Beauty in December

You don’t have to travel far to find scenes worthy of a photograph. Bill and I had some free time this week, and found we were overdue for a visit to Umstead State Park. I have some vivid memories of that place, mostly involving a copperhead and a “death march” I took with him a few years back, but that is another story.

This time, I had a new camera in hand, and we searched out photo opportunities.

December is not the most colorful time of year in Raleigh. I think we’ve had a late fall; still, most of the leaves have turned and nearly all have fallen, but there are a few, colorful stragglers here and there.

last-leaves
Gumball trees are an annoyance when they get big and start to reproduce.

We took off from the visitor’s station, which Bill warned was a bit of a walk to the main park, but I shrugged off his suggestion to drive in further and off we went.

I kept hearing birds I didn’t recognize, and managed to locate one with the zoom lens.

white-throated-sparrow
I identified this white-throated sparrow by the patch of yellow just above its eyes (and some help from the Internet).

We walked on the road for a while, but the trails along the creeks offered the best views.

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The play of light through the trees makes for interesting patterns, even in late fall.

After 90 minutes or so of walking and stopping, we decided it was time to head back to civilization to find some lunch. But not before discovering a few more birds.

nuthatch
Nuthatches are one of my favorites.

Another beauty perched above our heads. I’m not sure, because of the winter feathers, but I think it’s an American redstart. My first time seeing this bird, as well.

redstart
I’m still working on getting the camera to focus on the bird, not the branches.
redstart-1
The same bird, from another angle. It’s about the size of a robin.

I’ve got four feeders set up around my house, but the birds have been scarce this fall. I’m not sure if it’s the location, the mild weather, or the number of hawks in the neighborhood. The squirrels are another story.

creek-in-umstead
This clear creek runs through Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC.

My (almost) 6 mile hike

I was all excited a few weeks ago when a 6 Mile Hike with a park ranger showed up on my Facebook news feed. Unfortunately, it was in just a few days, on a Sunday morning, and littlest Grandson and I had a church date. I sent my regrets, but noted I would be interested in future hikes, and one was scheduled for this morning. As in early. As in 8 a.m.

But, hey. A hike around the local lake, and an expert most likely willing to talk about flora and fauna and who knows what? I signed up. My daughter did, too, but we’ve both been sick lately. She opted to rest instead.

Despite my diet, I stopped by for a Bojangles biscuit (a 6-mile hike requires fortification), showed up early, and drove through the park to the visitor’s station. I marked time until just before 8, when I decided I’d better see if the lead hiker was waiting around. He wasn’t, and wouldn’t be for a while. I mentally tossed a coin. If I waited, chances were even that he’d decide to cancel anyway, considering I was the only eager hiker there. (Heck, apparently even he wasn’t excited about the prospect today.) I bailed, and on the way home decided to hike on my own. Six miles is a lot of walking for me, so I looked at this like a practice run.

There are a lot of joggers out at 8:30 in the morning. And dogs. A variety of birds, too. My phone camera can’t capture birds well, but I did see beautiful flowers.

daisies
This colorful spot calls attention to one of today’s hidden forms of slavery.

Wildflowers were abundant, too. I saw some daisies, and the magnolia trees and the honeysuckle are in bloom.

field of daisies
He loves me, he loves me not. These wild daisies might be too tiny to tell.

I walk a lot at Joyner Park. It’s close to home, and right now, it’s pretty much still in its natural state. That will change, when they add the ballparks and the playground.

There are several trails that loop around the 117-acre property, but the outer one, called the Farm Loop, is 2.2 miles long. I opted for that one. It’s part sunny, part shadow this time of day, and if I made it around twice, I’d probably call it a day.

Birds are abundant in this picturesque park, but I always keep a lookout for critters, too.

turtle turtling (2)
Found this guy near the end of my walk. By this point, I felt like digging a hole to get out of the heat, too.

I made it twice, logging 4.4 miles, with only a few-minutes long break to rest. I might have gone for another round, but 6 miles is a long way to go without anyone to commiserate with about the heat and humidity, and to ask why did I work out so hard at the gym last night when I knew I was hiking this morning.

If the next hike is a go, I’ve got two weeks to prepare. Then I’ll find out if I can hack a 6-mile trek. At least my chicken biscuit wasn’t wasted.

Ducks, plus

tunnel
They were not too impressed with this tunnel, probably because it had lights inside.

Some of my grandsons spent a short weekend with me, and while Saturday was sunny, it was cold, and I figured Sunday would be a better day for adventure. We first drove to a nearby cemetery, known for its geese and ducks, only to have our enthusiasm dampened by a sign they pointed out to me: Please don’t feed the ducks.

I didn’t want to be a bad example, so I thought for a minute, then we drove on to Shelley Lake. Part of the Capital Area Greenway Trail System, Shelley Lake is bordered by two miles of paved walking trails and about 140 acres of forest. We could feed the ducks there.

It was crowded, but we squeezed into an open parking spot, and commenced hiking. Just as we reached the boardwalk, one pointed out the sign: Please don’t feed the ducks. A bit miffed, I muttered, Well, we’re gonna feed the ducks.

We started throwing bits of bread, which got the ducks honking and chasing each other, and that alerted the seagulls sunning themselves on the nearby sandbar. They flew over, and began circling and swooping. I tried to take pictures, but they were pretty fast.

So I snapped a few photos of this pair of waterbirds instead.

RSCN2106
Tried to identify these when I made it home; I believe they are cormorants.

Afterward, we began our walk. One of the boys located a green-headed mallard and his less-colorful mate, but they were too far away, and too hidden by brush to make a good picture.

One of the boys, happily making his own trail just off the pavement, saw more movement, and we got a glimpse of this amphibian:

frog or toad
This little toad was very well camouflaged.

We were surprised by a hawk – either a Cooper’s or a sharp-shinned – calling to his mate. They flew right over us, circled around, then flew away. We heard their calls again later, as we rounded back to the boardwalk.

We didn’t see any deer (they are abundant throughout the county), most likely because there were too many people, and dogs about. We took a short side trip so they could walk through the tunnel, but it was pretty well lit, and they informed me it wasn’t a scary place to walk.

By the time the walk was over, they were tired and hungry. We came home and ate, and I sent them home to Mom. I had a nice afternoon. I think they did, too.

gull at shelley
Yes, there are seagulls in Raleigh, NC. Lots of them.

Sometimes it pays to look back

joynersunset7
When I looked behind me, I saw the beginning of a passable sunset.

February has to be the most impatient month. It’s not like January, which marches by all business-like while everyone’s making grand plans for the new year and putting everything in order.

Although the days are slightly longer, they’re also often colder, here in the southeastern U.S. The leaves have all fallen, except for those red oaks that stubbornly hang on throughout even the worst weather until the new spring leaves sprout and push them loose.

The second month of the year is ushered in with cute groundhog photos and wishes for an early spring. Next comes excitement for the upcoming lovers’ holiday – or dread – depending on your relationship status. Whatever you feel about Valentine’s Day, or Winter itself, February can be loaded with emotion.

I spent much of this past week looking back at my life – not a very bright thing to do in February – because it’s already kind of a grumpy, icy, colorless time of year. It was late in the day before I finally talked myself into that walk I’d been thinking of taking since this morning. Partway through, I peeked behind me, and found, if not the most colorful sunset, at least a pretty one.

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Joyner Farm in silhouette.

Dwelling on the past never does anyone much good. However, sometimes, it pays to take a quick peek over your shoulder.

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Joyner Farm, a slightly different perspective.

Don’t blink; you might miss Winter this year

The calm after the storm.
The calm after the storm.

Although you’d never know by the weather (not including Winter Storm Jonas, which iced us all in for a bit), it’s two days away from February. It’s been a very mild winter, so far, and I want to keep up with my walking.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I made it out, and the wind was brisk, but I had bundled up. I headed over to the park, where I walked past a dog-training class, several kite-flyers, a flock of robins, and scores of dogs, happily walking their humans.

Sleet and freezing rain made walking last weekend a risky proposition.
Sleet and freezing rain made walking last weekend a risky proposition.

It was quite different than last Sunday, when I ventured out into the still-icy neighborhood to get some air.

The roads had been brined in anticipation of snow, but after a pelting of sleet and freezing rain had frozen over, I had to step carefully. By the time I made it to the pond, I decided to head back. Never mind the jogger that kept running cheerily by.

Today, the wind was nippy, but the sun shone, and I had an enjoyable hour-long walk. As I walked to my front door, I saw dark green spears shooting up from the front of my flowerbed, signalling the arrival of crocus blooms.

We may have more unpleasant weather before Winter’s over, but Spring is on the way.

The pecan grove at E. Carroll Joyner Park.
The pecan grove at E. Carroll Joyner Park.