In Bloom

Camellias bloom on November 30 after a rainy day in our garden

Camellias bloom on November 30 in our garden

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Flowers still open in our garden as another year melts into December’s grip.  The gardening year has already come to a frosty close over much of the country.  And although today brought cold rain, yesterday was a perfect day for planting bulbs and re-doing pots for the coming months.

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This beautiful double Camellia opened its first blossoms last week, and will bloom off and on through early spring. Golden Forsythia leaves linger nearby.

This beautiful double Camellia opened its first blossoms last week, and will bloom off and on through early spring. Golden Forsythia leaves linger nearby.

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Camellias and roses bloom high above newly planted Violas.  A few stubborn Rudbeckia still open their golden petals despite the cold.  Summer’s beauty lingers even during this relentless march towards winter.

Most of our trees have been swept clean of their dying leaves, while woody shrubs stand naked now against a chilling wind.  And yet, the relative warmth of our front patio harbors olive, pomegranate and fig trees; potted Violas and a few lavender plants.  It stays a few degrees warmer there, nurturing the willing through long winter nights.

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Most of these late bloomers will continue blessing us with flowers until hit by ice and snow.   When?  It could be any time now.  The first hard freeze will hit on Friday night.

But even as we enjoy these last few blossoms of the season, so trees and shrubs around town are sprouting bright Christmas lights.

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As we enter this darkest part of the year, dusk falls earlier each day.  It was nearly dark tonight well before 5 PM; well before our beloved mail carrier found us through the fog and rain.

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Roses linger despite a few early frosts. These bloom on November 30, but there are still roses this lovely today in the front garden.

Roses linger despite a few early frosts. These bloom on November 30, but there are still roses this lovely today in the front garden.

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If you are looking for a great winter time read, please take a look at Noel Kingsbury’s newest work, Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden.

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This encyclopedic work comes at plants from an historical perspective, describing how various genus came into cultivation and trade.  Its fascinating illustrations are mostly historical reproductions of various drawings, advertisements, paintings and scientific illustrations of various plants.

This newest treasure from Timber Press, published this past October, describes 133 different plant groups over nearly 400 pages.  There is something interesting to learn on every page.  It is organized to allow ‘dipping in’ as time and curiosity allows. Noel’s chatty but authoritative voice rings true as he describes our wonderful palette of garden plants as though they were his personal friends.

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We found this hawk hunting in our garden as we returned home on Sunday afternoon.

We found this hawk hunting in our garden as we returned home on Sunday afternoon.

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If you want to grow your gardening expertise this winter while snuggling inside with a cup of something warm and the company of something warm and furry; this book is your ticket so you might end the winter a bit more clever than you began it.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Wings

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We went to the Parkway in search of birds today, and began to find them almost immediately. 

Our Great Blue Heron a moment before he took flight.

Our Great Blue Heron a moment before he took flight.

Wading, perching, flying, eating, swimming, resting; the birds have returned.

Another Great Blue Heron, a little farther down the Parkway, near the College Creek bridge.

Another Great Blue Heron, a little farther down the Parkway, near the College Creek bridge.

Everywhere we went we heard birdsong.  The little ones darted past us in quick flights from perch to perch.

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There were dozens of scarlet cardinals, with their brownish mates.  We saw bluebirds, starlings, clouds of red winged black birds, and dozens more who moved to fast to name.

A flock of Red Winged Blackbirds

A flock of Red Winged Blackbirds

Of course our Red-tailed Hawk was there surveying his marsh.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

And the Great Blue Herons fished in the shallows of College Creek.

Canada Geese gathered on the James, and on its muddy rain-soaked banks, looking for shelter.

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Canada Geese on the James River

Another grey day, with low sky and  chilly wind.  At least we were thawing out here today.  But the persistent damp and cold faded against the brilliant beauty of the wild birds returning to the park.

Duck's where the James empties into College Creek.

Ducks where the James empties into College Creek.

We noticed trees budding against the grey clouds.  There is a quickening; an impatience  to begin the season. 

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We felt it in the movement of the birds today, the beat of their wings and their lively chatter.

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So come along to the Colonial Parkway, in James City County, beside the James River.  Join us as we watch for wings.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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We love this photo of the bank of College Creek, to the right of the Colonial Parkway bridge. Relax your eyes. Can you spot the “faces” in the side of the bank? Can you spot the “caves” along the shoreline? This is a favorite fishing spot during most of the season.   (click on any photo to enlarge it)

 

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Geese behind our friends’ home on College Creek

A Red Tailed Hawk, and Its Neighbors

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This beautiful Red Tailed Hawk patiently allowed me to take photo after photo,  slowly making my way around the cedar tree where he was perched.

Finally, as I stood at the base of the tree, in his line of sight,  he decided enough was enough, and off he went.

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The Colonial Parkway was alive with birds today.  Red Tailed Hawk, and his many avian neighbors, were out enjoying the day.

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Although their patience with your photographer was a bit limited….

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Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, a large black vulture on a low branch, crows, gulls in from the coast, and even a few Bald Eagles could be found along the river. 

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It reached 60 degrees today while we visited with the birds.  It is the first time in several weeks our temperatures have been so warm.  The birds surely have enjoyed the break in the weather as much as we have today.

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The clouds steadily grew thicker as the sun fell lower in the sky. 

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Even though the ground is puddled, soft, and muddy, more rain is on its way.  We watched the clouds gathering from the west.

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A little sun and warmth goes a long way towards brightening the spirit, and drawing us back out to the Parkway.

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And though the landscape is still tight and wintery here along the James River,  we had fine company today from our feathered neighbors.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The First Golden Dandelion Blosssom

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The first golden dandelion blossom of spring sits blooming in an open spot on the Colonial Parkway.  Here it is, in all of its exuberance, as it greeted the sun today.

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Everywhere, feathers lay in the grass like winter flowers. Only one dandelion, but plentiful feathers.                                                        

So often our dandelions are overlooked at best.  But today, in the midst of January, this tiny little blossom brought a smile.  It is a reminder that winter is passing; spring truly is stirring around us.

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My eyes were mostly directed upwards today, searching for birds.  And birds we found!

The first, friend red tailed hawk, happily sat on his branch, looking out across the James River, through our entire visit.

Which is remarkable chiefly because a whole car load of serious “tri-pod toting” photographers pulled in as I was angling into position to get my photos of him.  I was afraid I’d spook him and he’d fly before they got all of their equipment in place.

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But he seemed to recognize us all, and know we meant him no harm. He sat stoically, turning his head this way and that, like an experienced and somewhat bored model, while we all zeroed in on the angles we wanted for our photos.  The patient hawk simply sat on his high perch, watching.

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A Great Blue Heron wades in the marsh beside a muskrat family’s “push up” winter home.

I left the group to their serious photography and took off with my little camera in search of other interesting scenes.  And was not disappointed.

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A black vulture, one of a great family group, keeps watch while others eat.

A beautiful Great Blue Heron stood wading in the shallow marsh near a “push up,” as though hoping the resident muskrat would pop out and visit for awhile.  He waited patiently, and happily allowed me to make all the photos I wished.

A warm golden day here in Williamsburg brought us all together.  Everywhere we went there were photographers in search of that perfect photo, families fishing from the beach, and even runners.

What is it, hiding amongst the rocks on the riverbank?

What is it, hiding amongst the rocks on the riverbank?

The photographers were hunting for eagle photos today.  They had been checking all the nesting sites they know, but hadn’t spotted a great bird until they found our friend hawk.  Heading in the way from which they came, we counted ourselves fortunate to spot quite a few.  A huge, old eagle serenely perched in the very tip top of a decaying pine, surveying the marsh.

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The marsh is home to many eagles, who perch in the tops of dead trees near the water’s edge.

We were crossing a bridge when we spotted him, and with no safe place to pull over, and cars coming up behind, we drove on without a photo to share.  His large white head shone in the sunlight, silhouetted against an impossibly clear blue sky.

But there were others, riding the air currents high above forest and marsh.  And flocks of gulls, families of geese, a group of black vultures.  It was a busy day, a respite for human and bird alike to come out into the winter sunshine before the next bout of cold sweeps into the neighborhood tomorrow night.

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And, we found the first golden dandelion blossom of the new year, face bravely turned into the winter sun, opening to the beauty of it all.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Anti-Freeze Feet

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Great Blue Heron wading along College Creek

Have you ever wondered how the birds do it?

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Sea gulls on a sand bar in the James River

How they stay out in the cold,

day after day after night,

and don’t freeze?

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Canada Geese in Halfway Creek

How high must their metabolism burn?

What anti-freeze could possibly run through their wings and feet?

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I wonder as I watch them

wade through icy water;

Sea gulls in a marsh by Jamestown Island

Sea gulls in a marsh by Jamestown Island

As they stand unruffled and unmoved in the winter wind.

Redtailed Hawk

Redtailed Hawk

Their eyes ever watchful for the next bite of food;

floating, flying, crawling, swimming, dangling, buried in mud;

Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

their patience unparalleled as they wait out winter,

finely tuned to survival.

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What titanium will to greet yet another frost rimmed sunrise;

Ducks in College Creek

Ducks in College Creek

What optimism to date and mate in this frozen wintery world,

trusting spring will come before chicks hatch with hungry cries.

Red Winged Black Birds

Red Winged Blackbirds

Gathering sociably on ice, wading through the frozen marsh,

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clinging to the highest points of windswept trees,

their sharp taloned feet, covered in thick bird flesh scales,

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

immune to the cold.  Gripping, balancing, grabbing;

an act of pure will.

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Paddling, wading; webbed feet of

waterfowl immersed in frigid brine.

Sea gulls

Sea gulls

How is it possible that human flesh,

so prone to frostbite,

could not last an hour;  let alone a season?

Flock of Canada Geese flying in formation

Flock of Canada Geese flying in formation

A precious gift from Creator:

Anti-freeze feet.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Photos and Words by Woodland Gnome 2014

Bringing Birds to the Garden

What’s There to Eat?

Wild Ice

Why Do Ducks Not Get Frostbite?  (Arts and Crafts For Retirees)

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