Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

An old tree
April 14, 2019

A few years ago, when we visited historic Williamsburg, VA, we took a side trip to Shirley Plantation, the oldest plantation in VA (started in 1613) and the oldest family-owned business in North America (since 1638.)

Next to the house stands this willow oak tree.

It is over 350 years old. It was a privilege for me, a mere 75 years of age now, to see this majestic living thing.

Of course, this tree is young compared to the giant sequoias of California. Some of them are over 2,000 and 3,000 years old, which means that some of them were seedlings when David was King of Israel!

What is the oldest tree you have seen?

Who is the oldest person you have known?

Birding in Kansas
November 16, 2018

A salt marsh in the middle of the Kansas prairie?

Yes, at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, near Stafford, Kansas.

Quivira has over 22,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie and wetlands. Beneath the refuge, water percolates upward through underground salt layers, producing a saline environment similar to coastal areas and bringing many shorebirds to stop over here in their migrations or to live here year round.

Here the rare whooping cranes stop to feed as they make their 2,500-mile migration between their summer nesting area in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and their wintering area in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the southern coast of Texas.

I was at Quivira on October 19, 2018, and the ranger at the office said that three whooping cranes had been spotted earlier in the day in the northern section of the refuge. So, I made my way there, and sure enough, I spotted the three. Spotted them at a great distance, over a quarter of a mile away! Across salt marsh that is off limits to human visitors. Here is what my cell phone camera recorded.

Can you see three white spots in the distance? Likely not, but those are the cranes! Of course, I wish I could have gotten a much closer view, but that was not possible. But I was glad for the positive identification, and with that, I increased my life list of bird species to 668.

For a pictorial view of these striking birds, you may go to the display area at the refuge office.

The most abundant birds I saw that day were northern shovelers (ducks) and American coots.

Here is another photo I took at Quivira.

Foam swirls on the marsh water with grass.

Inanimate and living, so many beautiful things in our world.

More butterflies
September 5, 2018

Let’s return to the theme of butterflies. When my brother-in-law Glenn visited us, he took some really good photos of butterflies feeding on our zinnnias here in Harrisburg, PA.



Monarchs, of course.


A silver-spotted skipper. The skippers flit about very fast and are not true butterflies, but most people consider them butterflies in everyday conversation.

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In our back yard we have an area that is partly natural and partly native wildflowers that I have planted. I refer to it as my little meadow.

Silver-spotted skipper RE

Another silver-spotted skipper, this one feeding on a variety of monarda, or bee balm.

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The meadow has several milkweed plants.

Caterpillar 1 -

A monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed, its only food.

Caterpillar 1 RE 2

So many beautiful creatures in our world.

July 7, 2018

July 6, 2018,
Today I saw the first monarch butterfly of the season, at a tiny field a block away from our home here in Harrisburg. Fortunately, the field has many milkweed plants, so the monarch, if female, will have many places to lay her eggs.

People who record statistics about butterflies say that the monarch population in America has declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

I do not try much photography of butterflies, but a few years ago I took this photo of a painted lady on zinnia plants in our front yard.

The largest butterfly I ever saw was this one in our neighbor’s yard.

An old-fashioned necklace
April 27, 2015

After my mother passed away last fall, we found in her possessions an old-fashioned  “necklace” that I recall from my childhood. In our extended family it was a children’s toy rather than a something an adult would wear. Here are two views of it because the background contrast shows the color of the beads in a bit of a different way.

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DSCN5316 RE 2

And above is a closer view, to give a clearer idea of the shape of the beads.

I had to do some research to learn what this necklace is made of. It consists of the seeds of Job’s Tears, also known as coixseed or tear grass. The scientific name is  Coix lacryma-jobi. This grass is a tall, grain-bearing tropical plant that can be grown in United States. It produces a pearly-white seed with a hole through the middle and a shiny coating, so the seed serves as a natural “bead”  readily suited for being made into necklaces and other objects. Sources say that Job’s Tear seeds were used by for decorations as long ago as 2,000 B.C.

You can learn more about Job’s Tears from the internet or other sources.

Have any of my blog readers seen this item before? Do you remember it from your family or your childhood? I would be glad to hear your stories.

A Fall Wildflower
October 4, 2012

Calling all amateur naturalists!

This fall I am seeing a wildflower in abundance here in PA – one I don’t recall paying attention to before. It consists of clusters of tiny white flowers that are little tufts, with hardly any petals. Check it out.



Identifying it in the wildflower guide is not easy because there are so many similar plants. From what I find, this seems to be a Late-flowering thoroughwort, in the Composite or Daisy family.

Do any of you see this plant where you live? Do you give it the same name I have given? Or do you have a different designation? Either way, I would be glad to hear from you.

Birds in Florida
February 6, 2011

We have had sunshine most of the week, with some clouds a few days. Temperatures from 70 to 80 degrees. To all my friends in cold and snowy PA, I wish you were here!

I went birding on several days, at Fort De Soto Park, Lake Seminole Park, the beach behind our condo, and any pond anywhere that looked interesting.

How many robins are too many?
April 2, 2010

The robins are active, singing early in the morning before the sun comes up, and carrying nesting material to their nesting spots.

Roger Tory Peteson described the American robin as “the one bird that everyone knows.”

Every year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors the Great Backyard Bird count, a weekend for any interested person to record all the individual birds he sees and send in a report to Cornell. This year the Count was on February 12-15.

As of the most recent report that I saw, the most-reported bird across Us and Canada was the Northern cardinal.

Back to the robin. Saint Petersburg, FL, had a roost of robins topping one million birds. Now that is a lot of birds for one city!

My own report to the Count showed sightings of 19 species within about a mile of my house, with the American crow being the most individuals, namely 12.

Snow and Snowdrops
March 22, 2010

With warm weather having arrived, our big snows are just a memory. Here is the work of some creative people. Can you imagine what label they gave to the photo?

“Two feet of snow.”

The earliest flower to bloom in our area is the snowdrop. Sometimes it blooms under the snow.

In our back yard we have only one small clump. A small clump is pretty in its own right.

But nearby neighbors have a yard full of them – probably 10,000 blooms.

Snowdrops are a beautiful promise that other flowers will soon be coming.

Summer Time 2009
July 7, 2009

With summer time upon us, here are some of the flowers we have blooming in our back yard as of early July.