Egrets at Chincoteague

This is the last of the posts about our trip to Blackwater and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It was a very windy morning that my husband and I photographed two kinds of Egrets along the main drive of the refuge. We used the car as a blind – rolling down the windows on the driver’s side (I was in the back seat) and stopping whenever we spotted something we wanted to photograph. The sequence below is of a Snowy Egret…fishing with the wind ruffling its feathers.

A little further along another Snowy Egret sat still for a portrait (face and yellow feet)!

A Great Egret caught a fish!

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After than action – it continued to search for food. I missed the beginning of the action and the bird must have been frustrated because it didn’t come up with a fish!

This was a very different experience from the Egret Rookery in Dallas (see post here) where the birds were nesting rather than searching for food.

Tricolored Heron at Chincoteague

We didn’t see as many herons at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (see previous post here) as we have in years past. Maybe they were hunkered down in the rain or way from the wind. It was not ideal weather while we were there. The one we did see was not as common as some of the others: a tricolored heron.

It is distinguished from the Little Blue Heron by its white underparts and white on its neck. And it’s smaller than the Great Blue Heron.

This bird was feeding in a waterway with high banks…somewhat protected from the wind. I was pleased with the way the feathers were ruffled and smoothed as I watched the bird move about – oblivious to us in our car (used as a blind).

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

We visited Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last weekend…an afternoon and the next morning. The afternoon was very wet so the picture of the visitor center sigh with plants growing through it was taken the next morning in the sunshine.

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The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

On the first day we drove down the main road toward the beach. It was raining and we didn’t try to take any pictures. The wildlife loop is only open to cars after 3 PM and there was a lull in the rain about that time. We started around. I noticed thistles in bloom (attractive to bees),

Heard lots of red-winged blackbirds and managed to photograph one eventually,

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And photographed a glossy ibis almost out of camera range.

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Near the end of the wildlife loop there were a few of the Chincoteague ponies munching on the wet grass….about that time is started raining again and we headed to our hotel for the night.

The next morning was very breezy and almost cold. Our trip to one of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay was cancelled – winds made it unsafe for small boats. So – we bundled up and headed to the beach at Chincoteague. It is a narrower stretch of sand than when we first saw it more than 35 years ago and when we flew kites here with our daughter about 20 years ago. The gulls were not flying. Only the laughing gulls were at the beach and they were on the ground near the parking lot rather than at the water’s edge.

It was a little disappointing to see only people and roiling water at the beach.

As we started back, we saw a few herring gulls in shallow water protected by the dunes.

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The group of birds a little ways from the herring gull was the high point of the morning at Chincoteague: royal terns and black skimmers (and laughing gulls)!

I’ll post later about the egrets and a heron we saw at Chincoteague. Even with the rain and doing most of our photography using the car as a blind, my husband and I both enjoyed the spring birding opportunities at Chincoteague.

Ten Little Celebrations – April 2019

April has been a busy month – only at home for a week out of the month and not all at the same time. There was plenty to celebrate with spring in full swing and the travel to see it in different places.

Certified Zentangle® Trainer (CZT) class. There were so many perspectives of the CZT class to celebrate: the beauty of the creations everyone was making, the conversations, the food…the challenge of being a student…the Zen.

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Train ride home. I don’t go many places where taking the train is feasible…but the CZT class was one of them. I celebrated the low stress hours going home…a fitting finale to the class.

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4th and 5th grade field trips. The early April field trips happened with great weather and the students enjoying being outdoors to learn about the Patapsco heritage (land, water, and rocks) and BioBlitz. It’s always inspiring to see their curiosity and enthusiasm --- celebrating a spring field trip.


Getting to Dallas. I had to travel to Dallas quickly and it was easier than a thought it would be. And I celebrated that I was less stressed by the rapid change in plans (maybe the Zentangle class providing an added benefit.

Spring days. Noticing the rapidly developing blossoms of spring is fodder for many celebrations – oxalis is probably one of my favorites right now. It blooms when the sun is shining!

Rainy day (spent indoors). After busy days – having a rainy day spent indoors is something to celebrate…with homemade soup for lunch!

Josey Ranch Pocket Prairie. A little bit of prairie – carefully tended by volunteers – in a Dallas suburb! Right now it is a celebration of spring wildflowers.

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Cedar waxwings. Birds are migrating and there are serendipity sightings of birds that don’t stay around the area long. I celebrated seeing a small flock of cedar waxwings last week.

Botanical reminders of my grandmother. Many flowers in my parents’ Carrollton yard were planted by my grandmother…good memories to celebrate.

Home again. Providence, Rhode Island to home to Carrollton, Texas to home to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Island to home. I like to travel…but coming home is celebratory too.

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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Road Trip to Florida

Last week we drove down to Florida for the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville. I’ll be posting about the trip for the next week or so…but today the post is focused on the drive itself. We left the house at 5:30 AM to beat the worst of the commuter traffic around Washington DC. Venus and Jupiter were visible in the darkness to the east. We made a very cold rest stop at 6:30 AM south of DC and on I95…the interstate we would take all the way to Florida. The temperature was in the low teens. Leaving early had achieved its purpose; no stop and go or slow traffic! We listened to Planetary Society podcasts that my husband had on his phone.

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It was getting light by our next rest stop at about 7:30 still in Virginia. It was a newer rest stop with a compass in the entry floor, an area to charge/use laptops (we never spend that much time at a rest stop), and a toddler toilet (I’ve only seen these in the newer Virginia rest stops….what a wonderful feature for young families).

We took I295 around Richmond and stopped at a McDonalds for a second breakfast. The sun was shining in our eyes. Turkey vultures were soaring. By 9:40 AM we were in North Carolina. I remembered the rest stop from a previous trip: red tile strips and glass brick.

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There was a bird’s nest in the tree just outside the building – easy to see in the winter.

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The next stop was a large truck stop in Kenly, North Carolina- with a large tile mosaic in the entry.

We stopped for lunch at Arby’s in Lumberton, North Carolina that did not take long and then were back on the road – crossing into South Carolina and seeing a Honda plant with its own exit from the highway and water tower.

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The next rest stop did not have any structural distinction, but I did notice a large river birch in the picnic area.

I saw a hawk fly low across the road in front of us and began to see black vultures along with turkey vultures. Our last rest stop for the day had green tile and a skylight in the facilities. The picnic area had sabal palmettos – matching the South Carolina license plates.

We stopped for the night in Savannah – just off I95.

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We didn’t start out as early the next morning. It was already beginning to get light. We made a stop, still in Georgia, where the roses were blooming.

As we drove into Florida a line of clouds moved in.

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I took pictures of the Dames Point Bridge going around Jacksonville (some morning commuter traffic).

At the next rest stop there was a pond with a fence around it (with signs warning of snakes)…but I braved the short walk up to the fence (didn’t see any snakes). I took pictures of the birds around the pond…the first for the trip: hooded mergansers,

White Ibis (mature and juvenile), and

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Not bad birding at a rest stop along I95.

We arrived at the registration desk for the festival a little after 11.

Road Trip to Texas – Part 1

I drove from Maryland to Texas with my sister earlier this week….a 2 day trek. We left my house about 6:30 AM and headed west on I70 rather the dealing with the traffic around Washington DC. I am getting very familiar with the South Mountain rest stop since this is the route to the Pittsburgh and State College as well. This trip – it was in the low 40s and wet. The daffodils were blooming.

We got to I81 and headed south through West Virginia and then into Virginia. The welcome center in Virginia is a green facility….and has the big LOVE in front too.

The next stop was as an older Virginia rest stop but is one of my favorite with a terrace for picnic tables. We talked fast to get some exercise…and because it was too cold to dawdle.

The next stop was for gasoline. The flowers in the wooden pot were past prime but I appreciated them anyway. The Prius was doing well although the wind was beginning to pick up and I was aware that I was gripping the wheel a bit too hard.

We had food for lunch in the car so used the stops for walking around. There were daffodils again at the next stop.

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Finally, we got to Tennessee. The rest stops along the interstate have a log cabin side and rock cabin side. I like the rock side since they are rock from the immediate area.

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We were making fast stops because the temperature was dropping. There was a dusting of snow along the highway between Knoxville and Nashville! The wind was gusting and made it feel very cold.

The last stop before we got to the hotel in Dickson, TN had a different kind of rock and a historical marker for Senator Albert Gore Sr…and the interstate highway system.

Tomorrow I’ll post about the second day of the road trip.

Staunton River Star Party Solar Observations

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Most of the action at a star party is in the dark…but there are a few daylight activities as well. The sunset on the first night was scenic – with a few clouds near the horizon and tree line.

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On Thursday morning I took sunrise pictures. Clouds helped make it more interesting. The picture below was taking about 15 minutes after the one to the right.

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My husband brought his solar telescope and used it on 2 days. There were solar prominences on both days! On the second day – the prominence seemed to be changing as we watched it. I put my camera up to the eye piece of the telescope and got some pictures. The prominence on the first day was toward the bottom of the disk. On the second day, the prominence was in the upper left.

A Stump at Staunton River State Park

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In a grassy area near the visitor center – I noticed a stump. Someone had left a pumpkin on top, probably while they were decorating for the Star Party. I walked over to get a closer look. It looked like it had been cut down recently.

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The rings stood out a lot more than the rings of the Silver Maple at Mt. Pleasant. This stump had not been sanded either. I counted 74 rings but there were some very narrow ones from recent years that were harder to count….so I estimated it was about 80 years old when it was cut down.

The people in the Visitor Center told me that it had been cut down recently and that they thought it had been planted near the time the park was created in 1936. But they didn’t know what kind of tree it was. The next morning, I talked with the park manager that was manning the outdoor grill at the Cantina for breakfast and found out that it was a Post Oak and he had counted 84 rings when it was first cut down. The CCC did most of the work when the park was created so it is likely, because of its location, that it was planted by them. The tree had leafed out last spring but then dropped all its leaves during the summer. It had been struggling for the past few years and looking at the stump shows the evidence of that struggle in the outermost rings.

The Staunton River Star Party Observing Field

Staunton River State Park hosts two Star Parties each year – one in the spring and one in the fall. We’ve gone to the fall Star Party for 3 years but have always decided that the one in March is too cold or too wet. Maybe we’ll go in 2018. The park has a large field that has been used long enough that the soil is packed down almost as hard as the asphalt road (where the Visitor Center….and bathrooms (hurray) are located). The ‘road’ to our camp site started between the orange cones and was the closest we’ve ever been to the Visitor Center – something I noticed every time I made the trek to the facilities in the dark.

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There are lots of different set ups but probably the most honed for astronomy is a tent that has an opening for the telescope (the black patch on the top). They are relatively expensive and probably not something we’ll ever do but I can still appreciate the idea.

There are power cables from central posts out to hubs that are covered with big buckets on the field and everyone picks a spot close enough to one of them to have the power they need. There are many kinds of tents and campers…some people brought their gear in a small trailer and then used the trailer to sleep in. There is also a lot of variety of telescopes and covers for them during the day. Almost everyone has a computer along with their telescope – and the associated table and chair for it. Awnings help with the sun during the day and dew at night.

For the first couple of days, there were fewer people than I remembered from previous years. By Thursday the numbers were increasing, and people were still arriving when we left on Friday – before Saturday when there were more lectures and public observing in the evening. I wondered who would get the spot we left open on the field….a prime location.

Our Camp at Staunton River

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We set up our new tent on the observing field as soon as we got there. It was large enough for all our camping gear inside and had a screened section on the end for my husband’s observing chair and laptop. When he’s observing he spends more time in front of his computer than he does outside at the telescope. The new tent worked very well since the screened portion protected everything in it from dew almost as well as being inside the tent proper.
 

We had luxuries such as air up mattresses, pillows, warm sleeping bags….and a small coffee maker to heat water for tea on the cold mornings. Once the sun came up the tent became warmer than the outside temperatures very quickly – which was welcome since the days started out in the 30s. We opened the window covers as the day warmed into the 60s. There was enough breeze in the afternoon that the tent never became overly hot.

The field had electrical cables all we needed was an extension cord to connect out outlet strip – power to charge batteries (the telescope itself ran off batteries), laptops and phones. The telescope was the only item outside the tent…and it had its own cover for after the observing for the night was done.

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The car seemed very full when we left home and was full to the brim coming back since we didn’t manage to pack as well. It’s a good thing we has freed up space by eating the food we took!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the other types of tents and campers and telescopes on the observing field.

Staunton River Star Party

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Last Monday, we headed down to Virginia for the Staunton River Star Party. The event is held at the state park – a dark sky site. We waited until most of the morning rush hour was over since our route included the Washington DC beltway. There was still traffic, but it was moving at highway speeds even around the Mormon Temple. The rain from earlier in the morning had stopped and the clouds were beginning to break up.

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We made a stop at the first rest area we came to on I95 south of the Washington Beltway – anticipating easy traffic for the rest of the way.

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Lunch at a Chipotle was our mid-point break.

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We arrived at the park about 3 and began setting up. I always enjoy the creative pumpkin carving that sits beside the door of the cantina. All the windows on the park buildings are covered with red cellophane and lights to mark paths are red as well.

I’ll be posting about the events of the week in the next few days….but I’m wrapping up this most with the road trip home last Friday.

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We left the park about 10 and stopped at a fast food place for our first rest stop since we were not on an interstate yet and it was cool enough that my husband wanted something hot for brunch. We stopped for lunch at an Arby’s later then got on I95 shortly thereafter.

We stopped at the last rest stop on I95 before the Washington DC – obviously in Virginia.

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But this rest stop has something I had not seen before – a toddler potty! I wonder if these are going to become more common as rest stops are remodeled.

We were glad to get home after crawling through the Friday afternoon traffic from 2-4. We waited until the next day to put the tent up in the backyard to dry out (we had to pack it up before the dew dried).

More to come about the Staunton River Star Party in upcoming posts.