Scary True Stories. Told Ahead of Halloween. Just In Case.

I’m definitely an implant as far as Halloween is concerned. Growing up in northern Europe, I never knew spooky and scary things were supposed to happen on a certain day, or even in a certain month. Instead, I grew up knowing that 1st of November was All Saints’ Day. Cemeteries would look peaceful with candles burning on the graves of departed loved ones on the Eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31st. There was nothing spooky about that.

So on my first Halloween in the US, just three months after we’d arrived here, I was not prepared for what was to come. I got off the bus a couple of blocks from home, tired after a stressful work day, when a glowing skeleton ran towards me on the darkened suburban street. Spooky. And as it came closer, it spread its arms, ready to grab me.

Instead the skeleton hugged me. And then it spoke. My son’s voice, no doubt. He had already caught on to the local customs and was on his way to trick-or-treat with his new friends. I realized the whole neighborhood was spooky. Ghosts and skeletons hung from the trees. Carved pumpkins threw a ghostly light on the manicured lawns through their hollow eyes and irregular teeth. I had never seen anything like that. It felt rather silly to me as I was still mulling over the outcome of my last meeting. On a very ordinary Monday night. But then, I was no longer a kid.

Not that I was a stranger to skeletons. I actually had one as my front seat passenger when I drove through Addis Ababa to a health care conference a few years earlier. The skeleton had been our guest for a couple of days before the event, so I felt compelled to provide him transport to the venue. I had lovingly made him a hoodie out of a bedsheet for this chilly January day. And I did put his seat belt on. He sat there silently next to me as we navigated our way through this lively city. A few pedestrians spotted my pale passenger, and there was some finger pointing. But we arrived safely. He did his job and I did mine. We even posed for a photo together before our ways parted. So I was used to skeletons. Sort of.

Tiny with a skeletonBut the first Halloween was embarrassing. I didn’t have large stacks of candy for the many trick-or-treaters, who knocked on our door. But luckily I always kept a small stash of treats in my pantry. That lasted for an hour. I was not up to any tricks so I had to put the lights out when my candy was gone. A real outlier. But I was a quick study. The following year I had both pumpkins and candy. Whole pumpkins on the stairs. And wrapped candy in a basket.

However, my scariest spooky experience was not on a Halloween. You see, such things can actually happen any time. This was years earlier. In the dark underground city of the dead. In the catacombs under the city of Rome.

When I walked down there, in those long, narrow, winding tunnels surrounded by damp earth, stone or ancient brick, I was moved far back in human history. To the dark times of persecution. I could feel the suffering in those walls. All my senses we spooked. And the skeletons, skulls and other reminders of those who died or were buried there added to the scary and somewhat claustrophobic experience.

All roads lead to Rome, as they say.  If yours does too, the catacombs may be the place to visit. In the unlikely event that your Halloween is not scary enough.

So what am I going to do this Halloween? You guessed it, right? Visit the salt marsh, of course. In case you don’t see an update on my feathered friends over the weekend, I might’ve been caught in the web of this glowing giant spider. Just so you know.

Well ahead of this upcoming scary walk, I wish you all Happy Halloween and a Peaceful All Saints’ Day.

Be Careful. Very Careful.

This weeks Photo Challenge, “careful” brought into mind many adventures in the wild all those years ago. I was young and adventurous, driving safaris in several countries while we lived in Africa. It was tempting to become confident. But that’s not an advisable mindset when entering the world that belongs to the wild. I would always tell myself “be careful, very careful.”  Even that wasn’t always quite enough. So I went to dig up some evidence in our scanned photo archives.

A male lion ZIMBABWEThis male lion was sleeping less than 90 feet from our vehicle. And not behind a sturdy fence in a zoo, but in a small national park in Zimbabwe. He looked peaceful with his huge head resting on his paw. But from previous close calls with lions, I knew we had to be very careful in his presence. That was the case also with a female lion who walked on the trail right in front of our vehicle for more than half a mile before veering off into the dry savannah in Queen Elizabeth National park in Uganda.

female lion UgandaA year or so before our first visit there, a male lion had killed a man on that very trail. The man-eater was killed by the rangers, but it was rumored that a ghost of a lion was seen roaming the park at night. We were not lucky to see it, but this is how it was described by those who saw it. Glowing in the dark.

GHOST LIONElephants also have my respect. It was not advisable to come between the matriarch and the youngsters in the family. Despite being very careful, I came to see an elephant’s belly and her front legs up in the air above our vehicle. In the bush in Uganda. Understandably there is no photo evidence of that particular encounter. Only a wild video recording of the roof of the vehicle when hubby’s camcorder flew around, capturing the elephant’s “trumpet solo” and our screams in the vehicle.  All my attention was focused on pressing the gas pedal to the floor, and getting out of there. That situation was very similar to this one in Zambia. Only the tree was lush and much bigger, effectively hiding the matriarch waiting for the young ones right next to the trail. Needless to say, that incident raised my careful lever even a notch higher.

Elephants in the bush ZambiaObviously we had to be very careful when walking along rivers. The crocodiles were known to snatch people and drag them into an underwater “storage”. This happened to a friend of my Zambian colleague. Luckily the storage room had “skylights”. He could get some air, and the villagers could hear his cries for help. They were able to dig a bigger hole and pull him to safety. He lost a leg, but survived. So being careful, I never swam in rivers or lakes known to harbor these dangerous giants, like this Nile crocodile in Ethiopia.

NILE CROCODILE ETHIOPIAAnother not so friendly swimming companion was the hippo. It may look slow and even cute, but it’s easily scared and capable of killing humans both on land and in water. One night in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, I woke up at 2 a.m. to a strange noise. It came from right outside the window. And there was a huge dark shadow on the curtains. I tiptoed carefully to the window and parted the curtain, just an inch. And was looking at the butt of a huge hippo. So when they were in the water, I was on the water. And when they came to graze on land, I learned to keep my distance.

Hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park UgandaIf and when you enter the wild kingdom to enjoy the wonderful experiences it offers, my recommendation is to be careful. Very careful.

You can find other responses to this challenge here.

Mama Osprey’s Two-front War. And Free Fish Tasting at the Pier.

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been MIA for a while. All kinds of work have been interfering with life. When I finally got back up for air, my first priority was to take a walk in the gorgeous fall weather. I walked almost four miles around the park trying to get my walk-o-meter running again. Phew. I almost felt my age.

Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaRight when I approached the beach end of the salt marsh, I knew something was up. Mama Sandy flew right over my head carrying a fish and sounded loud warning calls. Not for me, but for two other Ospreys circling high above her nest, a male and a female. It might have been Steve, whom some of you will remember, and his new bride.

male osprey

female osprey in flight Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida

I just had to zoom all out, point against the sun and shoot. Sorry for the grainy quality, but that’s the best I got. At least you can see Sandy caught a big fish. Osprey is the only bird that can carry a fish up to two times its own weight. And this fat one made Sandy work hard to get it into the nest.

osprey with a fish

I walked closer and saw the two Ospreys still hanging out in the vicinity of the marsh and looking down at Sandy. She didn’t like that one bit!

mama ospreys warning call Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaWhen I reached the nest, I saw there was a visitor. A Fish Crow was helping Sandy to defend the nest against intruders. Working for food. Or so he thought.

female osprey and the crow watch the skies Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaActually it was more like Sandy fighting a two-front war. I took a 90 second video clip so you can hear Sandy’s warning call and see how it all went down.

The salt marsh was lively with many birds, like this Tri-colored Heron and the Snowy Egret, all of whom went about their business pretending not to hear the loud exchanges of the Ospreys. And the Crow.

tricolored heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida snowy egret Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaMiss Rosa was there too, of course. And said her customary hello.

roseate spoonbill Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaThe young Muscovy Duck, who came to the salt marsh last year and disappeared as soon as he learned to fly, was back too. He was more interested in the photographer than the squabbles going on above his head.

muscovy duck Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaNext I went to visit Papa Stanley’s resort. It looked like he already had his breakfast. He was cleaning his talons.  Or brushing his teeth. It was difficult to tell.

male osprey cleaning his talons Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaFrom there I walked around the park and ended up at the fishing piers. Some of the marsh residents, like the two Great Blue Herons, were there too. Hoping to be invited for a free fish tasting.

fishing pier and a great blue heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Floridayoung great blue heron at fishing pier Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaAnd a Snowy Egret with a broken toe inspected the nets and found a forgotten small fish. It pays to be diligent.

snowy egret at fishing pier Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaAfter meeting so many of my feathered friends, I continued through the lush pine and palm forest to the north beach.

old tree in Sand Key Park Clearwater Floridaforest Sand Key Park Clearwater FloridaSand Key Park Clearwater FloridaWalking home, I was looking signs of fall in the nature. As most of our trees are evergreens, I only found some colorful beach grass, typical of fall here,  and some particularly eye-popping seed pods.

beach grass in fall colors Sand Key Park Clearwater Floridapalm seed pods Sand Key Clearwater FloridaWith that I wish you all a wonderful upcoming weekend, and hope to catch up on you blogs in the next few days.

Family Dramas. And a Possible Election Challenge. At the Salt Marsh.

There’s a hint of autumn in the air now. Finally it’s cooler, breezy and less humid. Okay. I’m going for full disclosure. It’s been gorgeous. And the beach has been lively with all kinds of shorebirds. Little Sanderlings and little humans enjoying the tidal pools together.

sanderling ud26 One morning I also witnessed a bit of a drama in the Royal Tern family. This is how it went down.

Mommy....I'm hungry! My older brother got more fish for breakfast.
Daddy….I’m still hungry! My older brother took almost all the fish.
Lunch time, Mommy!!
Did you hear me Daddy? I’m hungry!
Bring me fish! It's my turn!
Bring me fish! It’s my turn!
What about me, Mommy?
When Daddy returned empty-handed, Mommy was there too….Where’s the fish? Can’t you see our little one is hungry?

I hope all that was settled amicably after I had to leave. While all kinds of excitement was going on among the families on shore, the Brown pelican was sitting calmly on his observation pole off shore, watching it all. I could feel him thinking “this too shall pass”.

pelican ud26

The salt marsh has been fairly quiet. No big rush of migrants as yet. As usual the Mayor has been keeping order among the residents. The other day I saw him chasing the younger GBH around the marsh. I wondered what mischief he’d been up to. Or maybe he wanted to challenge the Mayor and run for office? Like so many these days.

mayor older blue heron ud26

That wouldn’t be such a good idea. I doubt he would get any votes at all. Even Mama Sandy sounded a sharp warning when he as much as flew towards the nest the other day. But he was challenging his fate, as usual, and landed in the water just below the nest. He has a big ego, it seems.

mama osprey closeup ud26

The ducks would definitely gang together against him. They’ve been having these large sunset gatherings lately. Perhaps planning a super pack to support the Mayor? And they’ve been very inclusive. Mallards, Mottled Ducks, and even the tiny Pied-billed Grebe. Like one big, happy family.

mallard meeting ud26Pied-billed Grebe ud26

I wonder if Papa Stanley and Mama Sandy were communicating about that very issue the other day. Papa was at his resort looking south, shouting something to Sandy. And posing for a photo in between. She was about half a mile south, sending replies perched on a huge antenna at the very top of the Marriott Resort on the bay side. That went on for a while before they said “over and out”.

papa osprey ud26mama osprey on the TV antenna ud26

In any case, if the young GBH was dreaming of running for office, my prediction is he’d not get support even from his own. The other Herons. The Tri-colored Heron seems to have her head firmly on her shoulders. And the juvenile Night Heron, although he might perhaps be persuaded by aggressive campaigning, is too young to vote anyway.

tricolored heron ud26juvenile night heron ud26

As to Miss Rosa, she seems very happy with the Mayor’s work. Nobody, but maybe a photographer, could make her to turn her head. And her friend Ibis may be blue eyed, but let me tell you, he’s not easily charmed. By anyone.

roseate spoonbill ud25 bibis ud26

As to the smaller birds, like this Blue Jay, they like to keep a safe distance to anybody showing signs of aggression.

Blue Jay ud26

Based on this official, highly reliable polling, my prediction is that the Mayor will sit firmly in the office for quite some time to come. And I take a new rainbow over the salt marsh as a good sign.

rainbow salt marsh to bay panorama ud26

With that, I’ll wish you all peace. And a wonderful upcoming weekend ~

Happy Place – WPC (11 Images)

Happy place. I taste the words. A place where I feel happy. Where I go to let go of stress and frustrations. And worries. A place where I can laugh or cry. And where my soul can rest.

There are many such places, I realize. For different uses. But all my happy places have one thing in common. Water. On the water. Near the water.

There are everyday happy places right here at home. Like standing barefoot in the shallow water watching the sun dive into the Gulf. Or a catamaran sail into the sunset.

sunset on sat ud26 sunset sail ud26Or sitting on “my” bench next to the deep water at the salt marsh, listening to Mockingbird’s song and watching Mama Osprey enjoy her garden.

salt marsh next to the osprey nest HPmama osprey in the nest UD26

These are everyday happy places. Places to run to whenever I feel in need of soothing stillness surrounded by nature.

And then there are special happy places. Treats of complete happiness not enjoyed every day. Like an afternoon on a small island inhabited only by birds and dolphins.  Or a day spent on the water with family.

3 rooker bar island boat hp

Or hikes on old, unspoiled islands. Diving into happiness as it used to be long before my time. Special treats of happy.

caladesi island beach hphiking 2 on caladesi hp

And then there are forever happy places. Places with traces of my short history here on earth. Places that remember me. From the time my tiny feet felt the cool water for the first time. Where I return to find peace. Sitting on a rock alone with the moon. Enveloped in warmth on a summer night.

Lake in the fall hp

I wish you all a happy week.  Wherever your happy place might be. You can find other responses to this challenge here.

Salt Marsh Gang and the Beach Boys. Live.

This week’s been a busy one. I don’t have the time to write a “proper” update on our friends at the Salt Marsh, so I thought these guys could tell you the latest themselves. They say sorry in advance for the wobbly hand filming them during the last few weeks. Have a great weekend everybody!

Some of the bird song is courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Why I Should Never Get Up before Dawn.

The other day I was startled awake by a dream. I had won exactly $43.2 million on some lottery or another. l soon realized it was just a dream, and that it was still dark outside. The green digits on the alarm clock told me it was 5:50 a.m. great-horned owl ud26Husband was already up, of course, and I could sense a whiff of espresso coming from the kitchen. But he’s an early bird of some sort, and I’m a night owl. As real as they come.

You see, after four years of getting up at exactly 4:15 a.m. to take my regular 7 a.m. flight to Washington D.C. and often beyond, I was done with early mornings. This night owl returned to her natural sleeping patterns as soon as she became her own boss. And her own scheduler. At least seven hours of sleep from early hours of the day until after sunrise. A recipe for a perfect day.

So there I was, my eyes open. Bumble was sleeping sideways in the middle of the bed, snoring. I wanted to go back to sleep, but after just losing over $43 million in a blink, I couldn’t.

Bumble sleeping 2 UD26

I was fully awake. And the smell of coffee soon lured me into the kitchen. Husband looked up from his laptop like he was seeing a ghost, but only said “you’re early”. Quietly. He knows it’s not advisable to start any kind of intellectual exchange with me at that hour.

coffee machines 2 ud26

I could never imagine operating the espresso machine first thing in the morning, so I turned to my faithful Keurig. It knows what I want. And despite having to wake up at this unusual hour, it managed to make me a mug of decent coffee. I walked to my office to enjoy the life affirming brew. And to read some blog posts. Wisely, I didn’t comment on any of them. But I’m sure some early risers among blogging friends lifted an eye brow seeing a “like” from me at that hour.

Soon my world started to turn red. The first rays were coloring the sky above the bay. It was beautiful. A reward for getting up early, I thought.

sunrise over the bay 2 ud26Looking out, I got a brilliant idea. I would surprise Mama Osprey by appearing at sunrise on the bay side where she usually starts her day. So out I went. And met the young Great Blue Heron right at our pool. He’s not shy, as many of you know. He walked around the pool and calmly posed for the camera. I chuckled and shot away. Even considered forgiving him the attacks on the osprey nest last spring. But the light was so dim that of all the photos I took, only this one was salvageable. Later it was obvious to me that the camera has far more settings than the espresso machine. I should remember that for the future.

young blue heron at the pool ud26

Then I walked across the street onto the bay side without an incident. And spotted a huge flock of young Brown Pelicans, I’m guessing forty to fifty, silhouetted against the sun just peeking over the horizon. There was a chaotic flying, diving and eating frenzy all over the bay. I had never seen anything like that and happily shot away. About 160  frames capturing their non-stop action. Against the sun most of the time. It couldn’t be that bad, could it? You guessed it. Yes it could. And it was. Of all the fast action by these wildly entertaining pelicans, only two lame pictures were almost worthy of posting. Most shots were just showing a blur of pelicans on the top of each other, dark silhouettes, or pink water splashing around. But I didn’t know it at the time, of course. I almost never look at my pictures until at home.

pelican diving ud26 pelican at sunrise 2 ud26

So strengthened by having captured such lively action, I walked towards the sailing center. The sun was now looking over the bay from a somewhat higher position.

sunrise on the bay ud26

I heard osprey speak. Looking around I continued walking. And right then my foot found a large hole in the grassy patch I was crossing. A perfect trap. Everything flew around in the air. But only my knees hit the ground.  My equipment wasn’t broken and my ankle wasn’t badly sprained. Redeeming piece of luck right there. Getting up, I spotted Papa Stanley sitting high up on Marriott’s lower roof behind me. He wasn’t scanning for fish. Instead he had turned to look down on me. Sympathetically.

papa osprey at sunrise ud26

And soon I discovered Mama Sandy too. She was sitting on a wind measurement device at the sailing center. And had also turned around to look at me. I thought they’d both seen my fall and wanted to offer some consolation to this poor night owl with no wings. Or maybe they knew I needed some compassion after looking at my 220 frames from that morning? They didn’t tell.

mama osprey at sunrise ud26

After finding both of them, I decided I’d tried my luck enough for one day, and returned home for a second cup of coffee. Inspecting the results of my worst photo shoot ever, I came to the conclusion that I should never get up before dawn. And try to act normal.

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, I hope you got up on the right foot.