Summer dog days are over

Good hikes with good friends

Good hikes with good friends

Streaks and blazes of orange and red mark the end of those lush greens of summer. I’m not sure I’m ready for the cold or the leaves to abandon me, but, like spring, fall is a season of change and there’s always something fabulous and new to see, particularly if you lift your eyes off the sidewalk (..although I’ve seen some amazing leaf action on the ground..!). I really make an effort to soak it all in and not miss it because so quickly will we slide into the barren landscape that is winter. With the coming cold, we’re losing our cherished birds of summer, but plenty others do hang around. Even watching them move through is rewarding. Just yesterday I watched a potentially migrant bald eagle fly over as I pointed vehemently upward in hopes that someone else on the city sidewalks would see it too. But it is fun to have those tiny excitements all to yourself.

eagleSMHNice thing is, while I’ve seen hundreds of these glorious raptors, I can enjoy wondering for fun which particular eagle this one is: there were several pairs nesting here during the summer, one of which in our beloved National Arboretum. It was an adult, so not one of the first-year birds since their full white plumage won’t come for about another five years. Or maybe a migrant indeed.

In other news, I’ve been writing for Defenders of Wildlife for the last ten logomonths, with stories in the Spring/Summer/Fall issues. This is a big deal for me, to be in one place for so long working for a single organization for so long. Feels a little weird but it’s been nice to settle in DC for awhile–I was born in this city, so there are some heartstrings there! No, I’ve really had such an honor of living with my brother in his fantastic artist studio because he’s just that nice to put up with his little sister and all the shenanigans that come along with it.

But Defenders has been a really neat experience. I’ve finally gotten my writing in print before print goes extinct! It was exciting, when the first magazine that I took part in came out–it sported three of my stories. And hearing people come to the front desk asking for a copy is thrilling, and I think “hey I wrote some of that!” These are things I probably shouldn’t be admitting so instead I’ll insert a quick plug: read my stories!

Also, I very sporadically update my websites:

www.staceymhollis.com and www.birdsalongtheway.com.

Please enjoy!

 

 

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West to East: A San Francisco to DC Extravaganza

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I left San Francisco in the dead of winter.

I waved goodbye to the hummingbirds and flowers, the parrots and all those green city parks. I look back on it all as if it had been a dream.
I’m finished with my stint writing for Sierra Club and have now moved onto another writing position. This brought me back to the east coast, to DC. I’ve put down tendrils (roots are

Awesome street art

Awesome street art

far too permanent) at my brother’s studio in NW DC and I walk across town to work. I’m writing for Defenders of Wildlife now. It’s interesting moving to an environmentally focused magazine now to one that highlights all manner of fauna in its pages. So far I’ve written about sharks, bees, pikas, wolverines and piping plovers.

Leaving SF was sad, especially since I behind left my favorite nature nerd and cycle exploration buddy, Eric. He showed me secret beaches, tucked away gardens and the best hole in the wall restaurants. I miss him, but I know I’ll return someday soon. It’s in the stars.

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Early summer breeze

IMG_0064Spring passed quickly in its ephemeral way and already I’m hearing the incessant scratchy cry of baby birds and finding bits of blue egg shell on the ground. There’s an early summer breeze.

Somehow this season, with its IMG_0071entourage of floral delights, passes so quickly. With the daffodils, tulips, lilacs, lilies,
IMG_0083 IMG_0005 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 azaleas and rhododendron come the catbirds, warblers, great crested flycatchers, kingbirds, thrushes and vireos. The flowers progressively bow out, but the birds stay on and their songs and calls last well into the summer as the humidity descends and the sun beats hard.

Late afternoon thunderstorms are a welcome reprieve from the heat as the wind picks up and the light turns pale. Wind chimes sound and the birds feed hurriedly at the feeders. A storm is coming.

The leaves on the trees are a lush, early summer green, the rains are welcomed. Open your eyes to the season and enjoy these days, they go by fast.

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Bonds made with the ones I love

Hand written in my journal:

November 23, 2013

Smile to others. A connection with someone else is however you or the other makes it. Can be simply a smile, a held door, a thank you, a good morning. There’s already more than 7 billion of us so it almost unrealistic to not make those connections. Just because we make them doesn’t mean a true (or solid) bond has formed, in reality, a bond takes many repeated connections in order to become something of or as a link. And the connections between that bond are repeated in what could or may be infinite forms.

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But infinite forms become less concrete over time unless you carry out those forms. For me, I’ve made many worthwhile connections that (joyfully to me) have become strong bonds. We can maintain these through seeing, writing or photos over the internet or calling and catching up on life, strengthen ing the bonds we find most important to keep. But the bonds require effort from each person connected. Talking on the phone, I’ve had a hard time doing but in order to continue the work of allowing that bond to stay strong, I’ll fare better if I do keep talking to those oh so far away who still care enough to carry on the bond. I’m trying, and just that is enough.

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Morning Light Birding Delight

2013-07-10 08.43.23Wednesday morning dawned brisk and beautiful and the chill morning wind whipped around my neck as I pedaled hard to warm up.

The birders meet for coffee before going out. Made up mostly of middle aged and older men (with a couple of diehard ladies to boot!) the group is a familiar one: vests plastered w/ pockets, floppy beige hats, spotting scope in tow, I felt at home with my new birdwatching family.

Larry, the leader of the group who started it back in ’97 (or one of the nineties, I’ll ask again next time I see him) before birding became much more popular in Eugene and across the country. Wednesday’s group consisted of about 12-15 people (and we usually run into others in the field) and, sipping that last bit of coffee, we headed to Fern Ridge.

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The location that got picked was with newly arriving sandpipers in mind and there’s been a bit of hype about the dicksissel around that area lately, but, for me birding doesn’t have a goal; it’s simply a chance to peer into a world that goes on despite all the human mishaps and bumblings – this noisy, smelly, overly bright and mightily-scoured world we’ve created — still the Spotted Sandpiper raises her babies along the highly-trafficked river’s edge and the Green Heron creeps about through the shallows of the delta ponds, and if I have a chance to sit and watch and learn about the natural world as it carries out its own business, I am completely content.

I am an observer.

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But it sure is fun to observe nature with others of a similar mind. To share in experiencing the dramatic scenes that play out in nature, often to the complete oblivion of those who don’t slow down, listen and watch. And that’s what we birders did as the sun creeped higher in the sky.

I’ll share some of my favorite sights: Let’s see, what with my 2 summers worth of living on Project Puffin islands with hundreds of nesting Arctic and Common Terns (as well as the occasional Roseate!), I am very much uplifted when I catch a glimpse of that bouncing, effortless flight, the long, narrow wings and pointed beak. As we reached the mud flats and wide shallow pools, a group of black terns, silver underwings flashing, cavorted back and forth over the pools, occasionally swooping sharply downward for a drink of water or the occasional fish snack. I’d definitely like to go back get some video of that!

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We spent most of our time focused on the groups of sandpipers that gathered on the flats, mostly Western and Leasts which are moving southward for the winter (yes, already!) now that they’ve finished breeding up north in the arctic. Those two are real difficult to tell apart, especially in this time when feather patterns will vary since they’re moulting out of their breeding plumage, plus you’ve got non-descript youngsters. The bills of the Westerns are a tiny bit longer and have a slight droop at the end.

We managed to pick up a green heron, a bittern, a quick glimpse of a Virginia rail (although Ellen stayed late and got some great pics of this one!). I did rail callback surveys back in the National Wildlife Refuge where I worked, guess these Virginia ones don’t realize that they’re a ways away from any Virginia..

2013-07-10 08.19.11Sandpiper-wise, we also picked up a Solitary Sandpiper and, thanks to the willingness of several intrepid birders, we marched into the tall grasses and found ourselves a really good view of that lone shorebird. I was super pleased because I’d never gotten a good look at a Solitary before and this one was very patient as we lumbered for a better look.

We also had plenty of great comparative views of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, right in the same binocular field-of-view, their size is difficult to discern with no means of comparison. The greater will feed by sweeping his bill out horizontally in front of him in the shallows, helping be a little more distinctive from the lesser.

Another sighting I was glad of was a dapper group of Long-billed Dowitchers. My first view was of their backs in flight, a sharp blazing streak of white between the shoulder blades. They’re just a very handsome species and is yet another bird that brings me back, this time to my time in Raymond, WA for the woodpecker job. I love how birding brings back bird memories.

Thanks to the group for a great day of birdwatching!

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Petals afloat in DC’s Tidal Basin

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Everyone has been out. The weather is muggy and the sun’s rays carry waves of sweltering heat that cause everyone to throw off layers, don spring dresses, and take winter’s baby out to greet its first mild spring breeze. The thick air carries floral aromas and the eruptions of birdsong mark the gradual return of the east coast migrant birds flying north out of the latitudinal depths of the south where they spent the winter.

Overheard at Tryst coffeehouse in Adam’s Morgan, a girl and guy discuss the cherished significance of spring cherry blossoms: “It’s a big moment,” she says, “to say that I was here, and to document it.”

IMG_4352The girl mentioned how some people (namely locals) are dismayed by the throngs of people, crowding at street corners and spilling across the crosswalks. She just said that the crowds of tourists were “part of the experience” and you had to “give yourself over to the pace.”

 

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And outside on these dreamily warm days, the pace was lazy, slow and plodding as people enter this fragrant, cherry blossom wonderland that borders DC’s Tidal Basin.  People walk slowly, taking photos of the blossoming branches and posing in turn for their own photograph standing beside branches heavy with white blossoms, tinged with pink. Everyone really does give themselves over to it, a slowing of pace, in the busy  heart of DC.

IMG_4401The air is light and everyone seems glad to be out, enjoying the first turns of spring. Pockets of sun-warmed grass attract the more uninhibited who stretch out under wide reaching branches. Others might have donned too pretty an outfit to sit without getting dirty; heels scuffled over roots, piercing and subsequently sinking into the soft, giving earth. There were picnics, dogs and joggers. The air smells softly pinkish, almost hopeful. People are laughing and others are quiet as they walked along the magical path shaded by the white-petaled trees shining under a warm, early-springtime sun.

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In addition to the pleasure of viewing the cherry blossoms is that of people watching. I can’t help it, I love looking at people. All our differences in appearance, composures, interactions, our skin, hair, body size and shape, every age, sexuality, gender, every culture, hairstyle, choice of body art, nail length and whatever other identity differentiation; simply everyone is invited to this event.

And we all come.We all gather to celebrate and appreciate this early spring emergence of petals. Together.

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I find the limitless diversity of cultures I find here in the Nation’s capitol are what make a crowd interesting. Basically, I can’t be bored in the woods thanks to birds and I can’t be bored in a city thanks to the sheer number of different cultures present. Almost every direction you turn, another accent or language may be detected. And, along the tidal basin, children ranging the spectrum of skin colors run across grass littered with flower petals, their laughter melding together.

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It’s really nothing more than a thing of natural beauty arranged and presented to the public, a piece of nature displayed to the masses. Yet they come, many from afar, and gather at this ornamental presentation in a grand celebration of spring. They walk the path that lines the basin, to take in the beauty, to smell, hug, photograph, lounge under, paint or simply watch for hours — simply for the memory of another year’s ephemeral wonder.

And memory it already soon will be..The petals seemed to have only just arrived yet they’re already leaving. Not long, each flower will be replaced by a shiny, new, light green leaf. And suddenly the season of rebirth is but a memory. That’s how quickly it goes! 

Birds are already singing their breeding songs, first-year birds are testing out their mate-attracting voices for the first time while established males chase off the young interlopers hoping to nab a female. Roving for nesting material, robins tug at dry grasses and house sparrows pick strings of dried vegetable fiber off winter-bare vines.

While we are well into spring, in some ways IMG_4344we haven’t completely left winter behind. Or it hasn’t left us..Dark-eyed juncos share space with chipping sparrows; the former — here for the winter — will soon fly north to breed. The latter just got here and is gearing up to breed (or perhaps already have along the way to their southern destination?). Nests are in the making. The juncos, however (our birds of winter) are nevertheless hopping perkily among the chippies alongside the path that goes around the mall. It makes me wonder if this sudden and surprisingly oppressive heat hasn’t yet set in for the long term..like the part of spring that likes to play very abrupt and sometimes aggravating tricks on outdoor weddings, bar-b-ques and me when I have to ride my bike home — chagrined and frozen. Anyways, it’s an interesting time of change, this season, and everyone should be sure to notice it before it’s gone!

Well, I’m writing this over the course of the past few days and this sentence can testify to the fact that I’m feeling chilled with the window open (three days later..) and there have been some pretty spectacular fronts coming in lately that stir up a heck of a lot of really good cloud action…nevertheless, I refuse to check the weather because I like the surprise. I’m inclined to think, though, that we very well might have a few more crisp, nippy days before summer takes true hold.

Either way, I couldn’t be happier to have gotten to see the cherry blossoms in their full and utter glory.

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Now it’s time to turn west. Petals afloat!
-@stacebird
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