birds behaving naturally and not just see their hind ends as they make a hasty escape.

The Truman Dam was constructed in the 1970’s.   There are more coves to explore there than one could ever find the time for.  I love it when I run out of time before I run out of territory!

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With nature, it nearly always pays to get out of bed early.  In mid November, the warm days of autumn were hanging on with the last of their loosening grip.  Cold nights, warm, sunbathed days…it doesn’t get better than that…

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(Below) This is a typical scene on any lake in the country.  This gull was there to greet me as I pushed off in my kayak for the day’s adventure.  The fall color beyond the gray and white bird was amazing…

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Rocky bluffs along the shoreline were covered in autumn color at it’s peak…

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While exploring deep within a cove, I ran into this big fellow.  He was nearly crazy with testosterone, chasing other bucks off the beach.  There must have been an “interesting” doe very close by.  I was able to watch natural whitetail deer behavior, which is always a treat.

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Meanwhile, while I was watching the deer titans battling on the beach, two bald eagles circled overhead.  It was hard to know where to point my camera…!

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Coming out of that same cove I was in for another surprise.  A young buck was making his way across the water.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and he apparently knew all about that.  I could tell that this was not unusual behavior for him.  He seemed quite comfortable in the water.

I was able to paddle my kayak faster than the buck could swim, and it occurred to me that for the first (and likely only) time I had the physical advantage over a whitetail deer.  I didn’t take it, as it would have scared the life out of him.  But it was an interesting thought just the same.

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Opposites are attractive…orange and blue…

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While eating our lunch on the dam, Alan and I met this little fellow.  Stray cats have made the dam their home.  We could tell by how hungry he was that survival is tough for them.  He was too feral to touch or catch, but we did make sure that we shared our chicken lunch with him so that he had a full tummy, as least for awhile.

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This is the face of homelessness.   Please, be sure to spay and neuter your pets!

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Back out on the water, a Great Blue Heron eyes me as I drift by…

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This crow apparently has not read the sign….he is not allowed to “park” here…

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(Below) My new painting entitled “The Nut-Cracker” (Read-headed Woodpecker) was inspired directly from my time in the kayak.

During autumn, these birds split acorns into pieces of fairly uniform size and tuck them away into holes that the birds have created in almost perfectly straight lines in old trees.  This tree was way out in the water, so the nuts will be safe from four-legged thieves…a pretty smart strategy I think!

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(Below) Another painting inspired by my kayak time entitled “Silver Lining”  (Forster’s Tern).

These aerodynamic birds are true athletes, able to hover in one place over the water just before a lightening-fast plunge for fish.  They are wonderfully fun to watch.

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New Opportunities

There is nothing quite like being out on water in a quiet lake cove, with your only company being that of a beloved dog, and the wildlife that calls the lake home.

I recently purchased a kayak.   I am wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.  Not only is a kayak a whole lot of fun, but it also affords a wildlife painter new opportunities for gathering that much needed photographic reference.    Animals and birds naturally gravitate towards water edges.   And most animals and birds are not nearly as afraid of a boat drifting quietly by as they are of a human being tromping through noisy leaf litter in a woods.   Getting close to your subjects is a real advantage of being in a boat driven forward simply by your own desire and a few arm and shoulder muscles.

Both of our dogs like to ride in the kayak.  Below Pawsome shares a wonderful morning with me out on the water.

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In the early mornings the coves are aglow in shafts of sunlight, accentuating the steam that rises when water is warmer than the crisp morning air of autumn.

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There are many rewards for those willing to rise and shine early…

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A muskrat slowly cruises by…

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A Flicker eyes me from above…

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Sunlight makes the autumn woodland glow…

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A Painted Turtle has decided that on this stump, there is only room for one.  The snake just to the right will have to find his own island for sun bathing…

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More paddling reveals more surprises…

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There is nothing like having a camera pointed at you while “doing your business.”   A young Double-crested Cormorant  finds a “rest stop” between fishing expeditions…

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Three heads are always better than one…

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A Zipper Spider perches on her glowing web…

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Mr Heron allows me to get very close when I’m in my kayak…

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Two does came down to the water’s edge for a drink.  I don’t think they knew quite what to make of that floating red-orange thing out on the water…

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That was FUN!  When can we go again???

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More Coffee Please…?

Last evening Pawsome and I had some wonderful and stimulating conversation over dinner.  We chatted about world events and even politics, while sharing a pizza…

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Pawsome becomes especially philosophical over politics…

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Then in a moment of sentiment, he raised his glass to toast good friends, good fun and good pizza!

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This morning, the weather was nice enough for us to eat outside on the deck.   Pawsome is still mulling over recent happenings in the world after just finishing the morning paper…

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…More coffee please???

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A bit about Border Collies…

Of course Pawsome doesn’t eat pizza and is still too young to sample wine.   A high quality dog food is his mainstay, although he has tried on occasion to influence me in other food directions…!  :-)

Border Collies are famous for their incredible intelligence.   And while this is somewhat true,  it is worth noting that despite their intelligence, these dogs DON’T train themselves.  A smart Border Collie who lives without proper training and leadership can become a troublesome dog and can even become destructive and/or aggressive.  So Please don’t enter into Border Collie ownership lightly.    If you are willing and able to give them more daily exercise than you could ever think needed, lots of guidance, training and love, they will reward you with lots of love back, not to mention lots of FUN!

Please choose your pets wisely…

Life is an Adventure…

The other day I drove (with the dogs in tow) three hours south to a lake where my husband is currently working on an engineering project.

The plan was for Alan and I to have a nice picnic dinner on his brother’s sailboat and camp out on the boat that night.  We were both looking forward to doing something a bit out of routine while we enjoyed some good rest and relaxation at the same time.  And since Alan was working on a project at the lake anyway, he could just get up and go right into work the next morning from the boat.

The weather was beautiful when we arrived, with warm sunshine and a soft breeze just enough to put a light ripple on the water.  We were the only people anywhere around at the marina and really even on the whole lake.  The only sound we could hear was the soft tapping of lines against aluminum sailboat masts as the boats in the marina gently rocked about.

(Below)  Our dogs are great swimmers, but since there is no way for a dog to get out of the water if they fall in here, we had them wear their little life jackets, at least until we were sure they “knew the ropes” of life on a sailboat.

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Pawsome is a wonderful dock-diving dog so keeping him from launching himself into the water was a bit difficult at first.  He did catch on quickly that we were not here for that and the life jackets soon came off.

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The sunset slowly gave way to a starry night.  We sat and gazed upwards, picking out and admiring the different star formations.   Indeed, this is what we came here for…

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Finally we retired within the cabin of the boat, leaving the side and top hatches wide open so a nice breeze could cool and freshen the interior.  I fell asleep looking straight up at the stars, listening to the distant, disorganized song of a pack of coyotes.

At some point after we retired, I was awakened by the tapping of the lines on the mast and noticed that it had drastically quickened in frequency.  Our gentle, soft breeze was fast turning into a stiff wind.  Where I was gazing at stars only an hour ago, I now saw thick  clouds interrupting the blackness of the galaxy.  A few rain drops followed.  Within a minute the sky opened up and rain came down in a deluge.

Fortunately we were able to baton down the hatches, close up the cabin and stay dry inside.

We retired again, this time listening to rain pounding on the fiberglass shell of the boat…a nice sound.

After a short time with the cabin all closed up, I noticed a rather nasty smell coming from the cabins bathroom.  Since neither of us were in there at the time, I became a bit concerned.  We couldn’t open up the cabin for fresh air due to the rain, and it became most “uncomfortable” in there.

The moment I figured out that the “black water” in the toilet tank  was backing up everything changed.  How does one fix a thing like this in the middle of the night?  If I didn’t constantly use the pump on the side, it was going to come over the top of the  toilet rim.  Can a person stand there and crank on a toilet pump all night long?  And if so, then what???   Daylight in and of itself doesn’t fix toilets.  And there was absolutely NO ONE around.  This is what nightmares are made of!!!

It is nearing the end of the sailing season and apparently the bathroom has been a busy place this summer.  It was at capacity!  A full sailboat toilet system is NOT a happy sailboat toilet system.  GET ME OUTTA HERE!

The only fix was to start bailing!  My dear husband took command (at my urging) and did the dirty deed.   I SO wanted to open that cabin hatch door!!!  Suddenly the pouring rain wasn’t looking so bad.  There is nothing quite like bailing “black water” out of a sailboat toilet in the wee hours of the morning!…So much for R & R!

In the torrential rain and complete darkness of 5:00 a.m. I started unloading the boat, taking all of our stuff waaaaay up to the car one load at a time.  I don’t think the interior of my Subaru will ever be the same!

Alan ended up going to work that morning soaked to the skin from rain and I still had a three hour drive to make to get back home.  I set off in complete darkness with blinding rain, thunder and lightening accompanying me most of the way.

About half way home I made the unwise decision to fill my car up with gas.  The temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees and I was still soaking wet in my summer clothes.  That wind was coooold!    Suddenly the valve on the gas hose malfunctioned and kept pumping even though my car tank was full.  I ran over to yank it out of the gas tank.   Gasoline was still spewing out and with nowhere to go shot straight back at me,  completely soaking my right side from head to toe.  The gas wouldn’t shut off and continued to spray all over me until the nozzle was bumped hard several times on the ground.    I arrived home several hours later, still wet from rain and reeking of gasoline.   What in the holy heck happened to our peaceful trip?

I guess I’ll make the executive decision to “mostly” remember this beautiful sunset we witnessed on the marina and those amazing stars of the evening that we enjoyed, before the tide turned and everything went astray.  And of course adventures like this one make for great stories later….much, MUCH later!   :-)

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Baby Faces

It’s baby time.   Our woodland babies are just now old enough to go out exploring with mom.  The world is such a BIG place when you are a little tyke.

This raccoon litter of five will create a LOT of mischief down the road when they grow up a bit.   A friend of mine saw this photo and said “It looks like they are planning a heist.”   Indeed.  I wonder what they will steal first…

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I can just hear them planning…“OK Smarty and Shorty,  you go around to the right and me , Smittles and Bubba will  go around to the left.  Give a signal when you’ve gotten into the kitchen!    Batchy, you stay here and keep watch.   Now GO…and be quick about it!”

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Our does are finally allowing their fawns to be seen.  This one is a classic beauty.

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This fawn below belongs to a different doe.  He has white markings on his face and feet and a PINK nose.  I think there is an obvious name for him…”Rudolph”!   (Or Rudy, if it is a girl!)

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“But Mom, nobody will want to play with “a misfit.”

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A soft whisper in the ear comes from mom…“Everyone is different son.  And being different only makes you more special.” (Moms always know what to say at times like this…)

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Meanwhile, while I was photographing Rudolph/Rudy, this pretty hummer boy was showing interest in the hosta blooms right under the window.  What does this flashy fellow have to do with baby animals?   Nothing.   I just felt like sticking him in here!  :-)

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(Below) My painting of a mule deer fawn entitled “Baby Face.”   This piece was inspired by a trip to the wilds of the Yukon last summer.

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Bad Hair Days

In May, a pair of Cardinals built a nest in an evergreen tree only feet away from our front door.   It can be quite interesting and entertaining to watch baby birds grow.  Change happens very quickly.    In nature,  songbird chicks must mature very fast before predators are able to locate their nest.

Photographing songbird nestlings is quite tricky.  A long lens is a must and a photographer must always assess whether or not he/she is influencing any behaviors of the birds themselves, in particular the parents.   Chicks this age need to eat continuously or their growth and development will be impeded.   If the presence of the photographer keeps the parents away even for a short time, this can be detrimental to the growth rate and ultimate success of these chicks.  A ladder and a long lens put me in a position to not bother the birds at all.

(Below) These babies have just hatched.  They have  barely dried off.  There were five eggs,  but only three hatched.  All three chicks look quite healthy.

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Hours old Cardinal chicks.   The fuzz on their tiny heads reminds me of when I am having a bad hair day…!

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(Below) Three days old now and the chicks continue to be all mouth.    They are ravenous eaters and keep both parents very busy.

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(Below) The chicks are five days old.   The feathers that will one day carry them on the wind are developing nicely.

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Seven days old now and they have really changed…    I did not photograph them again until they were leaving the nest.   I wanted to be absolutely certain that my presence did not in any way send them out of the nest too early.

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Here, two of the babies are entering the world outside of their nest for the first time.   As you can see…the bad hair days continue on…!

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A brief flight onto the ground and then staying very still is a good strategy for survival.  This chick later flew up into a little bush for a bit and then was out in the wilds of the woods within that same afternoon.    Of the three little babies that originally hatched, only two fledged.  The third was small and weak and the parents abandoned it that afternoon.   He died very shortly thereafter.  This chick below is robust and healthy.

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Here is their pretty Dad, bringing a tiny insect larvae to one of the chicks.  It is hard to believe that those gangling, brown fuzz-balls will one day be as pretty as he is…

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A Fuzzy Flotilla

Birds are wonderful parents.  During my explorations in the wilds I’ve seen examples of this over and over again.

Recently I have run across two different families of Canadian Geese at a nearby park, both undertaking the arduous task of raising a family.   They have allowed me to share their space to the point of having to zoom all the way out to photograph them as the babies pass sometimes within inches of me.   Mom and Dad just don’t seem to mind at all.

This is a typical procession with a parent on each end of a perfectly straight line.  The adult in front guides the way and the one in the rear makes sure everyone gets there safely.  What a smart strategy.  These chicks are about three days old in this photo.

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A fuzzy feathered flotilla…

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Goose chicks constantly watch their parents to learn from them.  Here a chick from the slightly older brood is learning from an expert how and where to find food.

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Mom pulls seaweed up from the bottom of the lake.   Sure looks tasty!   Some of the chicks are already trying their hands at it as they dunk their heads under, leaving only their fuzzy bottoms above water.  But the fellow in front isn’t ready to work for a meal yet and takes the easy way out.

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Once out of water the chicks wattle all around.  This one is curious about me.  “Commin through!”

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But then he stops and decides to give me a good look-over.

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Once joined by a sibling, he wattles off to go and find mom.   I find it interesting that in many cases when chicks walk around together, they do so in perfect step with one another.  This photo is an example of just that.    I have dozens of photos of chicks together where this is the case.

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Time to gather the kids.  Mom corrals her chicks back into a little group again for another feeding lesson, this time on land.

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See son, we can eat grass too…

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And you don’t want to eat Maple tree seeds…

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A tender moment between parent and baby…

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With a lesson learned, these two are able to feed on their own.

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One last cute pose for good measure…

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It’s Tough Being a Family Man…

Sometimes the simplest thing can start a quarrel…

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And when one party just won’t let it go, the conflict can become more troublesome…

These orioles were having a rough day!

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I don’t know what was said, but it didn’t go over well…

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This poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.  Now his mate jumps in and reads him the riot act…

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In the end there was little he could do to smooth things over.

SOUND FAMILIAR GUYS???

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Turtle Time

My dog Pawsome found a box turtle in the garden today when we stepped outside at lunch time.  He was a bit shy at first but eventually “came out of his shell” and went about his business.

The step from the garden onto our concrete patio is a BIG one if you are a turtle!

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Feeling a bit perplexed and out of place, he looked me over for a bit…

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And then he decided that it was time to explore our deck.

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On the smooth surface of the deck, one can build up some real “speed”…  COOL!

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These purple flowers sure look interesting.  Wonder what one might find in here?

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Oh, I see this little Skink likes purple flowers too…

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An ant came out from under the turtle’s shell.   When the turtle noticed it, he went from a poky little chap into a streamlined hunter (well, as streamlined as a turtle will ever be).  The chase was on as he “raced” after the ant…

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In the end it wasn’t the ant that he was after, but rather the vegetable matter that the ant was carrying.  GULP!   And the ant went along on his way.

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Hmmm…wonder what is over there?

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This pretty thing sure looks tasty…

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Chomp!  Gulp…

(This by the way,  is why we DO NOT use weed killers on our property!)

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Ahhhhh!  Lip smackin good!

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There is nothing like a nice dandelion mustache to show for a good meal…

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Time to mosey….see ya!

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SOME BOX TURTLE FUN FACTS:

Box turtles can live to be 100 years old.

Box turtles are becoming increasingly threatened in the wild due to habitat loss (woodlands being converted into subdivisions, roads and farms) and the pet trade.  Pet traders are pulling  them from the wild and selling them at alarming rates.  Over half of them die in captivity.  It is difficult to adequately meet the nutritional and physiological needs of a box turtle in captivity.  Most are anemic and sickly.   So teach little Johnny that the best place for the box turtle he has just found… is exactly where he found it!

A box turtle stays within about a half mile range of where it was born, all it’s life.  If it is caught and released somewhere else, it will spend the rest of it’s life trying to find it’s way back to it’s original range.

Female box turtles lay eggs in late spring, usually around 4-6.  Their reproductive cycle is very slow.   They only need to mate every four years and are able still to lay fertilized eggs each year.

The next time you see a box turtle, ask him how old he is.  His first birthday could date back to the time when automobiles were first invented!

The King’s Dragon

I never know where a painting idea will come from.  Any artist will tell you that they get inspiration from life experiences.  I guess that I’m no exception.   It can take years for an idea to come to fruition as it percolates in the back of my mind.   Then finally, I will decide that the time has come to pull the idea out from my imagination and recreate it with paint.

Several years ago my husband and I were taking a leisurely walk around a small lake in a nearby park.  I’ve always admired an abstract sculpture that sits beside the lake.  The artist crated this sculpture by welding scrap metal pieces together to form a kind of serpent-like creature.  Over the years rust has given the sculpture a wonderful patina.    We strolled past the serpent on that day as we have many times.   Suddenly out of nowhere a Belted Kingfisher flew up and perched right up on the top of the serpent’s head, using it as a vantage point over the water.   I didn’t have my camera with me that day, but that image has stayed etched in my mind ever since.

I decided to redesign the serpent to be as it would if I had sculpted it myself, using the idea of old rusty metal.   I wanted it to be more dragon-like to give traction to my idea.  It was fun to come up with a three dimensional sculpture idea based loosely on one that I had already seen.  The result is my painting “The King’s Dragon”.

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“The King’s Dragon”

Male Belted Kingfisher, (detail)

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Emerging after a loooong winter…

One of the surest signs that winter is indeed over is the emergence of cold blooded critters.   Reptiles and amphibians appear, often a bit sluggish from shaking off winter and from the cool temperatures of spring.  The sun is a critical factor in warming up their systems enough to gain energy for normal function.

Starting in April, the nearby ponds are filled with a chorus of bullfrogs.

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The eyes of a bullfrog are very pretty I think…

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And who cannot smile when looking into the face of a box turtle?

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A garter snake coils up and gives me a face-off.  She is ready for action.

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This snapping turtle looks like he has had too much to drink on his night out (perhaps too much to eat too)…

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A beautiful Ribbon Snake is out and about looking for lunch.

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Face to face with a Ribbon Snake…

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This little chap creates one of my favorite sounds found in nature, a chorus of tree frogs.   He is perched on our hose holder.

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I ran into this male Broad-headed skink on my walk in our woods yesterday.   What a beautiful creature!

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I will never understand how this Black Rat Snake is able to scale straight down a brick wall.  He  can seemingly defy gravity.

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FINALLY! A sure sign of spring!

Old Man Winter finally lost his hard fought battle to stay forever, against the soft, warm sunshine of spring.   Everything is just exploding in color.  How I love this time of year.

I decided to take my new little pocket camera out for a stroll today.  I need to learn how to use it.   After over 25 years of wearing a big SLR camera around my neck, I decided that a small purse-size camera could come in handy for more casual shooting situations.  Although I could never abandon my wonderful SLR , this little hummer is just the ticket when I’m not after “professional” results.

This pond below is on my regular walking path that the dogs and I take every day that we can.  The red bud trees are so beautiful in it’s reflection…

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One of the surest signs of spring here is the arrival of cute little Yellow-rumped warblers.  They pass through eastern Kansas on their way to Canada, staying on for a few days to beef  up on tiny insect larvae.  They arrive like clockwork each year in mid April.

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This is Little Mill Creek (below).  We have had a great deal of water this year, between the massive snow melt-off and heavy rains.  I love how the creek looks when sparkling in the warm sunshine.

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I decided to use the macro setting on my little camera to photograph this tiny frog.   Believe it or not,  this fellow is about the size of a DIME!  A natural spring oozes out of the hillside and trickles across our driveway, attracting these tiny frogs.  One must be very careful where they step!

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The view off our bedroom deck…

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Bradford pear trees line the streets of this industrial park.  They all bloom at once, creating a white tunnel down the roadways.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…Make a SNOW WOLF!

OK, we are SO done with this white stuff… or ARE we?   Ten inches of snow fell on Saturday and Saturday night.

Despite it being the middle of March, yesterday morning we awoke to a winter landscape.   I decided to make the best of it, so I made Aurora the Snow Wolf.

I just couldn’t resist a couple of corny poses beside him…

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Aurora looks especially good in his bright scarf!

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Here he is all finished…

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Everyone should have a Snow Wolf to look after their house!

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Pawsome doesn’t know what to think of this new comer…

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The next morning, like any loyal canine, Aurora was there waiting for me anticipating the fun of a brand new day…

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Oh no…the sun is coming out!   Aurora doesn’t like the sun.  It makes him perspire profusely!

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What is one to do???

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Maybe a cover up would help!

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This worked for Michael Jackson…

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In the middle of March, one should not become too attached to a snow friend…

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That Crazy Little Thing Called…SPRING???

Just yesterday I  typed away on a new blog entry (below), crooning about the wonderful joys of early spring.  The warm air filled with the soft smell of frozen earth thawing into mud and the promise of new plant life just starting to appear was downright intoxicating.    I had spent the past two mornings photographing  large nest-building birds, and enjoying the promise that springtime brings.

But nature had other ideas.  When I entered the grocery store yesterday afternoon, the air was almost balmy.  Although the once sunny sky was giving way to thick gray clouds again, it seemed to be of little worry or concern to me.  By the time I was wheeling those groceries to the car only minutes later, the wind was whipping all around and the temperatures had dropped by at least 15 degrees.  By bedtime, rain had become snow, passing through a sleet stage along the way.

One of the things that I most love about the weather, is that it is one thing that man has not yet learned to control.   The truth is, we are simply along for the ride.  So we may just as well enjoy it!  This snow (about 5 inches and still growing) is likely Old Man Winter’s last hurrah for the year.  At least I would like to think so…

Today my husband and I had a leisurely lunch in the hearth room enjoying the pretty white stuff as it found it’s way to the ground.   Spring will be here one day….. really it will

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Two of our does prance around in the snow.  I can’t imagine that they are not even more tired of the cold and wet than we are.

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Here our buck “TK” strides by.  The deer are still in full winter coats, thank goodness!

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Our deck railing makes a good resting place…

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Our front yard looks especially pretty when covered by a blanket of white.

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Early Signs of Spring

Yep indeed, it’s been a hard winter for most of us here in the U.S.  I can’t complain too loudly, as those on the east coast have certainly taken the brunt of Old Man Winter this year.   But we’ve had our share of the white stuff, and the semi-white stuff and the just plain wet stuff.  A sunny day or two mixed in would have been most welcome.  But nope, Old Man Winter had other ideas…(gotta love him!)

Finally, the grip of winter loosened just long enough to throw in some spring teasers.   I of course, just can’t stay indoors for these.   So I set out with camera in hand and dogs by my side to see what in the holy heck was going on in the wilds around me.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon my first good find, a Cooper’s Hawk pair starting the early spring nest building process.  Actually, they have made some real progress, as the nest is substantial enough for one of them to actually climb into it.  Both the male and female just posed and posed for me.  I LOVE it when that happens!  I’d swear that some animals actually want to be in paintings…If you pose for me, I’ll photograph you.  If I photograph you and like what I get, I will likely paint you!

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(below) A close up look at that pretty raptor face.  Note the bright blue sky.  We have not seen one of these in awhile.   That alone  was worth the picture!

Cooper’s Hawks are commonly referred to has “Chicken Hawks”.   They are unusually strong for their size and have been known to kill and carry off something as large as a barnyard chicken!  So it goes without saying that most other birds are not happy to see one of these!   This pair was enduring the wild bombardment of Blue Jays when I found them.  Undaunted, the hawks just ignored those pesty jays, almost regarding them as if they were annoying flies that continuously buzz around your picnic lunch sandwich.   “Beat-it, you bratty blues, or I will make lunch out of YOU!”

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My next good find came this morning.     In a giant sycamore tree there are a cluster of between 15 and 20 huge nests that were built by Great Blue Herons last year.  This tree is nearly six stories tall and stands mixed into the woodland right by the river’s edge.  The herons must have been quite satisfied with the location, as this year they have returned and are currently undergoing the process of high-rise remodeling.  The tree is full of these huge birds again, all busy with a decor update.  The birds work as a group and help to build the entire nest community together.  I don’t know how the process of choosing who gets what high rise condo in the end occurs.

(Below) A nest is built one twig at a time…

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Hmmmmm, this nest is looking pretty good, but could use a bit more substance on the back side…

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This heron appears to be taking a break.  In every group there is a slacker…

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Meanwhile, my patient companions waited in the woods as I slid down muddy river banks and moved all around to get a better vantage point of the heron tree.   You are good dogs…  When I’m done taking pictures, we will finish our walk!  … I promise…

And that we did…

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Silent Language

We humans often blunder through our daily lives giving little thought to the myriad of living creatures that  share this world with us.    The animals that live outside our windows are simply below our radar of importance.        For many, this happens  by default of logistics.   Being dwellers of concrete and stone, we go about our business paying little attention to anything that is  not relevant to our daily tasks.

But what are we really missing out on?  There is a world out there of  unimaginable complexity, full of drama and the constant use of silent language.  Many mammals don’t have a complex audible language.  They don’t need it.  They are masters at reading the silent language of others.

For anyone who doesn’t believe that animals  feel a complex range of emotions,  continue on and see these emotions for yourselves…

Winter is optimal deer watching time for us.  Whitetail deer are incredibly interesting to watch, as they tell us what they are thinking with their faces and their bodies.  Below a mother and  fawn share a tender moment.  Their emotional connection to each other is obvious.

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Another mother and daughter share a tender moment.   Fawns look to their mothers for guidance and decision making.  And the does show amazing patience as their fawns learn valuable life lessons.   Whitetail does are wonderfully devoted mothers.

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(Below) Trouble in paradise.  Sometimes when a youngster crosses a social line or comes too close to someone else’s mother, the emotional energy changes.  The fawn below knows that she has made a mistake.  The doe tells her so with a dramatic display of disciplinary body language.  A swat from a front hoof is coming.  The fawn knows this and attempts a hasty retreat.

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Another situation where a reprimand is necessary.  This fawn does not belong to this doe.  Like many ungulates, whitetail deer mothers know their own fawns even from a distance and don’t tolerate close contact with others.  This fawn knows what is coming.

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(Below)  This youngster approaches with trepidation.  The uncertainty is written all over her face.  Big bucks were already in the area and they won’t allow her to come near them.  She knows this and proceeds with great caution.   She is so wonderfully expressive with her emotions.

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The buck on the left (our long time resident Broad Beams) shows an obvious display of dominance and displeasure.  The buck on the right is Shark, a new buck in the area who temporarily denounced Broad Beams from the top position.  But antlers are everything in the world of whitetail bucks, and Broad Beams still has his here.  Well…..it’s PAY BACK time!   Shark doesn’t want trouble and makes good his escape.

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With a distinct display of aggression Broad Beams lowers his head and flattens his ears back.   This body posture is very effective and helps deer avoid dangerous physical contact with each other.  The only time this may not work is during the rut, when violent battles sometimes do take place.  But outside of the rut, deer have a very effective way of “talking” that requires no sound.

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(Below)  Mohawk makes it clear that another buck has come too close.   Just about anyone would know by looking at his face that one step closer could be your last.   The silent language of animals transcends species.

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The next time you get a chance to watch wild animals going about their business, take a good look at what they are really saying to one another.   This silent language is actually spoken quite loudly.