An Unusual Visitor

by Melanie and Jim

This morning as we readied for an errand, we heard a great commotion rise up behind the house. Crows, screaming bloody murder, shrieked in alarm. I thought there were several, maybe dozens of them, the cries were so loud. But when Jim looked, he saw only two. Two angry crows, screaming at something between and below them.

There are a number of cats that roam the neighborhood. Sometimes we hear squirrels or blue jays yelling at a wandering cat, but usually not crows. Even if there were a cat, the crows were high enough in the tree that a cat wouldn’t threaten them. It seemed unlikely that a cat was the cause. Still they continued cawing and screeching.

A tree blocked our view, so we moved to another window. Jim thought he saw another bird on a branch below them. Cooper’s Hawks occasionally visit our yard. They eat small birds and mammals. Once we watched as a Cooper’s dropped onto a squirrel, latched its talons tightly in, and flew away with it. With that risk, the little birds go silent and scarce when a hawk is around.

Binoculars showed the cause for alarm more clearly. It wasn’t just “another bird.” It was an owl. Since we moved to this house 15 years ago, we’ve been visited by barred owls. They aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but we still open the door to the screened porch in almost any weather to hear them calling to each other.

A shift to yet another window gave an even better view.

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This owl had ear tufts. It was no barred owl. It was a great horned owl! We’ve never heard nor seen one around here before! I’ve read that barred and great horned owls don’t share habitat, and that the horned owls get first dibs. I don’t know what this means for our barred owl friends, or if we’ll get to enjoy their occasional visits again.

Jim was able to get a few pictures of this beautiful bird. Though they are unfocused, you can clearly see the large ear tufts and hooked beak.

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He took this photo from below. It shows the feathering better.

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As I write this several hours later, the owl is still perched in the same place. The crows gave up pestering and screaming long ago, though they’ve made a few more half-hearted attempts to intimidate.

“Acorns Were Good Until Bread Was Found”

by Jim and Melanie

An English proverb attributed to Francis Bacon, we didn’t expect to see this example. Jim baked Irish soda bread a few days ago. We had a soup party over the weekend since then. You know, it was super bowl weekend. Friends brought delicious bread and biscuits. Jim’s soda bread sat forlornly on the counter getting hard and sullen from lack of attention. Today was the final straw. It proved dry and inedible.

Jim tossed it out the window toward bird feeders to see what would happen. There it sat for an hour as we worked quietly on other things. The silence was broken when Melanie yelled out “Look up in the tree! A squirrel has the bread.”

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How Be a Friend

Tips for non-confrontational intervention of hate.

FiftyFourandAHalf

It’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And so, of course, Putin’s President, with the irony born of someone without a soul or a keen eye for history, chose today of all days to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Naturally, that means anybody who “looks” Muslim will become even more of a target than they have been since Trump took us all down the gold escalator into hell.  It is now open season on “others” here in our nation of immigrants.

So what can we do about it?

I will admit that the safety pin movement left me feeling decidedly unhelpful.  It’s a nice thought, but it never made me feel like I was actually standing up for anyone.  Or like I was doing something to help people being targeted.

But a while back I saw this article that offered some practical suggestions that have some meat on the bones.  Really! …

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Seattle | Holiday Visit | 2016

by Jim and Melanie

Before Christmas we traveled to Washington, with Seattle our first destination. We arrived late to the Mayflower Park Hotel for our three night stay. The next day dawned sunny and bright. It was a positive omen for things to come. The window of our tenth floor room faced south, and we had a good view of the heart of town.

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The first goal for the day was to find breakfast. We headed toward the Pike Place Market and found three places serving breakfast, one for each of our three mornings. They each had views out over the bay like this. We watched ferries cross the bay, and tankers and tugs chug through.

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After breakfast the first day, we wandered through the Market, intent on filling Christmas stockings with small treats. Vendors were setting up, giving samples of fruits and pepper jellies. Crafters arranged their wares with care, ready to sell to holiday shoppers. The fishmongers sang a call and response while tossing fish to fill orders. They put on a fun show as people watched with cameras poised.

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We returned that evening after dinner, well after closing. The vendors were gone. The stalls were cleaned and empty. It was an eerie sight, one that not many people see.

The next day we headed for the Market for another breakfast with a view. Afterward, we visited the Seattle Art Museum. We enjoyed the exhibits, especially of the Native Americans of the northwest.

The day continued with fair skies. Our next goal was to visit the Space Needle and surrounding venues of the Seattle Center grounds. Going up in the Needle is pricey. We used to bypass tourist opportunities like that, but we’ve learned that some things are worth the price. This was one of them. The viewing deck gives a 360° panorama of the Seattle area. We could even see Mt. Rainier, almost 60 miles to the southeast. After rounding the outside deck at least once, we sat inside and shared a bowl of chili. It was fun to watch other tourists, including several who spent a lot of time posing for selfies, trying to get just the right slant of chin for the photos.

As we waited for the monorail to take us back to our hotel, we noticed a young man with a strange looking camera. Jim knew it was an older model Polaroid. He went up to ask him some questions. The young man was happy to tell about his prized camera. He asked if he could take our picture. We said it was okay. He pointed and pressed the button. Out came the film which developed slowly over the next 30 minutes. We chatted more on the monorail ride.

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That evening we enjoyed dinner with old friends, long missed. The next morning we headed south to spend several more days with our son.

Seattle was fun and interesting, with much more to see and do than we had time for. We’ll look forward to visiting again.

New Year Walk | Fairy Plates | Ice | Bear

by Jim and Melanie

Squire Point trail is a favorite place for hikes. We go there several times a year in different seasons to see the variety of ways nature presents. Today was day 1 of the new year. The Sun was out. The wind was not strong. The temperature was above 32˚F. We bundled up and went there. It was a good day to be out.

We stopped and chatted briefly with two of Jim’s former teaching colleagues. Their dogs were huge. Several families were out with small children enjoying the day. One father was especially loud but good natured. The lake was frozen over solid but we did not venture onto it. There were icy patches on the trail we negotiated very carefully.

Melanie pointed out these tiny fungi that looked like plates or saucers. The biggest is about 1/2″ wide.

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Jim risked falling into the stream to get this picture of a small frozen water fall about 2′ tall.

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We both spotted this bear cub hugging a small 6″ tree. We were surprised to have never noticed it before on our hikes.

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Scotland | A Few End Bits

by Melanie and Jim

We enjoyed our time in Scotland. The people are friendly. The history is rich. The countryside is beautiful. Our previous posts about our trip will remind us of the highlights each time we revisit them. We hope you have enjoyed them. This post is about a few aspects we found interesting that didn’t fit into the narrative of the earlier ones.


The City of Inverness

Situated on the northeast coast, Inverness opens to Moray Firth and then the North Sea. The River Ness flows from Loch Ness 12 miles (19 km) away and through the center of Inverness. The first claimed sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was in the River Ness in AD 565. We stayed in the city of 47,000 for two days prior to our barge holiday on the Caledonian Canal. We never saw the monster.

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First Snow | Cardinal Waits

We have our first snow of the season in Iowa this morning. There is about 3″ on the ground and nearly stopped. I filled the feeders since the birds will find it harder to locate food. This cardinal sat for the longest time in the thicket nearby. I like how he is all fluffed up. Now, he and chickadees, titmouse, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and juncos are busy checking out the new supply.

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Cardinalis cardinalis