Join With All Nature

Hello, World! It would seem that I’ve been living under a rock since early January, doing very little writing. (Let’s see if I can still string a few sentences together!)

I hope that you’ve been weathering winter well. Here in central North Carolina, we’ve had some snow and ice, the latter of which always makes things more interesting. Despite the weather (or because of it), I was able to capture the Duke Gardens blanketed in snow.


The Virtue Peace Pond at Duke Gardens is always a tranquil sight. (Note the splash of orange-red to the right, where construction in the nearby Spring Woodlands Garden is underway. How exciting!)


The snow and ice have since melted (and it’s in the 60’s as I write this post!), but it was a mere 24 degrees last Saturday morning when I took this photo of a cute little warbler fluffing its feathers to retain body heat and keep out the cold. — Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens

A verse from an old favorite comes to mind when I consider the subtle wonder of a tiny bird carefully designed to dwell in “summer and winter and springtime and harvest”–a witness in nature to God’s great faithfulness, mercy and love.[1]

“Great is Thy Faithfulness”; Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960)


A Bit of Australia in the Appalachians

Advent is upon us—the great expectancy of Christmas (the birth of Christ).

During a recent Christmas arts and crafts “studio tour” around Keedysville, Maryland—which is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains—I had a little bit of an adventure.

I knew I was in for a treat when I stepped onto the porch of the farmhouse, which was situated on a hill overlooking the valley below and the South Mountain ridge of the Appalachians beyond. With the owner’s permission, I took some pictures of the farm.

From inside the house, which that day was laden with sewn crafts and enticing edibles—such as award-winning “South Mountain Jam”—I spotted something large out along the fencerow, obscured by some trees and shrubs. From a distance (a very long distance), its head resembled a turkey; but its overall form was large and gangly. It might have been a llama, (which the farmer also owned); except as my nephew pointed out, lamas have four legs. (Note to self: Must pay more attention to pictures when nephew reads Llama, Llama Gram and Grandpa.)

It was an emu! …In America. …And not in a zoo.


The emu is native to Australia and is Australia’s national bird. It’s the second largest bird in the world—the largest being the ostrich. Emus grow to be 5 to 7 feet tall (with the female taller and broader in the rump than the male). Emus eat plants, insects and small vertebrates.


I spied two emus that day–perhaps a male and a female? The one made a rum-rum, drumming noise–a reverberating sound I later learned is characteristic of the female.


A female can lay several clutches of eggs in a breeding season. Interestingly, the male incubates the egg, which is dark green. …The egg, not the male.

Consider the Birds

It’s been a few months since I’ve written about my backyard birds, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been observing and taking photos of them! In fact, my backyard habitat is thriving…and changing.

In addition to the Squirrel Buster Feeder and watering hole I mentioned in a previous post, I installed an open feeder that clamped to my deck. Within minutes of filling it, things were hopping.


A pine siskin at my clamp-on feeder in late February. -- Durham , NC

Pine siskins at my clamp-on feeder in late February. — Durham , NC

But here’s the downside: The squirrels loved it, too. Despite my efforts to outfox them, they devoured the spicy “no squirrels” birdseed; and the Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce I mixed into my regular seed didn’t deter them either.

Were that the only problem, my woes might seem trivial at best. The clincher was when I took the feeder off the railing to clean it for the second time. What I found living between the mesh bottom and my deck railing was appalling. After a swift and thorough cleanup, the deceptively dear feeder was decommissioned.

Since then, the squirrels have been downright despondent.


Shortly after bidding the feeder adieu, the pine siskins flew away to destinations unknown. Based on migration patterns, they may not return for several years. (This past winter was the first time they visited my backyard.)

Their close cousins, the yellow finches, were wintertime mainstays but are now even more abundant. Cardinals are also aplenty, along with Carolina chickadees and nuthatches of both the brown-headed and white-breasted varieties.

A couple of new birds have made their way to my backyard as well. Many of them have sent me leafing through a bird book or consulting online bird identification sites. Each time, I’m reminded of how little I know and how much I have to learn—not to mention how unobservant I’ve been until recently. Often the mystery bird is described as very commonplace or easily identifiable.

One such bird is the brown-headed cowbird. These birds are considered “brood parasites” because the female will lay her egg in another bird’s nest, often pushing one of the existing eggs out in the process. The female often lays one egg per day, up to 40 eggs per season. Sometimes the “host” bird will reject the egg. Of the 220 specifies of birds who have played host to a cowbird egg, over 140 species have gone on to feed and raise the young cowbirds.[1]


A male brown-headed cowbird in early April. –Durham, NC

I’ve seen a lot of woodpeckers in the last few weeks. It’s not unusual to spot two, three, or four woodpeckers hanging off the feeder or standing on the deck railing waiting their turn. (Maybe I ought to invest in another feeder. Another hanging feeder, that is.)

Woodpeckers are pretty easy to identify, but sometimes it gets tricky telling the different species apart—especially the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker.


The downy woodpecker (pictured here) is smaller in size than the hairy woodpecker and has a shorter beak. Another identifying trait of the downy woodpecker is the gray or black specks on its white tail feathers. Males, like this one, have a red patch on their heads. — Durham, NC

I came home from work one evening to find the mother of all woodpeckers affixed to my feeder. A red-headed woodpecker! I’d never seen one in real life before, and I could hardly believe my eyes. It flew away before I could get a picture. In flight, the contrasting red, white and black colors were breathtaking. Within minutes it was back, this time at my neighbor’s feeder. And this time, I was ready.


Unlike other woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers catch insects in the air and often hide nuts and seeds in existing crevices of trees for eating later. — Durham, NC (5/19/15)

I’ve seen a red-headed woodpecker on three other occasions, including this evening. This is encouraging! Once widespread across North America, red-headed woodpeckers are now only found in patches. They are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

What birds are you seeing in your neck of the woods?


Snow Pretty


February was an eventful month weather-wise for North Carolina. We had several bouts of snow and ice. Although those events were considered minor to folks from northerly parts of the country, it was enough to cause quite a stir—and brings things to a screeching halt—here in the south.

Perhaps I’m getting more cautious in my old age—and shaming my more northerly roots; but after seeing a Mini Cooper sliding straight at me on the ice recently, I opted to venture as few places as possible. I wasn’t a total bear in hibernation, though. I took some photos here and there—mostly around my house (such as the cardinal snow scene above) and in the Duke Gardens:


The century-old Roney Fountain in the Rose Garden


The Gothic pavilion in the Page-Rollins White Garden


Iris Bridge


Yellow finches and yellow-rumped warblers in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants


The Dawn Redwood, (planted as a seedling in 1949), in the Historic Gardens


A paperbush in the Memorial Garden


Culberson Asiatic Arboretum


Japanese apricot blossoms by the Arched Bridge in the Asiatic Arboretum

One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, wrote many timeless works about everyday life and nature, including one about snow that is brilliantly reflective of the charming elements of winter:

by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.