Thursday, June 20, 2019

An Unexpected Mountain Laurel

The blog is on some more travels, so there will be a short break. Meanwhile, this mountain laurel is, I have to say, a far more vigorous specimen than my poor straggly deer-eaten ones in western New York. I spotted it - guess where?


Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Watching for Warblers

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York State

There is, quite near us, a wondrous place called the Pfeiffer Nature Center. It owns some lovely woodland and holds all kinds of interesting activities. Last year I went there for a  mushroom walk. This spring, bird-watching was on offer.
  May is a good time, apparently, as a lot of birds are flying back north for the summer and the Nature Center is a good motorway service station, as it were, for them.


There are ponds and shrubs and trees and the open sort of woodland they like and which I'm told is hard to find these days. My companions were all considerably more expert than me.


The could tell what a bird was just by its tweet and had an uncanny knack of spotting them. I spent a lot of time peering through my binoculars at a lot of leaves and branches and saying plaintively, "Which way did it go?" You have to be quick with these birds. "It takes practice!" said a nice lady, soothingly.  One of my few spottings was a chestnut-sided warbler. This, of course, is not my photo.


I missed the scarlet tanager and the magnolia warbler and the Blackburnian warbler and the bluebird and countless others (I never knew there were so many different kinds of warblers in existence in the world, let alone at the Pfeiffer Nature Center) but I did manage to see an indigo bunting.


I felt as if I'd rather been thrown in the deep end but I'll have to try it again and hope to do better.
  And it's a lovely place just to amble along the forest paths. Some naughty beavers had been at these trees.


The sun was shining and there were wildflowers everywhere.


There are certainly worse ways to spend a morning.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Road Trip Part 7: Sea Ponies

  I never did read Misty of Chincoteague when I was little, even though I was mad about pony books. 


  But I'd heard about the fabled wild ponies that lived on an island called Chincoteague. (Or was it Assateague?) And swam across the water from somewhere to somewhere in a roundup every year. We had some trouble puzzling it out - were Assateague and Chincoteague one island or two? And which was which? And more to the point, where could we see the ponies?
  We drove up through the bit of Virginia that, along with Delaware and Maryland, forms the "DelMarVa" peninsula. It started inauspiciouly. It seemed to be chicken farm central - you can tell from the long buildings with huge fans at the ends. Dread to think what the interiors look and smell like. And where there weren't chicken farms there were run-down wooden houses and signs to places like "Modest Town". Then we saw another sign to a place called "Horsey", which gave us some hope that we were on the right road.  We spotted more blossoming trees and dazzling azaleas and a whole forest of purple wisteria gone rampant. Were things getting wilder? Not quite yet.
 As we turned off onto the causeway to Chincoteague,  driving over expanses of water and marsh grass, the way was marred by an endless  procession of telegraph poles (utility poles to Americans) and billboards, some with worthy slogans, "One Road To Chincoteague, Jesus Christ The Only Way To Heaven" , others just plain tacky. Here they are on the return journey, so you can only see the backs. 


  Chincoteague proved to be a tourist trap par excellence. T-shirt vendors vied with bike rentals, souvenir shops and what looked like mini golf and mini theme parks and eateries called things like Sandy Pony Donuts, though we never actually saw that one, only heard about it. We did have a chuckle at "Wallops Flight Facility" . It wasn't quite as bad as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - few things could be. But it was getting there. Then we realised that there was some method in the madness. Chincoteague did prove to be a separate island. And once we started crossing over to Assateague, things changed dramatically.


 Marsh, grassland, sea and forests,


made for a wonderfully peaceful place. So at least if you restrict the tourist tat to one area, you can have a nice nature reserve in the rest.


 And here at last


Across the marsh in the appropriately misty distance


 .. were the ponies


  There's some dispute about how they got there in the first place. The popular legend is that they swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon. More mundane historians say they're descendants of horses grazed on the island by the early settlers to avoid taxes on the mainland. Apparently the ponies have bloated tummies because they drink a lot of water.
  To complicate things further, Assateague is divided between Virginia and Maryland, making for two separate sets of ponies. Interestingly, the Virginia herd is managed by the local volunteer firemen.
Every year the Virginia ponies swim across to Chincoteague (actually not all that far) to be sold. And to complicate things further the Chincoteague equines are "ponies" and the Assateague ones "horses". Or vice versa. I give up.
  We overnighted in Easton, but heard that the best seafood was to be had in St Michaels, a few miles away on the water. St Michaels proved to be another tourist hotbed, though slightly more tasteful, in a twee sort of way with charming little wooden cottages and charming prices too. Apparently hubby  anchored his sailing boat here once. It was bursting with visitors - goodness knows what it's like in high summer. So we tried our luck back at Easton. The hotel suggested Brannings Tavern. "If you choose the rock fish, it'll have been caught off the pier this morning." The only encounter I ever had with a rock fish was with the one I very nearly trod on in Egypt many years ago. (If I had done, I wouldn't be around to tell the tale). So I was a bit dubious but excellent it proved to be. Maybe it was a good, honest American rock fish. Brannings Tavern held some historic promise but the interior had been modernised - just like all the gastropubs in Surrey.
  The rest of our trip was to a cold and windy Washington DC and thence through Pennsylvania to western New York. By then sister-in-law and I had stinking colds and didn't stop to take photographs.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Road Trip Part 6: Blessing the Worms

Back to the road trip and UPDATE approaching the END UPDATE crossing into North Carolina, the scenery wasn't too promising.


That's why we tend to stay off the main roads.


Note the sombrero stuck on the billboard to the right.

  
We stayed the night in a place called Suffolk, which was quite near Norfolk. There were a lot of very tall girls staying at our hotel. They turned out to be a basketball team and we wished them luck. 
 We're now becoming old hands at negotiating the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and after we got across, relief from concrete and kitsch was at hand from the Cape Charles Coffee Shop.


The interior had a lot of wood and old balconies and the waffles were spectacular. We mentioned that, as we came into the village, we'd seen this sign.


What on earth was the Blessing of the Worms?  It turned out not to be an ancient ritual dating back to mediaeval times in some village in the Carpathian mountains but a little fun to encourage the youth of the village to take up gardening. The "Youth Garden" was looking good.


Further on and more of what we really like to see.


A touch of Olde England, even down to the rain.


And the street names.


And towns like Oxford and Cambridge.
But before that, we were out to spot some slightly bigger wildlife.

To be continued.

(The update is to assuage the feelings of North Carolinans, who wouldn't like you to think that all this stuff is on their side of the border...Thanks to the helpful reader who pointed this out.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

WNY Interlude: Wet, Foggy, Sometimes Sunny

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York

A little break from the road trip and some tastes of Western New York in late May. A foggy morning on the lane...


Turning to blue skies.


And dappled sunshine on the lane.


There was a deer crossing the road in the distance. Take my word it - I didn't have a fancy camera.


The May apples were out - there's a tiny round fruit under the umbrella.


I went up to our neighbour's pond where all was tranquil, though the baby frogs, aka Spring Peepers had been singing overnight, like thousands of sleighbells. They're late this year.


And a couple of noisy geese landed. They took off again soon after and low-flew right past me. I could hear their friends on the pond over the hill - all seemed to be shouting to make themselves heard.


Back home a cardinal was pecking in the grass. (Or what passes for grass).


Must be a young one - not very bright red yet. I missed getting a photo of the several rabbits. They must have followed us from Florida. As if we didn't have enough with the deer, slugs and woodchucks.


And here's my friend on the woodpile - the new generation of the Chipster/Chipolata family. Microchip?


Alas the rain still hasn't given up and everything is clay soil squelchy. And despite that, the  lawnmowers have started up already, shattering the peace. Back to the road trip for a while!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Lilacs

They sort of crept up on us. Until we drank in the scent and looked up.


It seems to be a good spring for them! Of course western New York is lilac central.


Perhaps they're trying to make up for the rhododendrons eaten by the deer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Road Trip Part 5: Swan Lake Blues - and Bruises

  Further down the road found us in Sumter, South Carolina. It was one of those happy and all too rare occasions when we managed to find a hotel downtown within walking distances of some decent restaurants. In so many places, the reasonably priced hotels all congregate around the motorway exits and the only food you can walk to is McDonalds.  It was a lovely warm evening and we sat out at a pavement bar called Sidebar and ate pulled pork and excellent salad and imbibed some tasty cocktails. It was only marred by some loud motorbikes revving up and showing off but even they didn't stay too long.
  Sumter turned out to be full of history and interesting houses. It was named after a Revolutionary War General - yes, the same chap who gave his name to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started.
  Sadly, once again, we didn't have time to explore but decided to drop in the next morning on one of Sumter's favourite attractions.


This was Swan Lake and Iris Gardens. It was too early for irises but there were plenty of swans.


In fact it claims to be the only park in the United States that has all eight species of swan. It was still early and there was no one around. Someone was having a beauty sleep.


Hey! Who woke me up!


Cygnets abounded. On these occasions you remember what your mother told you. "Careful" I said to sister-in-law, "don't go near the ones with the babies!"


Then I spied some turtles in the water. All right, Americans grow up with them but I haven't seen that many in my life. I thought I'd get a picture.


And one of the duck chasing the turtle.....


....Big mistake. The turtle beach was next to some feeding stations. They looked very swanky. A sort of Sidebar for swans. Well one of them - possibly one of those big fat white ones you can see in the middle - must have been at the cocktails or having a bad feather day.


The next thing I knew, I was under  attack. The big, fat white one went for me tooth and nail - though, fortunately swans don't have teeth, with a sustained onslaught of ferocious nipping all down the back of my legs. It was like being pinched by your worst enemy in primary school. And it went on and on. Of course it was warm and I was wearing shorts. "Ow!" I shrieked, "Get away!! Help!"  Sister-in-law burst out laughing. Laughing! I ask you!  I ran for it but still ended up literally black and blue.
  They really should have some warning signs. They have them on Wimbledon Common - that swans can break your arm, murder your dog, etc though I don't remember them saying anything about biting.  I was traumatised enough - dread to think what it would have done to a small child.


I'd like to come back to Sumter but Swan Lake can do without me.

To be continued.