Cold front blows through

Last night around 6 o’clock the bright sun faded as a huge dark cloud approached from the north. Living on the south side by a harbor we were treated to a sky half sunny and half stormy…

The wind blew, branches bent and on the north side of our house fat raindrops hit our windows. The front passed in minutes, leaving golden light behind.

That’s the same scene just moments later. Pretty amazing, huh?

Then there was this

And this

It was like fire in the sky which then calmed and faded to this

Within minutes it had faded to this

Do you see the tiny star?

It was definitely worthy of a wish!

All photos taken with my iPhone and within an hour or so last night.

Magical Cape Cod Winter Morning

There’s something about a winter morning on the beach that is downright magical if you can get past the cold and the wind.

This morning there is rain coming in but the air is mild and the wind is still.

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There are little chunks of icy sand or sandy ice

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There are many beautiful shells

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And lots of birds feeding

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There are lovely vistas

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But mostly there is quiet solitude. What a great way to start the week…..

Orange Crowned Warbler in Hyannis

Last winter I had a little olive and brown colored bird arrive in my yard that I knew immediately wasn’t one of my usual suspects. It had no wing bars, no eye ring and just a touch of golden color here and there. It was quite dainty and lovely and when I looked it up I determined that it must be an orange crowned warbler. They are migrants in our area but unusual so I needed to be very sure. I needed to take a photo.

This bird was little but it knew how to move! I got many blurry shots before getting one that really gave us a chance for a confirmed identity, which I did get.

Just a few weeks ago, I saw the bird, or one like it, again! It was also elusive in terms of being photographed.

I got a lot of shots like this one.

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and this one

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and this one

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before I finally got this one

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and this one

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It’s a feisty little thing but also very shy. Any time the bigger birds arrive it leaves the suet feeder and the gardens though on the very coldest days it seems to be a little braver.

How long will this bird hang around? No one knows though it seems they hang around where there’s food so we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it’s a very cool yard bird!

You can learn more about Orange crowned warblers at this link.

Happy Holly-days!

American Holly, Ilex opaca, is one of the plants we associate with the winter holidays but especially Christmas here on Cape Cod. Easily recognized by its prickly, waxy green leaves and bright red berries it is a native plant and one of the first seen by the Pilgrims when they landed in New England in the 1600s. It reminded them of their beloved English holly, which was used for Christmas decorations and celebrations even then.

Here are some fun facts about American holly.IMG_7477.JPG

  • It is a dioecious plant, meaning it has separate male and female flowers. If you grow holly you know you need a male and female plant in order to have berries. Only the female produces berries.
  • Holly was not named for being holy but for being prickly!
  • It is a maritime forest and coastal zone tree, not found in the drier parts of our country.
  • Holly is an evergreen, staying green all year.
  • Holly berries are a favorite and important food source to birds each winter.

Happy Holly-days everyone! May the peace and the joy of the season be with you all.

 

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What winter leaves behind….

Tomorrow will be the first day of spring! I think we are all more than ready though it looks like the cold will be with us for another week or so. I’m concentrating on the light and the daily arrival of migrant birds to help keep me in spring mode.

One of the things that happens at this time of year is one big spring cleaning out in nature. You even see this at the beach.

Whelk egg cases and skate egg cases have been tossed up all over the beaches. The long segmented tan or gold colored strand is one kind of whelk egg case. Sometimes you can open one of the little compartments and still find tiny whelk shells but mostly the cases are empty.

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There are lots of old raggedy feathers left behind. Looking at this one you have to wonder how that gull was even flying.

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And the shells of all sorts of mollusks like this whelk wash ashore, creating sweet vignettes against the still cold sand…030

And other times all the shells are gathered up together in big piles….008I always like to think of these days as the days nature does her spring cleaning….now, if only I could be motivated to do the same!

Finding inspiration in nature

As much as I love to be outdoors much of my work each week keeps me indoors at a computer or studio table, especially in winter. Even on the coldest and wildest of winter days, however, I like to get out of the house and often take my sketchbook or notebook with me. Some days I jot down a few thoughts, some days I sketch a bit and lots of days I just get lost in thought while watching the waves and the gulls and I don’t do either.

020Some days I contemplate the winter lives of gulls. It has to be tough being a gull on the winter beach. It’s cold, windy and often just nasty and uncomfortable. In order to keep their insulating feathers in place they must face right into the wind and no matter how hunkered down in the sand or behind rocks they are, that has to still be really cold and yucky. And how about those naked scaly legs? I have read a lot about how birds keep warm, especially their legs and feet but still, looks pretty cold to me.

Gulls are not what we may call “nice” birds. They scavenge, they argue, they steal and they murder. I have seen gulls kill the young of other gulls and I’ve seen them drown diving ducks. In spite of all that, I respect their ability to survive and thrive. Gulls are tough, really tough.

001Over the years I’ve drawn a lot of gulls, probably more than I’ve drawn any other single kind of bird. Gulls have many postures but they also have a rich language. I can watch and listen to them for long periods of time.

I often find inspiration in nature. Usually I look for the beautiful and sublime to raise my spirits but some days, I only need to watch the gulls for a bit. They remind me that we can be strong and persevere through whatever gets tossed our way and some days that is exactly the message I need to hear.

How about you? What in nature inspires you the most?

 

 

Winter walking on Cape Cod beaches

If you were here on the Cape this past Sunday you know it was a real teaser. It still didn’t really look like spring. There was plenty of snow on the ground heaped up and left over from all that snowing and plowing but it sure felt like spring. Heck, the first day we had that the temperature was above freezing last week felt downright balmy and it was only 40 degrees! On Sunday it was over 50!

My better half and I headed down Cape for a day of playing hooky and beach walking. The laundry, vacuuming and other such chores could wait. A good beach day for walking has been very rare this winter so we knew we better take our chance while we could.

Our first stop, as almost always, was Fort Hill.

099It is always beautiful there and it seemed like a good time to play with the new panoramic feature on my iPhone so here’s the big and wide view.

After walking around Fort Hill checking out the birds and the greening signs of spring we headed off to Coast Guard Beach. We were not alone. The parking lot was full and we soon found out why. It was a great day for paddle boarding and a tiny bit of surfing.

109The views from the beach here are always spectacular.

114That was looking in one direction. Looking in another direction the sky was a bit more ominous.

107It was that way all day. One way sunny, the other darker and cloudier. We stopped at a few more favorite spots along the way and then headed into Provincetown to have lunch at Napi’s.

120We had to visit the Provincetown Book Store, of course and walked around enjoying the winter sights before heading back towards home. We stopped at Corn Hill Beach in Truro.

121Newcomb Hollow in Wellfleet

125Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet

131Where the Beachcomber lost a lot of dune frontage and looks pretty forlorn waiting for winter to be over…..

136We stopped at First Encounter Beach in Eastham….

138Where it looked all warm and sunny on one side….

141but not so much on the other side.

All in all it was a beautiful day for beach walking and it did our souls good after way too many days trapped inside by ice and snow and biting winds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowy owl bonanza

If you’ve been anywhere on the Cape this winter chances are someone’s been talking about seeing a snowy owl. Some years many snowy owls head south from the arctic and this is called an irruptive year. We are having an amazing irruptive year with hundreds of snowy owls being seen not just here but almost everywhere in the northern US.

Haven’t seen one yet? Here’s what to look for.

010Snowy owls are diurnal, meaning they are out and about during the day. Their white coloration helps them blend in to a snowy background but when they are in an area like a salt marsh they sort of stand out. See that white dot in the background? That’s what you want to look for. You’ll come up with some white trash bags, old buoys and other such things but you may also come up with a snowy owl.

017I am showing these distant pictures because I think a lot of people see the close ups people are taking with big zoom lenses and they don’t realize that the owls are not going to be just hanging out a few feet away from you. Having said that, every now and then one does exactly that but most owls you will see will be in the distance so bring binoculars.

013You want to respect the privacy of these birds. They are not used to people and most are not afraid though if you get too close they will fly away. Remember that these are tough times for birds out there and even birds like snowy owls that are used to the cold are under duress. Please don’t make them waste energy flying away from you. They need all their energy to hunt and survive through the frozen nights.

What do snowy owls eat? Pretty much anything they can eat. I think most of us know they eat lemmings up north. We don’t have lemmings here though we do have mice and voles. Snowy owls also eat birds, especially ducks. Look for them in areas resembling the tundra such as salt marshes, dunes and even the outer beaches.

Who knows when we will ever have another year like this? Get out and see one while you can. They will soon be heading back north.

 

 

Welcome to 2014

For the last few years we’ve gotten up early on New Year’s Day and headed down Cape just for the fun of it. We walk a few beaches, take a lot of pictures, find a new place to get lunch and just give the year a nice mellow start out in nature together.

Yesterday we began our day at Fort Hill. A car had been driving along behind me all the way up the highway and on Rt. 6 and then followed us right up into the Fort Hill parking lot. It ended up being a birder I know who was out beginning his new list of birds seen in the new year. Sort of funny we ended up at the same place at exactly the same time, right?

001After that stop we went to Coast Guard Beach where it was very, very cold and windy….but beautiful!

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008You can see the clouds coming in over the water, ahead of the storm predicted for today and tomorrow.

We backtracked to First Encounter Beach where the tide was so high the marsh was totally flooded and there was little beach left on the front. Check out the waves–that is ice in the water!

011Race Point was beautiful as well…

014In Provincetown center the lobster pot holiday tree still stands…

023And on the way home we stopped off at Pilgrim Heights in Truro where the view was stunning, as usual.

028It was good to get out yesterday because today it looks like this at the beach…

007We are supposed to get quite a lot of snow and wind over the next two days so after my little jaunt out to the beach this morning I’m ready to snuggle in with my honey and the pets, my sketchbook and a good book or two….