Category Archives: Seasonal

Newly completed commission

I’ve been a bit distracted here with a myriad of assorted things, one of which is a new puppy.   He is a border collie, which is a breed my husband and I have had and adored for many years.  Puppies are a LOT of work.  They are also a whole lot of FUN!

Here is a commissioned painting that I finished recently.  It is entitled “The Edge of Autumn”, done in acrylic.  The painting is 24″ x 32″.  Enjoy!

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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  Too bad it’s the color that everyone HAD to have in the ’70’s.  These Titmice don’t seem to mind the out of date color at all…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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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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Colorado Memories

With my husband’s work schedule too tight to go to my beloved Colorado this summer, I’ve been reminiscing by looking at pictures from our wonderful trip last year.  We took our two Nieces with us knowing that since they are both now in college, they soon will become too busy to join us.  It worked out perfectly.

The photo below is of one of my favorite places on the planet, the Maroon Bells, near Aspen.  Alan and I got engaged and later married here.    The Maroon Bells Range has it’s own weather pattern, and things can be very dicey there.  But on a calm day when the water is still, it is truly a sight to behold, one of the most beautiful places anywhere…

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A straight-up hike near Glenwood Springs takes you to another incredible place called “Hanging Lake”.  This beautiful little body of water hangs right out on the edge of a cliff, hence the name.   Travertine  has formed all over the bottom of the water, making it an interesting emerald green color.

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This place looks like something out of a fantasy movie…

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(Below) Crater Lake lies just beneath the great spires of the Maroon Bells.

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(Below)  While resting on a hike, Kippy meets a new friend.   Chipmunks are for viewing…NOT touching.  Gooood boy Kippy!

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Alan’s brother and his wife joined us in Colorado for a white-water rafting adventure.  Alan and I made the executive decision to put our Nieces in the front of the boat so they could bear the brunt of the hideously COLD water and shield us from it a bit (after all, what are a loving Aunt and Uncle for???).   Sara (in the red visor) and Mary (in the black visor) are in the front row, with Alan and I just behind them, and Alan’s brother and wife behind us.  A couple that we didn’t know sat in the back and of course our river guide Tim brought up the rear, making sure that we hit every trouble spot in the river along the way.

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(Below)  This is why we stuck the Nieces in the front!

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But in the end, the water had the last laugh.  It didn’t matter where on the boat a person was.  We all ended up SOAKED!   What a FUN day this was!!!

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SOUTH DAKOTA (Part One) The Black Hills

Since there was so much fun stuff to post from our South Dakota trip, I have split it into two parts, the Badlands (see the entry below) and this entry on the Black Hills, featuring in particular Custer State Park.

Before going to Custer, we stopped at a zoological facility in Rapid City to enjoy some animals living within “Bear Country USA”.   Although I took loads of photos there, I’ll just post the two below.   This grizzly was having such a delightful time in his pool.   This gesture just killed me!

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It appears that Alan is enjoying a new friend.  A buddy like this can be nice to have, as they wear a constant smile and don’t ever talk back!  It seems at least for the moment like they have a lot in common…!

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OK, on to Custer State Park, which is why we made this trip in the first place.  What an amazing park this is.  It reminded me of a mini Yellowstone, featuring fewer species but offering unparalleled viewing and photographic opportunities.   The animals are wild, but are so used to visitors in cars that they barely noticed us.

The American Bison is the  species that most represents the tragic history of the great plains, and it is a feature species in Custer State Park.   Smaller sub-families of females and their calves  gather together in summer to form great herds of hundreds of animals.  And you can sit right in the middle of the action (inside your car of course, as bison are VERY dangerous) and watch them all around you.   It is like a window into the past, when bison herds covered the great plains in numbers too great for us to even imagine.

(Below) Although this bull is not yet fully mature, he is formidable looking when staring you in the eye from only a few feet away!   All bovine species can go from placid to really PISSED OFF in .001 seconds.  Lucky for us this guy decided that we were OK and put his attention on something more gratifying like the lush green grass at his feet.

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One of hundreds of new bison calves dotting the plains…

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A Mountain Bluebird surveys his surroundings.  This is a really prolific species where the high plains meet forest edges.   Their blue feathers are almost electric in color.

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I lost (or should I say temporarily misplaced) my mono-pod strap.  When we made a back-track to find it, we discovered this Mountain Bluebird nest in an old dead pine tree.    I was so glad that I misplaced that strap.  Finding a nest like this in a big wooded area is a bit like finding a needle in a hay stack!  It was our lucky day!

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(Below) A shot of the open prairie…just BEAUTIFUL!

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(Below) The  Pronghorn Antelope is the Maserati of the great plains.  This species can clock over 60 mph, making him the second fastest land animal on the planet (second only to the Cheetah).  All of this speed allows him the luxury of being right out in the open during daylight hours.  There is not another animal in this country that can catch him in a chase.    So he is calm, cool and collected.   This is a fully mature male.

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“If we all put our heads together, maybe we can find the answer we’ve been looking for…”     Three young male Pronghorn put their heads together in a mock sparring display.   It is too early in the season for this to be serious, and these males are all too young to be real contenders.   But they learn how to spar early in life.

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(Below) A Leopard Frog in a mud puddle.

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We were seeing early mock sparring in a number of ungulate species while in Custer.  Here two mature Big Horn rams “play spar”.   They first face each other, then suddenly both rear up and lunge forward hammering their huge horns together.  The impact is so hard and loud that it sounds like a gun going off as it echoes through the hills.   This is only “for fun” right now, but by fall it will become a serious competition for mating rights.

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Custer State Park was once known for its large population of Big Horn Sheep.  But in recent years pneumonia has somehow gotten into the population and is killing most of the babies.  This year only one baby survived and it was later taken by a Mountain Lion.   The park has made the painful decision to allow this population to disappear through attrition,  and then reintroduce the species back into the park when the disease has cleared.   We were very lucky to spot these two rams twice during our stay, as Big Horn sitings are becoming more and more rare.

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(Below) A stunning Western Tanager.

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(Below) A “wild” burrow and her baby.  These burrows are so funny.  Because park visitors have fed them for years, the adults will walk right up to you and if you are in your car, they will stick their big heads well into your vehicle begging for handouts.  It’s hard to remember that they are wild when they behave in this way, but last year a child was badly hurt by one of these.

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It has been a wet year in South Dakota.   The prairie grasses were especially green and flowers were in bloom everywhere.

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A Whitetail Deer with her two brand new twins.  She was very nervousness as most new mothers are and quickly moved her babies to a good hiding place.  The deer in South Dakota are so much smaller than the monsters we see outside our windows here in Kansas.   It is likely a simple difference of how harsh their winters are.

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SOUTH DAKOTA (Part Two) The Badlands and MT Rushmore

Anyone who thinks that a prairie is “void of life” or is “boring” has never spent time in western South Dakota.    I Just love the tall-grass prairie and the abundant wildlife that lives there.

Alan and I recently returned from a trip to beautiful western South Dakota.  We had traveled through there nine years ago on our way to the Yellowstone National Park area.  But on that particular trip, South Dakota was a mere “pass through” to our final destination.  Unexpectedly, we both fell so in love with the Black Hills and Badlands area that we vowed to one day return, with this area as the final destination.   It took almost a decade, but finally, we made that trip.   And it was more than worth the wait!

Our real reason for going on this trip was for me to study the wildlife of Custer State Park in the Black Hills.  But of course one cannot simply zip down a highway and roll right past beautiful Badlands National Park.  I will do another blog entry (above) on our findings in Custer State Park a bit later.  In this entry I will feature the beautiful Badlands.

For anyone who hasn’t been, the Badlands are an area of jagged buttes and spires and deep canyons caused by millions of years of wind and water erosion.   This area contains one of the richest fossil beds in the world.  The winds of the great prairie have exposed the rock in rich layers of color almost like a multi-layer cake that spans for several miles across the rolling tall-grass prairie.    Heavy rains this year have turned the vast grassland into brilliant shades of green cloaked with the yellow blooms of summer flowers.   Contrasted against the orange rock and bright blue sky, this beautiful land is a feast for the senses.

(Below) one of many amazing views across the Badlands.

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One of the only things this baby bunny really has to fear here is the wrath of a rattle snake.  Keeping an eye on the sky is not a bad idea either.  Raptors quite like the taste of rabbit.   But for now, with human visitors around, he is safe and seems to know it.

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Another amazing vista…

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Badgers love the open prairie.  They dig huge dens in loose soil.  These animals are famous for their tenacious, raspy personalities.  I would not want to upset one of these!

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Modern technology is mind blowing.  While viewing the beautiful scenery out in the middle of nowhere, our good friend and dog sitter (“Sitter Susan”) called with a report on our dogs.   “They are being angels.”     That was good to know and nice to hear and Alan looks really happy about that.   I guess that one is never really out of touch these days!

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(Below) One of my favorite birds, the Meadowlark.  This is the state bird of Kansas (and Wyoming too, I believe).  They LOVE the open grassland and can be found in great abundance here.

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And of course one cannot ever do a piece on the prairie and not include its most famous resident, the Prairie Dog.   Although considered vermin in areas populated by humans, they sure are funny and cute!   They are prolific breeders which is why they are considered a nuisance.    There were once countless billions of prairie dogs in the western half of the US.  Now they continue to thrive in wild areas like this one.

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(Below) On to the black hills.  This old rock road tunnel perfectly frames the four famous faces of beautiful MT. Rushmore.

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A better look at those famous faces of stone.  What an amazing feat this was to conceptualize, create and maintain.  It is truly a one of a kind landmark.

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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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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!

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…

redbuds

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.

mill-creek

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…

pawsome

A Changing of The Guards

Well, after all of these years it has finally happened.   Just two short weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry stating that our old monster buck Broad Beams was still the king of our woods.   For years he has ruled this land with unwavering confidence,  maintaining his top position one battle at a time.   Wounds now cover his body from the rut fighting of recent weeks.   He looks tired.  He looks old.   He looks sore.  Indeed Father Time has finally worn him down.

There is a new kid on the  block.   Strong, stocky and in his prime, he has come here with great purpose.  Many big, strong bucks have come and gone, all trying to achieve the same thing.   Until now, none have been successful.

The one thing about nature that is constant is change.  It is the way things work out to keep bloodlines varied and animals healthy.    In strides our new patriarch,  “Shark”.   How he got his name is a long story.  How he achieved his new position as top buck is not.  It is quite simple really.   He won the battle between two great titans.

(Below) Shark boldly struts about.  We can’t be sure if he will stay in the area after the rut is over.  But for now, he is the undisputed king.  Because of Broad Beam’s long stay as the top breeding buck here, there is a chance that Shark is one of his sons.

shark-portrait

(Below) Broad Beams after loosing his position as the guy on top.  Note the horrific injury to his back right leg.  This injury is likely the single source of his loss.  He can barely stand on this leg now.   There is a deep puncture in his chest and his nose leather was torn nearly completely off.   Despite this, he is still the second ranking buck around here.  Everyone scatters when he arrives, everyone that is except for Shark.   It is so very strange now after all of these years, to see Broad Beams defer to another buck.

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(Below) Broad Beams in his prime,  cocky, confident and sporting a rack the width of a Volkswagen.  No one messed with him in those days.

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(Below)  BIG BUCK CENTRAL:  Shark (front), Mohawk (center) and Broad Beams (farthest).   Bucks are very social with each other as long as an estrus doe is not in the area.   Once the rut is over, these guys will buddy up together and will even occasionally groom one another.   But this is a “BOYS club”….NO girls allowed!

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(Below) A doe approaches Mohawk from behind.  He looks somewhat annoyed.  Moments later he chased her away.  When does are not in estrus, bucks don’t tolerate them.    “Three”, a young eight point watches from the right.  He has a lot of growing to do before he is in contention for the girls.

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The Hunter and the Hunted…

It is autumn here in the woods.  And a somewhat wintry autumn it has been.  The whitetail bucks are on the move following does.   Rut fights have become serious lately and our big old monster Broad Beams so far, is somehow holding this area once again.   I have no idea how he fights so well, as the competition is fierce around here and he can hardly walk due to a rut injury from two years ago that has festered into a great melon sized appendage on his right rear leg.   His nose leather was torn nearly all the way off a few days ago in a recent battle.   How can anything be worth all of this pain?!!

But the drive to carry on one’s genes is so strong that bucks will endure unimaginable injuries just for the privilege of being the only one who gets to follow those does around.

Yesterday while it drizzled cold rain, I was watching Broad Beams tailing does from  our hearth room windows.   We have seen some very interesting whitetail behavior this year so I’ve been keeping an eye on him.

(Below)  The fresh buck rub evident in this photo (on the extreme right) draws does into the area.  They seem to be very attracted to rubs.  Broad Beams did not make this rub himself but has claimed the area against all other foes non the less.

broad-and-doe

Meanwhile… our little song birds have come en mass to the chip feeder.  The cold weather turns up the amplifier on calorie burning for them so they gather in large numbers vying for a precious spot at the feeder.

While I was watching the deer yesterday, songbirds were everywhere.  Mourning doves littered the ground, wattling around looking for food.   Juncos have arrived and were competing for eating spots on the feeder with gold finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, tit mice, and  nuthatches.   It was a quiet, serene scene filled with the calm beauty of nature.  Deer, birds…what more could anyone ask for?

(Below) Two gold finches wait for a spot to open on the feeder.   They are all puffed up to keep warm.

gold-finches

Suddenly, the serenity was shattered apart like an explosion.   Every tiny songbird lifted off as one.   They left so abruptly that even Broad Beams jumped.   I’ve never seen birds spook quite like that before.   Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a new visitor.  A Krider’s Red-Tail hawk had just landed and was perched only yards away from the feeder which is only inches from our window.  He was intense in his ghostly white.   He was here for a songbird lunch.    He flew wildly around, perched for a few minutes and then was through the woods after them like a shot.

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A couple of weeks ago a Cooper’s Hawk was swooping down, chasing birds at our feeder.   He was so ambitious that he careened right into the window while in mid grab.   Stunned but alright, he perched for a quick recuperation and then swooped around again for another try.   With the songbirds frantic and then gone, he went off like a missile to go and apprehend them.

I’ve more recently been seeing this Krider’s hawk performing wild areal acrobatics while trying to capture the same small birds.   Raptors have amazing areal abilities.  And they don’t give up easily.  I can actually hear the small birds  screaming while in frantic flight, desperately trying to get away.   This screaming outside is what alerts me to the action when I’m working in my studio.

It is easy to have an emotional response to this drama.  But perhaps this is not so far removed from what we as a species are ourselves.  As I watch a new mini-series on World War II (on the History Channel) and view the many atrocities of war, I can’t help but ponder the very nature of nature.    How do we fit in to this well organized scheme?   Perhaps we  ourselves are a bit more like this hungry ambitious hawk than we would like to admit?