friday at black marsh and environs

Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Little Blue Heron at Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Little Blue Heron at Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Box Turtle at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Box Turtle at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Rose Pink (Sabatia angularis) at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Rose Pink (Sabatia angularis) at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Spicebush Swallowtail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Spicebush Swallowtail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Cottontail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Cottontail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Not depicted: (1) the Eastern Ratsnake that beat a hasty retreat from the trail it was attempting to cross when it sensed my approach; (2) the White-tailed Deer fawn that bolted from its hiding spot adjacent to the trail as I came upon it; (3) the 30+ other species of birds I saw and/or heard.

eastern tiger swallowtail

Worn late-summer Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Worn late-summer Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Note the faded and ragged wing tips, completely missing the ‘swallow tail’. They’re almost too degraded to identify the sex, but based on my other photos I think it’s a male. The light form of the female has much more blue on the hind wings. Still, it’s kind of a tough call.

Worn late-summer Eastern Tiger Swallowtail with bee companion, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Late-summer Eastern Tiger Swallowtail with bee companion.

these glowing chains

This morning downtown smelled like a lit fuse.

After lunch I went back to find more monarchs. They were keeping company with one raggedy-looking Common Buckeye. A monarch almost flew into my face. I watched it shove its proboscis into every single bloom. I considered staying there all day.

Wikipedia disambiguates firefox from foxfire. This irritates me more than it should.

I may change my name to Dirge Foxfire and start wearing all black. Soon after, me and my drum machine Phalanx will start a band to broadcast the coming of the end. Only the people who matter will hear our message, of course. Later I will begin to glow as my corporeal presence slowly fades.

Lit fuse smell caused by three-alarm fire.

peak monarch migration

I found this one and a few others fueling up across the street just now. Higher than usual numbers are traveling south through the eastern U.S., and apparently avoiding the dry Midwest on their way to Mexico. Let’s hope they make it, despite an even longer trip.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

escape to hot springs

Some friends purchased a cabin and 15 wooded acres in the North Carolina mountains so a visit was in order. On Saturday we hiked up Max Patch Mountain, a bald mountain in Pisgah National Forest that was cleared for pasture in the 1800s. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top, where lucky hikers are afforded dreamy views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. Off to the distant west rise the dark ridges of the Black Mountains.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

The trail to paradise.

And then there is the reward…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains seen from the top of Max Patch Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

Such beauty is all the more poignant when shared with old friends.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, a/t on the a/t

A/T on the A.T.

Farley was beside himself with joy for the entire trip.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Farley in his element, bounding through the tall grass on top of Max Patch Mountain.

There were also non-mammals enjoying the outdoors.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

A Common Buckeye butterfly alights on one of the plentiful blackberry bushes growing along Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs, NC.

Back at the cabin, we cooled off in the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

I walked up the middle of the creek and found damselflies consorting with each other.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at the cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

My walking stick used for navigating the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Scene from creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

For some reason this little sun-dappled tableau struck me. I don’t think it comes across in the photo, but it was the sort of scene into which you wish you could miniaturize yourself for the purpose of better enjoying it.

And here is where we retired for eating, sleeping (although some of us camped outside), and reading during the heat of the day.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

Farley exhibits signs of extreme boredom outside the cabin.

another day in the woods

So I had a photo to post from my outing yesterday, but wouldn’t you know it, my camera’s USB cord is MIA.  I’ve scoured the house to no avail.  So all I’ve got once again tonight is my stream of words.  Let’s see if I can hydrate this barren electronic soil with them enough to grow some trees.

The oppressive heat continues, and as I’d had a late night on Thursday, I left the house later yesterday morning than I would’ve liked.  By the time I spun my wheels down the final leg of my journey to Lake Roland, I was near soaked in sweat.  Locking up my bike to a No Parking sign, I listened to woods devoid of birdsong.  I didn’t really care, though.  What I needed first and foremost was a restorative walk in the woods, and if there were some birds around, even the better.  But if they were laying low, I certainly couldn’t blame them.  The day was still a ways off from reaching high noon, and yet the heavy air already steamed with the essence of warm bath water.  I knew once I stepped from pavement to soil, though, that the temperature would cease to register as a discomfort to me.

As I walked down the dead end road to the entrance to the park, I opened my ears and my eyes, and set the pace for the day.  Today was a day to practice slow birding, where I often stop for long periods of time, standing still, and wait for the birds to come to me.  Sometimes it works better than other times, but it’s always a worthwhile venture.  It reminds me of the reason I truly love birding; it’s not the feeling I get from ticking off a new lifer (although that’s always nice), but the wonder I experience when watching a bird close-up, by really observing its behavior.

Once in the park, I picked up on a few birds here and there.  I started out on the path down toward the lake, thinking I’d start there and then backtrack.  But as I reached the first crossroads in the trail, I heard the soft hooting of a Barred Owl.  I decided to backtrack and see if I could find it.  I’d found one before in the general area where the hooting was coming from.  I crossed over another trail and entered the shade of the pines, but had no luck in locating the owl.  As I moved in slow increments down the path, I did find some pockets of bird activity, though. There were many cardinals and catbirds present, and a few singing White-eyed Vireos.

I soon encountered what would be my slow birding highlight of the day: ten minutes or so of close proximity to an Eastern Wood-Pewee as it practiced its trade, swiftly and efficiently hawking insects from a tree branch.  Flying out in a swooping circle, it would snatch an insect and then return to the same branch to eat it, all in one fluid motion.  I hear pewees often, as they are one of the few persistent forest singers in the deep heat of mid to late summer when many birds have long since clammed up for the season, but rarely have I had a chance to be this close to one for so long.  As I peered at it through my bins, I could see its eyes darting back and forth as it followed the insect paths through the air.  This bird was a true master of its craft.

Eventually I left the pewee behind, and made my way down toward the feeder stream heading to the lake.  On my way, I found a Monarch butterfly and watched it feeding on nectar for a few minutes.  This monarch’s colors looked fresh, and I marveled at how nature could fashion such a beautiful creature.  The monarchs have begun their epic journey to Mexico, and this particular one may already have been en route.  Monarchs are the only butterflies to make such a long two-way migration.  The ones that emerge from the pupal stage in late summer and early fall know by instinct to head straight for their ancestral wintering grounds in Mexico.  Then in spring, they return north to reproduce and finish their life cycle.  So when you see monarchs in the fall, they are performing one of the more amazing feats in the natural world.  I find it surprising enough that such a small creature as a hummingbird can migrate such a great distance, crossing the entire Gulf of Mexico and beyond.  But to think that a butterfly, so seemingly fragile and ephemeral, can travel for thousands of miles, survive an entire winter in Mexico, and then travel thousands more miles to its breeding grounds…well, it just seems so unlikely, so absurd!  And yet it happens every year, whether we notice it or not.

Once at the stream, I disrupted some crows roosting in the muddy bottomlands alongside it, a favorite afternoon spot of theirs.  A couple of individuals scolded me vigorously for at least ten minutes, but I was too absorbed in some movement way up high in the treetops to pay them much mind.  I was about to give up on IDing whatever it was because it was so far up there and mostly obscured by leaves as it hunted insects.  But then it flew to another tree and I saw what it was:  an American Redstart, an immature male or a female, my first “fall warbler” of the year.

As I followed the stream I encountered many robins and catbirds, with a sprinkling of chickadees, titmice, and goldfinches.  On the other side of the stream I spotted a hummingbird feeding from some yellow trumpet-shaped flowers (haven’t been able to ID them yet).  I heard and briefly saw a Great Crested Flycatcher.  When I reached the lake, many Chimney Swifts suddenly flew out from the trees out over the water.  I walked down the wooden steps to the water and sat for a while, eating an apple.  I felt at peace, and I knew then that it was okay to leave.


On the outskirts of town, we stop at a used bookstore & antique shop. I pick up a reissue of Black Sun and Em Ell finds me an old Western shirt with snaps down the front. Twenty minutes later as we pull into our place for the week, I hear the first hermit thrushes. That night I crack open the book and read Abbey’s words in the first paragraph: “He hears the flutelike song, cool as silver, of a hermit thrush.” Fiction mirrors life, every single time. If it’s good and true, that is.

Maine’s natural beauty, both rugged and fine, bowled me over. I came as a pilgrim, seeking solace from the noisy, angry city streets, and I left a zealot, prepared to spread the gospel. Maybe better to keep it to myself, I thought later, though, don’t want to spoil a good thing anymore than it’s already been spoiled, which is surprisingly very little, as evidenced by views such as this:

We explored by boat, by foot, by bike, by kayak, and again by foot. I saw and/or heard 62 species of birds (several of them were lifers), a little lower than my expectations, but considering I did very little dedicated birding, not bad by a long shot. We climbed in the mountains, topping out somewhere around 1160 feet. We kayaked with the loons and listened to their haunting song. This particular loon seemed unimpressed with us:

The one day I went out by myself specifically to go birding was cool and rainy. I woke at 6 AM to the sound of steady rain and almost decided not to go. I lay back down in bed, but I just kept thinking about how I am only in this place for one more day. So I went. At my first stop, deep in the park on the western side of the island, I found myself surrounded by ravens scronking their unearthly calls in the trees. I’d hear sounds like churning helicopter blades, and look up to see another raven flapping its wings, off to unknown places. I then found myself slightly off-track due to a confusing turn in the trail. So I returned to the car and drove on twisting gravel roads to the place I was looking for. I’d planned out this excursion using a birding guide to Mount Desert Island. This first place ended up a bust, though. There I was deep in the forest, and all I could find was a robin and some mourning doves. I can find those birds in my backyard any day of the week!  But they don’t get to see this:

A curious thing about birding that you learn early on is that the most beautiful isolated places in the world are not necessarily the birdiest places. In fact, they are often not very birdy at all. Birders often find themselves hanging around water treatment plants, landfills, parking lots, and disgusting ponds behind shopping centers. Birds don’t care what a place looks like, per se, as song as their needs are met. On this particular day in Maine, I was experiencing this phenomenon.  It’s hard to be upset at a lack of birds, though, when there is so much else to look at, such as this White Admiral butterfly.

I left the forest and headed to the western coast, where I hiked in to some land preserved by the Nature Conservancy. This was a tract of towering white cedars, red spruce, and balsam firs that were untouched by the great fire of 1947. The trail, gnarled with massive tree roots, wound a circuitous route to the beach. When it opened up out of the forest, I found singing warblers, most very high in the trees. Busy woodpeckers worked the lower trunks. A winter wren trilled its bubbling song. I only lingered for a little while, though, as I’d already been out for several hours.

Later that day we explored the Wonderland and Ship Harbor trails in the southwestern section of the park. It was quite birdy there, and we saw a bald eagle land off-shore on some exposed rocks where a group of gulls was roosting. The gulls were none too pleased with the eagle and started dive-bombing it.  I forgot the camera in the car during these hikes so I don’t have any visuals.  But here is where we hiked to the very next morning:

After climbing mountains that last day, we returned to home base. I needed to reflect and absorb, as I felt the end of this time nearing and my state of mind already shifting. Near our place, at the bottom of a long cascading series of wooden steps lies a rocky beach. I go there, close my eyes and hear the tide wash in and recede. I open my eyes and see that large smooth stone on the beach as my soul, washed as it has been by the saltwater tonic of this place. I want to distill the salt-laced air, the fragrant pine boughs, the views of aching beauty, the hermit thrush’s song–take it all and fill a tiny bottle to carry with me and open to breathe in as needed. But the grains of my recollections will instead likely drift away over time in the stale winds of the day-to-day. Perhaps, though, if I concentrate hard enough, I can keep some of the uniqueness of what I saw cloistered deep within my mind, where nothing from the outside can ever destroy it.

spring has come a-knockin’

Some recent signs:

First butterfly sighting of the year…an Eastern Comma soaking up the sun in the pine barrens area at Lake Roland.

I observed in awe the sheer determination of this sycamore fruit that had poked its roots down through two inches of snow to find the ground below.  Damn the snow!  I will sink myself into terra firma, for I must grow upwards!

I picked apart another sycamore fruit that was lying nearby (there were many of them).  Inside, it looked like this:

Meanwhile, a Song Sparrow sung mightily from the marsh area of the park.  He was too far away for a photo, especially with my point-and-click, but the sheer jubilance of his song filled my heart with joy.

This morning, a  juvenile Cooper’s Hawk eyed the feeder from its perch on the power line out back.  Looking for breakfast, but the little birds were too smart.  Someone must’ve tipped them off.  The Cooper’s was a new yard bird, and hung around long enough for us to have a good long look.

Also, inaugural House Finches appeared at the feeder.  A pair of’em.  Not sure why we hadn’t yet seen this ubiquitous feeder bird.  At the old house, they were probably the most abundant bird at the feeders, but until today we hadn’t seen a single one here at the new place.

Out front, a Song Sparrow rooted around under the rose bush.

On my bike ride to work:  about 200 Canada Geese honking and flying in V formation, headed due north.  I saw a similar sized flock yesterday morning.  It gives me goosebumps…such a powerful and primal event to witness!

Cardinals sang in almost every block of my ride.  And the grackles have grown much more vociferous with their strange electronic sounds.  They’ve also been making daily visits to the feeder.  I like to watch them drink from the bird bath because they have to point their beaks straight up in order to swallow. It actually looks quite elegant, especially when the morning sun catches their iridescent feathers just right.

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