Showing posts with label birding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birding. Show all posts

Friday, April 02, 2021


A Brutal Fight Between Two Geese

We first saw these two geese beside the water honking and struggling, their heads locked together.
They struggled into the water...

And continued fighting for around 15 minutes.

After a huge struggle in the water, they moved through the woods, continuing the fight. Finally, one of them showed signs of giving up and hid his head under a log, but the stronger goose kept viciously pecking at the weaker one's neck. We thought he had died, but after the winner left, the loser seemed to be reviving. We have no idea if his injuries were fatal, and we left him standing beside the log. 

Beautiful Ducks and a Heron



Walking in the Woods

Alice, Evelyn, and Len.

These photos were taken at several parks in the Fairfax area, which we've gone to over the last several days when the weather was clear and sometimes warm. The temperatures have been variable, with occasional rainstorms and with temperatures from below 40º to over 80ºF. 

Blog post and all photos © 2021 mae sander.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge

This morning at the Occoquan NWR we saw many ospreys flying around and gathering materials for nests.
There’s an eagle’s nest in the refuge as well.

Birders love the Occoquan refuge. We saw this group from the other side of the marsh.

A birdwatching blind near the parking lot.

 Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Virginia Birds: A Change of Scene!

It's so great to be in a different house with different people, and to take a bird walk in a different park, specifically Burke Lake Park in Fairfax Station, VA! 




Photos © 2021 Mae & Len Sander

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, Leprechauns

While I loved the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I'm only finishing out the current season of the TV show out of some kind of masochism, as I actually find it pretty tedious. One pretty good character in the earlier seasons was Mad Sweeney, the Leprechaun, played by Pablo Tell Schreiber. Unfortunately, Schreiber didn't choose to act in the current season so Mad Sweeney had to die. Death due to an actor's resignation is a fate that often meets characters in long-running TV series like this. 

The premise of American Gods, as you may know, is that the old gods came to America with the people who had believed in them, including in this case, the Leprechaun. Sweeney has the characteristics of the Irish mythical being: he loves his hoard of gold, he drinks beer, and he's pretty violent. Unlike the tiny creatures of actual Irish myth, however, Sweeney is tall and strong and much more dangerous. 

Mad Sweeney

Sweeney's Gold.

There's a replacement leprechaun in season 3 named Liam Doyle. He's a bit tamer than Mad Sweeney, and cuter looking, played by actor Iwan Rheon. Full disclosure: I often sleep through fairly long stretches of the episodes of American Gods. So I might have missed some of the violence, sex, nudity, evil language, and other dangerous features that each introduction warns prospective viewers about.

I wish you a very happy Saint Patrick's Day, and apologize for this rather off-beat post in place of my usual selection of photos from my trips to the extraordinarily beautiful land of Ireland, or occasional photos of corned beef and cabbage dinners. Here are a couple of conventional Saint Patrick's Day images:

Members of the crow family that we saw in Ireland in 2016.

An Irish rainbow, 2016.

Original photos of Ireland © 2016 by mae sander. Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Harbingers of Spring

Derivation of the word harbinger: "Middle English from Old French herbergere, from herbergier ‘provide lodging for’, from herberge ‘lodging’, from Old Saxon heriberga ‘shelter for an army, lodging’ (from heri ‘army’ + a Germanic base meaning ‘fortified place’), related to harbor. The term originally denoted a person who provided lodging, later one who went ahead to find lodgings for an army or for a nobleman and his retinue, hence, a herald (mid 16th century)." -- Oxford English Dictionary.

I've always liked the sound of the phrase harbinger of spring. It makes me think of birds singing to defend the territories where they soon will nest, and of tiny flowers pushing up through recently frozen earth. I vaguely wondered where harbinger, such an interesting word, came from, but this is the first time I've ever looked it up. 

Winter aconite: one of the first flowers to emerge each spring.

Hellebore, an early bloomer in a neighbor's garden

Happily, we have recently been seeing some avian harbingers of spring on our walks and at our bird feeders. The robins, year-round residents, have switched from their winter behavior of flying in large flocks. They are now pairing off and finding nesting places. Early migrants like red-winged blackbirds and killdeer have arrived in the marshy areas of local wetlands. Other birds are stopping here briefly on their way to breeding grounds farther north. Migration continues with a sequence of different species, and goes on for several months: this is just the beginning.

Killdeer have returned to Michigan from Mexico. 

Migrating waterfowl in breeding plumage:
 redheads, ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, and widgeon.

We could still have another big snow storm (even a blizzard like the one that buried Michigan on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1973) but we hope this spring will not produce one of those occasional set-backs. 

A sign of hope: having been vaccinated, we can go to the supermarket.
A harbinger of spring -- Easter candy on display.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Desert Nature

The Nature of Desert Nature,
published 2020.
The Nature of Desert Nature by Gary Paul Nabhan is a collection of essays and other writings about the plant and animal life, the geology, the beauty, the religious inspiration, and the poetry of deserts. The subtitle, "A Deep History of Everything that Sticks, Stinks, Stings, Sings, Swings, Springs, or Clings in Arid Landscapes" indicates the variety of information included in the many writings. Understanding the nature of deserts is important, Nabhan writes, because:
"The ongoing discussion about deserts... has generated and refined a certain set of questions that may be more pertinent to our own survival today more than ever before. That is because of the degree to which global climate change is already forcing an ever-larger proportion of the world’s human inhabitants to deal with ever more hot, dry, and sparsely vegetated landscapes. These recently desertified, or biologically impoverished landscapes—which often lack the integrity and diversity found in ancient deserts—are becoming all too common on every one of the major continents." (p. 9). 
In order to clarify the nature of deserts, Nabhan has selected a wide variety of viewpoints and specialties. Some authors present the overwhelming impressions, both mental and spiritual, of experiencing life in the desert, whether they are describing a camping trip or a life lived in a monastery in a desert climate. Several authors are particularly aware of the cruel deaths that have taken place as migrants trying to enter the US are destroyed by the harsh desert heat, cold, and lack of water. The book includes scientific discussions by researchers who have spent their entire careers in the study of desert plants and animals, especially in understanding how all the various forms of life in the desert work together to survive extreme conditions. Each author has a unique view of deserts.

Most of the experiences presented in The Nature of Desert Nature took place in the Sonora Desert, which extends on both sides of the US-Mexican border. Tucson, Arizona, is in the most northern part of the Sonora Desert, including Saguaro National Park and other nature preservation areas. I've been to this desert, and I would love to return, so I especially enjoyed learning about the flowers, cactus, symbiotic insects and animals, and water resources of this desert. In fact, I liked all the chapters, but I can't go into detail about them.

I will just concentrate on the last chapter by Paul Mirocha titled "Staring at the Walls: Views of the Desert in Southern Arizona Public Art." The text is illustrated with a collection of photos of murals from Tucson and in Ajo, Arizona. These impressive paintings reflect many different views of the desert and the people who live there. "Humans all over the world have been making petroglyphs and pictographs for at least thirty thousand years (probably longer)," Mirocha writes, and "Public art is free and visible to everyone. It’s democratic and gains its creative power from being multicultural. By its existence and widespread acclaim, public art, in a sense, has been voted on." (p. 176-177)

Here are a few of the illustrations. If you love murals, you will love this chapter, which makes many connections between the artists, the cities, and the desert scenes and myths that they have painted.

Rock Martinez and Cristina Perez, Goddess of Agave, Tucson, Arizona (p. 159).

About this mural Mirocha says: "The agave woman on the walls of Tucson’s Benjamin Supply building is the Mexican agave goddess, Mayahuel, well-known even in these northern parts. She is one of several mother and fertility goddesses in Aztec spirituality, a personification of beauty, nourishment, and fruitfulness. She is also the artist’s girlfriend. The image is riveting, hot and spicy as heck."(p. 183). 

Michael Chiago, Untitled mural, Ajo, Arizona (p. 170).
This mural seems to me to capture an entirely different view of the desert. I like the turtle and many plants growing at the foot of the saguaro cactuses, the people doing something (I don't know what), and the birds in the sky. I do not understand the maze at the right, and would love to know what it means. The author writes:
"O’odham artist Michael Chiago’s work, hidden behind the Curley School in Ajo. The landscape is painted carefully, like a portrait of a well-known friend. O’odham people are shown in a landscape carefully observed, with everything in its place. There are the little bursage bushes, palo verdes, and saguaros. The vast emptiness of the landscape is saturated with both knowledge and love. The sense of being at home, safe, in a familiar place is palpable." (p. 182) 

Joe Pagac, Roadrunner Cycling, Tucson, Arizona (p. 167). 
Finally -- my favorite of all the murals: a roadrunner on a bicycle, with a snake too. I love the birds that live in the Sonora Desert, and the roadrunner is my favorite of all! I also like what Mirocha says about the desert creatures in these murals:
"Such mural art could be an urban scene anywhere, couldn’t it? Not likely—there’s only one place where people recognize a Gila monster, a jackalope, or a javelina. And where else do they know how to pronounce saguaro, ocotillo, or Gila? That place is the Sonoran Desert. There’s a desert on the edge of town, and it wants to seep quietly into your mind, to remind you where you are" (p. 175). 

A roadrunner that I saw in Arizona a few years ago.

Petroglyphs by the Hohokum Indians, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona, 2009. 

 It's hard to capture the charm and fascination that I find in this very diverse collection of writings. It really makes me want to return to the desert for birdwatching, enjoying the scenery, and more. 

This review © 2021 by mae sander.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The First Robin of 2021


Robins stay in Michigan for the whole winter, but they behave differently than they do in the warmer months. In summer, you often see lone robins or pairs of birds on lawns and trees in urban back yards, where they eat worms and many other things. In contrast, during the winter they flock together and prefer more wooded areas where they can find berries to eat. We saw a huge number of robins flocking around in some trees in town recently. 

I know that many people are very excited to see robins return to their back yards in spring, but I was determined to see some winter robins! I saw one near our house just before New Year's, and finally saw this flock today. (For more robin facts, see this page at the Cornell Laboratory Website.)


Another beautiful bird that stays around here during the winter is the bluebird. While searching for a robin, we saw three of them in a park not far from our house. I love the way that they keep their vivid blue color even in winter.
Three bluebirds in a tree.

The Cornell Laboratory website has an interesting paragraph about what bluebirds eat:
"Insects caught on the ground are a bluebird’s main food for much of the year. Major prey include caterpillars, beetles crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. In fall and winter, bluebirds eat large amounts of fruit including mistletoe, sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, honeysuckle, bay, pokeweed, and juniper berries. Rarely, Eastern Bluebirds have been recorded eating salamanders, shrews, snakes, lizards, and tree frogs."

A cold and wintery day.

On another walk: the stream not yet frozen.

And a somewhat more exciting bird on another walk: a Merlin,
which is a type of falcon.

Blog post and all photos © 2021 mae and len sander.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Doing Things!


The common redpoll is a pretty bird, with a bit of red on the head and pink on the chest. There's been a flock of them in our area this season, and we've been trying to get a look at them. Finally on Sunday we found them -- we guess somewhere between 50 and 100 birds. We watched them land on a weedy field of bare stalks and feed for a while, and then suddenly all rise into the air and swoop around for a minute. Finally, on one of their flights, they swooped on out of sight.


Our area of Michigan is at the edge of the redpolls' winter range. They show up in different places in different years, seemingly seeking good supplies of seeds. According to the Cornell birding website:
"Common Redpolls are energetic little birds that forage in flocks, gleaning, fluttering, or hanging upside down in the farthest tips of tree branches. Like many finches, they have an undulating, up-and-down pattern when they fly. To keep order in flocks, redpolls have several ways of indicating their intentions. When quarreling with flockmates, a redpoll fluffs its plumage, faces its adversary, and opens its bill, sometimes jutting its chin to display the black face patch. ... In winter, some redpolls roost in tunnels under the snow, where the snowpack provides insulation and stays much warmer than the night air."

We feel lucky to have such a nice birding opportunity, as there aren't many birds to watch in Ann Arbor in winter.  


Like most of the people in the country, we are mainly staying in the house and watching TV while waiting for the vaccine to release us. We have been binge watching two previous seasons of "American Gods" on Starz (from 2017 and 2019), and when we finish the earlier episodes, we will probably watch the new season which is starting this week. 

The Neil Gaiman book American Gods is one of my favorites, which I've read 3 times. The TV series missed a lot of the best parts, such as Gaiman's witty and humorous observations about middle-American life. Disappointingly, the TV treatment also skips the food scenes from the novel -- though it does deliver "a surreal drama that truly earns its TV-MA rating. There's frequent brutal violence, with onscreen deaths by decapitation, stabbings, slashings, bludgeonings, with spouting blood, lingering shots of gore, dead bodies, and disembodied limbs." (source of this warning: Common Sense Media)

Much more enjoyable: the new Netflix series "Lupin," released last week. Produced by Gaumont Télévision in France, it's is a fabulous crime and revenge tale, set in Paris. I'm enjoying the plot and also the many beautiful scenes of Paris boulevards, interiors of restaurants and cafes, and famous monuments, along with images of less affluent parts of the city. The scenes in and around the Louvre in the first episode are especially wonderful (of course there's a shot of the Mona Lisa). A great Paris scene involves a getaway car crashing through the skylight (inverted pyramid) into the underground shopping mall attached to the Louvre.

The hero of the series, played by actor Omar Sy, is a lovable thief and a seeker of revenge. He gets his ideas for brilliant crimes from his favorite detective novels -- the tales of Arsène Lupin, which were written by Maurice Leblanc in the early years of the twentieth century. We've really liked the first 5 episodes. We can't wait for more to be released, but Netflix has not announced a date for this. Meanwhile, there are lots of other things to watch on Netflix, like "History of Swear Words," which is ok, not great.

In the Kitchen

Cooking and baking continue to be some of our best ways to pass the time. Len continues to try more and more complicated recipes for rye bread. And I've continued to look for new ways to use vegetables.

Ottolenghi’s potatoes and eggs with gochujang paste.
From the book Flavor, but the recipe also appeared in
The Guardian here.

Here's a new dish I tried: Ginger-Miso Glazed Eggplant. I served it
with a salad and chopped scallions (recipe here).

Review and original photos © 2021 mae and len sander.