[portfolio_slideshow class=alignleft speed=2000 width=665 click=fullscreen]

Crocus shoots come up at the same time every year, give or take a few days, and their exquisite flowers open with the same predictability, year after year. The cycles of nature evoke awe and reverence in us today, as surely they did in earlier times. It’s all the more disturbing then, when that rhythm falters.

Here are two views of our pond-side garden, recorded three years apart, almost to the day. The earlier, 2009 scene was recorded after two big snowstorms had hit, dropping several feet of the white stuff. (The little bird bath is there, buried, a shallow mound of snow marking its spot.) The later was taken after the modest first snow of 2012. The dates were January 18th and 21st, respectively — tantalizingly close, yet three years apart.

Two trees growing at the water’s edge in 2009 are now gone. The bigger one, a Box Elder, grew topsy-turvy for years until it outgrew its roots, and blew over during Tropical Storm Irene. The smaller one was failing and was removed. The Red-twigged Dogwood, a fast-growing bush in the middle, has doubled in size over three years, and would be bigger still had it not been trimmed.

The stems with little balls atop are what’s left of summer’s Coneflowers. I purposely leave them standing in the fall, as each winter they compose a new and beautiful display against the snow.

Both images were recorded in color, and so reproduced here, but they could easily be mistaken for black-and-white. The 2009 photo was shot at 4:22 pm, the 2012 one at 10:55 am.

Each of these scenes has its own appeal. The first is delicate, offering a sense of repose; the second is assertive, engaging us with strong contrasts. Do you have a preference? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment box.

Click thumbnails or use keyboard arrows to view slides on this page.

Click either image to open full-screen slide show, then use keyboard arrows. Press “Esc” to return.

 

It flew in from the north swiftly, through the trees, pitching and rolling ever so slightly as if feeling its way through the tangle, alighting finally atop an old willow, high above my head.

It was 7:00 in the morning, and the outdoor thermometer read 18°F. I was hauling out the trash, a chore I usually do the night before, but with Monday a holiday, I had got my days mixed up.

The sun had not yet topped the hill on the eastern side of the pond, and the predawn light was gray. Yet, peering up, I could clearly make out the white head and neck, the latter extended, no doubt for a clear view of the opposite shore.

My presence did not seem to be an issue. After several minutes of looking about, the great bird took off in a cloud of falling twigs, heading east across the pond. For a heavy bird flying in cold, lifeless air, this was labored flight, not the graceful soaring on high-altitude thermals for which it is famous.

Could I have muffed the identification? The light was poor and the bird high up in the tree. I confess, I didn’t get a good look at the wing shape or underwing color because it was flying low. Nor did I see the fluffy neck feathers as the neck was extended. What else could it have been, though, but an adult Bald Eagle, a bird of great size, with white head and neck, and gray-brown plumage? A friend tells me that she saw a Bald Eagle over the pond a few years ago, so there’s a precedent. If only I had taken my camera outside with me…if only. Still, I have the memory: I’ll never forget the thrill of that sudden, unexpected recognition.

Do you have an interesting wildlife story? Please feel free to share it in the Comment box.

 

Low clouds filtered the bright, December moonlight, spreading it faintly over the water, imparting a surreal quality to the scene.

It was late. Skipping the tripod, I opened the window and braced the camera against the window frame for the long exposure. Happily, the camera held steady.

Digital cameras often produce an unwanted halo around a bright moon photographed against a dark sky. In this case, however, the clouds created that effect naturally.

The points of light, reflected in the water as vertical lines, are the lights of a rental community on a hill over half-a-mile across the pond.

The photo was taken at 7:04 pm on December 12, 2011.

See related post: Night Lights II*. This photo is best viewed in dim light. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.

 

[portfolio_slideshow class=alignleft speed=2000 width=665 click=fullscreen]

You don’t read much about them. They don’t make the headlines. They don’t run for public office, or get caught in financial scandals. Perhaps we humans take them for granted because they’re so familiar. Of course, I’m talking about the Mallard duck, a true cosmopolitan, spectacularly successful in sharing habitats with human beings around the world. It can be found in diverse watery spots, from urban parks to tundra ponds.

The Mallard is the largest of the dabbling ducks. Dabblers don’t dive for food; they up-end in shallow water to reach organic stuff on the bottom, as the photos show.

They’re normally placid creatures, yet after dark when they gather on the pond in a great, round, dense formation, there can be quacking aplenty, and it can go on for hours. What causes the discord? Males competing for females? Or for a place in the pecking order? Or is this a “town meeting” for the airing of grievances?

The male is handsomely turned out in formal plumage during mating season (Oct-May), ready for dining at the most upscale suburban park. The female, of course, stays discretely dressed for sitting unnoticed on her nest.

Mallards winter over in the lower forty-eight, then fly north in the spring to breed in a few northern states and much of Canada. They pair during mating season only; the female raises the ducklings alone. Like most ducks, Mallards are highly social in the nonbreeding season.

According to my bird book, ducks in the wild live only a few years, but among the oldest ducks on record was a Mallard that reached the grand old age of twenty-six.

Click thumbnails or use keyboard arrows to view slides on this page.

Click any image to open full-screen slide show. Use keyboard arrows to navigate, or press “Enter” key to start autoplay, and keyboard arrow to stop autoplay. Press “Esc” key to return.

 

[portfolio_slideshow class=alignleft speed=2000 width=665 click=fullscreen]

The most spectacular sunrises appear in December, as I’ve earlier noted. Why have I dubbed this Duck Dawn? In part, it’s due to the large number and variety of ducks on the pond for this time of year, including four score of the familiar Mallard, and eighteen of that most elegant of ducks, the egregiously misnamed Common Merganser — all busy flying or swimming excitedly from place to place on the strangely ice-free pond. Early this morning, I also saw what I thought was an American Coot near the shore, but it was too dark for photos.

In addition, I happened to capture a group of Mallards in flight while photographing the scene. You can see them in the fourth frame. I had a bit of luck there, of course. As the great French scientist, Louis Pasteur famously said, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

I debated whether to post all of these photos — which I had winnowed from the original seventy-two — or just the one “best.” I found them all so lovely, I couldn’t decide, and took the easy way out.

As I’ve noted earlier, such fabulous dawns are ephemeral. This one lasted just fifteen minutes. The changes in light and color during that brief period were subtle, but impressive nonetheless. I urge you to view one or more of the photos full-screen; just click on a photo to enlarge it. The sequence was recorded on December 27, 2011, and posted the same day.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my viewers happiness and good health in the coming New Year, as well as a big belly-laugh every now and then.

Click thumbnails or use keyboard arrows to view slides on this page.

Click any image to open full-screen slide show. Use keyboard arrows to navigate, or press “Enter” key to start autoplay, and keyboard arrow to stop autoplay. Press “Esc” key to return.

 

[portfolio_slideshow class=alignleft speed=2000 width=665]

I could just make them out in the pre-dawn gloom. They were huddled against the bitter cold. Frankly, I didn’t expect to see them. I thought they’d all have left for warmer climes at the first sign of ice. However, these mallards seemed determined to tough it out. Maybe they know something we don’t: that this is going to be a warmer winter than usual.

As the sun rose, most of them climbed out onto the thin ice, forming a ceremonial ring around the pool of open water, their safety zone, I suppose. Later, they were joined by a few copycat geese, and the scene became more tangled, Brueghel-like.

There was a surreal quality about the day — topped off when a line of gulls were lit up by the low, slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. The date was December 19, 2011.

Click thumbnails or use keyboard arrows to view slides on this page.

Click any image to open full-screen slide show. Use keyboard arrows to navigate, or press “Enter” key to start autoplay, and keyboard arrow to stop autoplay. Press “Esc” key to return.