texas

American White Pelican, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

American White Pelican at White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

American White Pelicans, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Trio of American White Pelicans at White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dallas, TX, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dallas, TX

Great Blue Heron, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Great Blue Heron at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Hutchins, TX

Great Blue Heron, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Great Blue Heron at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Hutchins, TX

Indian Peacock, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An Indian Peacock dozes in the sun at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Hutchins, TX

American White Pelican at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Hutchins, TX, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

American White Pelican at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Hutchins, TX

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia), © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia) at Cedar Ridge Preserve, Dallas, TX

Cedar Ridge Preserve, Dallas, TX, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Along the Bluebonnet Trail at Cedar Ridge Preserve, Dallas, TX

White-winged Dove, Dallas, TX, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

White-winged Dove, Dallas, TX

field report: woodpecker redux

Recent intelligence gathering indicated the presence of a group of likely overwintering red-headed woodpeckers, including two adults, at another park in the area so I went to investigate. Again I found them immediately, as they were actively foraging and calling frequently. Their ‘rattle’ call is quite distinctive and often precedes a visual ID. Lighting was more favorable today, so here are a few photos accompanying a report on my findings.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker strikes the classic woodpecker pose at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An immature Red-headed Woodpecker glares at the photographer, North Point State Park.

After spending way too much time attempting to photograph the woodpeckers I continued on from the Black Marsh Wildlands into the rest of the park. First I took the Powerhouse Trail.

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park.

Rising up out of the woods before me came the trail’s namesake…

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

The property that is now North Point State Park was formerly a local attraction known as the Bay Shore Amusement Park during the first half of the 20th Century, and there was streetcar service extending to the park from the city (extremely hard to imagine today in this rabidly car-centric region). This concrete monolith provided power to the streetcars. Now it serves as an informal art gallery for graffiti artists:

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Inside the powerhouse at North Point State Park: ‘Find the roots of everything.’

After leaving the powerhouse I took a spur trail to gaze upon the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Bay from North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Chesapeake Bay from overlook at North Point State Park.

Friendly people had left sand art on the beach.

Sand art at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Friendly people were here…

After scanning the Bay for waterfowl and only finding a few bufflehead and a single double-crested cormorant, I left the park and drove farther down the peninsula to where it dead ends at Fort Howard, the former coastal artillery headquarters for Baltimore. Fort Howard has a rich military history, which I will not go into here but you can certainly read about it to your heart’s content elsewhere on the internet. The park is rather bedraggled and largely unused, likely due to its remote location. But there are some nice spots. Of course I only photographed the horrible ones because that’s just how I am.

Brandon Shores Generating Station, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

The Brandon Shores Generating Station, viewed from Fort Howard. A 2011 NRDC report based on EPA data described it as releasing the second highest amount of toxic air pollutants annually in the U.S.

Despite the glaring lack of visitors, there are more picnic tables and trash cans at Fort Howard than I’ve seen at any other park. I was curious about the trailer in the photo below but simultaneously afraid so I chose not to get any closer. I thought if I called the number someone might be willing to divulge the contents but then this person would have my phone number. So I didn’t call. I find that life is an ongoing process of weighing the pros and cons of situations like this.

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Scenic picnic area where I chose not to consume my lunch. (Note: if you call the number please leave a comment below.)

After passing the scenic picnic area I came upon this:

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Menacing…

Again, I wasn’t sure what to do here. Were they keeping women locked inside or barring them from entry. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t hear any cries for help and without bolt cutters there was not much I could have done. So I left. No doubt this decision will haunt me for quite some time…

ravine trail

The new trail opens up the wildest area in this urban forest oasis. Clusters of mushroom sprout from the center of the path. Few have walked here yet. It is high summer and the wood thrush yet sings. Cicadas offer up a constant backing drone. Point of fact: dogs don’t process the switchback concept. It conflicts with their innate knowledge of the shortest distance rule. As the trail climbs from the deepest shaded low point, the morning heat barges uninvited into the cool air space. Sounds of the nearby freeway intrude. As I struggle to adapt, a certain chorus tears through my head in response. This walk is soon over.

pictures of you

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Attachment fantasy.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

What’s underneath.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Forest confection.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Broken bones.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Bear urinal.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Self-portrait.

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.

somewhere else

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

I have somewhat regrettably returned from the mountains. More photos to follow…

gunpowder falls state park, sweathouse branch wildlands area

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Sweathouse Branch Wildlands Area

I puzzled over this toad a bit, and I’m still not sure about it. The choices are American Toad or Fowler’s Toad. The main difference in appearance is that the American Toad has 1-2 bumps in each black spot on its back, while the Fowler’s has 3-5. The photo didn’t come out well enough to see these spots very clearly, and there are at least two areas on the back with 3 bumps, but in looking closer I can’t tell if these are located on the black spots. When considering habitat, this toad is more likely an American Toad given that Fowler’s Toads prefer sandier areas and this one was found on the forest floor. But without the diagnostic photo, I can’t be sure of the ID. As a side note, one time in spring my sister and I hiked this area and the toads must have just metamorphosized because there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of tiny toads scattered on the trails. We had to be careful not to step on them.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, American Toad/Fowler's Toad, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Harford County, MD

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) or Fowler’s Toad (Bufo fowleri), Juvenile, Harford County, MD. Photo does not show number of bumps in each spot well enough to clinch the ID, although American Toad seems likelier based on habitat.

The fearsome toad-hunter, who first spotted this particular toad:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

view from the 39th step

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Oregon Ridge

maine

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.

escape


Flew out of the city like bandit bears with a swarm of angry bees on our tails. At the top of a mountain, pitched the tent only to return an hour later to find another tent pitched next to it, despite the many other available sites nearby. It gets harder and harder to escape humanity. But, alas, this was not a backpack-into-the-middle-of-nowhere situation and, after all, on the first truly nice warm weekend of the spring after an unpleasantly cold winter, what can one actually expect. Surely not solitude with nature when still so relatively close to representations of civilization. Surely not the absence of every last vestige of human life. Surely not that. What one can expect, however, is depraved college-age youth yelling and carousing until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, one can count on one’s expectations in that regard to indeed be met. Even in the midst of such pure and innocent natural beauty, the horror of humanity awaits us.

I shoved all that to the back of my head, though, and we made the best of it. For example, I saw a Brown Creeper! I was excited about that. Chipping Sparrows engaged in esoteric mating rituals. Northern Flickers abounded. And on an isolated Sunday morning hike at Catoctin we met a couple of spry older men in training for their hike of Mount Kilimanjaro next month! It was a pleasure to engage in dialogue with such good folks, and it wove back together a few tattered shreds of our hope in humanity, which had been subjected to such vicious thrashing of late.

Bike parking at Catoctin:

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