Being Bryson

It’s a pictureriffic post today!  Well, definitely in the sense of quantity, but in truth it is a rather hodgepodge collection if I do say so myself.  The topic today happens to be something that I have in common with Bill Bryson – we both like a good Walk in the Woods (link here).  One glaring difference is he had the opportunity to do his walking on the Appalachian Trail were I tend to stay a little closer to home.  Some day I’d like to actually do that legendary trail but there are a number of items ahead of it on the Life List as of now.  Just a quick note on Bill Bryson – he is one of my favorite writers up there with AJ Jacobs.  Something about his dry wit that makes me crack up every time I read or listen to one of his offerings.  He has a very British feel from spending a significant amount of time in that region, but his perspectives of a Midwestern life are dead on.  I recommend starting out with “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (link here) to get a feel for his style and maybe even learn a thing a two along the way.

Back on topic, one of my favorite past times is hiking waterways.  Hiking is a great way to get out and experience the best the outdoors has to offer.  No cars to stress over, forces you to unplug from the electronic media push industry and helps you forget that this administration has (as we’ve come to expect) abused the Patriot Act.  Just you, a good pair of boots, a pair of leather gloves, protective eye wear, a hat, a camera and depending on the time of year maybe some bug repellent.  Now there is one other convenience I do recommend for two reasons – a smart phone.  Obviously, the ability to call in help in an emergency is the major benefit, but the GPS capability is pretty cool for tracking your route and distance.  Case in point, here is the results of my hike back in April.

It is difficult to tell at that zoom level, but that trail directly follows a stream which is a feeder for the Kickapoo Creek.  This is the same stream that runs through my property which I had already mapped on a previous outing.  On this particular hike I wanted to continue it through Jubilee Park.  So, why the fascination with streams and rivers?  It’s quite simple really – first, it is virtually impossible to get lost and secondly, that is where the wildlife hangs out.  My rule is to choose a side of the stream and walk along that side as close as possible to the bank following every switchback and fork that keeps you on the same side of the water.  If you get lost.. simply retrace the stream and it will lead you back to the start as opposed to trying to navigate in open woods which can be a nightmare (trust me, been there).  It also makes it very easy for rescue teams to find your body should something go awry (don’t ever use this as the argument, your significant others tend to get a little nervous).  Now, this rule does need to be broken every once in awhile – such as when a fork eventually takes you way out of the way or when you get caught in between another merging stream.  That is what happened to me at mile 2 above.  Conforming to the rule, the hike took me back on a merging stream until eventually there was a horse crossing I used to get back on the right side of the main stream (if I would have stayed on it it would have taken me back out of the park).

Granted the hike will do your body good, but it’s the sights and sounds that give me the greatest enjoyment.  All the running allows me the freedom to trudge through the thickets, briars and weed for as long as I want allowing me to  explore wide sections of the woods at a time.  You never know what you will find on a given trek no matter how many times you’ve already covered that area in the past.  In a macabre sense you just never know what might have met their demise along the bank.

Truthfully, this is a pretty common scene on my walks.  For one thing it is apparent deer head to the water when something is wrong.  Not sure of the reason, but multiple hunters have informed me that deer they’ve shot tend to run directly toward water.  Most of the deer carcasses I encounter are not felled by human hands and appear to the handy work of coyotes or possibly simply old age.  Now for a little secret.  The spine of deer tend to solidify when they die.  Why mention this?  ummm it happens to play into a little quirk – I like to arrange the bones as a little surprise to fellow hikers.  Specifically, I either place the skulls in the “V”‘s of trees or better yet….

… stand them up along the banks.  This particular valley near the stream was FILLED with deer bones and a few full skeletons.  The full ones were positioned in various arrangements around the value like they’re still alive.  Wish I could videotape anyone who comes upon them hehehe.   Don’t worry, the rest of the shots are from the land of the living.  Hit the jump to check out all the birds found along the hike

In an effort to protect our best camera equipment from a misstep during the outing, the older D70 body and the workhorse 80-200 glass made the trip with me.  This cut down a bit on my ISO options making it difficult to get tack sharp images in the cover of the woods.  The aviary shot of the day was this Red Bellied Woodpecker.

There was a jackhammer ringing out among the many trees in the Park which sure sounded like a Pileated Woodpecker – number one now on my wish list.  Every time I would get near where the sound seemed to be coming from it vanished – the pounding sound would simply stop yet didn’t see anything large flying through the branches.  Very frustrating, but as a consolation prize, this woodpecker ended up landing about 15 feet away in some decent sunlight.   My other favorite shot was taken quite a ways across the bank.  A Cardinal was sitting in the top branches of a tall tree belting out quite the song.  He really stood out from the darker surroundings where the sun couldn’t penetrate as well.

Definitely not as appealing of a shot, but in stark contrast this Red Winged Blackbird was squawking up a storm a few trees down.  I find these birds to be way too territorial and often see them attacking Crows and Turkey Vultures that venture into their territory.  They will just as easily start dive-bombing any humans that venture to close to their eggs.  Not sure what this one’s issue was but something had it torqued off.

Eventually this prize bird made its presence known.  I’ve always enjoyed photographing the Belted Kingfisher.  Not sure if that is due to taking so long to get it in the tin (link here) or the fact they have a very distinct call and tend to create interesting compositions while chomping on crawdads.

Based on the coloring, this particular specimen is a female (the brown on the sides of the breast tends to give it away).  It did not appreciate the intrusion and was busy flying from tree to tree along the bank away from me.

Here is one of those shots that is difficult to appreciate how hard it was to capture.  Imagine being surrounding by trees and trying to track a bird weaving in and out of them like a jet fighter.  Continuous focus was not an option due to the tree interference forcing me to track it with the glass, focus and take the shot for the split second it was visible.  Not a gallery shot, but good practice.

The Red Bellied Woodpecker wasn’t the only one of the pecker family that made their presence known.  This Downy was keeping its distance, but did get a shot at the glass extent.  Thought this particular female was giving me the stink eye.

Further along the hike, this male Downy made a brief appearance.  As with the female above it was keeping distance and really only allowed me to take a few shots before high tailing it back into the thicker tree cover.

This one has me second guessing.  While out in the field I categorized it as an Indigo Bunting.  Those are pretty common around here but while processing the pictures noticed it had some brown on the underside which is not really the coloring of the Indigo.  Based on that I am leaning to labeling this an Eastern Bluebird – A pretty crappy shot making it hard to be sure, but any thoughts would be welcome.

To be honest, I really did not start noticing this bird around here until a year or two ago.  Could just be due to better timing or greater awareness to its coloring and song, but its been showing up a least once a week around here.

Typically the Towhee can be spotted rooting around on the ground as opposed to perching up in the trees.  This one was startled by my footsteps and happened to jump up on the branch to get a better view of the intrusion.  Next up the Nuthatch.  This bird is easily identified – not so much by the light gray and white coloring..

or the relatively long and sharp beak, but rather the fact it enjoys walking down trees – a trait that isn’t very common in its feathered brethren.

Here is a closer shot in case  you have not seen one before.  Pretty cool but suffers from the fact I see it EVERY day on my feeders losing some of its luster.

Not to be slighted, there were female Cardinals out and about.  Admittedly, it took me awhile before actually identifying it.  There was a group of birds fluttering about in some thickets ahead of me, but every single time they opted to take a rest they positioned their bodies behind a tree making it impossible to get a shot.  Sneaking to the side just prompted them to shift to the other side.  Moving closer just prompted them to move to brush further away.  This became a quest, but eventually got it in the tin

I was given the cold shoulder!

Could have used a little less time on the shutter for the following shot.  Did think the composition was pretty interesting.  Pretty much framed up the female Cardinal on all sides not to mention captured the bird looking at me and …. looking across its body – TRIFECTA.. overlooking the blur of course.

Want to guess what bird this feather probably came from?

I am not exactly sure myself, but my pick would be …. drum rolllll.. Turkey Vulture.  Although you do not have the benefit of having a sizing reference, this feather was rather large and the coloring seems to fit.  These birds are about as common as sparrows around here these days and based on my excursions to other locals … generally growing in population everywhere.

Well, that pretty much wraps up all the sights along this particular walk.  The day eventually came to an end when the sun finally sank below the tree line.  You do not want to be out there in the dark even if you have a guide like the stream.  Depending on the state of the moon, that particular area can go pitch black very quick.  Linda and I were trapped (polite word for LOST) in there once at dark and she has NEVER forgiven me for that.  Also not comfortable being out there with the number of coyotes around here slinking through the shadows.

Another section of the stream successfully navigated.  Looking forward to getting back out there and continuing the trek – might even double back and see how the phantom deer are doing.

2 thoughts on “Being Bryson”

  1. Wow, quite a post! I’m late in commenting, but thank goodness you didn’t post anything else yet.

    That’s 110% positive, absolutely an Eastern Bluebird, not an Indigo Bunting. I was going to ask what the black/white/orange bird was, but in trying to scroll up and down to make sure you didn’t identify it, my mouse paused over the photo and it said Towhee. You may want to add that in the text.

    Other behavioral observations:

    A) I didn’t know you like to hike along streams.

    B) That’s really disconcerting that you rearrange bones of dead animals into other likenesses…

    C) You need to carry a pocket flashlight for times when it gets dark, a good gift idea.

    Thanks for the photo log (plog?, phlog? Didn’t you have a long word for that??)!



  2. Oh lord it’s late in the month again and I’m behind AGAIN. Been spending all my time prepping my entries for the photography contest circuit (entries due by this Friday). The good news is I’ve got about 300 bird pictures that are finally processed from the Henderson trip that I can pull from .. plus another running event so there’s plenty of content … just need to find time to write up the posts. That is now two confirmations on the Eastern Bluebird – someone from work also confirmed so I’m taking that as the truth! (thnx). I will definitely add the Towhee – not sure why it wasn’t identified but soon corrected.

    A) Another secret revealed
    B) I call it ART! … nothing to be alarmed at ..yet
    C) Excellent idea! .. or just get out of there before the sun goes completely down

    are you talking about phoadtography? Trail hikes don’t exactly qualify for that. Maybe need to make up another word…how about Photrailography?

    Thanks for commenting – check back often.. guessing gonna be another whirlwind posting week


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