Thursday, August 27, 2020

COVID-induced visions

Here we are, concluding 6 months of voluntary and involuntary seclusion. Recent events have strengthened my need to seek the protection of home and masks. First, this weekend I hope to walk into the last half of my ninth decade. Also, starting in early July, an acute flareup of an old problem nearly incapacitated me. Thanks to Prednisone, I can once again tie my shoes and comb my hair. 

"Old folks" learn to live with the joint and back aches of degenerative arthritis, but I was not prepared for an attack of PMR, a condition which was not even "discovered" until after I left Family Practice in 1966 for a career in uniform with the US Public Health Service. After that, my clinical duties were mostly with young active duty military and dependents, so I was not very involved in chronic issues of the elderly. 

My own "discovery" occurred after I Googled "shoulder pain and generalized muscle pain and stiffness," and there is was: Polymyalgia Rheumatica. I tried home remedies such as ice packs and doses of NSAIDs and Tumeric.  

It's an old adage, as Sir William Osler said, "A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient." Early morning walks found me lagging behind my child bride and turning around halfway as MaryLou whizzed by on her way back home. Anyway, I deferred to my Internist and her referral to a fine Rheumatologist whose tests indicated inflammation and confirmed what Google had already told me. 

The morning after my first dose of Prednisone allowed me to turn over in bed and even tie my boots and raise my camera to my face. Since then, except for weather and intervening appointments I have not missed a predawn wetlands walk. My energy has returned, but age plus immunosuppressant drugs are combined risk factors during the pandemic.

There were hints that land bird migration was picking up. The first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers had arrived from their breeding areas not far to the north:

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 01-20200811

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 02-20200811

Acrobatic Black-and White Warblers also need not wander too far south of their nests (note the spirals of sapsucker wells):

 Black-and-White Warbler 03-20200811 

Black-and-White Warbler 05-20200811

Black-and-White Warbler 02-20200811

It is a joy to walk out on this peninsula in the dark, watch for meteors and listen to the sounds of nature awakening. High water has cut the peninsula into a muddy archipelago. The outermost island is inaccessible without Wellies:

Calmover Everglades before sunrise 20200810 

Great Egret before sunrise:

Great Egret before sunrise 220200810

Great Egret before sunrise 02-220200810

Our back yard lake has actually been more productive of wading birds than the wetland lakes and flooded prairies. A Great Egret and a Tricolored Heron seemed unusually chummy:

Great Egret-  Tricolored Heron 20200813

Great Egret-  Tricolored Heron 2-20200813

They were joined by a photobombing immature White Ibis:

Ibis Egret Heron 01-20200813

A pair of Egyptian Geese lounged lakeside:

Egyptian Geese 03-20200812

A Tricolored Heron put on quite a show one morning.  "I see the fish, I seize the fish, I squeeze the fish, I eat the fish."

"I see the fish and stalk it furtively...

Tricolored Heron 3-20200813

"I seize the fish and quickly carry it to high ground in case I drop it... 

Tricolored Heron catches fish 01-20200813.

"I squeeze the fish and carefully work it up to my mouth...

Tricolored Heron with fish 02-20200813

"I eat the fish after flipping it up in the air and into my gullet in a move too fast for the camera:"

Tricolored Heron with fish 04-20200813

Tricolored Heron 03-20200811

Pop-up storms are a feature of the summer season in south Florida. One morning the sky seemed placid except for a storm cloud on the southern horizon, building fast and moving my way :

Storm approaching 02-20200812

Storm approaching 05-20200812

Conflicting winds stirred the wispy clouds into random hash marks as I neared the exit gate and heard thunder:

Storm approaching 09-20200812

A reassuring hand (or was it an eagle's wing?) extended out and seemed to say "Everything will be OK:"

Clouds - a reassuring hand 20200812
Topping off the week was this uplifting photo of our grandson's wife volunteering for veterinary school:

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Linking to:

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Natasha Musing

Our World Tuesday


Please visit the links to all these posts to see some excellent photos on display


Thursday, August 20, 2020

A time for molting

The "Dog Days of Summer" begin as the sky's brightest star Sirius, affixed to the dog collar of Canis Major, dutifully follows the hunter Orion up into the eastern sky before dawn. Days later Sirius will drop behind the Sun to linger in the western sky after sunset. The Old Farmer's Almanac as well as the ancient Greeks connected the appearance of Sirius with war, disaster, heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.

Heat stress and the prospect of an active hurricane season make this my least favorite time of year in south Florida. Absent a storm threat, the mornings are usually clear and despite the humidity, the coolest time of day to get out in the wild. Entering the wetlands under a dark sky, we bird by ear, but now there is less to be heard as compared to only a few weeks earlier. 

Many land birds are molting, resting and feeding during a very energy-intensive phase of their life cycle, following nesting and presaging the stress of migration. The predawn chorus of cardinals and mockingbirds nearly shuts down during the first week of August. 

Northern Cardinal in predawn darkness (with fill-flash assist, July, 2020)...

Northern Cardinal in the dark 02-20200716

... and, a month later, this one is replacing several tail feathers:

Northern Cardinal in moult 20200806 

Northern Mockingbird in fine feather (February, 2020), and...

Northern Mockingbird 20200224

...a motley molting mockingbird:

Northern Mockingbird molting 20200803

A Boat-tailed Grackle was handsomely clad back in February...

Boat-tailed Grackle 01-20200131

...Oh, but look at him now:

Boat-tailed Grackle molting 20200813

About 40 minutes before sunrise on August 6, Constellation Orion was just to the right of the Planet Venus as we walked into the wetlands. Sirius is closer to the Sun, lurking behind the palm tree (Click on photo to see the 3 stars in Orion's belt):

Venus and Orion 0605AM  20200806

Red-winged Blackbirds have suddenly departed from their inland breeding areas to congregate in large roosts, often nearer the coast. The coos of doves are heard less frequently, and Killdeers are no longer busy distracting us when we intrude on their now-abandoned nesting areas.    

Red-winged Blackbird:

Red-winged Blackbird 04-20200622

Mourning Dove:

Mourning Dove 2-20200714


Killdeer 02-20200712

European Starlings are gathering in flocks. This is a brown-backed and speckle-breasted juvenile starling:

European Starling 20200803

Our day is divided between morning walks and COVID-19 lock-down, when we remain alert to the presence of backyard wildlife. I captured this Great Egret through the back window as it foraged lakeside, one of the first test shots with my brand-new Canon EOS 90D:

Great Egret 02-20200803

Great Egret 03-20200803

The back yard Muscovy Duck still had 9 of her 15 ducklings on July 26. She was down to 2 on August 18:

Muscovy hen and 9 ducklings 02-20200726

Muscovy ducklings 01-20200726

Before sunrise on August 3, I heard the cry of several Coyotes to the north. Knowing that they would need to cross the gravel track to return to the wild lands, I stood in front of a shrubby tree to obscure my profile and waited. After about 5 minutes of silence I was ready to give up when I detected motion some 300 meters/ 330 yards away. I could barely discern the shapes of an adult Coyote with two half-grown pups. Look closely and enlarge to see all three:

Coyotes three COREL  01-20200803

Both pups were watching their mother:

Coyotes pups 03-20200803

One pup paraded out in the open:

Coyotes pup 06-20200803

Walking in darkness makes me ever so mindful of the travels of heavenly bodies across the sky. The August Sturgeon Moon was two days old on  August 5:

Sturgeion Moon 2 days old 01-20200805

Sturgeion Moon 2 days old 02-20200805

Sturgeion Moon over lake  03-20200805

As is so common during the Dog Days, the Sun heats the land and hot air rises, drawing in moist ocean breezes and setting up the dynamics for afternoon thunderstorms:

Storms over Everglades 01-20200805 

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Linking to:

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Natasha Musing

Our World Tuesday


Please visit the links to all these posts to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, August 13, 2020

August: A soggy start

As Tropical Storm Isaias was tracing an uncertain path towards Florida, our morning walks were often interrupted by the threat of rain. Heavy clouds sometimes added to the mood, if not to the technical perfection, of my photographs. Further, I could not operate my usual camera because I did something that was... well, not too smart. 

These photos of a Great Egret, a butterfly and threatening skies may well be the dying "last gasps" of my trusty DSLR camera, taken on July 29, before thunderstorms moved in to shorten our walk:

Great Egret 03-20200729

Great Egret 02-20200729

White Peacock:

White Peacock 02-20200729

Morning Clouds 2-20200729

While cementing a loose rubber surround on the mode dial of my Canon 80D, I took care to dispense the adhesive in tiny quantities on a paper clip. However, a larger bit of the CrazyGlue dripped unexpectedly on the knob and bonded it (and the camera's on-off switch) to the camera body. An internet search revealed that acetone might loosen the glue, but I worried that it would turn to gum and solvent might find its way into the camera's vital mechanisms. 

I called Canon repair and the representative said they could fix it, for an estimated price, subject to increase depending upon what other damage they might encounter. After paying the estimate I shipped the camera to Virginia, which happened to be on the projected path of Isaias.

My back-up camera is a mirrorless Olympus E-M10 Mkii with a 75 to 300 mm zoom lens. It had come in handy for traveling, but as a "KISS" (keep it simple, stupid) kind of guy, I found its settings menus to be terribly complicated and easy to forget. Actually, it served me quite well, even before sunrise when a Spotted Sandpiper was back-lit by reflections:

Spotted Sandpiper 20200730

Although it is rather soft, this photo of a Little Blue Heron conveyed a morning mood:

Little Blue Heron 20200730
Mourning Doves against the eastern sky were just short of silhouettes:

Mourning Doves 01-20200730

A little bit of blue sky helped me out with this Loggerhead Shrike:

Loggerhead Shrike 2-20200801

A lazy American Alligator watched from just offshore as the rising sun caught his eye:

American Alligator 02-202007730

American Alligator 01-202007730

The restricted range of the zoom lens system of the Olympus was not appropriate for landscape photos, but I tried a few, one of a somber western sky as the sun rose behind clouds...

Somber sunrise 20200801

...and this, from my early morning vantage point overlooking the south wet prairie:

 South wet prairie 20200801

These are the cloud tops to the south just before sunrise on July 31:

Clouds at Sunrise 20200730

Fast-moving bands of heavy rain and high winds preceded Hurricane Isaias on the morning of August 1. I made it to home as the wind picked up but just before the rain started: 

Storm band approaching 02-20200801 

The view from our back yard:

Storm band approaching 03-20200801

On the morning of August 6, out in the wetlands, I used my iPhone 11 Pro Max to capture images of the converging array of anti-solar (anticrepuscular) rays opposite the sunrise. The nearly-full Moon was part of the picture.  The Sun is about 5 minutes below the ENE horizon, so the Earth casts a curved shadow just under the vanishing point of the rays. 

Conditions must be just right-- (1) A clear sky to transmit the solar rays all the way from the Sun to the opposite horizon (2) Atmospheric conditions which reflect  light to illuminate the rays, such as moisture droplets, smoke or dust  (3) Storm clouds offshore and low in front of the sun to create shadows which break up the sun's solar (crepuscular) light.   

Anti-solar rays 03-20200806

Anti-solar rays 02-20200806

Isaias weakened and we experienced little more than a breeze and a few light showers. However it regained hurricane strength and pummeled the northeastern coastal area. In the meantime, my camera was delayed for more than a week because of the effects of the storm on Newport News, the home of the Canon Repair Center.  

So, I rationalized that putting more money into my heavily-used 3 1/2 year old camera would not be a sensible option. (Notice that I did not say "reasoned," meaning that I drew my conclusion after considering all the evidence, but rather "rationalized," starting with the conclusion and fitting in the supporting facts!). My new baby is the next one up in the EOS progression, a Canon 90D. Can't wait to try it out!

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Linking to:

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Natasha Musing

Our World Tuesday


Please visit the links to all these posts to see some excellent photos on display