Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Such Thing as "Squirrel Proof"

If you have fed birds for any length of time, you will soon realize that there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof feeder. I'm speaking from years of experience in that area;  even the extremely expensive pagoda-shaped, squirrel-proof feeder that I bought from Wild Birds Unlimited was soon shredded to pieces by their tiny sharp teeth. From that point on, I've always made a point to buy inexpensive feeders for the winter and I then throw them out as soon as spring starts.

I don't begrudge the squirrels their food as long as they leave some for the birds. And I didn't have any hopes of a $10 "squirrel-proof" feeder even coming close to truth-in-advertising. But really, did the squirrel have to be quite so blatant?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunset Sunday

Sunset on Friday down at the Lake Brandt Marina just a mile north of me. These were the first cloud bands from Hurricane Irene. It hit the North Carolina Outer Banks around 7 am Saturday morning which is over 280 miles away from Greensboro. The hurricane cloud coverage was more than 700 miles wide - wide enough to cover all of Europe.

It brought us nothing but some gusty winds and overcast skies. Not even one drop of rain which we desperately needed.

I'm doing these Sunday Sunsets in tandem with Anyes over at Faraway in the Sunshine. Bet she didn't have a hurricane to worry about.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Before the Hurricane

The calm before the storm? I went down the road to my favorite open field to take pictures of the clouds as Hurricane Irene churns closer to the North Carolina coast.

Right now there are just high wispy clouds coming from the east, which may or may not be precursors of the hurricane. Unless it takes a greater turn to the west, we will be outside of the impact area by about 75 miles. It will probably hit the Outer Banks as it sticks out the farthest into the Atlantic. Greensboro is about 300 miles from Cape Hatteras and the hurricane spreads out 200 miles from its eye.

But it will probably do great damage farther up the coast in New Jersey and New York. They haven't had a Category 3 hurricane since the 1940's and millions of people in the succeeding years have moved to the coastal area. Let's hope that it isn't as devastating as the forecasters have predicted today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bethel Baptist Church, Ellerbe, NC

After we left the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, we drove over the back roads for a while and came upon this small country church, Bethel Baptist Church.

The architecture is more along the lines of churches in New England rather than those here in the South, so I did a little searching on the Internet to see if I could find any historical information on it. Nothing came up except a runner's blog. It turns out that the parking lot is used as a starting point for ultra-marathoners who run 50-miles at a stretch - my mind boggles at the length. The post is interesting so here is the link to it: The Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge

We started out Saturday to go to a state historic site, but halfway down to the site we changed our minds (hot, sticky weather and no inclination to walk around in it) and headed farther south to the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge near Wadesboro. We had gone there two years ago in the fall when the colors were amazing and I thought a exploratory trip for fall snapshots was in order. We could stay in the car and mark out places to return in October.

Not as pretty as it is in the fall, but still an interesting drive

The Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge started out in the 1950's as an impoundment at the Gaddy Farm where endangered Canada Geese overwintered. The US government bought the farm and surrounding acreage in the 1960's to provide habitat for migratory waterfowl. In the wintertime the refuge can host more than 10,000 Canada Geese and other ducks and geese, migratory songbirds, quail, wild turkeys and the local whitetail deer and black bears.

It was kind of eerie as we were the only people driving through the back of the refuge. I was a little concerned as we were out of cell phone range and if something happened to the car it would be a long walk back to a paved country road.

We stopped several times to take pictures of wildflowers, the Pee Dee river, cornfields that are planted just for the migrating waterfowl which are now burnt and brown and this butterfly in the middle of the road.

It is called a Red Spotted Purple. Not only is it the name of the butterfly, but an apt description of how it looks. S/he posed for me on the gravel refuge road and allowed me to take quite a few snapshots before s/he flew off into the woods.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stunning Sunday Skies

Another Sunday's stunning skies found down the road from me at a field that offers great snapshot advantages since it is wide open, right next to the road and has absolutely no power lines to get in the way of the shot!

As always, you'll find another stunning sky over at my friend, Anyes' blog, Faraway in the Sunshine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Late Summer Evening at Lake Brandt

I'm not trying to make this an extension of the Weather Channel, but with the changing weather and all these strong fronts coming through, it makes for some pretty dramatic snapshots.

This is down at the Lake Brandt Marina, just a mile or so north of my house. For those who are not at all familiar with Greensboro, this is the second of our public water reservoirs. The first is Lake Higgins to the west, then Lake Brandt and finally our largest, Lake Townsend. The water flows from reservoir to reservoir in a stair-step fashion using gravity.

The city has made all three into city parks with walking and mountain biking trails circling the perimeters. You can also fish at all three (they are kept stocked and Lake Higgins has a fish hatchery) or rent canoes or kayaks. At Lake Townsend you can also rent a Sunfish sail boat if you wish. The only thing you cannot do is swim at the three lakes since it provides Greensboro with its drinking water.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Windmill, Ennis, NC

I have no idea why this snapshot seems crooked. I think it is because the shed sits at the back of a slope and so it seems off-kilter.

The last of the five barn quilts that we could find out of the 13 that we started out to find. This is called Windmill and again it is one of the smaller of the barn quilts. I should have zoomed out and shown the vegetable and flower garden in front of it. This is how I would love to live, up in the mountains with a large garden area.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mammatus Clouds

I took  this one standing in a mown field about four miles from my house. This is one of the 162 snapshots that I took in two days of the clouds at sunset. There were just some fascinating formations caused by the very strong cold fronts coming from the Midwest.

This particular cloud formation is called mammatus which are associated with strong thunderstorms. For this particular evening we got the clouds but never got the storms.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunset Sunday

Finally! We seem to be breaking out of our string of unbearably hot weather - temperatures in the high 90's and orange haze from ozone trapped at the surface by the heat.

All these strong fronts coming through from the Midwest have brought evenings with interesting cloud formations. I spent two days chasing the sunset for an hour; driving from Lake Brandt Marina to a mown field to an abandoned housing development that was supposed to be built around a landing field. I guess they expected all those rich people would want to move 15 miles north of Greensboro to have a house with a hanger next to it. They built the landing strip, but never sold a single lot and the whole thing went into foreclosure and is owned by the Florida bank that loaned the developers the money. I keep wondering what they all were thinking. Actually I probably know. They thought they would make a killing on real estate like every one else did.

This shot was taken at the back of the development where the platted housing lots lie fallow. It was worth a drive way out in the countryside to get a sunset snapshot like this.

I'm doing this in conjunction with Anyes over at Far Away in the Sunshine. She always finds the most interesting sunsets there in Vancouver and British Columbia, Canada.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pine Tree Barn Quilt, Ennis, NC

This barn quilt is appropriately called Pine Tree as it is on  a shed on a Christmas tree farm.

For those of you who live outside of North Carolina and buy a Fraser fir at a local Christmas tree lot or a grocery store, it likely came from Alleghany County or its neighboring counties, Watauga and Ashe. There is even a website for North Carolina Christmas Tree farmers which says that there are 1,600 growers producing an estimated 50 million Fraser fir Christmas trees growing on over 25,000 acres.  The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation in number of trees harvested.

Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover fame also has a farm somewhere there in the county. Actually I didn't know that until today when I was doing a quick look through Wikipedia, so we weren't even looking for Zach.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dresden Flower Fan, Glade Valley, NC

The Dresden Flower Fan (or Dresden Plate, as it is also known) is probably one of the most recognizable of quilt patterns. This is one of the smaller barn quilts, 4x4, and the first one that we found. I spent time fruitlessly trying to find the first two which were supposed to be right off US Highway 21 south of Sparta, but when I almost pulled out in front of a speeding car, I quit that hunt and moved on.

The birds on the power line are barn swallows and there must have been close to fifty near this shed, swooping around our heads and squeaking their calls as they chased bugs on the wing. I wish I could've gotten better snapshots, but, true to their nature they didn't stay still for long and I couldn't get the camera to focus quick enough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Handy Andy, Off the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

And you can have a barn quilt even if you don't have a barn. I found this quilt on a narrow gravel road off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The name of this particular pattern is Handy Andy.

Google Maps was able to locate this for me unlike eight others.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Carolina Lily, Ennice, North Carolina

There is no particular order to these barn quilts. There are 78 spread throughout Alleghany County according to the brochure. This is called Carolina Lily and is the largest barn quilt I've seen to date. It must measure 12' x 12', so think of all the work that went into this one.

But there was another barn on the property that had a little surprise and the 79th barn quilt. It isn't listed on the brochure, but if I were to give it a name, it would "A Basket of Yarn". It is much smaller, only 4' x 4'.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Route 18 near Ennis, North Carolina

We went back to Alleghany County to search for barn quilts. According to the brochure that a friend picked up for me on a past trip, there were 78 quilts to be found (Alleghany County doesn't have a website like neighboring Watauga County). We couldn't do all 78 in one day, so I used Google Maps to plot out 13.

It was like a scavenger hunt. Google Maps took us on wild goose chases in some of the quilts, so I had to rely on a North Carolina gazetteer that I had in the car. At the end of the trip, we only found five out of the 13. And then there are the 65 we didn't even look for. It will make for more interesting day trips and by the end we will know every nook and cranny of Alleghany County up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The above picture is in front of one of the barn quilts (and one of the largest I've seen on any barn). And a close up of the abandoned one room school house and truck:

Tomorrow I'll start posting pictures of the barn quilts we found up in the mountains.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stunning Sunday Skies

So would someone explain to me why the only time I can get interesting sky snapshots is in some parking lot - either the one at work or, in this case, one over at an industrial park over near our airport?

I bought some inexpensive filters on eBay - polarizing, neutral density, one for UV - and was sitting in the car in the park trying to get some shots of the quarter moon in the clouds. Since it was close to sunset, you can see the red of the sun on the bottom of the clouds.

I'm doing these sky shots with Anyes over at Far Away in the Sunshine. Wonder what she saw in the skies of British Columbia?

Friday, August 5, 2011

How Baby Figs are Made

As the second crop on the Brown Turkey fig ripens, it dawned on me that this tree produces fruits without any noticeable flowering like other plants, like peaches, apples, melons, etc.

I did a little searching and found out that figs are very different from other fruits in that, first, it is pollinated by a fig wasp which crawls in through this tiny opening in the base of the fruit and, secondly, the interior of the fig is actually where the flowers are, each bearing a single seed. If you cut the fig open, the flowers appear as fleshy threads. I downloaded a picture of this from Wikipedia as my figs aren't quite ripe enough to pick.

So now you've added some new trivia to use if you ever get on a game show and I will keep a lookout for those tiny little fig wasps.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

House Finch

And here's a better picture when I am using the camera correctly.

I decided to  put up one bird feeder now that nesting season is over. For the moment all I'm seeing at the feeder are house finches and the occasional cardinal who just can't quite manage the cage. Cardinals do much better with platform feeders and the one I have will come out in the fall again.

This female house finch shows signs of having a long summer caring for her chicks. You can see a bald patch on her stomach area or a brood patch. It works like a hot water bottle while she is incubating her eggs (although during this summer she could have probably done without it).

At least something is thriving in the small garden. Well, the roses are doing well, but I spend everyday watering them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hairy Woodpecker

This is what a snapshot looks like when you pretend that your bridge super-zoom camera is really a DSLR with a huge zoom lens attachment. Not so hot.

I was wrong about the tree. I now think it is a willow oak. Anyway, here's what it looks like while standing in the parking lot across the street. Way up, at the very tippy top of the tree, is where I saw the Hairy Woodpecker and got the above photo. Underneath is several nesting holes. I didn't see any fledglings, but I really wasn't looking.

Price Park is a terrific place to wander around (when it isn't so hot!) to see all sorts of birds, wildflowers, butterflies and it has terrific walking paths mown in the huge meadow.

If you click on the Location, you'll see the parking lot I was standing in and the trees right across the road. If you move the map around a little bit, you'll also see the mown path in the meadow.