Monday, January 31, 2011

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina

Another Saturday and this means another day trip with Travel Buddy. And we were so fortunate this Saturday to have perfect weather – bright sun and warmth!

We decided to do a big (really big! 180 miles round trip) up to Mount Airy, down to Mocksville and then back home so that we could stop at some places highlighted by Catherine Bisher’s guide to historic buildings in the Piedmont.

Going to Mount Airy (home of Andy Griffith and the basis for the town of Mayberry in his eponymous TV show) means driving north on US Highway 52. I pulled over at an outlook to take snapshots of Pilot Mountain that is the source for Mount Pilot mentioned in The Andy Griffith Show.

Looking North Along US Hwy 52 Towards Pilot Mountain

Pilot Mountain is a remnant of the ancient Sauratown Mountains which millions of years ago stood higher than Mt. Everest does now. This is a quartzite monadnock, the definition of which is an isolated small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain.

Pilot Mountain is actually two prominent pinnacles. Big Pinnacle, with walls of bare rock and a rounded top covered by vegetation, rises 1,400 feet above the valley floor with the knob rising more than 200 feet from its base. Big Pinnacle is connected to Little Pinnacle by a narrow depression. The Big Pinnacle also has populations at its summit and base of a rare oak species known as Bear Oak, which is state-listed as threatened and is known only to grow in four locations in the state.

Big Pinnacle

To the native Saura Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of the region, Pilot Mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” It guided both Native Americans and early European hunters along a north-south path through the area. The Sauras were driven southward by the Cherokees, who subsequently occupied the area. Further settlement in the area was led by Moravians, but the population remained sparse during colonial times due to frontier turbulence created by an alliance between the Cherokees and the British.

The mountain was mapped in 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, father of President Thomas Jefferson. Pilot Mountain became North Carolina's 14th state park in 1968.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunset Sunday

A snapshot over the top of the house Saturday evening. Finally, a sunny day!
You can find Sunset Sundays over at Finding Another View. I'm doing this with Anyes at Far away in the Sunshine as an ongoing project.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Assateague Island, Virginia

So what do you do when you've run dry on snapshots and things to talk about?

Well, you rummage through your very old snapshots and post something just so that you can have a post for Friday. Actually, this was triggered by a post by Dan over Frogs, Dogs and Ferns  about Margaurite Henry and Misty of Chincoteague.

So, for Dan and in memory of her sister, Shona, a picture of the beach at Assateague Island where the wild ponies live.

October 2009

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eastern Chipmunk

I know I have chipmunks in the small garden as I see evidence of their burrows in the midst of the daylilies, which I then tamp down. It may seem mean, but I'm trying to keep them from digging up the daylily fans (the root system, looks like tubers) that I so diligently planted last summer.

But I guess you can't keep a good ground squirrel down (which is what they are - tiny little ground squirrels). This one showed up to take a look at the mass of finches - gold and house - who were at all five feeders and waiting in the trees and then took advantage of gathering up the sunflower seeds that had fallen to the ground. Not quite as destructive as his cousin, the gray squirrel, but I'm tired of the little holes in the ground.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grand Birdy Station

New feeders up and so it's Grand Birdy Station. In this picture, just goldfinches along with some house finches. But, I've never had so many goldfinches in the small garden during winter as I have had this winter - sometimes up to forty at a time!

Also, you guys are causing me to rethink the "No Starlings" policy with all your comments yesterday. I'm still thinking about it . . .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spangled Pest

I thought I had avoided the scourge of all of us who feed birds, the European Starling. And I had until this past Sunday when a gang of seven showed up in the small garden and took over the bird table. So, the table was taken up and put into the storage room until I could go back to the feed store to buy safflower seeds (starlings and grackles hate it, squirrels are so-so, and the cardinals love it).

Thwarted by that move, they all moved over to the suet feeder, displacing the male and female downy woodpeckers who went back to the tube feeder. That came down, too, until I can find a suet feeder that only allows birds to feed from the bottom. Starlings won't feed upside down, but the woodpeckers, wrens and yellow-rumped warblers will.

I'm crossing my fingers that the small perches on the other feeders will keep them from taking over those, but if it does happen, then all the feeders will be switched out to safflower seed. This is becoming an expensive proposition this winter as I am now on my third set of bird feeders. Cheap plastic ones don't hold up even for a couple of weeks.

I do find the starlings' feathers interesting even if their greedy feeding patterns are annoying.  From the All About Birds website:
"Starlings turn from spotted and white to glossy and dark each year without shedding their feathers. The new feathers they grow in fall have bold white tips – that’s what gives them their spots. By spring, these tips have worn away, and the rest of the feather is dark and iridescent brown. It’s an unusual changing act that scientists term 'wear molt.' "

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mallard Ducks and a Mute Swan

On my way up to the feed store to pick up some more bird seed, I decided to drive down a side road which was just a little more than a mile from my house, just to see the new subdivision with the very expensive houses that the builder can't sell (he built them a year after the housing meltdown. I'm not sure what he expected).

As I drove further down the road to the older subdivision that had been built around a small lake back in the 1970's, I came across a group of mallard ducks and a large white feathered butt. I jumped out of the car to take picture of the mallards just as they saw me and took off:

Not being able to get a good snapshot of the mallards (which by then had all flown away), I took a shot of what I thought was the back end of a white domestic duck just for laughs:

Imagine my surprise when the "duck" came up for air and turned out to be a mute swan:

It is not native to the US and so this is more than likely owned by someone who lives around this lake. I did see a couple of domestic ducks along the shoreline along with a huge group of wood ducks that did the same thing as the mallard ducks did when I tried to take a snapshot - flew away.

All the pictures were taken with the Panasonic FP8 as I had not planned on taking the big camera for a bird seed run.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunset Sunday

A look down the utility lane for the power company towards the sunset, which may be the last one I see for a while. A snowstorm is forecasted for Tuesday . . . again.

You can find Sunset Sundays over at Finding Another View. I'm doing this with Anyes at Far away in the Sunshine as an ongoing project.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Moon Shot

Wednesday brought Greensboro one of the brightest full moons I've seen recently. Of course, I haven't seen the moon (or the sun, for that matter) in a few weeks thanks to one of the coldest and wettest winters that we've had in a long time.

I took the big camera (the FZ35) out on the patio to see if I could get anything decent without a tripod (as an aside, I would need a tripod to shoot with the night setting as it sets a timer for 30 seconds and no one's hands are that steady for a clean shot). Using the aerial setting, I took this halfway decent picture:

Meanwhile, 3278 miles away (give or take a mile or kilometer or two) and five hours earlier in Scotland, Anne at frayed at the edge was doing the very same thing. Coincidence or cosmic alignment ? You decide. . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Portrait of a Cat

I keep forgetting that the FZ35 has all sorts of different shooting modes. I tend to stay with just landscape and macro mode to shoot the snapshots. I haven't even strayed out of the safety of letting the camera decide for me to see how to use the focus and shutter manually. I guess it will come in the next twenty years of practice.

The camera has a couple of arty settings - pin hole and film grain. I was just messing around last night with film grain and got Zoey to pose for me while I took some portraits of her.

Here she is in her "You talkin' to me?" Robert DeNiro mode:

Maybe I could become a cat portraitist? Despite the expression, she is a very sweet and people loving cat.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Something Different This Time

No birds, no buildings, none of the same old, same old. Thought I'd take a few photos of something new. As an aside, Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers says that I will have to practice for 10,000 hours before I could consider myself an expert. Since I only take snapshots for about an hour a day during the week and probably five hours more on the weekend, it will take me 20 years before I will become proficient (520 hours a year - so actually a little more than 19 ¼ years).  I will be an old lady by then, but if I don't keep at it I'd still be an old lady, albeit one who hadn't worked at her photography.

I collect paperweights. Actually I collect only Blenko Glass paperweights. Blenko only made them between 1963 to 1975, so these have been found through eBay and Goodwill's online auction site. A couple of my paperweights in closeup. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Small Garden's Mourning Dove

Now to balance out the vultures from yesterday, I'll go to one of my mourning doves who lives in the small garden.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Birds I'd Rather Not Have at the Feeders

Another Saturday, another road trip since it wasn't snowing or raining or threatening to snow or rain.

This time, TB and I decided to do one of the North Carolina Scenic Byways that we hadn't done in the past - the one called North Durham. It really wasn't done in hopes of getting any good snapshots. I've decided that winter in North Carolina just isn't that conducive to taking photos that show off the countryside to its best. Frankly, NC is just brown, brown and more brown with green being supplied by our pine trees. Sometimes we get snow, but TB and I aren't taking any day trips when it snows as southern drivers can't drive in snow and the transportation departments don't scrape and salt those back country roads we like to drive on.

But we did see birds. On a back gravel road we saw turkey vultures, so-called because they have red, featherless heads just like turkeys.

Then as we were on the last leg of the scenic byway, TB looks to left and says, "Wow, those are some really big crows on that tobacco barn."

I glanced up and slammed on the brakes as they weren't big crows, but black vultures. I rarely see black vultures as turkey vultures have crowded these vultures out of their territories. I parked the car across the road and went to take snapshots before they flew away.

We are also at the northern most part of their territory. You won't find the black vulture in any part of the United States except the South.

And, no, I'd rather not have them show up at the bird feeders in the small garden.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunset Sunday

Anyes at Far away in the Sunshine asked if I would be interested in doing Sunset Sundays that Scott Law over at Finding Another View had started. I was delighted to become part of that and so here is my sunset shot. Now I wish I could say that I was at the beach recently, but this is from January 2010 when I was at Holden Beach here in North Carolina. Still looking for that sunset shot this January if the weather would only cooperate!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rare Bird Sighting

Actually the post title is kind of misleading. This is an eastern towhee, a common bird according to All About Birds, but one that never has shown up in the small garden. It stays mostly in low shrubbery and bushes and very rarely ventures into open areas. I only have a small, slightly pathetic azalea bush in the garden; the rose bushes are in containers on the patio. It is not exactly the type of habitat that the eastern towhee inhabits.

So imagine my surprise when I came home for lunch (these birds only show up at lunchtime for some reason?) and saw the towhee on the bird table. I wish the picture was a little sharper, but I was trying to keep the sun from flaring in the snapshot. And, yes, he does have a red eye.

Now if I only knew what happened to the Baltimore oriole. . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Garden Monster at Work

While going through old snapshots so I could post something other than birds, I came across the garden monster in the act of destroying my tube feeder:

And I'm finding out the three cheap feeders that replaced this big one aren't working for the mid-sized birds like this poor bluebird which attempts to land at the feeder and ends up flying off because the perch is too small.

So back to the store to buy another three-tube feeder. This bird feeding thing is getting more and more expensive.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Darn You, Microsoft Vista!

Well, darn it. I spent the day trying out tips from a photography book while taking pictures of the birds since I was stuck at home due to our snow and ice. The main tip was to stop taking pictures in JPEG format and change over to RAW files, which (supposedly) makes it easier to edit in Photoshop. So, I changed the settings on the FZ35 to RAW only and took pictures of the masses of goldfinches which were at all three feeders and waiting in the redbud tree for their turn, probably close to forty birds. That was the largest amount of goldfinches I had ever had show up in the small garden.

Then I took the memory card out and stuck it in the laptop and . . . Microsoft Vista didn't recognize the file format. So, more fiddling around on line, downloaded some files and filters and . . . Microsoft Vista didn't recognize the file format - still.

I gave up after several hours of swearing and hair-pulling-out and just reformatted the memory card in the camera, wiping out all those snapshots. And I'll guarantee that I will not get that many goldfinches to the feeders and garden ever again!

So, instead here is a picture of a male goldfinch in winter feathers taken the day after the Christmas snowstorm.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Little Downy Woodpecker

This winter has been unusual for North Carolina. We had a December which was the coldest on record versus December 2009 which was one of the warmest on  record. We had the most snow ever since records started being kept back in the 1880's on Christmas Day. There have been weeks where the temperatures never got out of the low 30's which is generally our lows, not our high temperatures for the winter.

And another snow storm hit Greensboro Monday afternoon. While we didn't get the amount of snow that Charlotte got (six inches at last look), we did get a couple inches and then ice on top. So I'll stay home and watch the birds, squirrels and chipmunks through the sliding glass doors here in the dining room.

I put up a large suet feeder with suet cakes for the clinging birds and the little downy woodpeckers have been feeding there several times a day even as the weather turns bad. I guess they are like the postal workers - neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night shall keep them from their appointed rounds.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Garden Monster

I know, he looks cute. But don't be deceived by that little face and the big fluffy tail. He's demolished the three tube feeder - completely taking off the feeder ports on two of the tubes. So I went out and bought three cheap feeders to take the big feeder's place and replaced the sunflower chips with sunflower chips flavored with jalapeño peppers. Birds can't taste the heat of the peppers, but squirrels can (or so the packaging says) and will stop tearing the feeders apart to get to the sunflower seeds. And I haven't put the red hot sunflower seeds in the table feeder, so the squirrels will still be fed along with the blue jays, but the table is made out of metal and so can't be destroyed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

For My Friends Up North

For Betsy who goes to work and comes home in the dark and so can't see the birds, here are two bluebirds for you:

For Stacy, who had to give up feeding her beloved rock doves due to the Great Recession, here is a mourning dove for you:

And to round things out (and because I don't think I've done a close up of a cardinal yet), the North Carolina state bird:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Opportunity Lost

I wish I could say that I just took this snapshot today, but it is from September of last year. I didn't take the opportunity as I was driving home from work last night to stop and take a picture of the clouds on fire as the sun was setting. We have another front bringing us some rain or perhaps a little bit of snow and the edge of the storm with those thick cumulus clouds was just moving in.

But I was in a rush to get home and so missed a snapshot that I will never be able to take again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Waiting for the Sun

I keep hoping for the weather to become milder and sunnier so that I feel like going back to the marina and the watershed trails to take pictures, but so far it is not is cooperating. But while I was waiting for the guys to finish up with repairing my outdoor storage room roof, I took some pictures of the leaf litter that I raked over the daylilies per The Grumpy Gardener. All the rest of the leaves have turned brown and have started to break down into compost, but way back in a sheltered corner a couple of colorful leaves remain. 

I'm also reading Michael Freeman's The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos so I thought I'd try to put some of his suggestions into practice.

I’m not getting his theory of using Gestalt psychology for composing pictures, however. But then I don't get the idea using Gestalt for much of anything.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Butter Butt

Back to the birds as I had a new-to-the-feeder bird show up the other day. This time it is a yellow-rumped warbler or as serious birders call it, a butter butt.

This little bird is only a winter visitor to the southeast United States. During the spring, it migrates back to the boreal forests of Canada to breed. It uses all the feeders, from the tube to the platform to the hanging suet feeders. It makes a nice change from the cardinals and the house finches who seem to have taken over the small garden.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Evergreen Academy. Randolph County, NC

One of the joys of blogging is finding out about history and places that I had no idea existed within a couple hours radius of my house. Some I find out by reading other peoples' blogs and some just through serendipitous searching on the Internet. The most recent example of that search was the Antonin Raymond-designed picnic shelter at the Mayo River State Park.

This is a place I found by reading a blog post by Dan Routh who is a commercial photographer here in Greensboro. He lives just south of the city in Gray's Chapel and his family's antecedents in Randolph County goes back generations.

He posted about Evergreen Academy and I was so intrigued that I took a short trip down to see it and take some pictures, too. Here is Evergreen Academy as it looks today almost 150 years after it was originally built:

Not much to look at, you say. So what was the point of driving down there? 

Well, here is some history behind this little schoolhouse, courtesy of the Internet:
"With a large Quaker population, antebellum Randolph County did not have many slaves, and the pro-Union stance of the county in 1861 led Confederate authorities to view the region with suspicion. Increasing desertions from that army led to torture of wives and mothers by Confederates to extract information.
"With the passage of conscription in 1862, Quakers were allowed to pay a $500 exemption fee, but Thomas Hinshaw and other friends refused to pay this fine. They were inducted at bayonet point, harassed and punished for refusing to bear arms. Captured by Union forces after Gettysburg, they were released by Presidential order and journeyed to Indiana. At home, Mary Hinshaw lost a baby to starvation, but joined her husband north of the Ohio River after an arduous 600 mile trek through the mountains with her small children. Upon their return to North Carolina at the war's end, the Hinshaws became involved in rebuilding their community and in the founding of Evergreen Academy, which contributed to the education of the children of the area for many years."
And now you know why I had to drive down and take a snapshot. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rockford General Store. Surry County, NC

It's a good thing that we decided to take our day trip this past Friday. It rained all day Saturday and then decided to continue raining into Sunday despite all the forecasts. The only good thing to come out of these past two days was lots and lots of house cleaning and going to see "The King's Speech", albeit with about 200 of our closest and dearest friends.

I had read about the Rockford General Store in the southern part of Surry County and all the wonderful jars and jars of different types of candy and local handicrafts. Since  it was a nice day and a nice drive through part of the Piedmont we hadn't gone through in some time, we headed off to visit the store.

Unfortunately we were slightly disappointed. Very little in the way of the promised handicrafts and candies, just sort of a down at the heels country store with a pot-bellied stove. I guess the summertime when vacationers come to raft and canoe down the Yadkin River is really the time to come to see the store in operation.

I haven't Googled this to find out what type of geocaching is here in the area, but there must have been enough people coming in to ask for them to post this piece of paper outside on the bulletin board. And here is more information about Rockford and its historic antecedents:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brown-headed Nuthatch

 A new bird at the feeder - a brown-headed nuthatch. This little bird is only found here in the Southeastern United States, no where else on the continent.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Barn Quilt on Rockford Road in Stokes County, NC.

Since I had the day off from work, TB and I decided to take a day trip while the weather was still nice (they are predicting rain for tomorrow). We decided to take the back roads through the northern part of the Piedmont (as the central part of North Carolina is called) to Rockford where a famous general store is located.

On the turn-off to Rockford, lo and behold, a barn quilt. Again, like in Chatham County, there is no dedicated barn quilt trail unlike the one we drove in Alexander County. My very uneducated guess is that the owner may have seen the barn quilts in the mountains or read about them and then did his or her own quilt. Whatever the idea behind this, it was a very nice surprise to see on our road trip today.