A Bluebird in the Backyard

This is a good time of year to look out of the windows of the house and observe the little birds that fly around our home. The absence of leaves on the trees gives you a clear view of birds like robins, sparrows, chickadee, cardinals, bluebirds, woodpeckers, bluejays, etc..  And many of birds seem to love the seeds on the crape myrtle right next to the deck.  You have to pay close attention.  The first thing that draws your attention is the chirping that you can hear outside even though all the doors and windows are closed.  Most of the birds tend to blend in with the rather grey background.  But those like the bright red cardinals and the bluejays do stand out.

I was having my tea one evening, looking out the back window, when I thought I saw a flash of blue.  I was not mistaken.  It was a bluebird.  In fact, there seemed to be a couple of them flying between the maple and the crape myrtle trees.  The birds are so small, you have to pay particular attention to track them.  Soon the bluebird flew out of sight.   But I had a certain feeling about it.  I went upstairs to retrieve my camera and put a zoom lens on it.

I could not see the birds when looking out of the different windows upstairs in the back of the house, but soon after I returned to the kitchen and the place I was having my tea, the bird returned to a branch on the crepe myrtle.  I was prepared this time.

The bird was facing the opposite direction.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn fact I got a good picture of its butt! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt seemed to sense my presence even though I was in the house and behind the window.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It slowly turned around and stared at me.  I grabbed the shot before it was too late.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt posed for me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few seconds later it was gone.

I think it was a eastern bluebird, but somebody can correct me if I am wrong.

A Time and Place for Everything

The subject of this week’s photo challenge, “I’d Rather Be…“, suggests a sense of wanting to be in a different place doing something different.  Yes, I would rather be be exploring the world like I was fortunate to be able to do last year – California, Nevada, Missouri, a bike ride in the Canadian Rockies, Ecuador (including the Galapagos), and finally India. But when I see a sunrise like this in front of my own home, I also realize that one does not necessarily have to wander far from home to experience the wonders of this world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We are Stardust

NASA presented some preliminary findings from their Twins Study earlier this year.  A complete paper from this study is to be released later this year.  For those who are not familiar with this study, this is the first and only study done on twin astronauts comparing the one who spent 340 days in space (Scott Kelly) with his brother (Mark Kelly) who spent the same time on earth, to try to understand genetic changes due to long term space travel.  The twins had identical genes when the experiment started.  They found that the person who had lived in space went through some genetic mutations during his time in space, and that some changes in gene expression (which apparently is not the same as genetic changes) seem to be long lasting.

Our living environment deeply impacts what we are as a species inhabiting the Universe.   We are shaped by where we exist in the universe, and there is some kind of a process that causes us to develop in a certain manner in different environments.  Scott Kelly spent less than a year in Space before the changes in his body manifested themselves.  Consider the near certainty that the magnitude of the differences caused in species because of where we exist in the universe likely outweighs our differences due to our existences in different places and in different circumstances on this earth itself.  Why then are we bent on focusing on and exploiting our own relatively minor differences?  And do we really think we are the superior species?

The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)

via The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails.  (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!)   There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.

Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans.  Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails.   There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.

Ants have been creating trails for a long time.  The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks.  (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.)  The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails.  (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.)  Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.

Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating.  Make sure to watch the videos!

In Search of a Story

My blogs have had the tagline of “Anything Goes” since the beginning, which could indicate either an aimless drift in a random direction, or, if you want to be kind, some sort of attempt on my part to include all of my disconnected interests in my postings.  You decide!  But one of the things that I hope you do discover in the blogs is that some of them tell stories of some kind or the other, be it that of the tree that grows in the woods, or something as silly as talking about the experience of consuming a bowl of cereal, or perhaps something else that takes my fancy at some particular moment in time. With this kind of a mindset, my response the topic of this week’s challenge comes somewhat easily.

My story for the day touches upon the “bomb cyclone“, a term that I had not heard of until very recently.  As I understand it, a bomb cyclone weather phenomenon is characterized by a rapid and large drop in barometric pressure, which leads to extreme wind speeds that can cause a lot of damage.   It leads to the story, in pictures, of last weekend’s walk along the C&O canal. This particular outing happened to take place after a bomb cyclone had passed through the region.

It was a sunny morning on the trail as we set out on our walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered quite a few fallen branches on the trail due to the aftereffects of the storm, and, being good citizens, we spent a significant bit of our time cleaning up the trail for those who were going to come after us.  (We were not about to break any speed records that day.)  And then there were the sections where we could do little to help, sections that would require professional equipment for cleanup.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did encounter cyclists who must have had to carry their bikes over fallen trees.

We did make it to our destination close to the mile 31 marker where Edwards FerryOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand lock 25 are locatedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbefore turning back to return to our starting point.

The story would not be complete without a picture of the bald eagle that we encountered,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand a picture of the chopped up pieces of a fallen tree that we saw beside the trail, a little too late for Valentine’s  day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We did about 7 1/2 miles of walking that morning.  That is my story and I am sticking to it! 🙂


Out Of This World

This week’s photo challenge proved to be somewhat thought provoking for me.  I was not sure exactly how to approach it.  In the simplest sense, one is almost always trying to take outdoor pictures that are noteworthy and perhaps “out of the world”.  In another sense, one also tries to capture outdoor images with the camera that are unusual, and that may seem out of this world.  But nothing is really out of this world in the real sense, is it? How often does one take pictures out of this world? Does this picture of the moon and Venus qualify?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Looking through my archives, I realize that I have already posted a bunch of pictures in my blogs that could fit this theme – pictures of the skies and the earth that seem like they are not of this planet.  Here is one that might not have appeared before.  This was taken in the area of the Smoky Mountains. The planet is on fire in the morning light.  The town of Gatlinburg lies below us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All in all, it was tough figuring out what tack to take for this week’s challenge.   In the end I decided to go with pictures that could be considered out of this world to some people, but may be more commonplace to others in their own circumstances.  Here goes.

This is the fruit of Queen Anne’s Lace.  This wild plant is quite widespread close to where we live, but I am pretty sure it would seem to be something out of this world for some of the natives.IMG_2023I wonder how many people have taken the time to notice something as simple as what is seen in the picture below.  Even the simple things can seem out of this world once you open your eyes, and perhaps your imagination.IMG_9624And then there are things that could seem exotic to some of us but are not so unusual in other places.  I have already forgotten which part of the world this flower is originally from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWould something like this, a mud pool, be considered out of this world?  You can see them in New Zealand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom this perspective it might be difficult to recognize that the picture below is that of the face of a snapping turtle.  Look at the eyes.  Isn’t this out of this world?  We actually came across this creature in the park not far from home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA