Move Faster! And a Romantic Date Night.

I feel like a turtle. I just want to continue the leisurely stroll of the holidays. Soak in the sun and contemplate life in peace and quiet. But I feel the push to start moving faster. We are almost three weeks into the new year. Can you believe it?

I hope to make this fresh year more balanced than the past. Alternating work and play, just like in the high intensity interval exercise I’ve become to like lately. I’m envisioning myself at times flying fast like Mama Osprey…

… and then just enjoying life like a turtle. With all time in the world.

So far so good. Dylan and I were exploring the Taylor Park again last week. The Anhinga and the Moorhen were present in big numbers as usual.

And we spotted many feathered friends looking for a tasty breakfast, like this Wood Stork, Tri-colored Heron and Little Blue Heron.

We were trying hard to find at least one gator, but they seemed to be lying low(er than usual) due to the cooler winter temperatures we’re having right now. So instead we enjoyed spotting more birds, like this Ring-billed Gull and a Great Egret.

Then we heard a loud group of Boat-tailed Blackbirds. The males were fighting in the reeds and refused to be photographed. But this female, who is actually brown and may have been the reason of the fight, stepped out to hunt for food. Click.

There are always several Pied-billed Grebes on the lake and I love photographing them.

But this cutie stretched my patience – and even Mr. Dylan’s who had to sit and wait for me. This little one was diving non-stop and staying up on the surface less than a second at the time. It was a comical exercise. There he is. Gone. Repeat. I got numerous pictures of bubbles and rings on the water and some tail feathers at times. But finally my patience was rewarded and I managed to snap a picture. Oops!

That’s when I saw something in the water further out in the shady part of the lake. It was, indeed, a very quiet gator.

After that discovery we ran our last stretch before leaving the park happy with our intermittent “osprey-turtle” exercise.

But what about the salt marsh, you may wonder. We have been there too. After returning from my holiday trip to Sweden, I hadn’t seen much of the Osprey couple. They usually start their nesting season in early January by refurbishing their home, but it had been quiet at the nest. We walked past the nest on our way to the dog park and I thought I could see some signs of remodeling, but nobody was there. And I started to get worried.

The perivious week I had seen Mama Sandy fly by my office window…

… and Papa Stanley eating on a lamp-post close to the nest, but hadn’t seen them together or working on the nest. Knowing that ospreys don’t opt for a divorce at the first sign of disagreement, I concluded there has to be some valid reason for their wait.

Finally last week on Saturday night I saw a beautiful sight from my terrace. Sandy and Stanley were having a date night at the Sailing Center

I grabbed my camera and out we went, my assistant and I. I was hoping the happy couple would still be there and the light would be enough to capture the evidence of this romance. And we were in luck. Both Sandy and Stanley greeted us with a friendly nod.

They were enjoying the last light on the bay side as much as we were…

…and we also spotted a a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret down at the water’s edge.

So finally, and quite late this year, mama and papa osprey had come together to start their nesting season. The sixth one I look forward to observing.

Earlier this week, Dylan and I visited the dog park on a cool, partly loudy day. And discovered the little salt marsh village was lively indeed. The Mayor was in the office and surveyed the marsh in his typical, calm manner.

Further out, in a difficult spot to ‘shoot’, several residents were huddling to seek shelter from the cold wind coming from the north. Even the Clown, aka Reddish Egret was calm, with no intention to perform. Maybe his enthusiasm was dampened by the presence of the Wood Stork, who had only recently given him a lesson.

But he couldn’t help himself, he had to follow the bigger bird into the water and keep him under surveillance.

Closer to the Osprey nest, at the east end of the marsh, Several residents had sought shelter in the bushes. I was happy to see the Snowy Egret had already developed a breeding plumage and to spot both a Black- and Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the first time in quite a while. Most residents seemed to be back from their holiday travels.

To my delight, both Sandy and Stanley were at the nest, which now clearly was under renovation. Sandy was happily munching on a fish, likely provided by Stanley. And he seemed to be musing on the fact that he would be dad again…

…and watched us with great interest. Or maybe it was bride. In any case, I promised myself to make time to follow their, hopefully successful, nesting season in my “turtle time” between travels. Thank you for being here. Be good and keep warm.

Walking Stockholm. With Gifts and Christmas Snow.

She smiled and greeted me when I stepped into the British Airways lounge area close to my departure gate at Chicago O’Hare airport. I greeted her and handed over my two remaining boarding passes on this “points trip” to celebrate Christmas in Sweden. She lifted her head and with a big smile she asked if I would like to sit in the first class on my trip to London. I said I would love to but didn’t have enough points to do the upgrade. She smiled even wider and handed me my first class boarding pass. “You’re worth it”, she said.

It was an early Christmas gift I was grateful for and thoroughly enjoyed. After a delicious dinner and some champagne, I changed into my provided pajamas, received my pillows and a comforter, and slept practically until touchdown at Heathrow. For the first time ever, I slept through the breakfast service! But there was one more ribbon on my gift yet to be opened, a wonderful sit-down breakfast in the 1st class arrival lounge.

I felt rested and well fed for the rest of my journey to Stockholm. When we approached the Arlanda airport I glanced out of the window – and saw snow! I would experience my first white Christmas in over 20 years. Another unexpected gift.

I thoroughly enjoyed the long walks that Beppe, the poodle, took us on every day along Stockholm’s snow covered sidewalks and paths through the many parks. As you can see this Florida girl was properly attired for the winter weather with a hooded buffer jacket, snow boots and borrowed warm gloves.

I made some interesting discoveries on our walks, like this Santa climbing up the side of a tall condo building in my sister’s neighborhood. And the sentinel cats guarding a shop door.

The blue hour was always beautiful…the snow adding a magical hue.

And the late night walks allowed me to immerse in the feeling of warmth of the Swedish Christmas – despite the below freezing temperatures. Most windows in the city were lit with chandeliers or Christmas stars, like this one at my sister’s…

… and many courtyards of these over a century old buildings were decorated with lit trees.

Very festive and beautiful indeed.

On the Saturday before Christmas I visited my aunt in Gothenburg. A convenient MTR Express speed train now provides a three-hour connection between the two cities. It was great to see her after 13 years! And I couldn’t complain about the all natural Christmas decorations at the Central Station in Gothenburg.

On the Sunday before Christmas, as is customary in Sweden, we visited the grave site of a recently departed loved one. The cemetery was beautiful in its all white outfit. And light snow was still falling.

After some silent moments of remembering our loved one, we felt it was time for an afternoon ‘fika’. And the nearby café offered coffee and lots of goodies to choose from.

Warmed up by a good fika I decided it was time for an afternoon solo walk. I wanted to see some of my favorite places again.
The old town was charming with snow-covered sidewalks and lots of lights outside and inside the shops.

I walked the narrow streets and slippery cobble stone alleys to the Royal Palace, which rises at the north end of the Old Town.

The Old Town is sometimes called “the city between bridges” as there are seven bridges connecting this island, first inhabited in mid to late 1100s, to other islands that form the city of Stockholm. I walked out from the Old Town via the Riksbron bridge.

From that bridge I admired the City Hall and the Centralbron bridge on one side and the Royal Opera House and the Strömbron bridge on the other.

I loved the beautiful Christmas lights on and around these bridges.

By now I was really cold and needed something warming. I stepped into a busy bistro and Santa kindly offered me a tasty Irish coffee.

I lingered inside long enough to feel my toes again. Then stepped back outside on the busy Queen’s Street full of shoppers making last minute gift purchases.

I walked to the Central Square and took the metro for a couple of stops back to my sister’s. My walking quote for the day was full.

Now it was the time to carry home and decorate the live tree… and bake the Christmas tarts. While my sister decorated the tree, I baked the tarts. To be enjoyed with a cup of warm glögg, of course.

In Sweden the Christmas Eve is the time for a sumptuous Christmas dinner, glam and gift giving, while the Christmas Day is more for quiet contemplation and celebration of the real gift of Christmas.

Our dinner was delicious with all the traditional Christmas dishes, from two kinds of hams, all the vegetable casseroles and Janson’s Temptation to small sausages, meat balls, beet salads, red cabbage etc. etc. Poor Beppe was left guarding the presents under the tree while we lingered at the table enjoying all that food. Finally Santa came and Beppe could open his presents, among them a toy squirrel from Florida. He thoroughly enjoyed chasing it.

Needless to say my Christmas was warm and wonderful. Full of love…

… and good food 🙂 Luckily Beppe took us out several times a day, and on Boxing Day we did a long walk around the Karlberg Kanal in the bleak winter sun.

At a marina out there, I spotted an interesting weather forecasting device. A hanging stone.

Since many of my readers don’t speak Swedish, I will provide the translation of the forecasting guidance here:

CONDITION OF THE STONE FORECAST
The stone is wet Rain
The stone is dry No rain
The stone casts a shadow on the ground Sunny
The stone is white on the top Snow
The stone is not visible Fog
The stone swings Strong winds
The stone jumps up and down Earthquake
The stone is missing Tornado

That made me smile. And I saw a faint shadow of the stone on the snow, a treat during a long walk in nature.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and soon it was time to travel back home. But the good memories last. I am still musing on the wonderful time I had.

I wish you all ‘happy continuation on the new year’ or ‘god fortsättning’ as we say in Sweden. May this year bring you many blessings.