Florida Vacation 2015

 

JoAnne and Kelvin walked on the white sand beach at sunset each evening
JoAnne and I enjoyed sunset walks

Must be we made ourselves useful and didn’t cause too much trouble in 2014 because our daughter Keely and her husband Mark invited us to go with them on their annual spring Florida vacation again this year.    Yeah!   Of course, it is such a trial (wink, wink) for us to be with our two wonderful grandchildren, not to mention our daughter and son-in-law for a whole week!

We flew down and they rented a beach condo on the Gulf coast on Gasparillo Island in Southern Florida for a whole week (in the units behind my hat) (such severe hardships, I know).     Thank you so much, Mark and Keely!

Annabelle and Sam love our attention (another tough break I know).    Of course we thoroughly enjoy spoiling them a little too.  Annabelle started learning to crawl on our vacation.   We tried to allow Keely a little more rest as Annabelle is not much of a sleeper.   JoAnne greatly enjoyed the pool, doing laps early every morning before others were awake.   In the evening, she and I walked on the beach at sunset while Keely and Mark were putting the children to bed.

It is always a pleasure for me to watch birds in a different location.  The only time while there that I took time away to specifically bird watch, I saw jungle but no birds.   Yet, for example, while pushing Sam in the swing at the Community Center, I notched two new birds as they flew over.    And as we walked on the beach, there were lots of shore birds to glass.

The attached gallery is a collection of pictures from vacation, some are taken with JoAnne’s camera and some with my phone.

 

Spring walks are refreshing in many ways.  

Carpenter Falls collage

I love a good walk.  It gets the heart pumping and fills the lungs with fresh air.  It eases the tensions of to-do lists and day-to-day circumstances.  Sometimes I pray aloud on my walks too.    Here in Northern CT, we are blessed to live near the Granby Land Trust area as well as a rail trail.   So I have places to walk.   I walk for exercise first, but I love the fresh air and I love watching nature, especially birds, plants, rocks, animals and flowers and trees.

Today I walked farther than usual, hiking to Carpenter Falls, a beautiful hidden falls near the top of Broad Hill.   Because of the rain last night the creek there was running a little more than usual too.   One has to hike down into the small gorge to see it.  The collage and the gallery with this post are from that spot today.

This spring the birds have seemed more abundant than usual.  Probably I have just been walking at better times.     I keep a journal of my bird walks, jotting down the species seen on each walk when I get home.   In May I have seen about 36 species of birds on my walks, and I seldom stop just to bird watch for very long.  I mostly just glass what moves.

I also had the unusual privilege of observing a small mink hunting up the shore line of our local creek just as I looked down from the Broad Hill Road Bridge.   He darted in and out of holes in the rocks both above and below the water searching for prey.  Once he swam across a section to a small group of rocks he wanted to check out.

Treasures on today’s walk

There is always a bright spot if you are looking for one.
There is always a bright spot if you are looking for one.

This afternoon I took a walk up Broad Hill Road and on up the hill.  I turned left into the Holcombe Farm trails and took the High Ridge Trail.   I wasn’t feeling tops, but I have found that pushing myself to walk when I am not feeling spunky often helps me in the long run. There was not a lot to see in the early spring woods. I had to watch my footing as the trail was muddy in places from small springs.   But I had my trusty hiking staff to keep me steady.   I always keep my eyes open and today I was especially looking for spring flowers. After all, it is May and the old adage says, “April showers bring May flowers.”    I was not disappointed.   On my way to the woods, I had seen red trilliums in two different gardens but I did not find any yet in the woods.     However I did find a beautiful little rock garden type plant growing in the path and among the mosses.  It seemed to be a more dainty version of a plant I had recently planted in my own rock garden.

I was nearly back to the beginning of the High Ridge Trail when I almost stumbled over a fallen but still intact bird’s nest.  It was too small to be a robin’s nest, built of different materials, and more neatly built too.   I wasn’t sure if the white material in it was some kind of fine bark or lichen.    I took its picture to record another find of interest on my path.   Finds like this are why I prefer outside walks to inside treadmills any day, even though I might get rained on occasionally as I did today before I got home.

A well built nest at the base of a tall forest oak
A well built nest at the base of a tall forest oak

I guess my walk is another illustration of how we seem to find things of interest if we are alert and looking.   Just becoming an observer of nature would cure boredom for many people, I’m quite sure.   I derive so much pleasure on my walks from observing different aspects of the natural world that I have taken time over the years to learn a little about –rocks, trees, birds, wildflowers, ferns, mushrooms, and animals all provide something fascinating regularly.    I’m afraid many people don’t notice much.  I haven’t always either.

I think the habit of looking for interesting and beautiful things in nature helps us also to get in the habit of looking for good things in all of life.      We all know that if we look for trouble, we find it; and if we look for good things, we will find them too.   Noticing things we can rejoice and give thanks for gives us a healthy sense of anticipation and keeps our spirits up every day.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Jas 1:17 NIV).

A walk today

A beautiful bird
A beautiful bird

 

I took a walk both yesterday and today on the rail trail south from Copper Hill Road.  Today, company was sparse, and what there was were mostly bicycle riders.   One of the joys of the walking pace is seeing more of what is happening in nature.  Yesterday I noticed a flock of birds in the blow-down area of the swamp and stopped to watch.  One looks a little odd staring off into the swamp without binoculars and sure enough, someone going by asked me what I saw out there.  I  responded that there was a flock of beautiful warblers.   At the time, I couldn’t remember the identity, but I got a close enough view of one or two so I could look them up when I returned home.    Today I looked them up — yellow-rumped warblers.   The male is among the most colorful of our Northeastern birds.   I went back today with my binoculars and found the flock or a similar one a little farther south along the trail in a more wooded area.   The bonus this time was catching a glimpse of a blue-gray gnat-catcher at work in the same area.   There were plenty of gnats so he was living up to his name.

Reptiles have awakened for the summer
Reptiles have awakened for the summer

The reptiles are out now too.  Last week JoAnne and I saw a garter snake on our walk up Broad Hill Road extension.   Today I snapped this picture of a turtle sunning himself with a bullfrog poking his nose out a little behind him. I needed my camera with some zoom.   But at least my phone camera is nearly always with me.

Signs of spring

redwing.

This has been a long winter here in the Northeast.  My friends back in Syracuse are having one of those kind where you don’t see the grass from November ’til April, I hear.   I remember at least one of those.   Here we are just now seeing it again for the first time since about the end of January.   We had more than 20 inches of snow on the ground which hardened and stayed forever.

But spring is coming, albeit too slowly for most of us.  Two days ago on my walk on the rail trail north from Copper Hill Rd. I saw a couple red-winged blackbirds and a pair of mallard ducks.  Today I saw a pair of song sparrows and as I drove away past the local dog kennel, two beautiful male bluebirds flew in front of me.   Spring is definitely on its way!

How to make a long winter shorter

An early morning shot from an upstairs window
An early morning shot from an upstairs window

Like many northerners, I enjoy seeing a little snow around Christmas but soon afterward begin to wish it were springtime.  But, alas, there are still three months until spring if it arrives on time.  Then if we have a cold snowy February like this year, it seems like winter goes on forever.  So how does one make the time fly by?   I was thinking about that today.   My wife and I must be doing a particularly good job this year as I have hardly had time to wish for spring yet.    Here are my recommendations for making a long winter shorter. 

First, be sure to make a big deal of Christmas and by all means, don’t tear all the decorations down on Dec. 26th.   For ourselves, we never take any decorations down before Epiphany (Jan. 6) which is the traditional end of the Christmas season in the Christian Church.   Then, since I invite children from church over to see my trains around the tree and there are usually some children who haven’t come by Jan. 6, I leave the trains up longer until all have had a chance to see them.   So what if it is sometimes February by the time I get it all put away. 

Second, I suggest having some winter-only hobbies.  We have two.  One is feeding the birds.  Here in rural CT, bears will tear your feeder apart, I’m told, if you feed birds while they are awake anyway, so bird feeding makes a great winter hobby.   It’s also a very cheerful thing watching chickadees, juncos, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, etc. outside your window.    Occasionally a hawk may visit seeking a fat junco for a meal.  This year I have a cute and perky Carolina wren visiting regularly.

Another activity that JoAnne and I save for winter weeks is putting together jigsaw puzzles.   We both enjoy the challenge.  After we complete one, we carefully bag up the puzzle and put it back in the box for storage.  We’ll get it out and put it together again in a year or two.  Some become favorites and go together faster every year.   Essentials for this hobby are a spare dedicated table spot that doesn’t need to be disturbed often, a small collection of puzzles you like in sizes you like, and a handy puzzle lamp.   We like 500, 750 and 1000 piece sizes the best.  

 

In addition to our work at church and our interaction with our daughter and her family, these 3 winter pastimes keep the cold days passing quickly.   Before we know it, it will be spring.   And I haven’t even resorted to pulling out the seed catalogs to make garden plans yet—well, maybe a few times.        

Conflicted spring leads to unusual birding

Some signs of advancing spring.

This afternoon as we drove back from visiting our daughter and family in Connecticut, I noticed numerous robins foraging on the ground wherever they could find an open spot in the snow cover form the recent storm.   As I drove in my driveway here in Kirkville, one flew away from the portion of lawn that had been exposed by the plow blade.  Last week I had seen grackles and a couple blue herons.   This afternoon my wife also remarked on how the buds on our red maple were expanding and turning their characteristic spring hue.

But winter is hanging tough

But seeing the robins was a small comfort after hearing the weather reports predicting more cold and another potential weekend storm.   As if the piles of snow were not enough to indicate exactly how bad the contradiction is this year between the lingering winter and the emerging signs of spring, I was sitting on my porch watching the birds for a few moments while putting on my shoes late this afternoon and suddenly realized that those birds on the thistle feeder were not goldfinches or purple finches.   They looked different and they had little red topknots–those were redpolls!  They are Canadian birds that only occasionally irrupt into the states when the winter is bad in Canada.  I could not believe I had just seen a flock of redpolls and a robin in my lawn on the same supposedly spring day!   Now there’s a once in a lifetime birding event for this area, I would say.

Fall colors make walking a double joy

We love walking

JoAnne and I love walking at Green Lakes.   It’s good exercise, it’s calming to the spirit, and there is just something about nature that invigorates.   I think God made it that way.  If we are walking together, we can talk over things.  If she has gone on ahead to conquer more territory, I often pray as I walk.    I enjoy greeting the other people walking and occasionally, I’m privileged to pet a dog or two as well.   

Lots of animals and birds to see

We have observed all kinds of creatures while walking; deer are regulars—four at once on this walk.  As a bird-watcher I’ve observed many birds there too—owls, pileated woodpeckers, a pheasant, wild turkey, crows, ravens, vultures, geese, to name the bigger birds.   Probably the rarest ones for this area that I’ve seen were an orchard oriole and a fox sparrow.   This past summer I was overjoyed to spot a scarlet tanager in full color. 

Fall pictures on the path by Round Lake

Speaking of full color, fall is such a gorgeous time to walk in the falling leaves.  Here are some pictures I snapped with my old Kodak digital.  It has such blue blues.   

White crowned sparrows this week

Tuesday morning as I was eating breakfast on the porch, I had the privilege watching two white crowned sparrows in my lawn.   They were beautiful plump taiga (boreal forest)  white crowned sparrows.  One was hanging out on the brush pile where I stack the kindling brush for next fall.  The other was nearby busily eating dandelion seeds from newly closed flowers.  It is a treat to see them come through on their migration north. 

Red Wing Blackbirds, An Early Sign of Spring

Yesterday, or the day before, my friend George Raterman called me with the news that he had a red-winged blackbird in his bird feeders.   This morning my feeder was overrun by a mixed flock of starlings and red-wing blackbirds.   It’s a definite early sign of spring for us nature lovers and bird watchers.  Even in a mild winter like this one, we are glad to see it, even if the bird seed does disappear quickly.