The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Trip To Virginia


If you are on the road for travel this holiday – be on the watch for birds of prey.  With the leaves off of the trees, it is easy to spot the hawks sitting high watching for prey in open fields or along the roadside. 


Last week I drove from our home to my hometown in Virginia.  Since I was driving and had to keep an eye on the traffic, I did not get to "hawk watch" as well as I can when I am the passenger.  This time of year you can see them along the road – sitting high in the bare trees.  Even just driving around your local areas – they are there to be seen.  In the past month as I drove my daughter to her weekly class in Hampton, we spotted a hawk (I believe it was a Red-Tailed Hawk) on the power lines near the Atlanta Speedway.  It was perched in nearly the same spot more than once – looking down and out over a clear area. 


The hawks prey includes smaller birds – sparrows, American Robins, starlings, and doves to name a few.  The size of the prey depends on the size of the hawk doing the hunting.  Hawks will also eat rodents – chipmunks, tree squirrels, and mice.  Just the other day I was standing near our new bird feeder and thinking about the circle of life it represents.  Around the post at the ground I saw sunflower seedlings beginning to sprout – I knew they would not make it since it is December.  But, in the spring we just might see a sunflower or two from the dropped seeds.  Those seedlings are choice food for slugs, snails, and chipmunks.  Just as the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels love to eat the seeds and maybe even the seedlings of the sunflowers – the feeder is feeding another creature – the predator.  Hawks love backyard bird feeders.  The feeder brings out the smaller birds and rodents.  Hawks sit on their high perch watching and waiting.  When the right time happens, they swoop down and grab their prey and take it off to another perch.  Think about it – most of the backyard feeders are placed where we (people) can get a good view of the birds.  If we are getting a good view – so is the hawk.  When I toss out old carrots, apples, and such for the bunnies, chipmunks, deer, and what ever else happens by, I toss th em near the edge of the woods thinking I am giving the animals a bit of a chance with some "cover."   The food chain of the backyard feeder – seeds can become seedlings, then plants or food for animals – the birds and rodents can eat seeds or plants or become food for the hawks.


As we traveled across most of 4 states, I saw 5 hawks – a couple in flight.  If those had been perched, I may not have noticed them.  If you ever drive on Interstate 85 north of Durham, you can spot a sight.  Years ago there used to be a large nest, not made of small twigs and grass – but made of branches from trees.  This nest was at the top of a powerline pole as you crossed Falls Lake.  I can't tell you when – but at some point the powerline was run onto different poles.  Now there are two tall pol es there with a building platform at the top.  One of these poles has a huge nest on the platform.  The nest had to be built by an osprey or an eagle.  I have never seen a bird at this nest or any of the other times I have traveled by the structure.  I Googled to see if I could find any information on the nest – I have not found anything about it. 


We hear so much about the drought locally.  The drought reaches to North Carolina and Virginia.  Although Virginia has had some rain and their lakes don't look to low – in North Carolina it is another story.  The Falls Lake mentioned above looks like acres of mud flats with a small creek running through it.  The lake areas in South Carolina around Lake Hartwell were also very low and some looked to be only a small stream where there had once been a cove.


I did not stop to take photos of any of this.  I did take photos while on the short trip. 


I traveled to the property my grandparent's home is on and the property where my great-great grandparents home once stood.  The only thing at the old homeplace now is the ruins of the kitchen.  Near these ruins there would be many daffodils blooming in the early spring and a nice little patch of asparagus.  The property is very familiar to me and yet very different.  I remember the trails and the way down the hill to the lake.  Where my granddaddy's garden once grew there are many small trees – it does not look like a garden was ever there.  The old well where I used to get a cold drink on a hot day is gone.  My grandmother had the w ell filled in – she was worried that someone would allow their children to roam free on the property.  I remember one day standing in the little well house, getting a drink from the bucket.  I looked up and saw a huge black snake lying on the ledge near the roof.  I remember my grandfather plowing the garden by himself, by hand.  He would grow tomatoes, beans, corn, peppers, turnips, cucumbers and squash.  I would stand in the garden and pick cherry tomatoes from the plants – they were delicious.


My grandfather's bean poles are left leaning against the old pear tree.  The tree looks like it has not had a pear on it for years.  The bean poles have not been used for years either.  The fence he had surrounding the garden area is falling down and green with moss and lichens.  I see the gate left open and remember the time the horse cut the corner at the gate a little sharply and a nail scraped my leg as I rode through it.  The old stable area is quiet, but it looks like something is using it for a home.  There is a hole chewed in the back wall and a place dug under a board.  The hen house is dark and silent.  The old apple and persimmon trees look like the pear tree – a long time since anything grew on them.  Here and there you can see old stobs of small trees that a beaver has cut off and taken away to help build its dam.  I remember seeing the beavers slap their tails on the water as a warning when my grandfather and I would walk down the hill.


As my aunt and I continue our walk, we head down the path to the lake.  I remember going down this path with my grandfather many times.  I remember him pointing out the chinquapin bush to me as we would pass.  He and I would fish there many days.  He would tell me that if I dug the worms, he would take me down the hill to fish.  I gladly dug the worms.  He always baited my hook.  In a stump, down near the water, there is a roll of barbed wire.  My grandfather must have left it there many years ago.  The water level in this lake is a little low.  My aunt and I can see deer tracks coming down the hill through the leaves.  At the bottom of the hill there is a small place where the deer have been sliding in the mud as they make their way to the edge for a drink.  Since the weather has been mild, there are many ferns showing bright green in the brown leaves that litter the ground.  I took a few pictures there that day.  When I go back, I will take some more.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Meteor Showers

The Geminid meteor shower is coming!  One of the best meteor showers of the year peaks in the early morning of December 14th.   You have the Perseids in August, the Leonids in November – now it is December and here come the Geminids.  Meteor showers get their name from the constellations they seem to come out of.  Perseids come from near the constellation Perseus – kind of in between Perseus and Cassiopeia, but closer to Perseus.  The Leonids seem to radiate from the constellation Leo.  So – following that train of thought, the Geminids are found shooting out from the constellation Gemini.  All three of these famous meteor showers happen around the middl e of the month they are associated with – so remember next August – the Perseids can really be spectacular.  I remember one year laying on a lawn chair to watch Earthgrazer meteors streak across the sky.  An Earthgrazer is a meteor that skims along the Earth's atmosphere like a stone skipping on a pond.  They are big, bright, and very pretty.  Earthgrazers appear with the meteor shower is near the horizon.  This shoots the meteors more horizontally rather than coming down at a more vertical trajectory.


Head outside Thursday night after 10 p.m. and look toward the constellation Gemini.  If you can't find Gemini – look for Orion.  Almost anyone can find Orion's belt – Gemini is not as easy to spot. Gemini is close to Orion.  After midnight the number of meteors seen per hour will increase until dawn Friday morning.


There are a lot of fun websites about meteors and space things.  There is one place where you can find the "near Earth objects."  That can get a little freaky to read what is coming close and when.


Here are some links of interest.  The first one is a story on this year's Geminids.  You can sign up with NASA for email alerts for anything space related.  For the next couple nights – you can go outside to spot the space station flying over.

Info on the Geminids next week

Go here – click on your state – click on the city (or closest to you) this will show when the International Space Station is flying over.  I missed it early last evening -- I have another couple chances -- today and Thursday.

Go here to find out about the latest on Sun spots, near Earth asteroids, and see some really cool photo galleries of space related objects and clouds.


Now if I can get everyone in the neighborhood to turn off their outside lights!!!

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