The State of Nebraska

For me, driving across country didn't feel really strange until we reached Nebraska.  I'm not saying anything negative about the state of Nebraska; in fact it was beautiful.  But for two girls from New England, it was in Nebraska that things suddenly seemed very very foreign.  For one thing, they aren't joking about the big sky country.  It's hard to capture in photos taken through a car window on an iPhone, but the sky really is enormous!

And from Route 80, at least, it appears that nothing but corn is grown in Nebraska.  I could elaborate on what effect all that corn has on the environment, but I wont.  Suffice it to say that if Nebraska is part of the breadbasket of this country, then all we should expect is corn bread!

Actually, there are quite a few cows in Nebraska, as well.  Meghan and I decided these were Black Angus cattle because they were black and we started to see them around Omaha.

The wind really goes whipping across those plains, too!  It took us all day to drive across Nebraska, and the wind never stopped blowing the car off the road! It also never ceased to increase in elevation across the state.  We began at about 1200 feet above sea level, and ended at about 5000 feel elevation.  I drove for about seven hours that day, and then I fell apart with the strain of trying to keep the car on the road while the wind and the trucks conspired to blow us away.  Oh, and the NEVER ENDING construction on the interstate didn't help me relax at all!

By the time these pictures were taken, however, Meg was driving and I was enjoying the scenery.  We followed the North Platte River for endless miles, and it was not only beautiful, but I think I saw two flocks of Sandhill Cranes in flight.  Seeing Sandhill Cranes would have been a big thrill, but Meg was not even close to being enthused enough to stop the car. Despite the fact that I missed out on a lifetime bird, I found the state of Nebraska both beautiful and exotic - and so did my daughter.  If you've never been there, you really should visit!


Framingham Foliage 2011

One of only two fall foliage images taken in Framingham this year. The trip to California intefered a bit!

My second Framingham foliage picture.


California Gulls

I'm not even going to try to identify all the gulls we saw in California.   It took me years to be comfortable with our Massachusetts gulls, and I don't have years to learn all these other ones!

These handsome fellows were everywhere.  I particularly like the eyeliner look.

They look like they're waiting for a bus!

As you can see, there were plenty of gulls everywhere.  My daughter took this photo at a little pond just south of San Francisco.

Meghan also captured this unusual view of a juvenile gull of some sort. She also took the next picture, which is my favorite gull photo of the trip.

I love how she captured the young gull through the tall reeds.  The photo was so interesting that I was inspired to use a few photoshop filters to make it even more 'artisitic'.  It is beginning to seem as if everyone in my family is talented at bird photography!


Koi in California

My daughter, Meghan, took these beautiful photos of a Koi pond in a Japanese Garden near San Francisco.

These fish are astonishingly gorgeous!  They are also incredibly huge!

Koi are actually domesticated carp that are bred specifically for their spectacular colors. Koi ponds are more prevalent in warmer climates than they are in places with long, cold winters such as we have here in New England. If you want a Koi pond around here, it has to be much deeper than the one pictured here.

These lovely fish are easy prey for herons and egrets, so no matter where you live, your Koi pond will be koi-less unless you find a way to keep herons away!


California Grebe-ing

This Pied-billed Grebe was one of at least four grebe species I saw in California.  I believe this was the only Grebe species that was NOT a new addition to the life-list!

All I can say for sure is that I no longer know which Grebe is my favorite.  These guys are just too cute,

I think this is a family photo!

But this grebe is also irresistible.  I think it is an Eared Grebe, but I wouldn't bet the farm on my ID.  It could be a Horned Grebe, although I don't think it is.

 Here's another shot of the tentatively identified Eared Grebe.  Expert opinions welcomed here!

This isn't a great photo, but you get a good idea of the size of this grebe compared to a Ruddy Duck.

And who could forget my famous Western Grebe family?  Bottom line; I loved them all!


Those Cute Western Blackbirds

One of the cutest birds I saw on our trip across country was the very common (there) and very uncommon (here) Brewer's Blackbird.  IMO, he is a very stylish and very handsome bird. 

Besides the shocking bright yellow eyes, there is  a lot to like about these birds.  The way they strut around would look appropriate if you added a top hat and tails!

And a head on shot adds an interesting effect to this normally svelte blackbird.

The female of the species is less dramatic, but you would know they were related simply by the similar body movements and behavior.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure if we are looking at a juvenile male or a female Brewer's Blackbird!


Western Grebe and Screeching Baby!

This Western Grebe was a new addition to my life list!  Check out those crimson eyes!

The grebe was not alone, either.  She (or he) was accompanied by a very demanding youngster.  The baby was fluffy looking and adorable, but it NEVER stopped crying to be fed.

I don't know if a grebe of this age should have been able to feed himself, but this one didn't even try. 

The baby expended tons of energy following his parent around while endlessly screeching for food!

When he was actually eating, the baby Western Grebe gobbled his food as if he were starving.

There was one quiet moment on the pond when the little one finished eating.

But his incessant and loud cries filled the air within minutes, and soon I was flooded with pity for the poor parent of this annoying child.


Sea Otters in Carmel, CA

This was the first thing I saw at the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  Ok, so it isn't exactly a new or exotic species, but since it is my very favorite bird, seeing a Great  Blue Heron on the beach was a grand omen of good things to come!

It was indeed a good omen since the very next thing I noticed was some kind of creature floating in the seaweed.  I hoped it was the creature I had come to see, the animal I was hoping would delight my son and daughter on their first trip to Carmel. Of course, it did turn out to be what I had hoped: a sea otter relaxing in a bed of kelp. 

The fact that we were looking at an otter and not at a seal seems perfectly obvious in these photos.  But it was less than obvious when looking with the naked eye or even with binoculars.  There were a lot of mammals swimming about in the kelpy waters, and some of them appeared to be seals.

I mean, tell me this doesn't look like a sleek seal's head!  But I can guarantee you this is a sea otter with his face slick with sea water.

This seal-like sea otter has managed to catch himself a tasty crab meat treat. . .

which he proceeded to enjoy with unabashed enthusiasm!

Although we stayed only a few minutes, Carmel-by-the-Sea was a cornucopia of new and wonderful sights!

Common Murres, uncommonly large Cormorants, Common Loons and even what I think must have been a Pacific Loon were among the wondrous sights we enjoyed in Carmel.

I'm not betting the farm on this being a Pacific Loon, but it very well could be one.  I think.  In any case, go to Carmel, CA if ever you get the chance to do so.  It is a truly magical place!


Break for Backyard Beauties

I still have dozens of stories and photos of our trip out west, but I had to take a break to show off some of our local cuties.  This Downy Woodpecker caught in the act of taking flight, for example, is simply irresistible!

And what could be cuter than this sideways Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoyed his suet breakfast?

The House Finches are back with a vengeance, I've noticed.  This little guy is a colorful charmer.

I could stop snapping photos of all his curious facial expressions.

This is one eccentric looking Great Blue Heron.  He was one of about five that I saw around the Sudbury River yesterday.