Tag Archives: Weekly Photo Challenge

In the Meantime at the Salt Marsh…

On Friday morning Dylan and I went for a walk around the salt marsh. Since I’ve been keeping an eye on the osprey nest from my terrace, I already knew that Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley were still incubating. And provided that everything goes well, we should have hatchlings in about 7-14 days.

ospreys still incubating UD153_edited-2On our front lawn, we were met by a puffed up Mourning Dove. It had been chilly, according to Florida standards of course, in the last few days. And the sun had not yet warmed up the grass.

mourning dove ud153On arrival, we spotted lots of white everywhere around the marsh. Several families of Great Egrets, a few Snowy Egrets and White Ibis were having breakfast under the watchful eye of the Mayor. The older Great Blue Heron had parked himself at the far end of the marsh to ensure an adequate overview of what was going on around the breakfast buffet.

mr mayor great blue heron ud153Some Great Egrets were fishing, seemingly not with much success despite valiant efforts …

a Great Egret fishing ud153…while others demonstrated a double catch.

great egret with two fish UD153A few were still flying in …

great egret flying UD153…some were chasing each other…

Two Great Egrets fly together ud153…and yet others were flying around just for the fun of it.

great egret in flight ud153Some had found their own perfect spot in the sun to air their beautiful breeding plumage. Like this Great Egret who had decided to rent the Mayor’s office…

great egret ud153…and this Snowy Egret, who had found a private sunny spot close to the osprey nest.

snowy agret ud153Suddenly we heard a familiar sound. A high-pitched warning call. And not only by one osprey, but two. Papa Stanley was eating his breakfast at a lamp-post just outside the marsh. He stopped eating and sounded repeated warning calls…

papa osprey sounds alarm ud153…while Mama Sandy sounded the alarm from the nest where she was sitting on the eggs. It took me a while to localize the threat in the sky. It was another, to me unknown, Osprey. He flew towards the nest and peered down right on Sandy.

another osprey ud153Despite the duet of warning calls, the newcomer circled several times around the nest and finally Sandy couldn’t take it anymore. She got up, left the eggs and flew towards the forest after the intruder. I have never seen her do such a daring maneuver while incubating.

mama osprey gets up and flies UD153I lost sight of her for a minute or two, but then she landed back in the nest. Phew. As you can see, she was very careful not to hit the nest cup in the middle of the nest. Her talons were drawn in and her eyes were trained on the eggs.

mama osprey arrives back ud153

mama osprey back at the nest ud153She had been successful in chasing away the intruder, but stood up for a while checking he was really gone.

Peace returned to the salt marsh. A Belted Kingfisher landed on a branch in the middle of the marsh…

belted Kingfisher ud153_edited-1…Stanley went back to eating his fish…

papa osprey continues to eat ud153…and Sandy went back to incubating.

mama osprey incubiting ud153I was glad there was a happy ending to this story, and can’t wait to see a hatchling, two or three soon. Dylan, I and the lively salt marsh gang wish you all a wonderful week ahead.

Ospreys and Nests. The Joys and Challenges of Home Ownership (WPC: Variation)

Last Sunday when the temperatures finally crept up into the normal range for us here in Florida, Mr. Dylan took me for a hike on Honeymoon Island. We hiked the 2.2 mile Osprey Trail. His nose was pointing down and my eyes were looking up. This state park is known for its many Ospreys and soon I spotted a couple in a large well-built nest. It appeared to be ready for egg laying, soft nest cup materials falling over the sides.

Osprey parent on Honeymoon Island UD150This nest had weathered Hurricane Irma, while some others had not. Soon I discovered a female Osprey working on a new nest. It was still very small and far from ready for eggs. And I couldn’t help wondering if her nest had been blown down by Irma. And where was her hubby? He should be busy shuttling in building materials.

female osprey at a new nest UD150 Soon enough I found him. He was taking a break in a nearby tree. I sure hoped he was hatching plans for a lengthy work shift in the afternoon.

male osprey UD150We continued our hike and Dylan greeted about a dozen dogs who had taken their moms or dads out too. Then I spotted yet another variation on the osprey nest. But there was something odd about it. There was no Osprey. Instead I saw two ears sticking up from the middle of the nest. Look carefully and you’ll see the ears of mom Great-horned Owl. It appeared she was already incubating.

Mama great-horned owl ud150Oh dear. Could the nest she had been using have blown down by the hurricane? And she just settled in this osprey nest instead? Might this be the nest of the couple now working on new construction? It certainly looked like that. You see, Great-horned owls do not build their own nest. Instead, they raise their young in nests built by other birds.  I knew dad Great-horned Owl had to be somewhere in the vicinity of this nest. Although well camouflaged I found him soon enough. He was napping at the top of a very tall pine tree.

daddy great-horned owl ud150Dylan almost lost his patience following me around the tree as I was trying to get a clear picture of him. But despite our best efforts to get his attention, he continued to sleep among the long needles and branches. He never looked down.

papa great-horned owl ud150Dylan even asked me if he should start barking, but I told him no. Maybe that poor owl had been hunting all night. A Mourning Dove offered a consolation prize. She was readily available for a photo session.

mourning dove ud150We continued our hike and discovered a great variety of dead trees available for new nests.

And before arriving back to the parking lot, we spotted one more Osprey mom at her nest.

another female osprey UD150Closer to home, Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley have made tremendous progress on their nest left thinly furnished by Irma. We found them both at home yesterday.

papa osprey in the nest UD150_edited-5Stanley had guard duty, while Sandy was working an a large Hogfish presumably brought home by hubby.

mama osprey works on a big fish UD150Dylan’s employment contract as my photo assistant is conditional to first visiting the dog park. So we left the happy couple to enjoy their lunch.

Coming back we walked around the marsh and found a Great Egret in breeding plumage. He was walking right on our path. Dylan discovered him first. But true to his new role, he didn’t lurch forward to catch the big bird.

Dylan below the Osprey nest UD150We approached carefully, but finally he discovered us too.

great egret 2 ud150We noticed from the distance that the osprey nest was empty. I assumed Stanley, faithful to his habits, had taken the rest of the fish and gone to eat his lunch in privacy. And that Sandy had taken an exercise flight after all that eating. Right then Sandy landed back on the perch.

mama osprey returns UD150And I soon understood why she had hurried back. A Turkey Vulture was approaching the nest.

turkey vulture UD150_edited-1Sandy let him know in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted in the vicinity of her home.

Mama Sandy sees a danger UD150_edited-1He left. She calmed down. And we walked past her right below the nest.

mama osprey at the nest UD150_edited-1She doesn’t like to see dogs right next to the nest. I have witnessed her dog alarms on multiple occasions. But she didn’t say a peep. Nor did she move her head back and forth – a sure sign of irritation. She just took a long glance at Mr. D. and decided he couldn’t fly. Or maybe she trusts the two of us?

mama osprey sees Dylan UD150The only other bird we spotted at the marsh yesterday was the older Great Blue Heron, aka the Mayor. He was patrolling the shallow waters and looked happy with the peaceful scene.

mayor great blue heron ud150When we got back on the trail to go home, we saw the Great Egret again. His beautiful breeding plumage and the green ‘wedding painting’ on his face told me he was looking for a mate.

Great egret ud150Thanks for coming along to see some variations on the theme ‘Ospreys and Nests’. We all wish you a great week ahead.

Silence is an Ocean – Rumi. (WPC Five Images)

Nothing’s happening
Yet everything is here Now
I breathe in silence.

silence at sunrise ud149

I wait in silence
For a small sign from above
To take the next step.

silence on a sand bar ud149

The day goes to sleep
Never to wake up again
Blue silence remains.

silence in the blue hour ud149

Life crafts miracles
In the silence of the night
I trust and exhale.

silence at night ud149_edited-1


Allure of the Sinking City.

I didn’t have my boots. But luckily I didn’t need them this time. There was no aqua alta. No water came up onto the streets, squares and court yards like I had witnessed when I visited Venice a few years ago for work. However, major flooding, covering almost 15% of the city, now occurs about four times a year when the converging high tides and sirocco winds push more sea water into the lagoon. And minor flooding happens more and more often. This beautiful city is sinking.

Venice pictured from the lagoonPart of the sinking is due to natural compaction of the sediments on the 118 islands that make up the city, but a slightly larger part is due to human activity, such as conservation and renovation of the historic buildings. Some say the huge number of tourists descending on the city center on a daily basis also contributes, at least indirectly, to the sinking. And it doesn’t help that the water levels in the Adriatic Sea are rising due to global warming.

st Mark's Square Piazza San Marco VeniceI felt a bit guilty being one of the about 30 million tourists visiting Venice annually. Tourism has clearly made it more difficult for the locals to live, and afford to live, in the city. Many have already moved to the mainland. And tourism contributes very little towards the overwhelming challenges of conservation and protection against the rising waters faced by the residents. I am all for an entry fee for visitors and all the other limiting measures now contemplated by the Mayor and local government of Venice.

cruise ship in Venice_edited-1I also believe that banning the huge cruise ships from sailing into the lagoon would be a good step in the right direction…just check the scale of this ship compared to the buildings next to it.

my waterbus in VeniceThese thoughts in mind, but happy it was not raining, I set out to navigate my way from the (in comparison) small boat towards Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square as we call it in English.

I passed the Doge’s Palace, which I had already admired from the water. It had housed over 1000 Doges, elected rulers of Venice, before the “job” was abolished in 1797. The palace had also contained the court, administration and the prison systems of Venice during the medieval and renaissance periods.

the Doge's Palace VeniceOnce at the Piazza, I was fascinated by the gorgeous, intricate details of the Basilica San Marco. I just walked around it and zoomed in on one detail after another.

the horses of st Mark Basilica cavalli di san marco venice

nativity scene at saint marks basilica in Venice

mosaics at San Marco Venice_edited-1

painting on Saint Mark Basilica in Venice_edited-1The sights around the Piazza were just stunning. One beautiful building,  statue, detail or pigeon next to another.

Piazza San Marco Venice

Doorway in Venice

Detail of a pillar in Venice

the clock ringers in Venice

pigeons at Piazza San Marco VeniceI stayed there for quite a while and came across this ancient “letter box” in the wall. It was not one of the famous Boca de Leons through which citizens could anonymously send accusations to the Doge. This one had a more serious clang to it. The accusations of crime had to be signed with the name and address of the accuser. If, after a thorough investigation, the accusation was found correct and a crime had been committed, the accused would be punished. Sometimes beheaded. But should the accusation be unfounded, the accuser would be punished. Ouch. Judging from the discolorations around the letter hole, it seems this method of getting justice had been used quite frequently.

letter box for accusations non-anonymous in VeniceThe “weatherman”, as Venetians call the angel at the top of St. Mark’s clock tower, predicted overcast skies and some wind but no rain for the day. Encouraged by this good forecast, I decided to take a gondola ride.

the weatherman at the top of the clock tower in VeniceI walked to one of the “Gondola stations”. I wanted to see the ordinary houses where people lived, and some of the 430 bridges, cruising through a few of the 170 narrow canals.

gondola station in VeniceAnd after a short wait I was onboard. My gondolier worked hard to get us out to the Grand Canal. It should be noted that it’s not easy to become a gondolier. While the license is often transferred from father to son, the aspiring gondoliers must go to gondola school, do a formal internship of 6-12 months and pass a practical exam in front of 5 gondola judges. Among the approximately 400 licensed gondoliers today, there is only one woman.

My gondolier in Venice

gondolas in venice_edited-2

in the gondola on the great canal in Venice_edited-1We passed many beautiful buildings and churches exhibiting more exquisite mosaics.

mosaic on a house wall in Venice

exterior mosaic painting Venice_edited-1From the Grand Canal we entered the narrow, residential canals, sometimes navigating through traffic jams of gondolas, residents’ boats and water taxis.

canal and gondolas venice_edited-1

my gondola navigates in VeniceBoats were “parallel parked” in the front of the homes just like we would see cars elsewhere.

street parking in VeniceWe glided under some of the beautiful large and small bridges.

on the water in Venice

venice canal and bridge

in the gondola in VeniceAnd I witnessed, with some heartache, the true romance of gondola rides…a musician and a soloist onboard entertaining a couple. But “O’ Sole Mio” didn’t help to bring out the sun.

gondolier musician and solist in VeniceThe gondola ride was a unique experience to say the least. After the ride, I visited a glass factory. Or rather a workshop and sales quarters of one of the producers of the famous Murano glass. They had a small workshop in the city, while their main factory was…on the island of Murano. I watched the Master create a vase, and of course ended up buying some small, but still fairly pricey gifts.

glassblowing venice

Murano glass in Venice_edited-1Walking back to the boat over numerous brides, I got lost. The best way to see Venice, according to some. I noticed I was surrounded by several restaurants and realized I hadn’t eaten since my light breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

bridge in VeniceAfter some pizza and a glass of red wine, I regained my bearings. …and encountered some of the mysteries of this unique city.

mask Venice_edited-1From behind my Volta mask, I wish you all a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.

The Last Day. Anno 79 A.D.

It was late morning on August 24, 79 A.D. The lively city of Pompeii was buzzing with activity. The main street leading to the Forum was busy with carts, carriages and chariots bouncing over the large cobblestones.

main street Pompeii

street PompeiiOn residential streets, pedestrians negotiated their way on narrow sidewalks. The sidewalks were raised because unlike Rome, Pompeii didn’t have a sophisticated sewer system and much of the wastewater found its way onto the streets. Crossing the street with produce from the market or products from the many flourishing shops around the Forum was a balancing act on the large, flat stones provided for the purpose of crossing with dry feet.

street and crosswalk in PompeiiAs usual, people were gathering around the many drinking wells around the city exchanging the latest news and some, without a doubt, also engaging in rumor mongering.

drinking well in Pompeii_edited-2Nobody worried about the fact that the water to these fountains was flowing through lead pipes.

another well in PompeiiThe bath houses were still busy with late morning bathers, men and women enjoying separate quarters. Their clothing neatly tucked away in the “lockers” around the bath.

wall art outside a bath house in Pompeii

inside of the bath house in PompeiiSome people were lingering in the colorfully decorated common areas of the bath house.

bath house frescos PompeiiThis Tuesday morning, life was going on its usual merry ways at the many hotels (and brothels), shops and bakeries in the city.

hotel 2 in Pompeii

bedroom in Pompeii

shop in pompeii

bakery in PompeiiThe morning rehearsals at the Grand Theater had just concluded and the spectators were leaving the venue. It was a perfect morning.

grand theater pompeiiThe smaller Forum was busy too. Young men were competing in athletics, their families cheering them on. Some were standing in small groups discussing politics.

smaller forum in Pompeii

floor mosaic PompeiiAt the affluent villas of the nobel class and newly rich merchants, the morning was spent leisurely around the house.

the floor plan of the latest opened house in PompeiiGuests were entertained in the larger atrium, where the rainwater had been gathered in a shallow “pool” for some cooling on this warm summer morning.

Atrium of the most recently opened house Pompeii

House of Sirico Pompeii

frescos in a house in PompeiiThe servants were busy dusting the frescos and cleaning the mosaic floors in and outside of the house.

most recent house interior mosaic floor Pompeii

floor mosaic pattern PompeiiInhabitants and guests of the most opulent villas facing the sea, could enjoy splendid views from their elaborate terraces and gardens.

view of house interior Pompeii

sea view from the house garden PompeiiThose less fortunate could enjoy the public green spaces sprinkled around the city.

garden 2 in Pompeii_edited-1But the busiest place this morning was the Forum. It was the economic, religious and political center of the city, where municipal buildings, courts, temples and commercial activities were located around the two-story portico.

busy forum in Pompeii

two story pillars at the Forum Pompeii

Forum in PompeiiThe northern end of the Forum was closed by the Capitolium, with Mount Vesuvius rising towards the sky right behind it.

the Forum with backdrop of Vesuvius PompeiiAn ordinary late summer day. Until … around noon, a “cloud of unusual size and shape” appeared overtop Vesuvius.

the eruption of Vesuvius starts PompeiiIt could be seen across the city. At first, there was curiosity. But an hour later when ash started falling, people begun to panic. Many rushed towards the harbor, others started running north or south along the coast, but some 2000 people were hesitant to leave their homes. They would ride out whatever was coming and chose to take shelter in buildings and underground cellars they deemed safe. But the eruption escalated fast. Around 2 p.m. ash and white pumice was falling over the city at a rate of 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) an hour.

vesuvius erupts 2 Pompeii_edited-1By 5 p.m. the sun was completely blocked and there was no light for the people still seeking shelter or running away from the city. Ash, bits of pumice and charred rocks were falling on the city. Fires were burning everywhere. Roofs started to collapse.

vesuvius eruption 3b pompeiiAnd then, in the morning of August 25, just before 7 a.m., a pyroclastic cloud of hot ash and toxic gas surged down on the city killing everyone who had remained in its vicinity. Not one was spared. Men, women, children and animals all perished.

dead woman PompeiiThe eruption buried the city under 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) of volcanic ash and pumice. Life as it had been on that late summer day in 79 A.D. was frozen in time for almost 1700 years.

a man in PompeiiPliny the Younger,  a Roman writer who managed to escape from the city in time, described the eruption in letters to his friend, which were discovered in the 16th century. The ruins of Pompeii were found only in 1748.

artifacts found in PompeiiAbout 80% of the city has now been excavated and as the work progresses, we learn more about that fateful day 1938 years ago.

About 700,000 people currently live around the volcano, which last erupted in 1944.

outer walls PompeiiAs I am starting to “unpack” my latest travels, I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.

Snapshots of the Now. Waiting.

I have finally reached the point on my journey to acceptance of what happened in July, where I would love to get back to blogging. But I am not ready to write my usual ‘light touch’ nature stories. Nor have I been able to engage in photography like I used to. Or to focus on reading.

I have realized, however, that life is a string of snapshots of the now. I will be attempting to post frequent snapshots of my life ‘now’ as it unfolds for the next few weeks. Maybe just an iPhone shot, a short poem or something similar. Simple. Often mobile. Comments closed.

To get started, I am sharing a few snapshots of my life in the past two weeks.

Waiting for some dolphins to appear on the Labor Day weekend, when Hurricane Irma was still churning far out on the Atlantic.

labor day 2 watching dolphins ud137.jpgAnd they did…playful as ever. Good times. Grief slowly fading into the background.

labor day 2 dolphin ud137And then there was the quiet before the storm. Calm seas. An eerily beautiful seascape on a perfect day. But nobody was enjoying it. The lonely lifeguard shack was waiting to be moved to safety. Like most of us.

beach view before Irma ud137This peaceful scene was in sharp contrast to my frantic search for a flight to get out of here with Dylan. Paradise in Zone A. Mandatory evacuation.

I have crisscrossed the globe, but seldom been happier to finally see a plane at the gate. One of the last planes to leave the airport before it would be closed. Our temporary home would be wherever that plane flew. A ticket to anywhere.AA plane ud137Flashback. The last plane out from Addis Ababa at war. 1990s. A week after husband and son had been evacuated. Essential personnel.

philly studio ud137_edited-1A small studio apartment at a hotel in Philly. Waiting with Dylan and Wolf Blitzer. Wanting to go home. Whatever that might mean. Waiting.

Snapshots of the Now Series (1)

Arlene’s Farewell Concert. And Mischief at the Salt Marsh.

I feel lucky. I didn’t miss Arlene’s farewell concert on Thursday night. She sang the now familiar Aria di sorbetto ‘I Want Fiiish, a Big Fiiish’ to Mama Sandy, Dylan and me. She sang from the heart and closed her eyes to reach the highest notes.

osprey chick arlene asks for fish ud132Tired after the hot day and, I’m sure, many fishing attempts, she was perching at Papa Stanley’s usual summer resort in the park. Mama Sandy was sleeping on a lamp-post close by. She turned her head towards Arlene and just listened. She didn’t open an eye.

mama Sandy ud132Soon Arlene was sleeping too. Her crop was fairly full, but it never hurts to ask for more fish when mama is nearby.

osprey chick arlene is sleepy ud132_edited-1Early on Friday morning Dylan and I spotted her at her Marriott roof top suite, but during the day she had left. Almost four weeks after fledging she started her independent life. I had anticipated her departure, but little did I know these would be the last pictures of her. For now.

Papa Osprey at Marriott ud132_edited-1Dylan and I have looked for her every night since, but we have only found Papa Stanley and Mama Sandy. They have stayed in the area, and on Friday night we spotted both of them with a half-eaten fish. Perhaps in case Arlene would regret her move. But she didn’t. Osprey chicks rarely return once they ‘move out’, unlike many humans.

mama osprey on Sunday ud132But this morning when I was driving on a bridge to the mainland about five miles south of us, I spotted an Osprey chick. And an adult osprey was perching on the opposite lamp-post. I could not stop the traffic to look closer, but it could very well have been Arlene with one of her parents still keeping an eye on her. That would confirm my theory that one of the parents still support them after they leave. The presence of Osprey chicks is transient. They hatch, the lucky ones fledge and move out from the immediate nest area once they feel confident of their fishing skills. I certainly hope to see Arlene visiting the salt marsh one day. I’ll leave you with a funny picture I’ve not shared before. Arlene became a big girl and learned to potty before she learned to fly 🙂

osprey chick going to toilet ud126_edited-2Adieu Arlene, we wish you a happy life! And we’ll miss you.

That brings me to the happenings at the salt marsh. On Sunday I finally decided to defy the heat and go for a long walk. The first thing I spotted was quite shocking. An Anhinga had occupied the Osprey nest. Or more accurately, the perch.

anhinga at the osprey nest ud131Birds in the vicinity of the nest reacted too. An intruder was not welcome. Some looked up, dropped their jaw in horror, but said nothing. Like this Common Grackle.

grackle ud132Others, like the juvenile Green Heron, got really upset and just stared at the nest.

juvenile green heron ud132Despite the reactions, the Anhinga perched there for quite a while. That is, until he saw a big bird high in the sky. A Swallow-tailed Kite.

swallow-tailed Kite over salt marsh ud131_edited-1

anhinga ud131One could not risk that he was the owner of the nest. So the Anhinga quickly flew back to his friends on the bay side.

Just when I thought enough excitement now, there was more. The Reddish Egret I have dubbed ‘the Clown’ was doing his song and dance performance.

reddish Egret UD132

reddish egret 2 ud132He was moving swiftly, running sic-sack and talking to himself. He was almost too fast to capture on ‘tape’. Oh sorry, there are no tapes. Just some blurry photographs of his wild performance.

reddish egret 3 ud132Someone was watching this spectacle. As there always is. The Mayor was standing in the bushes nearby, and he was growing annoyed.

great blue heron the mayor ud132He started walking towards the Clown. Determined to stop the loud performance.

great blue heron ud132The Clown quickly calmed down. He was like nailed to the mud. Completely motionless he watched the Mayor walk by.

great blue heron and reddish egret ud132_edited-3A female Mallard was observing the power-play from the trail. She was keeping her distance, probably not knowing what to expect.

female mallard ud132But there was no confrontation. The Clown walked away, calmly. Despite some Black Skimmers flying back and forth right in front of his nose.

reddish egret and black skimmer ud132But he soon regained his resolve. And challenged the mayor, all puffed up.

reddish egret 4 ud132What he didn’t understand was that the Mayor is a stable, thick-skinned adult. Not to be easily provoked. And suddenly everything was calm again. The little Mottled ducklings swam by completely oblivious to the previous tension.

two mottled ducklings ud132The Tri-colored Heron continued her search for a tasty bite. And the Great Egret at the other end of the marsh gave a sigh of relief. He’s had his disagreements with the Clown.

tri-colored heron ud132.jpg

great egret ud132And I walked home. Now that the nesting season is over, I might take some time off too. I want to do some travelling. And approaching my fifth blogging anniversary next month, I also feel the need to refresh my blog. In the meantime I may blog less…and/or different. Although we’ll probably ‘see’ each other over the summer months, I wish all our friends a wonderful summer. A huge thank you from all of us at the salt marsh for being here.