This morning I walked out to our backyard and saw the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora) covered with beautiful blooms. The rising sunrays were showing the flowers at their best, and these are my entries to Cee’s Flower of the Day Challenge.
This post is my response to Tina’s challenge at Lens-Artists Challenge #205 – The Eyes Have it. I almost never photograph humans, so my entries will consist of pictures of birds that I encounter in a rookery, a wildlife refuge, or in our backyard.
Yesterday the rookery next to the New Jersey Ocean City Welcome Center was teeming with egrets, herons, ibises, and many other smaller birds. The Great Egrets breeding season was at its peak as you can see from the following images.
The parent egret will eat the eel then regurgitate it into the bottom of the nest. Then the young chicks will be able to eat it.
Two days ago, in the morning I saw both Bluebird parents catching insects and bringing them to their babies.
I thought it was about time for the young birds to fledge and leave their nest. Then, in the afternoon, our backyard was suddenly very quiet. No more Bluebirds flying around or calling each other. Very cautiously, I opened the door of the birdhouse. No bird was inside. The young ones had all fledged, and I missed seeing them leave their nest.
Then this morning, the male Bluebird was back flying around and attacking his image on our patio door. I went out and saw him perched on the birdhouse. Then the female Bluebird reappeared, and the pair kept taking turns diving toward the grass to catch insects. Life was back to normal.
Bluebirds may have from one to three broods. It looks like this Bluebird couple will start a second brood in the same birdhouse. I’ll keep watching them and try to photograph the second brood as they fledge.
Every day the pair of Eastern Bluebirds living in our backyard have to find food for their babies, which could be fledging in a week or so. Fortunately, our neighborhood has many spots, including lawns, an empty lot and a wooded area, where they can easily find food. The female is the one that works the hardest, with the male relishing his role as her protector against other birds and even a photographer!
Sometimes they take a break and watch their nest from the top of our birdfeeder hanging pole.
One essential function of both parents is to keep the nest clean by taking out the fecal sacs they pull out of their young ones several times a day.
The female also does that type of diaper duty. In fact, she carries out more fecal sacs than he does! On the other hand, he spends a lot of time keeping other birds clear of their birdhouse. Yesterday I watched as he repeatedly attacked the Bluebird he saw in the driver side mirror of a car parked on our driveway. At times, the noise that he made pecking at his image in the mirror sounded like a mini machine gun. This morning we put a bag over the mirror to put a stop to that.
After I posted my 2022 photos of Eastern Bluebirds, I heard many loud bird cries in our backyard. I went out to see what the hubbub was about.
We now have two couples of Bluebirds, four adult Bluebirds in total, and four baby Bluebirds! The newcomers were flying all over, looking for a birdhouse they could occupy. The original Bluebirds of course felt threatened since they had four newly hatched babies in their nest. They chased away the new pair, and those two birds have been knocking on our bay window which faces the backyard.
I cannot positively distinguish the newcomers from the old-timers, but I think the following shots show the new Bluebirds.
The original Bluebird couple had built a nest inside a birdhouse that used to be occupied by House Wrens. However, the Bluebirds did not use it and took over another nest we can see from our kitchen window. The House Wrens went to settle in another birdhouse in front of our house.
I opened the unused birdhouse in the backyard and threw out the nest that the original Bluebirds had built but did not use. After that I saw the new Bluebird pair visit the empty birdhouse several times. I hope they will settle in it and stop knocking on our windows.
This is the fourth year that Eastern Bluebirds have come back to nest at the birdhouse I put up for them in the back of our house. Today I saw the Bluebird parents fly in and out to bring food to a brood of four baby Bluebirds.
The parents were very efficient, bringing back newly captured insects and worms every five minutes.
Recommended and rated this book:
Village Teacher is a historical novel by Neihtn (Nguyen Trong Hien) set in Vietnam during French occupation at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. The novel opens with the protagonist, a teacher/scholar named Tam, leaving the building where he has just taken a national examination that will determine his future. His final essay? A discussion of reforms needed to bring the country’s educational system into the modern age. For me as a reader, opening hooks don’t get much better than this!
I felt immediately drawn to Tam. He is a brilliant scholar, yet genuinely humble and self-effacing. He stands ready to help those in need, including a young woman set upon by thugs as he walks back to the inn where he is staying. This incident sets in motion the love story which will become the heart of the book, as Tam and the young woman, Giang, face obstacle after obstacle to being together, most triggered by their living in a country under foreign occupation. I found this love story particularly well-done, with a subtlety and nuance I greatly appreciated.
The plot is quite complex, with machinations from a variety of antagonists. For me, this complexity is a clear representation of the difficulty of surviving in a traditionally hierarchical society under a system of governance imposed by foreign occupiers while trying to hold onto your own culture and as much of your system of governance as your foreign occupiers will allow–not to mention dealing with heavily-armed rebel factions. Village Teacher brought home the full extent of these complexities in a way I hadn’t previously encountered.
An important question Village Teacher raises in my mind is the balance between history and fiction in a historical novel. Is the author’s primary goal to fictionalize a historical event (or time period) to bring history alive for readers–with the fiction serving the history–or is it the other way around? Is the author’s goal to provide the historical context needed for readers to fully understand the characters’ motivations and experience in the world, with the history serving the fiction? While Village Teacher has a relatively high percentage of history to fiction, I found it entirely necessary to the story (in addition to being intrinsically interesting). The author made a good decision to use an omniscient narrator to relay the exposition and not put it in the mouths of the characters, which can sometimes happen in historical novels.
For a novel coming in at over 400 pages, Village Teacher was a surprising quick read; I finished it much sooner than I expected. I was also surprised by how I felt at the end. While the ending was satisfying, with no loose ends, I was reluctant to leave these characters behind. I had come to care about them that much.
Reasons I enjoyed this book:
Action-packed Haunting Informative Unpredictable Wonderful characters
Original review is on BookBub at this link.
As I start writing this, outside temperature is 88°F (31°C) and tomorrow promises to be even hotter. Looking out I saw a couple of Northern Cardinals arrive on our deck intent on checking out the birdfeeder.
Meanwhile, the female was waiting for her turn in the shadow of the magnolia branches.
White-breasted Nuthatches are again coming to our birdfeeder, feeding themselves at their preferred angle, i.e. vertically and upside down. Sometimes I wonder how they manage to swallow those sunflower kernels, but they do.
Most birds eat like the female Downy Woodpecker and House Finch shown below.
Other birds have their breakfast delivered.
Following are images of an Osprey couple sharing a fish around 8:24 AM yesterday. I saw the male Osprey fly in with a fish, but by the time I was ready to take pictures, he was already standing on a side of the nest where the female was incubating.
Usually, he would have eaten the head of the fish, leaving the rest to her.
I have been saving photos of birds over the past several weeks, waiting for an opportunity to post them. Here are most of them, in no particular order.
It rained all day yesterday. I thought I heard rainfall also during the night. It continued this morning and did not stop until mid morning. I went out to see what survived or was ruined, and was pleasantly surprised as all the flowers came through and actually seemed to thrive.
The Black-headed Gull comes from Europe and, about fifty years ago, has begun appearing in North America in small numbers. I saw a group of about a dozen of them on Wildlife Drive for the first time last week. They did not seem too shy, like most gulls, and I was able to come close to them.
Other birds that I photographed are well known to most of us.
A cold beginning for Spring 2022 has decimated our early magnolias and Asian pear flowers. Today, at the end of April, temperatures climbed above 50°F (10°C) but a strong wind makes it feel much colder. The “Judy Zuk” Magnolia tree that I planted five years ago is bearing vibrant yellow flowers. Judy Zuk was the president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from 1990 to 2005, and this magnolia is a hybrid developed there.
Another late bloomer that has escaped frost is the Susan Magnolia, a smaller tree than the Soulangeana Magnolia (Saucer Magnolia). We have two trees of the Soulangeana but both lost all of their flowers this year. Fortunately, we have three Susan Magnolias.
Last but not least are the dependable Bleeding Hearts which have started to come up.
The Crabapple is a most colorful spring blooming tree. There was one near the entrance of our public library and it easily drew everyone’s attention.
At nearby Colonial Lake ducks and birds were also welcoming the sun and a much needed increase in temperature.
American Robins were everywhere. I followed one as it walked on the shore of Colonial Lake.
At one point there was a face off with an European Starling.
Although bigger than the Robin, the Starling flew away.
In my previous post about a Cormorant, I should have mentioned that it was a Double-Crested Cormorant, the most common type found in North America. It sports a double crest of feathers on its head during breeding season. However, when it plunges into the water to look for fish, the double crest is flattened on its head and cannot be seen then.
A few days ago, I saw a couple of Cormorants sunning themselves in the middle of Colonial Lake, one with a visible double crest.
The crest color is white for Double-crested Cormorants in Alaska, but is black in other regions.
This time of the year, birds are very busy building their nests. A male Cormorant at the refuge emerged from the water with a stick.
In nest building, the male Cormorant only gathers building materials. The female Cormorant is the one that arranges such materials into a nest.
The EBF refuge’s Visitor Center puts up Purple Martin houses every spring. Those birds take them over and create a busy intersection as they fly into and out of their chosen condo. A photographer only has to stand below and aim a camera up to photograph the birds. However, they fly very fast and one has to be quick on the shutter!
Late Spring sounds like the name of a movie by Yasujirō Ozu, but it is very real for us this year. Almost a month after it was supposed to start, this year’s spring has been dragged kicking and screaming to make its entry, and it exacted extensive revenge on all sorts of plants and flowers. Our magnolia trees which normally bloom with thousands of vibrant flowers have had most of their buds killed by frost. I can count less than a dozen yellow flowers on our Butterfly Magnolia. It usually has several hundreds in April.
And here’s a view taken last week of the refuge.
The Ospreys have arrived and became occupants of six platform nests along Wildlife Drive. Yesterday, I saw a male Osprey dining on the head of a fish.
Meanwhile his mate seemed to be still sleeping.
Further down the road, the Osprey couple that lost a fish to another Osprey a few days ago were waking up. He, on the right, did not appear to be in any hurry to go catch a fish.
Rather than wait for them, I drove on to go see the night herons in Ocean City. On the way out, a very small turtle crossed my path.
Finally a beautiful dove was standing by the side of the road.
As I arrived at my favorite Osprey nest site, I saw and heard the female Osprey whistling. Usually, a female Osprey whistles to clamor for food when she sees her mate come back with a fish that he has caught. Then as he lands somewhere within sight of the nest, he proceeds to eat the head of the fish and only brings what remains to her.
This time, the female was whistling loudly, almost belligerently. Then I saw not one but two male Ospreys fighting.
Male Ospreys fighting.
Unfortunately, the one that fled had a fish in its talons. In the following photo, the fish is missing its head which was very likely eaten by the other male Osprey.
The Osprey that had its fish stolen flew after the thief. After a while I could not see either of them any longer. Meanwhile, at the nest, the female Osprey was facing a Fish Crow which came by to see whether it could steal anything from the nest.
I also waited for the male Osprey to fly back to the nest with a new catch. But I had to leave after almost half an hour of waiting without seeing him. The female Osprey did not whistle once during that time.
A lady photographer told me five years ago that there was a Belted Kingfisher at Colonial Lake near our house in New Jersey. She even told me that it usually came out at 1 PM to start looking for food. It’s only yesterday, five years later that I was finally able to photograph it a few minutes after 1 PM, from about 200 ft away.
Next time I will try to come closer and hopefully get a better shot, but she may be too skittish.
Meanwhile a Song Sparrow, partially hidden in a tree, was singing beautifully.
And two Painted Turtles had just finished their rowing exercises.
Finally, a female Mallard with mixed genes was practicing her Karate kick.
My first book Village Teacher is available for free Kindle download for five days on Amazon from Monday March 14 to Friday March 18, 2022. If you want to download it, click on the above link to go to Amazon. Even if you don’t have Kindle Unlimited the price will be displayed as “$0.00 to buy”.
Following is a review of Village Teacher posted by Per, a reader, in 2013:
“This engrossing historical novel is set in the days of the French colonization of Vietnam. The background historical detail appears meticulous and it is interesting reading this book for that reason alone, however there is much more here than that. This is a tale of the travails and loves of the main character during a period of turmoil.
The characters in this story are very well developed and complex and the events that intertwine them are seamlessly presented so that the story flows well. There are numerous characters who appear in a sequential manner and their side stories add to the whole of the story but do not detract from it.
I enjoyed this book for the fascinating historical and cultural perspectives as well as the dramatic fictional story. There is a definite element of suspense and about halfway through the book It became a real page turner and I could not put it down until the end.”