The Delights of Summer!

Headed up to Kenosha, WI yesterday to set up The Quill and Brush. Next Saturday begins the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s annual festival, nine weekends long and the absolute delight of summer round these parts. Bristol has repeatedly been voted the #1 Renaissance Faire in the U.S. and Midwest, and I love being a part of the magic! Yesterday I heard the heat index was at 107 degrees. Definitely felt that, it was mighty warm. I have to sincerely thank my folks for planting flowers, drilling screws, moving furniture, and sweating to death, all out of the kindness of their very kind and helpful hearts…

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If you are planning a visit, be sure to and visit The Quill and Brush. We are in the very same place on King’s Landing, on the lane between the petting zoo and climbing wall. We are excited to meet with all our old friends, and to make many new! News on my newest novel, Ancient, coming soon!

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Tell me you aren’t ready to fill these quiet Bristol streets with merrymaking? Can you see the Queen’s parade even now? Can you hear the vendors hawking? Can you smell the garlic mushrooms and pickles? Don’t you hear the swords clashing and the Bristol Buskin Frolickers singing?

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After our tented shop was made ready and waiting for opening weekend, we zoomed on over to one of our favorites, Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. Just down the way from Bristol, they are both an antique shop and a cheese lover’s paradise. We made a little visit last year too, on the day we set up…

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Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. I love cheese. Vegans look away. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese.

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This year I picked up a truffle Gouda and an onion & chive cheddar to try. The crackers are ready and waiting!

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There’s a little stretch of marshland on the country roads between Bristol and Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. There, tall barren trees tower above a wet expanse. Driving in separate cars, I honked my horn frantically to my folks and made an ‘Emergency Bat-turn’ (when Batman releases parachutes out of the back of his Batmobile) to snap some photos of nesting waterbirds…

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I’m not sure what I got this time? Flamingos? Ibis? Spoonbills? Storks? Loons? Grebes? I’m sorry birders! Please don’t cringe! But wait…doesn’t it look like 2 species up there?

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Cranes? Herons? I’m awaiting your identification in the comments friends, spotted in Kenosha, Wisconsin! Wish my view had been close enough to see some fuzzy-headed nestlings!

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My newest summer delight is chilled watermelon! Don’t know why I never went bonkers over it before. Absolutely refreshing, naturally sweet, and very hydrating. Think I can eat just one or two slices when I open a pack?

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Guess not!

Stay inspired folks! Enjoy the delights of your summer! Hope to see many of you at Bristol! My very best wishes to you!

The Bird Of Prey Outside My Window!

I risked my life today, dangerously leaning way out of my open window several stories above the sidewalk. Why? Because I spotted another Cooper’s Hawk! So excited to share this with you! I’ve been keeping an eye out to capture some photos of these birds for some years now. I kept seeing them in the neighborhood, but because of the thick foliage, I can rarely get a good look before they fly out of sight. I’d sometimes wondered if I’d even really seen a hawk at all. But enough sightings convinced me that there is a rather healthy population round these parts. Remember the last photos I caught?

At first today, I thought there was only the hawk, so I started snapping photos. But then I realized, he’s just caught something. Yes, he’s eating his catch, a bird. Yikes! Can you believe I got such a great video?! Just outside my window?! I’m just nuts about nature!

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If anyone thinks my identification is wrong, let me know. I’m no birder, but I’ve always got my handy-dandy Birds of North America nearby!

A Hawk’s Tale…And one fine striped tail it is!

For years now, there has been an elusive winged creature out back. I’d thought I’d seen a large hawk dozens of times, but it was so fast that I could never get a really good look…

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It’s not like when one flies across an open country road and perches for all to see on top of a telephone post. Our backyard abuts a dozen other backyards, all wooded, gardened and spectacularly green, so a bird, even a large one, can stay camouflaged…

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Earlier this summer, I’d gotten a pretty good look at it swooping over the alleyway between houses. And then last week, I was witness to it swooping down to try to snag a squirrel off a tree. No lie. The squirrel was a bit too big and skittish for the hawk to grab, but it was a gutsy attempt and certainly left my eyes round with surprise! The squirrel proceeded to squall in shock for about half an hour, (to the displeasure of my sensitive ears), an acorn still clutched in its mouth, completely unharmed but scared out of its wits…

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So, I’m making coffee this morning and looking out into the sunny backyard. I see something! Is it what I think it is? Is it the bird! I tear off up the stairs faster than Tiddo the cat on one of his running rampages, snatch up my camera and fly over to my bedroom window. First time I really saw it as not just a flash of wings, but as a sedentary creature! And let me tell you, it’s a big one. Larger than I thought. He (or she) is living off of chipmunk, bird, bunny and squirrel meat. These backyards are no slim pickings for this fierce hunter…

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Can anyone take a guess at what I’ve got? Perusing the pages of my North American bird book, it looks like it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but I’d love your input! I’ve definitely been hearing a hawk’s strong kak-kak-kaking call all summer long. (You can listen to a voice recording of a Cooper’s Hawk on its wikipedia page here). Cooper’s Hawks are uncommon, live in wooded areas, and are newly removed from the Illinois endangered species list!

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this tree…too sexy for these flowers, too sexy yea!

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I’m a hummingbird, you know what I mean, and I do my little zoom, just right past you!

As I zip through, and I zoom through, I do my little twirl like I was meant to…

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I’m…too sexy for this jungle…too sexy for this island…way, too, sexy, yea!

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With my long tail…and my red beak…I play a little game of ‘hide and go seek’!

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I’m…too sexy for this branch…too sexy for this beach…no way I’m disco dancing!

[I’m A Cardinal Part I. Click Here] [I’m A Cardinal Part II. Click Here]

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this yard…too sexy for this yard, too sexy yea!

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

On the birdwalk, on my yard walk, I do my little turn in your back yard!

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I’m…too sexy for this grass…too sexy for these leaves…way, too, sexy, yea!

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

Chip Snatching Seagulls!

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, we have seagulls aplenty. I like the sound of their aerial calls (for the noise makes me feel like I live something of a ‘beachy’ life), but I get easily irritated with their squawks and screeches when they stalk the vicinity of my beach chair for scraps from my picnics!

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I took these photos as ambling pedestrians threw bits of food into the air for swarming, squawking gulls. I was able to get some unique shots. Wouldn’t it be something to be able to fly! I think gulls are such robust, beautiful birds…

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Gulls are seabirds, though they are not known to fly out to sea. They stay close to shore and have adapted most especially to humans (who they so enjoy being given, or snatching food from). Once as I finished a lunch, I placed my plastic bag of partially eaten chips down next to my chair in the sand. One particular gull would not leave me alone, stalking that bag of chips no matter how much I tried to shoo and chase it away (which became sort of embarrassing for me with so many other beach goers around). It would fly off a few yards, and then screech at me to high heavens with one eye always turned on that chip bag!

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However annoying, I find seagulls’ tenacity and cleverness to be interesting to watch. They are known to be highly intelligent, persistent birds, and I quite like their quickness and bravery…

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Once a set of mating gulls pair up, they are together for life. They lay their eggs (about three) in shallow nests of sand, moss or grasses upon the ground. Once the precious, fuzzy babies arrive, one of the parents remain with them at all times…

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Seagulls eat a great many things (dead or alive), be it creatures of the sea (fish and squid), or creatures on land (bugs and lizards). Sadly, they are even known to gobble up baby gulls from other nests (which may be why one parent is always hovering near their nestlings)…

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I have a particular love for researching the bits of nature I encounter, and try to learn something new as often as I can. What small thing can I take from gulls? Well, it certainly isn’t that one should squawk and screech until they obtain what they desire (that’s just bad manners)…

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One thing I can say is that the local gulls deserve respect for surviving these most brutal of icy and windy winters that Chicago frequently serves up. In fact, they deserve an all-you-can-eat buffet of potato chips for that! But jesting aside, I’m inspired by the way they carry themselves with a certain pride and strength as they look out over the waters, even though they never know whether the waves will be tumultuous or whether all will be calm…

Here’s wishing you more quiet waters than rowdy, but that you’ll have the strength to ride out whatever turbulence might come your way!

The Nests of Great Egrets

11/15/16: Update to this post…upon closer examination, these may indeed be Cattle Egrets rather than Great Egrets. When zooming in to the photos to get better details, I discovered tan plumage on heads and chests that is indicative of a Cattle Egret’s feathers during mating season. Further, orange-red legs point to a Cattle Egret as well, for Great Egrets have black legs. It was fun to make this mistake however, for it has sharpened my skills for future birding!

A few years ago on the Island of St. Lucia, while en route to ride out into the ocean’s waves, this amazing scene was to be found. I was in absolute awe of the abundant and beautiful life to be seen in these trees…

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When later researching these birds, I believed them to be Snowy Egrets, when in fact they are Great Egrets. Though both species are white, Snowy Egrets have black beaks and Great Egrets have orange. The activity here was so wonderful to see, these large birds and their nestlings all gathered together near the water’s edge…

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Great Egrets are members of the heron family of birds, which like to stalk their food in shallow waters (creatures like fish and frogs). They spear their catch with their beaks. In Illinois where I live, you might catch an occasional glimpse of one stalking fish in the waters of a conservation area during the warmer months, but these birds are truly lovers of tropical places. Since I’ve only ever seen a handful of lone egrets where I’m from, these trees filled with fuzzy headed egret babies just about took my breath away!

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Egrets pair up each mating season and produce blue-green eggs, which both mom and dad take turns sitting on. Their nest can be up to 3 feet wide and their little hatchlings are ready to fly out from the nest after 6 weeks old. Let me tell you, those babies are the cutest ever, with feathery, fluffy white heads! But don’t be fooled, these precious creatures grow up to be fierce aquatic hunters!

Here’s wishing you wonderful glimpses of nature today, and everyday…especially some that take your breath away!