Category Archives: Seasonal

Nature’s True Masterpieces

As a wildlife artist I am interested in all of nature.  I can honestly say that I don’t find one form of nature to be pleasing and another scary or creepy.   They are all interesting to me.    Some of the most beautiful places on the planet are rarely viewed by human eyes because of the stereotypes that have been placed upon them.

On a recent hiking trip to Arkansas, Alan and I (joined by two adventurous friends) took some time to go underground.   Blanchard Springs is one of several commercial caves in the area.  Much of the state of Missouri and the Ozark mountain region of Arkansas are nearly hollow underneath making it a cavers dream.    I have always had a passion for nature underground.  So a trip to Blanchard Springs cave with camera in hand seemed a natural fit.

Below:  Tens of thousands of soda straws hang from the ceiling of this chamber.  It is said that a soda straw grows about one inch every thousand years.  They are indeed hollow like a straw and are created by the minerals in water as it drips down from the limestone ceiling.   After enough time passes they connect to the floor creating great columns.


Amazing formations form under ground creating some of the most beautiful patterns found in nature.  Below, this group of columns reflect in a perfectly still pool of water.  It is like sculptural stone sitting on a mirror.  It is difficult to tell where the rock ends and the water begins.


Commercial caves are often lit up in extraordinary ways, showing off the amazing depth and beauty of their formations.


It takes many thousands of years create these breathtaking places.


(Below)  This photo shows magnificent stalactites hanging from the ceiling of this huge “room”.  The railing at the  bottom left gives a sense of scale.  These were some of the largest “organ pipes” I’ve ever seen.


(Below)  Some cave formations create familiar images.   These minerals have formed a perfect scene of a great ocean liner among icy glaciers.  Could this be the Titanic before it met it’s doom?  Or perhaps it is one of the many ships that failed an attempt across the north pole and is still there, frozen in time.    This photo reveals the magnificent architecture of nature only where the lights shine.  Otherwise, there is complete and utter blackness.


It  seemed fitting that we happened to visit this cave on Halloween day.  The image below shows stalagmites reflecting in a mirror pool.   They somehow appear as if to be the great glowing, jagged teeth of a frightening Halloween monster.


Massive “organ pipes” hang from the side wall of this chamber.  A cave is thought to be one of the safest places to be during an earthquake.  It takes many, many thousands of years to create these behemoths.   They have withstood the test of time during countless geological changes throughout history including earthquake tremors.


FROM THE ARCHIVES:     I was once an avid spelunker.  I spent many years exploring the beautiful world under ground.  The caves that I visited with my fellow cave enthusiast buddies were not beautifully lit commercial caves with paved walkways,  but rather were dark, rugged and largely unexplored.   We would spend many hours at a time exploring and mapping these wild caves.  This photo of me was taken during one of these expeditions back when I was in my late 20’s.  It takes a nimble, strong body and very adventurous spirit to endure the rugged unforgiving terrain, tight spaces and total blackness of the underworld.


Many of the caves that I explored in my 20’s and 30’s had water passages.  Some were large like the one below.  Some were so tight that we had to remove our helmets to get through them.    Some even required swimming underwater to find a hole leading to the next passage.

Here a thin layer of water lays atop of thigh high mud.   The most difficult part of traversing this passage was keeping one’s hips in their sockets!    Not all caves are as muddy as this one is.


If you are ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to explore nature underground, even if it is done the commercial way, be sure to do it.   You will feel as if you have gone for awhile to another planet.    It is the ultimate “get-away”…

Mountain Mamas

Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that the mountain regions of Colorado are among my favorite places on the entire planet.  Any excuse to go there is just fine with me.   Alan and I recently attended a conference in Denver.   Denver is not actually in the mountains.  But it is close.   “Close”,  and an extra day or two is all I need to make a trek up into the high country!

We spent a couple of days way up in the heavens.   One of my favorite mammals to watch is the mountain goat.   They were out in droves.    Actually there were three different family groups that we discovered and spent time with.   Mountain goats are wonderful about sharing their space with people, as long as young children are not present.    Children make them nervous and even a little aggressive (I see eye to eye with them on this 🙂 ).

June is baby time in the mountains.   Each family group of mountain goats had its own tiny, fuzzy white babies.   Mountain goats form tight family groups of related females.    Males are off on their own in the high country.   They all come together during the mating season.

(Below) What kind of mother would allow her child to stand on the edge of a cliff?   A mountain goat mother.   This is where the goats feel safest.   Predators wouldn’t be very likely to spend time here.    The only exception is the Golden Eagle.   This fierce raptor is the number one predator of mountain goat babies.   They swoop down and knock them off of rocky cliff edges just like this one.   So a diligent mountain goat nanny keeps an eye on the sky!


(Below) There is nothing like a nice firm mattress!   A mountain mama and baby rest together.    Although Mountain goats are devoted parents, they will not except the presence of a baby other then their own, even if it is in the same family group.   The mama will push another baby away, forcing it to give her some space.   They know their own babies from sight and scent and can tell them apart even from a distance.


This baby below is about one and a half weeks old.    He was a wobbly fellow on his chubby legs.   Someday he will scale great cliff sides like an acrobat.  But for now, simply balancing on this rounded rock provides a nice challenge.


Below, a mother leads her baby up the  mountainside.   The one clamoring up the rocks in the center of the picture is hers.  The other standing on the rock is looking for her own mother.   When she spots her, she will follow along.


(Below)  Two babies nuzzle each other.   Baby mountain goats are VERY playful.  They bounce around on chubby spring-loaded legs.  Then when they tire, they come together and snuggle.   The baby on the left below is only a little more than a week old…


Sometimes it’s good to have a friend…


A standoff at the O.K. Corral

House Wrens have occupied the bluebird house that is attached to a post at the edge of the woods in front of our house.   This morning I could tell by the sweet, exuberant chattering coming from inside the house that the babies are very nearly ready to fledge.   The parents have been busy continuously bringing the incredible amounts of food needed for them to grow.  This creates almost constant commotion around the little house.


This morning I was out with the dogs and heard one of the little wren parents having an absolute FIT.  I looked up to see her on top of the wire raccoon guard just outside the entrance to her nest.  She was jumping back and forth wildly.  Her desperate calls rang out through the woods.

Naturally I had to investigate.  Although I was already pretty close to the birdhouse, I knew that I was not the one upsetting her.  I have been around this house quite a bit, and she has not been overly bothered by me.    I wandered over and looked inside the tiny house entrance.   What I saw when I looked in was NOT what I expected!

Filling the round entrance of the house was what at a glance looked like a dark thick rope that was curled just enough that the round part was sticking out of the hole.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that a snake had somehow made it’s way up the post and into the house.   I could smell an unpleasant odor coming from inside.    Things were not looking good for the wrens.

It is my policy to not interfere with nature.  I like wrens.  I also like snakes.   Everyone out there has a tough living to make.   It is my privilege to watch any scenario as it plays out in nature as an unbiased bystander, even when the end result is a sad one for one of the parties.   But something struck me on this day.  Maybe I was in an unusually sentimental mood, I don’t know.    I decided to remove the front of the house and see what was going on inside.   All this time the little wren continued screaming from nearby tree branches.

(Below) this is the scene that was unveiled when the front of the bird house came off.   There was one dead baby on top of the nest.  The entire contents in the box,  including the snake was motionless.


After some time passed, I stepped back a bit.  Now exposed, the snake was feeling pressure to better hide himself or leave.   He slipped out through a slit in the back of the house which is likely how he got in there in the first place.  The brave little wren came charging down to deal with the situation herself.  She was amazingly tenacious.   Songbirds are fiercely devoted and protective parents.

(Below) A protective parent and a hungry serpent are in a temporary standoff.   The wren’s wildly focused aggression and the newly exposed nature of the nest eventually discouraged the snake.


The snake decided to retreat back inside of the house for safety from his aggressive little foe.   He hid behind an old wasp nest.  But this was the wrong move to make.   The wren just turned her volume up a few more notches.   He was close to her babies again and this simply was not acceptable!


In time the snake finally found himself outmatched and decided to get the heck outta Dodge.   I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures of him on my computer that his eyes were milky.  This means that he has out grown his clothing and is getting ready to shed his skin.


After the snake left all was quiet.  For a long while I had surmised that the snake had already constricted  all of the babies by the time I got there.  But slight movement way down into the nest revealed that some of the babies were still in there and were alive.  I quickly removed the dead one (and pitched it into the woods to become food for perhaps the same snake?) and promptly placed the front of the house back on.   It will be interesting to see if any baby wrens fledge from this brood after the standoff at the O.K. Corral…

Noisy Neighbors and a Best of Show…

I am  pleased to announce that my painting entitled “Humble Abode” was awarded Best of Show at the Artistic Designs Gallery’s annual miniature invitational.    This was a fun little painting to create and any artist is most pleased to know that others enjoy and appreciate their work.



(Above) “Humble Abode”     8 ” x 10″        Acrylic on masonite

Although exotic travel is one way many artists including myself gather experiences from which to paint, we are also often inspired by  nature that is right outside of our own windows.  This painting features a Carolina Wren who is returning to her nest inside of whats left of  an old shed that once stood on a relative’s farm. She has brought a meal back for her babies.  Carolina Wrens are very common here at our house and nest in a variety of places, from planted pots, to our gas grill (it’s a good thing we prefer to cook in our charcoal grill instead!).

This little Wren sings just outside our window.  Carolina Wrens are very gregarious and noisy, singing all throughout the day.   They have become very numerous in woodland areas in this part of the country.


Another comical and noisy neighbor is this little family of Tufted Titmice.   This was a large brood and they all successfully fledged.  Their raspy cheerful calls could be heard all throughout the day.


A less numerous visitor, but one who arrives here to nest each summer is the Great Crested Flycatcher (below).  These birds have a very unusual song and their enormous size makes them quite noticeable in the woods.   Roger Tory Peterson best describes this bird’s call in his book as “a loud, whistled wheeeeep!   Also a rolling prrrrrrrreeet.”    Like many songbirds, the Great Crested Flycatcher sings less often when the summer temperatures get very hot.


“Adventures”—the Yukon and Canadian Rockies

For those who are interested in stories, photographs and field sketches from far away places, I have just added two new segments to my “Adventures” link on this website.   You will see them at the top entitled “Yukon” and “Canadian Rockies”.

These are a few images from the Yukon entry.  This entry includes interesting history of the area and many images of summer in the far north including a close up look at some of the most famous animals of the vast Yukon territory.






Below are a few images from the Canadian Rockies entry.   This entry takes you through one of the most scenic places in North America and gives you a glimpse into the lives of the fascinating animals who call the Canadian Rockies home.





For much more, be sure to check it out!  🙂

Share and Share Alike…

I adore birds.   All birds.  There is something about them that simply fascinates me.   My mother instilled this love in me from early childhood.    Although not at all outdoorsy, my mom did enjoy watching the birds in our back yard from the glass sun room (no BUGS!).   We had a Peterson field guide on the table  in that room accompanied by binoculars .   Although the birds we saw  mostly were common back yard birds found in the eastern U.S. we enjoyed watching them just the same.

When I moved from Ohio to the Kansas City area, the birds that I saw each day were many of the same species that I watched while growing up.   Once we moved to wooded acreage however, bird watching took on a whole new dimension!     Many of the familiar birds are here in the woods (although I have not seen a single Sparrow since our arrival here).    But we are now able to attract colorful canopy birds too, my two favorites of which are sharing a feeder below.

(Below) A mature Baltimore Oriole shares “his” jelly feeder with a male Indigo Bunting.   Size is everything in the bird world…usually.    Ordinarily, a larger bird would nearly always dominate a feeder.   But Buntings are very laid back and tame by nature.   They are birds of little conflict that are amiable and seemingly unflappable.    This tiny fellow was not deterred by the larger more flamboyant Oriole.    They were somehow able to work out an agreement with each other and dined together.    This is unusual, as birds of different species typically don’t eat at a feeder at the same time.


Like any busy airport, one must occasionally wait in line to get onto the tarmac.    Here the Bunting is trying to decide whether or not to hop down onto the jelly feeder.    Buntings are very adaptable birds, getting along well with others and eating virtually anything that is available to them from small insects, to jelly, to small seeds.   This is a delightful and beautiful species.


We are nearly overrun by Orioles this year.  Adult males are the only ones that have a solid black head.   Juvenile males are speckled where they will later be black.   This mature male poses within the Clematis on our trellis.   The purple and orange are a beautiful sight.


My acrylic painting entitled “Vibrant Garden” was inspired by sights just outside our windows.


There’s No Place Like Home

I have had the wonderful fortune of camping in a variety of places in the world, from Kruger National Park in South Africa, to the jungles of the Amazon rain forest, to the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  If pressed with the question of where my favorite camping spot is, I could not answer that easily.  The Colorado Rockies win the prize for the most scenic, Kruger Park the most exciting, and the Amazon the most challenging.   But I have to say that one of my favorite spots to set up a tent is at Cheyenne Bottoms right in the middle of the state of Kansas.

KANSAS…you ask…?    There is a simple beauty there.  It is a place where huge cottonwood trees tower overhead, quickly giving way to prairie.  In May, migratory song birds fill the trees in an explosion of music and color.  Migrating water birds come through too, stopping off at the Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivera wetlands.  This has proven to be a most restful and peaceful place to be.

May is a time when anything goes in “tornado alley”.   Mother nature can dish out anything and out in the middle of nowhere, you’d better be ready to take it.  Last year high winds nearly blew us away.  This year, we were graced with perfectly comfortable temperatures accompanied with a mix of clouds and sunshine.  One dawn following a brief rain, thick fog blanketed the landscape.   When the sun began to rise, everything receded back in soft layers.  It was a sight to behold…


As the sun rose higher in the sky, the fog gradually began to burn off.  The world went from orange into subtle color…



Finally the true colors of daylight arrived as the fog slowly disappeared…  This is the subtle beauty of Kansas…


Seeing the World For the Very First Time

Groundhogs have lived with us here for years.  There is nothing all that unusual about that, as many people see groundhogs here and there.  But for some reason our hot tub deck is especially popular with them.  Raccoons like the hot tub deck too, and usually occupy the area under it all winter.  But this spring a female groundhog was somehow able to call dibs on it and made it the site of her den.

I was in my studio working this afternoon and heard  funny squeaking sounds just outside my windows.  I looked out just in time to see two baby groundhogs playing a game of “Ring Around the Rosie” on top of our hot tub cover.  They were soaking wet from being in their little hole under the deck.   Heavy rains have soaked everything here.  The wet babies looked more like baby porcupines than groundhogs!   But the water didn’t seem to bother them at all.


Mother groundhog is quite patient as her babies crawl all over her.   Oh, the joys of motherhood!


In short order the babies dried off.  They seemed to almost double in size as their tiny bodies puffed up in fluff.


There are five babies in this litter.  At first they stayed very close to mom.


Flowers in the garden provide a wonderful place to play.  It took a day or two for the babies to learn to balance themselves in the classic upright groundhog position.   They looked like fat, fuzzy little bowling pins toppling over.   This one below has finally got it!


This baby poses for his close-up.  Baby groundhogs are very inquisitive and active.


The photo below shows the runt of the litter on the right with his sibling on the left.  Four of the five babies are the larger size.  But size is relative.  Baby groundhogs are small.  This gives an idea of how tiny the runt is.  He is about the size of my clenched fist.


Below, the tiny runt is behind not only in size but also in development.   He seems much younger than the others.  He also wins the grand prize for cuteness!


Here is a bigger sibling in the same pose.  It is easy to see how different these two are at this stage.


The tiny one is less active than his bigger brothers and sisters.  He doesn’t have enough coordination to run very fast yet.


Have you ever seen anything so adorable?


The babies play and explore but every now and then check back in with each other.  The larger ones are very good to their tiny brother.



Two bigger siblings touch noses.  They do this often when they come together into the same space.   There is no apparent competition between them and they seem to really enjoy each other.


This little guy ran right up to the window where I was photographing them.


Mother groundhog gathered up more leaves to freshen up the den.


The photo below required a very fast shutter finger and a whole lot of luck.  The tiny runt baby poses with his big brother.  This pose lasted for all of a millisecond before they scampered all around again.


Below the tiny one seems to be having a conversation with his bigger brother.  I wonder what they were saying…


A dedicated mom relaxes nearby.


Ice Castles

Nature is a funny character.   You never know what she will do.   Humans have evolved into an animal who likes to control.  We live walled off from the natural world in controlled climates, controlled air quality, controlled lighting, even controlled mental stimulation.   But in reality it is nature who is in control.  I quite like that about her.

We have not had a hard winter this year here in eastern Kansas.  In fact, it has been downright nice out.  The world around us had decided to come forth in vibrant color just as it does every year at about this time.   But nature had one last surprise for us.

Two days ago it started to rain.    Grasses can green up literally over night with early spring rains.   But a strange wind accompanied this rain, wind that was swirling in circles, and then the temperature began to drop dramatically.   The rain began to freeze on every  surface outside.   Although this is a nightmare if there is somewhere that you need to go, it is quite beautiful if you are able to stay cozy and warm in your home.  The ice came on a weekend.  That was fortunate.

The freezing rain eventually turned into sleet which turned into snow.   It was strange to see ice and snow covering tree blossoms and spring flowers.

By the next day the weather front had moved on and left only bright sunshine behind.  This is when the layers of ice are the most beautiful.   This photo below was taken at the base of our driveway.  The tree blossoms look HUGE as they are encased in a fat layer of ice and snow.


It is strange to see delicate blossoms encased in ice and snow.




The sun shining through the ice creates wonderful abstract shapes.


The red bud trees are just starting to emerge in color.  Hopefully the ice will not stunt their blossoms this year.


Below is a view of our deck that overlooks the icy woods.    Our home is surrounded by woods, so we have this crystal ice castle view on all sides.


The daffodil blooms likely will not survive this wintry assault.   This one below is encased in an icy coffin.


A Late Winter Treasure Hunt

Every king looses his crown…eventually.   The neat thing about the whitetail king of our woods “Broad Beams” is that he just grows back a new crown on the top of his head each spring.    He is old now, very old.  He has haunted our woods for the duration of our time in this home.  My husband and I have grown more attached to him than any of our other deer, perhaps because of his enormous size and charisma or perhaps because we simply know him the best.    Each and every time I see him, my heart beats just a little bit faster.

Broad Beams comes by every day.    He is shy around “strangers” and will lay low if he hears voices other than ours inside our home.  But he knows Alan and I, and if we are here alone, he just strides right up to the house.   Below is one of my favorite scenes through our hearth room window…Broad Beams approaching on the deer trail.  When he sees me standing in the window taking his picture,  he will often stop and pose for me before proceeding.  Then he emerges onto the scene like the great titan that he is.


Each year the antlers  on Broad Beams have grown back a bit differently which is typical for whitetail deer.   The  size of his antlers is on the decline now because of his advancing age.   He is a magnificent, battle torn warrior, wearing the scars from many, many years of maintaining his reign as King.     These post-rut pictures (above and below) were taken this January at age 8 1/2.  Indeed he is quite old for a wild whitetail deer.


Alan and I  hike in our woods each March, looking for antlers that have recently been shed by our deer friends.  It is like a treasure hunt.  We find something every year, but usually don’t find the antlers from our big guys.  Last year my husband found one of Broad Beam’s antlers.  After much searching, we were never able to find the other one.  Antlers usually don’t drop off at the same time.  So if a buck is on the move while they are loosing them, the antlers can be miles apart.

This year I noticed exactly when Broad Beams lost his antlers.  I saw him in the morning with them, and then saw him in the early evening that same day without them.  So we surmised that they must be nearby.  My husband and I set out on our late winter treasure hunt.   It didn’t take long to find both antlers.   They were only about 100 yards apart which means that he lost both of them at close to the same time and he had not covered much ground in between.   What a wonderful gift our boy has left for us this year!


Unexpected Popularity

Wildlife artists often try their best to balance what is in their hearts with that which will sell.  We all love the idea of painting whatever it is that moves us but let’s face it, we are also trying to make a living.   Each artist paints certain animals that are sought after by collectors.    Paintings of these animals sell quickly.   So it is easy to see how there could be temptation to paint those animals over and over again.   I try my best not to fall into that trap.   A recent event proved to me that in the end, you can not ever really predict what images will be the most popular with buyers.

A couple of years ago some friends invited my husband and I to join them out on the Kansas prairie to watch the mating rituals of the Greater Prairie Chicken.   I didn’t know much about these birds at the time and it sounded like a fun and interesting time.   Long before the sun pushed upward on the eastern horizon, we went out and sat in a wooden box in the middle of the prairie.  It was early spring.  It was cold and dark in that box.  We nearly froze our fannies off!

The sun finally rose and illuminated the Flint Hills of Kansas in a brilliant pink glow.  We could hear strange thumping on the top of the box that we were huddled inside of.  These were male Prairie Chickens arriving to defend a little patch of grass that they each had decided was theirs.  They flew onto the ground one by one.  All was calm on the prairie.  That is until the females began to arrive!

Watching male Prairie Chickens take part in their “booming” dance is quite a spectacle.  When they  fiercely begin competing for females, things really liven up on the prairie.  I knew at that moment that I just had to paint this spectacular event.  And I really wanted to capture the magical light of the Flint Hills at dawn.

Sure enough I did start a painting of this most unusual scene.   I wanted to portray a male booming to impress a female.  I wanted the viewer to decide on their own whether or not this particular male was able to woo her enough to “get lucky”.    I got about three-quarters of my way through the painting.  Then it found itself in the bottom of  a drawer.  Who in the world is going to want a painting like this?

Many months passed.  I stumbled onto that painting again and decided that I did indeed like the start that I had gotten on it.  I told my husband that I would finish it “just to get it out of my system.”… So I did…  End of story, right?


I am most fortunate to have been included as an exhibiting artist in the NatureWorks Wildlife Art Show for the past five years.  This show takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is currently one of the premier wildlife art shows in the country.    And it is a WHOLE LOT of FUN!  I take a collection of new paintings there each year.  Somehow the Prairie Chicken painting was thrown in as a last minute decision.    I decided to entitle it “Prairie Passion.”

“Prairie Passion” attracted a surprising amount of attention at the show.  The painting sold on opening night and there were several collectors who wanted to purchase it.   The person who ended up buying it decided to pick it up at the end of the show on Sunday.   It remained in my booth and attracted attention throughout the entire weekend.


“Prairie Passion” (above).    (Acrylic on masonite)

Greater Prairie Chickens are a member of the grouse family.  The North American species was once abundant, but has become extremely rare or extinct over much of its range due  largely to habitat loss.  We were most fortunate to see these birds on that beautiful morning.

Prairie Chickens prefer undisturbed prairie and were originally found in tall grass prairies.  They can tolerate agricultural land mixed with prairie, but the more agricultural the land the lower the Prairie Chicken population.  The Greater Prairie Chicken was almost extinct in the 1930’s due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.  They now only live on small parcels of managed prairie land.  It is thought that their current population is about 500,000 individuals.


Currently, human interactions are by far the greatest threat to Prairie Chickens.  The conversion of native prairie to cropland is very detrimental to these birds.  It was found in a radio telemetry study conducted by Kansas State University that “most prairie chicken hens avoided nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of power lines and within a third-mile of improved roads.”   They also found that the chickens avoided communication towers and rural farms.

Prairie chickens are most famous for their bizarre mating rituals, called “booming”.   It is said that native Americans found inspiration for many of their dances from the dances of the prairie chicken.  I could definitely see a parallel here.

Two males face off (below).  They boom and then leap into the air at each other.  This bizarre dance lasts for several hours until the females leave.  Then the prairie falls silent again.


An Unsinkable Will to Live

It is nearly impossible for me to convey my amazement in nature with mere words.  Just when I think I’ve seen about anything a person could see, a new miracle comes along and shows me how little I really know…

Two winters ago while taking a break at lunch time one day, I looked out the window of  or our hearth room and noticed a strange sight.  A good sized white tail buck had wandered haplessly into view.   He emerged from the dense woods, lumbering awkwardly forward  like a strange creature from a monster movie.  His large head and shoulders lurched upward and downward in a dramatic unnatural fashion.  As he came closer, I could see blood running down his right front leg, which had been snapped at the knee and now stuck out sideways in a grotesque, demented direction.  The flesh on different parts of his body had been torn open, creating great oozing wounds.   Closer inspection of him as he came ever closer revealed a broken jaw and fractured rear leg just below the stifle.  His eyes were shockish.  He had just been hit by a car, perhaps earlier that very morning.

I didn’t know this buck until that day.   He came right up to the house as they often do and loitered around, trying to find the courage to move along on his way.  Finally he lumbered off in that jerky monstrous walk, crossed the little dead end road in front of our house, actually jumped our neighbor’s wooden fence (on three legs) and drifted off into a dense stand of cedars.  I was sure that he was doomed.  Poor fellow…

How little I know.

The unfortunate broken buck not only did return to eat the acorns under our burr oak tree, but he became a regular here that winter.  Slowly, the bloody wounds began to heal.  But the broken bones of course remained broken and healed in strange unnatural positions.  It was always easy to recognize him even from a distance.  No one else moved in such an awkward fashion.

As the warm season came, my husband and I felt certain that infection would set in and Brave Heart  (a name well earned) would not live for much longer.   Again, how little I know.  Sure enough when the next December came, Brave Heart came with it as if blown in on a cold westerly breeze.  We could hardly believe our eyes.  Once again he was a regular sight out our windows all through the winter.

Another warm season came and went.  Our deer become nearly invisible as the lush greenery fills in the woods and some of the bucks relocate for the season.   With Autumn and winter comes better visibility.  Sure enough it is December and  today on cue, like an actor showing up with script in hand for his first scene of the season, Brave Heart appeared in our woods once again.  He can hardly walk, as the right front leg has become a useless appendage that seems to be more in the way than anything else.   But here he is…our unsinkable and brave spirited man.  He looks better this year than in the past, as the heavy rains have brought abundant food.  For an animal with limited mobility, this is an important factor in their survival.

(Below) A look at Brave Heart through our living room window.  He is in good weight this year.


Injuries cause unusual antler growth, usually on the side opposite the injury.  Because Brave Heart had sustained injuries on both sides of his body, his antlers are almost freakish, with tines sticking out in all directions.   Here he enjoys the seed pods from a locust tree (we refer to them as “banana skins”).  In this photo his broken lower jaw is evident.  Because the break is in front of the back grinding teeth, he is still able to chew, which is how he has survived all this time.


Because of the massive damage to Brave Heart’s body, he is socially repressed by all of the other deer in the area.  This may force his testosterone levels to be lower than other bucks.    Each winter Brave Heart is always the first to loose his antlers.    In fact, they drop long before the other bucks, even the young ones.     Below he is ambling through the woods towards the house.   His broken front leg is obvious from this angle.


Where Brave Heart goes when the warm breezes of spring arrive is anyone’s guess.  White tail deer have a way of emerging from seemingly nowhere and then vaporizing into thin air as a mode of transit.  This simply fascinates me about them.

It is impossible not to admire such a creature for his infallible will to live.  Indeed, Brave Heart has survived through yet another year.     I’m happy to say… “HOW LITTLE I KNOW“…

Welcome back, brave fellow…

Ice Statues

On a COLD and sunny day last weekend, Alan and I decided to visit one of our favorite day trip places.  Squaw Creek is about a two hour drive north of Kansas City.  This marshland refuge hosts spectacular waterfowl migrations at different times of the year.  It is also the home of dozens of bald eagles in the winter.  You never know what you will find there.  That is one of the most interesting things about it.

As we had hoped, there were several dozen bald eagles there.  Most were sitting on the edge where ice meets water way out in the middle of the lake.  Tens of thousands of mallard ducks bobbed along in what was left of the unfrozen water.  The eagles posed like sentries, waiting for a mallard to make the wrong move.

Although I have very good camera equipment, I don’t have anything that can bring an eagle that is three football fields away up close.   So we enjoyed watching them through our binoculars.   There is nothing quite like watching a wild eagle fly…

As we continued our travel around the lake, we found a group of several hundred snow geese right along the shore.  I just couldn’t get over how beautiful the contrast was between the white of the geese and the dark, brilliantly blue color of the ice.


The following goose is still in the gray phase.  He will whiten into his winter feathers as the cold season progresses…


Like Fine Wine…

My friends hear me speak of monsters.  Some of these friends have even witnessed them for themselves.   When mature whitetail bucks float about in the darkness of our woods they seem almost bigger than life.   But even the biggest monsters come from humble beginnings…

In the autumn and winter of 2005-06 there was a young spike buck who for a reason unknown to us, attached himself to our home.  Maybe he spent his days as a spotted fawn here and had no reason to leave.  Our home was his home.  His home was our home.   Everyone involved seemed to like it that way.

There was something special about “Teenie Tines.”   I knew it from the very beginning.   Little whitetail bucks litter our woods like hickory nuts.  But I knew when I first met him that Teenie Tines was no ordinary little hickory nut.  He was a constant fixture at our fence often peeking over it to watch us in the windows as we admired his adorable little face.  He was unusually calm and tame and almost seemed to enjoy our company.  His appetite was voracious.   It seemed that Teeny Tines couldn’t consume enough to keep his fat tummy satisfied.  He gobbled down acorns like a 200 pounder.  He was the only little buck that the big bucks allowed at the fence while they too, pigged out on acorns.   Teenie was to this day the tamest deer we’ve had here.  I used to joke that I could have put a leash on him and walked him around the neighborhood.  How I adored him…

(Below) Teenie at the fence saying “Hello” one winter morning.

Whitetail bucks change a great deal from little spike tykes to the monsters that some of them later become.  But I know our deer by their faces.  This fall a HUGE buck showed up at our fence that we had not yet seen this season.  I grabbed my camera as I always do and started shooting away despite a shutter speed that was really too slow to yield much success  .  It was dusk so my camera ISO was as high as the national debt, but I took my chances and shot away.  Sometimes you get lucky.  I was hoping that this would be one of those times.

It wasn’t until I put the pictures on my computer that I recognized him…OH…MY…GOD…IT’S……….My TEENIE TINES!!!!   We hadn’t seen him since he was a little spike tyke.   That explained why as we stood so blatantly in the window and talked in normal voices he barely noticed us.  He looked at us with casual interest and then proceeded to eat every bur oak acorn he could find under that tree…just like the HUNGRY baby Teenie Tines.

(Below) Teenie Tines has aged like fine wine.  It is ironic that a little buck I once called Teenie Tines (because of his unusually tiny tines) now has some of the longest tines I’ve yet seen.   Maybe his new name should be “Titanic Tines”.

Another look (below) at our boy.  Teenie has once again become a frequent visitor here.  He comes often, stays long and casually saunters away, just like old times.   It will be interesting to see if he is big enough, and BOLD enough to hold this area against some of our other monsters.

No matter how big and impressive he gets, he will always be “Teenie” to me…

Butterflies flutter by…

September is a wonderful time to watch butterflies.   Some migrate south in autumn.  Others end their life cycles right here a bit later in the season.

The beautiful Monarch butterfly begins his long journey south to Mexico in September.  They can be seen just about anywhere flying clumsily along in the often brisk winds of autumn.  Food sources such as this are a very important part of their migration.

A Golden-banded skipper (below).  This little fellow is showing some wear on his wings.

The amazing Pipevine Swallowtail (next photo) is an iridescent blue over black.

The male orange sulphur butterfly (below) creates stunning contrast against a purple backdrop.

A little female orange sulphur butterfly appears almost white until the sun shines through her beautiful translucent wings.

This stunning male Giant Swallowtail has the same flower nectar on his menu as the Monarch.  This is a very large species of butterfly.

Giant Swallowtail butterflies can be a challenge to photograph, as their wings quiver in a constant fluttering motion, even when they stop to feed on nectar.

A fast shutter speed freezes the constant flutter of those big beautiful wings…

Itty Bitty Attitude

The fall hummingbird migration is approaching.  Tiny hummers become especially ambitious around our feeder when they sense a need to tank up on calories before their long flight south.  Aggressive competition among them increases too, usually with a female taking the top position as queen of the feeder.

This little female Ruby Throated Hummingbird shows off an itty bitty attitude that is so classically seen in hummingbirds in September.

Below she sticks her tongue out at me as an apparent display of her sassy, diminutive character.

It is easy to forget when viewing close up photos that are enlarged as these are, that her tiny head would easily fit into a thimble.

Charlotte ain’t got nothin’ on this lady

Late summer in east-central Kansas is spider time.  Summer begins to loosen its grip and signs of autumn are felt in cooler, dryer air.    Huge  webs created by an assortment of orb spiders begin to emerge en mass, draping themselves high in the tree tops, in our gardens and all over our decking.  Some spiders spin in the evening and take down their great webs each morning.  The beautiful black and Yellow argiope (often referred to the zipper spider, yellow garden spider, banana spider, or golden orb weaver) is one of the most beautiful of these great web engineers.  Her web stays up day and night while she hangs upside down patiently waiting for dinner to come flying or crawling by.  “Welcome to my home, said the spider to the fly…”

An adult female golden orb weaver (photos above and below) positions herself nicely for yummy things to come.  A light misty rain rolling through in the morning lit her great web up with sparkly diamonds.

Females of this species are much larger than males.  Although she is big enough to deliver a bite, she is not poisonous or aggressive.  She liked my camera too, and proved to be quite photogenic.

The Golden orb weaver is capable of creating as many as seven different kinds of silk using several different glands that supply her spinnerets.   The different types of silk have varying amino acid compositions and can vary in the stickiness of the silk as well as it’s thickness.  She uses these differences as a capture strategy while building her great web.

In order to grow, spiders must periodically shed their exoskeletons.   When the spider is about to shed, the inside layers of its skin are digested.  The spider anchors her legs on part of her web, hanging upside down.  The top of the carapace splits and the spider literally falls out of her old shell.  She doesn’t fall to the ground because she is anchored by a strand of silk from her spinnerets.  She expands in size as her new skin dries.  She can even grow back a new limb at this time if one was lost before.

These beautiful creatures have a life span of only a year.  So when the cold of winter begins to set in, our beautiful girl will see her last days.

Farewell Mr. Twisty

Monsters roam in our woods like phantoms in the night. They arrive without warning, stay as long as they please and then vanish into thin air.

We have grown accustomed to living with monsters. In fact we have given each one a name. We have learned over time however, that it is not a good idea for one to name their monsters…

Broad Beams” and “Twisty Tine” were two mature whitetail bucks at the peak of their prime. We most often saw them together, first under the cover of darkness and then as their confidence in us grew, at dusk and ultimately in daylight. They haunted our woods and ruled everything in sight.

We watched these two monster bucks grow bigger and bigger each year. By the winter of 2006-07, their ultimate size had become nearly ridiculous. They were an unrivaled pair that traveled together for a very long time.

One December morning I went for a stroll in our woods. I followed the deer trails as I usually do and stopped to study an old dead tree trying to decide whether or not it would make a good background for a painting. Suddenly, movement about 20 yards away caught my eye. It was strange movement in the tall grass, frantic and flailing. Then the movement stopped. This repeated several times before I realized that a huge buck was down, lying on his side on the ground kicking his legs, trying desperately with no avail to stand. His great head and antlers would repeatedly lift up into the air and return to the earth again with a loud thump.

Being the period of rut for whitetail, I gave him a wide birth. A burst of adrenaline could create panic and cause further harm to him and maybe to me. I checked back several times that afternoon. The state of things there had not changed. As evening came I could get closer and could see the life draining from the eyes of this great monster buck. By the next morning the buck had crossed into that unknown place where we ultimately will all find ourselves.

It was my husband who first recognized him. We hadn’t seen our monster bucks since the spring before; in the summer, the woods are thick and lush and the deer are mostly hidden from view. The antlers of a whitetail buck grow back differently each year after a shed. We realized to our surprise and disappointment, that this was our beloved Mr. Twisty. His antlers were different this year, but it was indeed the face of our old friend.

(Above) Twisty in his prime, sporting his whopping 16 point antlers (one tine is hidden).  This is a post-rut photo.

Nature has a way of taking care of things. The death of one means life for others. Foxes, raccoons, bobcats, turkey vultures and coyotes were all able to reap benefit from Twisty’s demise. They all ate very well throughout that winter.

I had seen our other monster Broad Beams shortly after I found Twisty dying. Deep scars all over his face and wounds on his legs told a story. With the ladies around it apparently was finally time to decide once and for all who was going to be King. I could tell by looking at how beat up Broad Beams was, that his was not an easy victory.

(Above) Broad Beams in his prime, the old man of the forest who became the unrivaled King.

The King’s sward (above). My husband found the shed weapon of Broad Beams that likely finished off the great Mr. Twisty.

(Above) Mr.Twisty as he lives on today…the beautiful sculptural remains of a once great giant.…     FOND FAREWELL, OLD FRIEND…

Spring Redbuds

Crisp air, warm sunshine, vivid blue skies and blossoms all around…who can resist being outdoors? My dogs and I walk in a huge park only a stone’s throw away from our home nearly every evening as weather allows. But our recent weather is what we really wait all year for.

The nearby park that we enjoy so much is truly wild as far as the echo system goes. Because hunting is not permitted inside city limits, the animals enjoy a much more relaxed life style than those in the country can. A whitetail doe takes a peek at me as my dogs and I stroll by. The deer here actually know me and my dogs and we can often get almost within spitting distance of them. Because I live in the woods, my dogs are quite used to wild animals of all kinds. Deer are frankly a bit boring to them now…”oh, THOSE again…” So the dogs pay them no mind. All wild animals are masters at reading the energy and intent of others. They seem to know that my dogs and I are harmless and often barely lift their heads to watch as we stroll by.

Redbuds reflecting on a pond…

Wager and Kip pose in front of a backdrop of Redbuds.