Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Pam has reminded me on a number of occasions now that I haven't posted any photos of our "new" yellow Lab 'Sam'. As we will soon have had him a year I figured I better get busy.

We had to put our beloved black Lab 'Dewey' to sleep last October. Pam contacted the professional dog trainer from whom we got Dewey to see if he had or knew of any available pups. He didn't but mentioned he had an 18 month old yellow Lab that had been boarded and then abandoned at his kennel. He thought he'd make an excellent dog for us so we went out to see him and, you guessed it, it was love at first sight. We picked him up the following week.

He's all Lab - energetic, a lover, tail always going, eager to please and is real quick to catch on to new commands. He is also somewhat of a juvenile delinquent at times but aren't they all!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Southern bound!

Except for a few stragglers, our smallest of birds are headed for Mexico and Central America bringing the 09 season to an end. Ahead of them is the huge Gulf of Mexico over which they will fly non stop taking 24 hours to complete which is an incredible feat for a 3 1/2" bird! Even more incredible is that next April they will make the return flight and come back to the same back yard feeders they just left.

These are a few shots taken the day before ours left. An image posting glitch has prevented getting these posted in a more timely manner.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

About to head south

The 09 hummingbird season is rapidly winding down as the tiny guys fatten up for the looooooooooooong flight to Central/South America which is 2-3000 miles! Incredible for a bird 3 1/2 inches long! You often hear the well meaning but wrong advice, especially around hardware stores that sell hummingbird supplies, that feeders should be taken down in mid Sept. as if this will force the birds to migrate or cause them to linger and be caught and killed by a fall freeze. Actually, feeders should be left up to mid Oct. to provide birds migrating from the north a place to feed as they pass by headed south.

Bird migration is under hormone control and has nothing to do with available food supplies. A small light sensitive area of the brain, called the Pineal body for its resemblance to a pine cone, serves as a migration "clock" . Sensitive to light, the pineal body triggers the urge to migrate as daylight hours shorten as fall approaches. For those with feeders up, now is a good time to up the sugar concentration a bit ( 3:1 instead of 4:1) to help them put on wt.

I decided to experiment with my light setup for fun. Of course they kept coming in to feed (with a puzzled look on their little faces) so I continued to shoot. I'm seeing mostly females at present. Dunno where the males are hiding. Here are a few of the better ones. If some look a little strange it's because the lights were outa position.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hummingbird "teens"

A few more photos of juvenile (delinquent?) hummingbirds. This is a young bird hatched this summer. As mentioned in the following post, young males have a "speckled" throat that is gradually replaced by the flaming red color that gives the bird their name. The throat feathers are minute to say the least and can appear black, brown, yellow or red depending on the angle of the light. This male has two or three red feathers showing. He will have the full characteristic flaming red throat when he returns next spring.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hummingbird "teens"

As summer winds down, we see a preponderance of young birds of all species. Many full grown young birds continue to follow the parents around squawking with mouths agape begging for a handout. Hummmm, we seem to have a whole segment of society just like that having been raised on government entitlement programs.

Not so with hummers. They are strictly on their own once taking flight and are even driven away from feeders by their parents! We now have a horde of young hummers out back. I've seen as many as six at once trying to feed from one port as I have the others plugged so I can semi "control" where they are when I shoot. If you let them control things, you'll never get anything. The juvenile birds are somewhat flat color wise as they have little iridescence.
The speckled throat mark this tiny guy as a juvenile male. He'll have the trademark flaming red gorget when he returns next spring. My guess is he's only 4-6 weeks old. As you can see, he' s pretty much devoid of the striking colors this species is famous for.
A prior pic of a juvenile male showing the speckled throat with two or three bright red feathers showing.
Forgot to turn on my main front flash unit (I'm and idiot) which gave a very underexposed but unusual shot

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hummingbird Poem

To a Humming Bird in a Garden

George Murray

BLITHE playmate of the Summer time,
Admiringly I greet thee;
Born in old England’s misty clime,
I scarcely hoped to meet thee.

Com’st thou from forests of Peru, 5
Or from Brazil’s savannahs,
Where flowers of every dazzling hue
Flaunt, gorgeous as Sultanas?

Thou scannest me with doubtful gaze,
Suspicious little stranger! 10
Fear not, thy burnished wings may blaze
Secure from harm or danger.

Now here, now there, thy flash is seen,
Like some stray sunbeam darting,
With scarce a second’s space between 15
Its coming and departing.

Mate of the bird that lives sublime
In Pat’s immortal blunder,
Spied in two places at a time,
Thou challengest our wonder. 20

Suspended by thy slender bill,
Sweet blooms thou lov’st to rifle;
The subtle perfumes they distil
Might well thy being stifle.

Surely the honey-dew of flowers 25
Is slightly alcoholic,
Or why, through burning August hours,
Dost thou pursue thy frolic?

What though thy throatlet never rings
With music, soft or stirring; 30
Still, like a spinning-wheel, thy wings
Incessantly are whirring.

How dearly I would love to see
Thy tiny cara sposa,
As full of sensibility 35
As any coy mimosa!

They say, when hunters track her nest
Where two warm pearls are lying,
She boldly fights, though sore distrest,
And sends the brigands flying. 40

What dainty epithets thy tribes
Have won from men of science!
Pedantic and poetic scribes
For once are in alliance.

Crested Coquette, and Azure Crown, 45
Sun Jewel, Ruby-Throated,
With Flaming Topaz, Crimson Down,
Are names that may be quoted.

Such titles aim to paint the hues
That on the darlings glitter, 50
And were we for a week to muse,
We scarce could light on fitter.

Farewell, bright bird! I envy thee,
Gay rainbow-tinted rover;
Would that my life, like thine, were free 55
From care till all is over!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lazy Summer days

Can you believe there are only about six weeks until fall! By mid Atlantic standards this summer has been a pussycat having just turned consistently hot and humid the last thrre weeks or so. Haven't been doing any ditch patrollin' lately as I have a zero tolerance for heat coupled with a very severe and chronic case of tendinitis in my left elbow brought about by using a manual wheelchair and crutches both of which put stress on the triceps tendon in the back of the elbow. After I can't count how many cortisone injections, I'm basically not using the arm at all for now to give it total rest and keeping it packed in ice 30 mins on 30 off. If this fails, dunno what the next step will be.

I can shoot hummingbirds one armed so here are two recent takes. I won't go into how many throw aways there were. If you're unfamiliar with hummingbirds, the only species in the eastern US is the Ruby throated with the male having the brilliant red throat (gorget) which can appear red, yellowish, brown or black depending on the angle the light hits it. It's ladies first though :o)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Joyas Volardores!

Hummingbirds are our tiniest and the most fascinating birds that will visit your backyard. Early Spanish explorers to the new world called them Joyas Volardores or flying jewels. Unique to South, Central and North America, they are found no where else in the world. If you need visual evidence of almighty God as creator of the universe and all things therein you need look no further!

Hummers are one of the most difficult nature subject to photograph. Their tiny size coupled with incredible speed and unpredictable movements are a real challenge. There are four types of hummer photos: 1) wings a blur which is how we generally see them, 2) wings "frozen" in place (high speed flash is usually necessary to accomplish this) 3) a combination of the two which is actually two images with one produced by flash and another produced by existing daylight and 4) the bird at rest on a perch or nest. I've had a life long fascination with them and have tried photographing them off and on but got more serious about it about five years ago when I began reading about the technique of using high speed flash to illuminate them. They're also easy to work with from a wheelchair. I'm a slow learner but now occasionally get a good shot or two. I've outlined the techniques of lighting these animated ping pong balls and some general information about them in an earlier post so won't repeat all of it here.

This tiny guy has been driving me crazy trying to get on film. Of about 30 shots this was the best.

"Where is the person who, on seeing this lovely little creature moving on humming winglets through the air, suspended as if by magic; flitting from one flower to another, with motions as graceful as they are light and airy, pursuing its course over our extensive continent, and yielding new delights wherever it is seen;--who, on observing this glittering fragment of the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and instantly turn his mind with reverence toward the Almighty Creator, the wonders of whose hand we at every step discover, and of whose sublime conceptions we everywhere observe the manifestations in His admirable system of creation?--There breathes not such a person; so kindly have we all been blessed with that intuitive and noble feeling--admiration!"

~ John James Audubon

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ditch Patrol 09 con't

As Va's COOL summer moves on (HOORAY!!) I don't have many excuses for not patrollin them ditches. I can't recall a summer when its actually been nice (by my standards :o) in decades.

Couple of fines the last couple days. One really cute and one not (but it smells real good!)

Bull Thistle or maybe Pasture Thistle, one of about 9 species in the east. Most grow in dry, waste places, ditches (is there anywhere else! :o) pastures, roadsides. etc. Most have formidable, razor sharp spines that will sure 'nuff ruin your day if you're careless with them. I generally handle and position them with spring clamps to avoid touching them. Most are fragrant and a magnet to insects and especially Butterflies.

This tiny little guy is Spiked Lobelia or Palespike Lobelia (Lobelia spicata to you science buffs). Could key it to family but about gave up trying to key it out further when I hit upon it by accident.
Another in our inexhaustible supply of roadside weeds. A real challenge to even find in my viewfinder, this was all the magnification I could get with what I had with me.

Ditch Patrol 09

The ditch Patrol has been off line for a while this summer. Had to have an implanted spinal infusion therapy pump replaced earlier this month at UVA. That went well and with the cool summer I don't have much excuse for not going out.

We also have a new power chair/scooter lift for the van that simplifies things a lot. I'll stick on a few pics below. Engineering marvel!

Here it is on the ground, scooter loaded and ready to lift...
Thirty seconds later at the push of a button...all loaded inside nice 'n neat!

Can you believe I haul all this junk to photograph weeds?!

I'm going to try to get going on the hummingbirds soon although we have very few this year ??

This AM's find is commonly called "Common Nightshade", "Horse Nettle" or "Bull Nettle" (Solanum carolinense if you care). Found it in a ditch (where else!) over in Wilderness Battlefield. It is in the Nightshade (Potato) family. All members of this family , including potatoes, contain the potent neurotoxin solanine which is why you sometimes hear this plant family called the "Deadly Nightshades". Although toxicity is primarily of veterinary interest as livestock can become poisoned by injecting the plants in quanity, humans can become poisoned from ingesting raw, young green potatoes. Form the brief amount I read, the incidence of poisoning is low in humans although it isn't a good idea to eat young green potatoes and potatoes eaten raw should be peeled.

MS 150 2009

The Central Va chapter of the NMSS sponsors a very demanding two day, 150 mile bike tour every year the weekend after Memorial Day. It is now the "MS 150" although for years it was called the "Va Dare Bike Tour". This year there were 520 cyclists and the event raised ~$325,000. They ride 75 miles on Sat. to Williamsburg and 75 return miles to Richmond Sunday. In 1993 a friend of mine, Jeff Wessel, formed a bike team to ride in the event that he called Team BRUCE (Bikers Ride Until a Cure Exists). The numbers fluctuate year to year but we have about 25 riders give or take. Pam and I always volunteer to work rest stops as it's a fun event and we so appreciate the effort these folks make.

To make a very long story short another friend, Phil Rice, came up with the (at the time) idiotic idea to find a way to pull me the entire 150 miles! With donated parts he fabricated an adult trike in his auto body repair shop that he pulled with his own regular bike. Pulling about 250 lbs with a bike is no small feat but it worked! They generally change "pullers" every 12 miles or so.

Following all good ideas come some setbacks. The head office of NMSS had "safety issues" with our old trike and wanted it retired. I'll see if I can find some pics. Always up to a challange, Phil located a bike shop in northern VA (Vienna) and in it found two recumbant style bikes that were desigined and engineered to be joined via a special hitch arrangment. The new "ride" was a rocket on rails! Hittin' over 30 mph on a few downhills is a real rush especially when you live in a world of slow motion (yes, they made me sign a waver :o). Fitted with two high tech pieces of PVC pipe which provided 4 "handles" that riders could grab to assist on upgrades, we were quite a sight! The owner of the shop donated the two bikes for us to use free of charge and only requested a picture as payment! WOW!

Last year, on day two, we lost two of our primary lead bike "engines" and the 75 mile trek back to Richmond looked out of reach. About 15 miles out of Williamsburg, we met up with a team from W.M. Jordan Co. We didn't realize it at the time but the Lord had provided us with a group of angels! They immediately pitched in to assist us and what a relief it was the guy on the lead bike! As Mark Santschi was speaking about the ride at a fund raiser event at our church in May, he was overcome with emotion as he thought back to the relief he felt as the Jordan cyclists pulled along side and began to push. We thought they would probably go on their way at the next rest stop but no, they wanted to ride with us all way to Richmond! How cool is that!! And even cooler is they rode both ways again this year!!

The pic below is somewhere in the back woods of rural VA. Here, 4 "pushers" have pulled alongside and are assisting "Skip" (the "engine") on a long, brutal upgrade, the worst on the route. Powerful men and these guys rock and roll! The determination on their faces says it all! Phil, the originator of this crazy idea is on the far right of the pic. My job, besides just riding and enjoying the scenery, is to attract as much gravity as I can and make us as un-aerodynamic as possible ;o)

Seriously, to be surrounded by a group of individuals like this is a high beyond description! I feel like the luckiest man on earth!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Passin' thru

For those with bird feeders still up, keep an eye peeled for this handsome guy. This is the Rose breasted Grosbeak which winters in Central America, Venezuela, Peru and Mexico and passes thru our area on migration as they head north. The male is pretty unmistakable with his black hood and back, snow white breast with a bright rose red triangle and black and white wings. The female resembles a large brown sparrow with a white eye stripe.

The name "grosbeak" obviously refers to the large heavy beak used to crack seeds that are the birds main diet. There are six grosbeak species that make their home in the east.

The first photo shows well the avian ear which is a small opening directly behind the eye. Birds have exceptional hearing but lack the external ear (pinna) that we see in humans and most mammals.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring Beauties

This is Claytonia, commonly called "Spring Beauty" and that it is! The ditches over in Wilderness are white with these delicate little flowers that range in color from white to pink with pink veins and stamens. The macro lens reveals the exquisite detail of the little flowers that grow from a small underground tuber similiar to a small sweet potato that has a nut like flavor. Named for Va. botanist John Clayton.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ditch Patrol 09

The 09 Ditch Patrol is off and runnin' so to speak. Generally the Crocuses mark the official start in Feb. I didn't shoot any this year as everyone knows what they look like and it's tough to be creative with them. Add in the fact that I can't get up anymore after getting down to their level. Below are a couple I took previously that I don't believe I sent out. The first one shows the Crocuses colorful reproductive apparatus with the central orange (female) pistil and the three blade like (male) stamens covered with pollen (analogous to sperm in animals)

The next three pics are of Sanguinaria, commonly called "Bloodroot". I've been looking for this somewhat rare plant for years and finally found some last spring in a ditch (where else!) over in Wilderness battlefield. It is one of our earliest spring flora blooming in March. I found it today in full bloom. It is absolutely gorgeous with the pristine white petals radiating from a cluster of bright yellow stamens. The plant is toxic although American Indians used the red juice from the root (hence the name) for a variety of ails including war paint for their faces and bodies. The plants are somewhat inconspicuous amid the leaf litter etc on the ground. The first flower is a bit smaller than a quarter and the last 3 about nickel sized.