Mute Swans and Cygnet

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Several Mute Swans were swimming and feeding in one of the fresh water pools at the refuge.

Mute Swan.

Mute Swan.

In a more secluded pool, a cygnet was swimming by itself.

Mute Swan Cygnet.

Great Blue Heron Up Close

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A new sluice gate has recently been built on Wildlife Drive at the refuge to channel ocean water into and out of Vogt Pool North. As I drove by a few days ago, a Great Blue Heron was standing guard at the gate and would not budge even as I parked no more than 20 ft (6 m) away from it. There was plenty of morning sunlight and the conditions were perfect for photography.

Great Blue Heron at sluice gate.

Great Blue Heron ignoring photographer.

Seven minutes later, it was still on the same rock, staring into emptiness.

Great Blue Heron.

Double-crested Cormorants

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Yesterday, when I arrived at the Brigantine unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge the tide was high and ocean water was pouring into the salt marshes, bringing with it fish and other sea creatures to feed the Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Seagulls, and various smaller birds. Some juvenile Cormorants were having a feast and kept diving into the churning water and coming up with fish in their hooked bills.

Cormorant holding fish in its bill.

Another Cormorant was so happy to have caught a fish that it danced around in the water.

Juvenile Cormorant with fish.

Suddenly, it dropped the fish and dove in the water to retrieve it. However, many Laughing Gulls were hovering in the air, and one quickly swooped down.

Laughing Seagull diving after fish.

The Laughing Gull snatched the fish and left the young Cormorant clamoring for its lost meal.

Laughing Seagull flying away with fish despite Cormorant’s protests.

Sunrise 1-1-2020

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On January 1st of this year, I went on a photo trip to the shore of Long Beach Island, NJ. As I was driving, at 7:24 AM a colorful sun rose to the East. I stopped by the side of the road to photograph it.

January 1st, 2020 sunrise. Note flock of geese flying on upper right.

The sun was a fiery yellow and red, and I found the resulting pictures somewhat disappointing and did not want to post them.

Today I think perhaps nature was trying to let me know that turmoil was coming in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was about to spread throughout the world and affect millions of people.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge 114: Negative Space

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For the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge 114: Negative Space, here are two images I shot recently. The first one is from 12 days ago.

Lesser Yellow Legs at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

The second one is from yesterday at Colonial Lake In Lawrenceville, NJ when a fisherman caught a fish with the name of Crappie! He threw it back as soon as I finished taking the photo.

Crappie caught at Colonial Lake.

Diving for Food

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As temperatures dropped, a good number of birds have left the refuge. Some non-breeding Forster’s Terns remain, displaying their skills at diving and plucking food out of the water. I finally managed to photograph one of them in a successful dive.

Non-breeding Forster’s Tern looking for fish.

Dive! Dive!

Forster’s Tern in the water.

Coming out, with a fish.

Definitely with a fish.

Triumphantly with a fish!

Early Morning Great Egret

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Yesterday, conditions were almost ideal for photography. The refuge was dry, the sun was shining bright, and an ocean breeze was cool if at times gusty. I had just stepped out when a Great Egret flew toward me. I barely had enough time to lean against the car and bring my camera up to shoot. This was likely the closest I ever came to a Great Egret in flight.

Great Egret.

Great Egret banking away.

Great Egret.

Egret Feeding

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The Great Egret and Snowy Egret shown below were feeding in the marsh, stabbing the water, and jumping and turning around on a dime. They were very successful and got a fish at every attempt.

Great Egret feeding.

Great Egret feeding.

Great Egret feeding.

Snowy Egret feeding.

Snowy Egret feeding.

Snowy Egret feeding.

Snowy Egret feeding.

In this last photo, it was amazing to see the Snowy Egret twisting itself while looking for fish.

Snowy Egret hunting for prey.

Night Herons

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A few days ago, I went to the rookery next to the Welcome Center in Ocean City, NJ. It is quite late in the breeding season and most of the newborn herons, as well as their parents, have migrated. However, a handful were still around for pictures.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron.:”Wake me up when this Covid stuff is over …”

Forster’s Tern

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There were many Forster’s Terns at the refuge, with about half of them being still immature or juvenile. They were all superb acrobatic fliers and their diving into the marshes to catch fish was a challenge I cannot resist photographing year after year.

Immature Forster’s Tern yelling at its friends.

“Nice flight!”

Forster’s Tern in flight.

Dive!

Emerging from dive.

Forster’s Tern coming out of dive, no fish.

I often tried to capture the moment they caught a fish, but the best I could do this time is a not-so-sharp photo.

Forster’s Tern with a fish.

Spicebush Swallowtail

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A few days ago I took pictures of what I thought was a Black Swallowtail. When I looked at the pictures closely and compared them with those I took a few weeks ago, it turned out that it is actually a Spicebush Swallowtail, which is also black but has slightly different color markings on its wings.

Spicebush Swallowtail.

Spicebush Swallowtail.

Here are two photos of a Black Swallowtail for comparison.

Black Swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail.

According to the web site Butterflies at Home, “the Spicebush has a bluish-green colored “swosh” and is missing one orange spot.”

Published: The Siege of An Lộc

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My new novel, The Siege of An Lộc, has finally been published on Amazon in a print version and a Kindle version. You can search for it on Amazon, or just click here.

I think that most of you will enjoy reading this book and will find it informative and worthwhile. If you do read it, I would be grateful if you would review it on Amazon or make a comment on this WordPress blog page.

Print edition.

Kindle version.

The Siege of An Lộc

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In 1959, I volunteered for a class assignment to go to the city of An Lộc to observe and report on how a rubber plantation worked. The plantation was owned by a now-defunct French company, Société des Plantations des Terres Rouges. I spent several hours with a young Vietnamese forestry engineer touring the plantation and its processing plants, and came back thoroughly impressed by the immense scale of the plantation and its vibrant life.

Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1972, three North Vietnamese divisions, supported by an artillery division and two tank regiments, attacked An Lộc, hoping to capture it within days to use as the capital for a Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government. By then I had gone to college in America, returned to Việt Nam, and, after a brief stint in the military, was working in various capacities in the civilian government. I still remember lying awake at night in Sài Gòn listening to the distant rumble of B-52 bombs dropped on North Vietnamese troops encircling An Lộc to prevent them from overwhelming the city’s defenders.

In the end, the city was completely destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed, mostly by Communist artillery. Despite that, An Lộc did not surrender and the Communists had to abandon their siege after three months.

An Lộc during 1972 siege.

Since that time I have wanted to write a book to describe what the people and soldiers of An Lộc had to endure over three months to prevent their city from falling into enemy hands. Over the last ten years, I acquired and read many books and documents in both English and Vietnamese about what happened there. They contain a lot of information, but they were written by authors who were military men, each with his own axe to grind.

American authors were almost always critical of South Vietnamese military leaders. Vietnamese authors, especially former generals and high-ranking officers, tried their best to present the battle from their own viewpoints. There was only one account written by a non-commissioned officer, and none by the soldiers and the civilians who were able to survive their ordeal. As for the North Vietnamese, since An Lộc was their defeat, hardly any published writing on the battle can be found, except for a few Internet wiki articles with only propaganda value.

After my retirement, in early 2018 I began writing The Siege of An Lộc to describe the battle through the eyes of the soldiers and civilians who underwent over three months of fighting and surviving in that wartime inferno. It is of course a fictionalized account, although I tried my best to respect the basic historical facts.

The novel’s two main protagonists are a young and idealistic Lieutenant in the Regional Forces and the daughter of a rubber plantation owner. In contrast to the main characters in my first novel, Village Teacher, this time it is not class difference or parents that come between them. It is the war and the constant threat to their lives during the siege.

Surrounding them is a cast of characters that include a street noodle vendor, an airborne officer, a half-French Communist commander, and two Communist ralliers, including a singer, who defected to the South Vietnamese side.

For people who may have never heard of An Lộc, my novel presents a detailed look not only at how generals and commanders planned and fought the battle, but perhaps more importantly, at how the soldiers and civilians of An Lộc managed to endure and survive their hellish ordeal.

The two little girls in the photo displayed below were discovered in An Lộc by South Vietnamese Rangers after they recaptured an airfield lost to the North Vietnamese at the start of the siege. The older girl said they were children of a Regional Forces soldier fighting somewhere in the city. When the Communists attacked, they tried to run away with their mother who was carrying their baby brother. A North Vietnamese artillery round landed near them, killing their mother and wounding their brother. They carried him and fled into a cave to hide. He died later that night.

The two sisters stayed in the cave for more than two months, subsisting on anything they could find through foraging and scavenging. They ate wild plants, grasshoppers, and once, the raw meat of a chicken killed by artillery.

Two starving orphans, children of a Regional Forces soldier, found by South Vietnamese Rangers in An Lộc toward the end of the siege.

In 2016, I came back to visit An Lộc for a few hours. The city had been completely rebuilt, with houses and stores looking brand new, and none of the people I talked to remembered what happened there 44 years earlier. As usual the Communist regime rewrote history, going as far as having bodies disinterred and cemeteries flattened by bulldozers.

An Lộc in 2016.

A rubber plantation near An Lộc in 2016, as seen from Highway 13.

More rubber plantations near Windy Hill, the scene of intense fighting in 1972.

I have published the novel through Amazon self-publishing services. If you are interested in reading it, here’s its link on Amazon for both the paperback and Kindle versions:

The Siege of An Lộc

Storms?

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Hurricane Isaias is only glancing at Florida and is headed to the northeast. Storms with strong winds (70 mph or 112 kph) are predicted for our area. Yesterday, I went to the Edwin B. Forsythe refuge and saw groups of shorebirds huddled together on the water sleeping. Maybe they flew away from the storms and were resting there?

Shore birds resting.

There were many American Avocets that are usually rare in New Jersey.

American Avocets feeding in a marsh pool. In the background are reflections of marsh mallows that cover practically all the marsh banks.

Sand flies were also abundant and forced me to go home early. There hibiscuses and milkweed are in full bloom, and butterflies were flittering about.

Pink and white hibiscus.

Monarch butterfly.

Tiger Swallowtail.

Swallowtails

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Swallowtails have been abundant this season, with both Black Swallowtails and Tiger Swallowtails coming to feast on the milkweed in our backyard. Here are some recent shots of them.

Tiger Swallowtails on swamp milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata).

Tiger Swallowtails.

Black Swallowtails.

Black Swallowtails.

There are also some Monarch Butterflies floating around, and I even saw one Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to photograph them.

Lotus, Dragonflies 2020

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The Lotus pond near us now has only white flowers, and not very many of them. The plants look healthy enough, so maybe I came too late this year to take their pictures. Still, here they are, and by the way there were many dragonflies.

White Lotus 2020.

Lotus leaf with rain water.

White Lotus 2020.

Blue Dasher.

Eastern Amberwing.

Blue Dasher.

Dragonflies mating.

White-breasted Nuthatch

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A White-breasted Nuthatch perched on a branch of the magnolia tree next to our bird feeder. Usually this small bird looks sleek and unruffled, but as you can see from the photos below, this gal’s feathers stood up at one point. Maybe she did not like the crowd at the feeder?

White-breasted Nuthatch.

White-breasted Nuthatch. “You taking my picture?”

White-breasted Nuthatch.

White-breasted Nuthatch.

Summer Scenes

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The following images, in random order, are what I am seeing this summer with limited travel, too much heat, and more time at home.

Weed flowers at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. If you know the name of this weed, please tell me.

The Eastern Bluebird couple in our backyard is still busy bringing food back for their second brood.

Eastern Bluebird mother and father discussing food situation.

Male Eastern Bluebird perched on bird feeder near birdhouse.

Asclepias Tuberosa or butterfly weed growing in our garden. No Monarch butterfly has appeared yet.

Asclepias Tuberosa growing in the back of our house.

Feamle Ruby-throated Hummingbrid diving toward feeder.

Zucchini flowers in our vegetable garden.

Butternut Squash flower.

Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba) is plentiful this year. We have two trees which give more fruit than we know what to do with. Pawpaw does not ship well, and is not available in grocery stores. It has been described as tasting like a combination of banana and mango. Chilled pawpaw was a favorite dessert of George Washington.

Pawpaw a native American fruit.

Pawpaw fruit.

Back to Refuge and Other Birds

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This week I went to the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge again, after a 5-month hiatus. Greenhead flies were already out and I had to keep my car windows closed, except for brief moments to take a photo. Shots taken through the windows turned out badly. Here are some better ones taken with the window quickly open.

Snowy Egret.

Male Osprey keeping an eye on his nest.

Female Osprey feeding the young ones.

Since I was inside the car and not wearing a mask, a female Red-winged Blackbird could not resist acting like a Karen.

Female Red-winged Blackbird: “Wear your MASK!”

Following are photos taken recently at home of other birds.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Male House Finch.

Goldfinch.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been coming in greater numbers. Capturing their flight is usually a challenge, but here are some of the better shots.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Second Brood!

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Two days ago, I was watching the Eastern Bluebirds when suddenly the female brought a green caterpillar to the nest. There must be baby birds in there!

Female Bluebird feeding babies.

She went in.

Female Bluebird checking on babies.

A minute later she came back out. No diaper! This could be because the parents are known to eat the fecal sacs of young baby birds.

Female Blurbird flying out.

A little while later, the father brought more food.

Male Bluebird with more food for babies.

I took the last picture of the first brood babies on June 3. So 20 days later, these two parents have brought forth a second brood. Amazing, but credible. Eastern Bluebird incubation period is 10 to 19 days. So, it is quite feasible for this couple to lay their eggs and incubate them successfully between June 3 and now.

Four Fledgelings and Other Birds

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Instead of two Eastern Bluebird fledgelings, there are actually four! I was able to photograph them two days ago when they congregated on a high oak tree branch. They were too far, but can be recognized in the photos below.

Two Eastern Bluebird Fledgelings.

Three Eastern Bluebird Fledgelings.

Four Eastern Bluebird Fledgelings.

I don’t know whether they are all from the same brood that lived in the birdhouse in our backyard, or from that and another nest somewhere in the grove behind our house. They seemed to get along fine.

Meanwhile, the female Bluebird still lives in that birdhouse.

Female Eastern Bluebird inspecting her nest.

Yesterday, early in the morning, a House Wren came near the birdhouse and started calling out.

House Wren: “Is anybody home?”

The noisy call woke the sleeping Bluebird up, and she peered out to let him know the birdhouse belonged to her.

Female Eastern Bluebird.

The House Wren promptly left. A young Blue Jay stopped by our bird feeder.

Young Blue Jay.

Then a female Hummingbird came to the nectar feeder.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

More on Eastern Bluebirds

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When the baby Bluebirds fledged two weeks ago, a storm prevented me from watching them leave their nest and I gave up seeing them again. This past week, I noticed two new birds that were very energetic as they flew around, chased each other, or performed other types of flight acrobatics. I realized that they must be the Eastern Bluebird fledglings who are still living in our backyard. I finally got a good photo of one of them as the fledgling perched on our TV antenna.

Eastern Bluebird fledgling.

It looked darker than its parents, and had spots both on its back and chest.

Meanwhile, the parents still live in the birdhouse and did not mind posing for me.

Male Eastern Bluebird.

Female Eastern Bluebird.

I briefly saw the male bird landing on top of the female bird, but could only get a shot after she threw him off her.

Male (left) and female Eastern Bluebirds.

So there is hope for a second brood of Eastern Bluebirds this year. I read that the first brood may help their parents feed the second brood. As of now, they are still carefree, practicing their dives and swoops along the ground to catch insects.

Fed and Fledged

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For the past few weeks, the young Eastern Bluebirds have kept their parents busy feeding them and doing diaper duties. Last week they finally poked their heads out of the birdhouse. I saw two of them, but could only photograph the dominant sibling.

Young Eastern Bluebird:”Where is my dinner?”

Mother was soon there with a nice Sloe Bug.

Mother feeding Sloe Bug to youngster.

Father brought some interesting insects too.

Father had a big insect. I can’t tell what it was.

Both parents took turns with diapers (fecal sacs).

Father quickly carried a diaper way out there.

Mother wasted no time either.

While I was photographing a heavy rainstorm arrived, forcing me back into the house. The following morning, I came out to look for them, but the two young Bluebirds had fledged and were gone out of sight. Since then both parents have been flying in and out of the birdhouse, perhaps preparing for the next brood. Bluebirds could have as many as three broods a year.

In and Out

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Both Bluebird parents have been very active bringing food to the young ones. Just this morning, the mother flew to the nest hole with a dark orange caterpillar.

Female Bluebird delivering food to the young chicks inside birdhouse.

As soon as that was done, she flew out with a fecal sac from one of the baby Bluebirds.

Female Bluebird carrying out fecal sac to dump it far away from the nest.

The male Bluebird came next with a bright green caterpillar.

Male Bluebird with green caterpillar.

Then the female followed that with another caterpillar.

Female Bluebird with more food.

And she again had to carry out another fecal sac.

Female Bluebird with another fecal sac.

In front of our house we have another birdhouse which was taken over by a breeding pair of Carolina Chickadees.  A few days ago, the parent Chickadees were very active bringing food to the young ones and performing fecal sac duties.

Carolina Chickadee before flying toward nest.

Carolina Chickadee removing fecal sac from nest.

One day I saw a House Wren inspecting the nest.

House Wren inspecting Carolina Chickadee nest.

House Wren inspecting Carolina Chickadee nest.

House Wren are known to take over other birds’ nests, but in this case nothing happened and I think the young birds were able to fledge successfully. There is no activity at the nest today, but I will keep watching from time to time.

Cold Day

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The weatherman says it has never been this cold on this day in our town. This morning the temperature is at 31°F or -0.5°C. With a strong breeze, it feels like 24 °F or -4.4°C. I will have to go out to the garden and see whether the tomato plants grown from seeds and put into the ground last week survived.

Three years ago I planted a yellow magnolia tree named Judy Zuk Magnolia, in honor of a former President of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It grew one flower the first year, none the second year, and this year it is displaying a dozen of bright yellow flowers mixed with small streaks of orange-red. Here are some shots of the flowers which are bigger than those of the Butterfly Magnolia from last month.

Judy Zuk Magnolia.

Judy Zuk Magnolia.

Here’s another kind of Magnolia that is blooming late in the season. In fact, it keeps blooming during a good part of the summer when all other magnolias have come and gone.

Jane Magnolia.

I’ll finish this post with photos of our backyard birds who have been quite busy during this spring mating season.

Goldfinch ruffled by wind.

Carolina Chickadee.

Male Northern Cardinal hiding in Jane Magnolia tree.

American Robin.

Eastern Bluebirds couple taking a break from incubation chores.

Female Eastern Bluebird getting ready to go back inside birdhouse.

Then someone who thinks it is a bird.

Squirrel eating up high on an oak tree.

Finally, a shot of a Red-tailed Hawk at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on February 22, before the coronavirus lockdown.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Bluebirds Feeding II

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The male Bluebird came back to the birdhouse where his mate was incubating in the nest they had built. He was carrying a worm.

Male Bluebird with food.

He poked his head inside the entrance to offer the worm to her. She must have declined because his head came out and he proceeded to eat the worm himself.

Male Bluebird eating worm.

He hung on, considering his next move.

Male Bluebird considering what to do next.

Then he flew away to a nearby tree, stopped for a few seconds to look at the birdhouse before flying away in search of more food for her.

Male Bluebird perched on tree branch.

Bluebirds Feeding

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Nine days ago, the female Bluebird was still building up her nest.

Female Bluebird bringing dried grass to nest inside birdhouse.

Since then, I have seen both Bluebirds flying in and out of the birdhouse, and landing on the nearby magnolia tree.

Female Bluebird waiting for her mate.

Yesterday, he brought her some food, a cricket I think.

Female Bluebird eating a cricket as he watches.

Thank you, dear!

You are welcome! Shall I go get some more?

She went back into the birdhouse. He flew away. About an hour later, he came back and fed her something white, maybe a larva? It happened too quickly for me to get a shot.

Backyard Birds 2020

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Among our backyard birds, a couple of Eastern Bluebirds are setting up their nest in a birdhouse right in the back of our family room. Here are some shots of them, taken this past weekend.

Female Bluebird.

Male Bluebird.

Female Bluebird.

There are other birds which come to the birdfeeder, sometimes landing on the Yellow Magnolia tree to wait for their turn.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Carolina Chickadee.

Tufted Titmouse.

Chipping Sparrow.

More Photos Less Stress

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I have not been posting here since last July, but have continued to photograph, although not as often as I used to. Hopefully, the following photos may help reduce stress for all of us during this coronavirus pandemic.

Harlequin Ducks at Barnegat Light , January 2020.

Mute Swan at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, January 2020.

Snow Geese at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, February 2020.

Northern Shovelers at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, March 2020.

Star Magnolia in our backyard, March 2020.

Clivia at home, March 2020.

Hummingbirds

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Because I need to finish writing my second book, I will stop posting for an indeterminate time as of today.

Here are some recent photos of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have been coming to our backyard for the past several years.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Summer Flowers

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The abundant rain we have had this Spring has led to lots of vibrant summer flowers.

Milkweed ( Asclepias tuberosa).

Milkweed ( Asclepias tuberosa).

Some Monarch butterflies have already started to visit the milkweed.

Astilbe.

Orange Echinacea.

Kabocha (winter squash) flower in vegetable garden.

Inside the house, the Clivia plant, now divided into three separate pots, is also blooming vigorously.

Clivia.

Clivia.

Cleome.

All Gone

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The young Eastern Bluebirds have all fledged. The birdhouse is now empty. I took it down and opened it. Nothing inside except for a nest made with dried grass. There was no eggshell (maybe it was eaten by the babies or their parents), and the nest did not look too bad. No fecal sac, just some dirt at the bottom of the nest. Still I used a hose to spray it with water thoroughly to make it clean again. It is now back in its old place waiting for the Bluebirds to raise their next brood.

The fledglings are flying around our backyard practicing their newfound skills. Some also dive to the grass to look for food. One newly fledged chirped plaintively as it landed near me on the deck.

Bluebird fledgling.

Bluebird fledgling.

An older sister was at the top of a magnolia tree, looking all around her to see whether she could spot her parents.

Female fledgling.

Female fledgling.

However, the parents are keeping their distance, perched very near the top of the surrounding trees. They won’t intervene, unless there is a threat from a bigger bird, like a Blue Jay.

Bluebird fledgling contemplating a new world.