Escape to the Canal

It was very cold when we awoke Sunday morning.  Who would have imagined temperatures like 38° F during the middle of the month of May.  It seems like the weather has also gone mad! Thankfully, it warmed up as the morning went by.

We drove to Sycamore Landing for our walk along the canal.  It seems that the parks have been getting more crowded in recent days, as people try to find a place to go to get away from being cooped up inside the house.  The parking lots for the canal that are closer to the city have been closed because of the crowds that have emerged, crowds that do not practice safe distancing in this time of the COVID-19.  Sycamore Landing is off the beaten path, and it is also relatively close to home.  Hence this choice of destination.

Our wish for a less crowded destination was fulfilled.  We pulled into an empty parking lot shortly before 9:00am.

It had been two weeks since our previous walk on the towpath.  It felt nice to be back.  I let the tensions of everyday life slowly depart as we walked north towards Edwards Ferry.

The green has taken over the browns of winter in the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was not long into the walk before we spotted a bright blue bird flying across the trail in front of us.  This was a bird that we do not normally see on the towpath.  The color stood out amidst the green of the forest. The vibrance of its color was similar to the vibrance of the color of the cardinal, a bird that is more common in these parts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne was curious as to the nature of the bird.  I guessed that this was a male bluebird during its mating season.  I was wrong!   Later that day, we had a phone call with the kids on account of Mothers’ Day.  I shared this picture with them.  Jesse was quick to research this, even while we were talking.  The bird in the picture above is called an Indigo Bunting.  I do not recall having seen one of these before.

About a mile into our walk, we came across this fallen tree blocking the trail.  It was quite massive.  It was quite tricky for the bikers to carry their bikes across.  We sneaked across between the two branches of the tree without hurting ourselves!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther along the trail, we came across some deer that were hanging out.  These two appear to be having a conversation about the approaching humans.  If you look carefully at the picture, you might also notice the cardinal (out of focus) on the trail in front of the deer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woods along the C&O canal are infested with a plant called garlic mustard.  They are massively invasive, and show up once in two years.  We have been seeing these plants during all our walks along the canal this year.  Three or four years ago, I even took part in a cleanup effort along the towpath at a place called Carderock.  I think controlling the spread of these plants is a losing effort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is shot of the flowers of garlic mustard.  This was part of my experimentation with the zoom lens to see if I could capture a picture which looked like one taken with a macro lens, i.e, taken with a lens that allowed you to take a picture from very close to the subject matter.  At the time that I was taking this picture, I did not realize that there was an insect nectaring on the flowers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther along, we came across this Great Egret that took off at our approach.  We saw it flying over the trees further along the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally came across a real Eastern Bluebird.  It kept flying ahead of us for some time.  It would land on a tree, wait for me to get closer with the camera, and then take off once again.  It think it got tired of playing games after a while.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs usual, the air was filled with the sounds of the birds, occasionally mixed with those from the scurrying squirrels.  There are certain sections of the trail where the birds are more plentiful.  The woodpeckers, in general, make a very guttural sound.  The trees can vibrate quite loudly when some of the woodpeckers hammer on their trunks.  The woodpecker in the picture below is most likely a red bellied woodpecker.  It was escaping into the upper branches.  In general, these birds have a tendency to go to the other side of the branch or tree trunk when I approach with my camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many flowers beside the trail as we approached Edwards Ferry.

These are buttercups.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are fleabanes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI myself did not walk all the way up to the river since I was busy changing the lens on the camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parking lot at Edwards Ferry was quite full.

On our way back I stopped to take pictures of these turtles sitting out in the sun.  This was the only place where we saw turtles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis green heron was fishing in the canal further along the trail.  We managed to distract it from what it was doing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rest of the walk was completed with a renewed sense of purpose.  We picked up speed in spite of the distractions of the park.  We completed the walk in a reasonable amount of time.  There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot by the time we got back shortly after 11am.

We did some shopping on our way home.  Then it was time to recuperate and rejuvenate.  I usually try to do that by taking a good nap!

A Rare Bird In These Parts, I Believe

We sighted this bird last weekend in the area of Swains Lock.  It was the first time I am seeing it on the C&O canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome research suggests that this could be a juvenile White Ibis, one of my remaining reasons for doubt being the color of the tarsi on the bird.  If I am correct however, the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America suggests that this a somewhat rare appearance in these parts.  I wonder if juvenile birds of this kind can get lost.

I would appreciate it if there are any birders out there who can confirm or correct my attempt to identify the bird.  From what I read, the ibis belongs to the same family of birds as the stork, and I have seen pictures of storks with similar beaks.

A Moment of Determination

I had not been on a bicycle since the accident that happened almost a year ago. The doctor had given me the “all clear” to go back to my regular activities a while back, but I had not done it even though I had decided a long time ago that there was no way other than to get back on the bicycle.  The truth was that I was also missing all the training rides that I had being doing in the years past – on various sections of the C&O Canal towpath, on the Capital Crescent Trail into Bethesda and Silver Spring;  on the Custis, the W&OD, the Mt. Vernon and the Four Mile Run trails in Virginia; and even the ride up Sugarloaf Mountain.  I knew these trails somewhat well by now, and I could even picture some of the specific experiences and  challenges that one came across along the way, whether it was the stop at Fletchers Cove to use the facilities and get a drink of water, crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge, or riding along the river on the Mt. Vernon trail past Gravelly Point and National Airport, or the challenge of one of the slopes on the Custis trail or Sugarloaf mountain.  I needed to do it.

But time passed and it did not happen until now.  You could say that there was a bit of apprehension on my part, not because of the fear of riding a bike per se, but because of a fear of falling off the bike.  It was specifically about the possibility of falling on my separated shoulder once again.  I had a mental picture of how severe the damage could be to a clavicle that was already floating around.  I did actually look for specific protection that could be worn it this regard, but the only solution out there would have made me look and feel like a gladiator with plastic armor-plating on a bicycle.  I could not picture that!  But there were other real excuses.  We were busy with a wedding and with guests who were visiting until now.  Before I knew it, we were half way through the year.

I finally made the move Wednesday morning.  I checked out my biking gear the first time in many months – the shorts, the tops and the gloves.  Things were where I expected them to be.  I checked out the bike, still covered with dirt from last  year, reinflated the tires, grabbed my helmet, and after a test ride around the cul dec sac, loaded it into the back of the car.

Finally at Pennyfield Lock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI decided to ride a distance of about 16+ miles (one way) to Fletchers Cove this day.  I had forgotten how cool it could be under the trees even on a July morning in the middle of summer as you rode against the wind.  I had forgotten the rhythmic sound of the crunching of the tires against the gravel of the trail as one rode on the dirt.  I had forgotten the easy and peaceful nature of an early morning ride.  There was a feeling of serenity, and the mind could wander once again.

I took it easy.  This is the way I usually start a ride, especially after a break from when I have been challenging myself.  But then the Adrenalin kicks  in and, before you know it, your legs are moving to a steady beat and the pace is increasing to another level.  And it is all so effortless at this point.  You are enjoying the ride.

I can still sense some fear in me, a fear of falling off the bike if I got too close to the edge of the trail, but it is no more about the shoulder.  I know I am over it, and it has happened quickly.  The other general fear of wandering across the trail and falling off into the woods or the water will disappear with time, just like it used to in the past.  It is a defense mechanism of the brain that I appreciate.

Life along the canal has not changed.  I have to stop for pictures along the way. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Multiple great blue herons and a kingfisher (can you see it?) at Mather Gorge
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A fourth great blue heron joins the group at Mather Gorge

There are people around on this cool summer morning, especially later in the morning.  I re-familiarize myself with the practice of passing people who are on foot on the trail.  There are many such people.   Recent rains also seem to have done severe damage to the trail.  I take a couple of detours off the trail along the way.

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A black crowned night heron watches me from the other side of the canal

The ride  back to Pennyfield Lock is when the muscles in my thighs begin to feel it.  It is a familiar feeling, but it is not a feeling that you tend to remember the details of once the ride is complete and those sore muscles have recovered.   I ride steadily, without a sense of rush, but by now I am also in the groove once again, and I have to make the conscious effort to slow down, and perhaps even stop once in a while to take a picture or two.  This is all familiar territory for me.

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The tiger swallowtail butterfly on the trail
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Watching me from beside the trail.  They stayed still long enough for me to get the picture and then dove into the water when I started pedaling again

The ride ended successfully.  I am going to try my best to make sure this was not just a one-time effort, a flash in the pan if you will.  I need to do more rides for my sense of balance and sanity.  Perhaps longer group rides are in the cards once again starting next year.

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.