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From My Studio Window

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Mid and late September, everything, I mean everything is going through our yard. We live on a high ridgetop, and are blessed by hilltopping birds and butterflies who follow the ridges on their way north and south. I have yet to become blase about this fact; about my ability to take ten steps out on the deck or fifty up to the tower and be in Migration Paradise. These photos were all taken from my drafting stool where I sit to paint. Through a window, through the black diamond-mesh crop netting stretched on a PVC frame that, in the year it's been up, has saved all but one bird from death or injury when they've flown at the window. Sure, the photos would be a bit sharper without the netting, but Job One is to do no harm to the birds.

Just on September 28, the kind of misty, overcast day that lures birds to their deaths on highly reflective windows, I had four birds bounce hard off that netting, and I've little doubt that all would be dead or injured without it. What a blessing. All they lose is a few feathers and some dignity, and they go on their merry way to Central America. The lone bird that has died hitting the netting was a young mourning dove who was traveling too fast and was too heavy for it to break her impact. That beats the heck out of 2-3 birds a day dying in fall migration. I had it put up in memory of  Ruby, a red-bellied woodpecker I loved very much.

Red-breasted nuthatches toot their little tin horns all through September and October.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks voice an "Eek!" that sounds just like the sole of  a Chuck Taylor on a gymnasium floor.

The easy ones come through, like this pretty black-throated green warbler.

 We get gobs of them, even though there's not a hemlock to be found for miles around. They're happy in the birches, looking for aphids and scale and spiders.  All the warblers love our birch trees, almost as much as I do.

The BTGR retains enough of its spring coloration to be instantly identifiable in fall. He's got a trace of his black throat and sides, and he keeps the big yellow face patch and brilliant green back.

Not so some of his compatriots.

 This is a common fall migrant in southeast Ohio who looks completely different than he does in 


 There's just a hint of spring glory on his underside: bright lemon-yellow, with thick streaks that in spring would be heavy and black. His best hint's on his tail, which looks from beneath like it's been dipped in ink. Give up?

Magnolia warbler, fall immature. If you're lucky you'll see a lovely yellow rump when his wings droop. Other than that, he's incognito. More of those little stinkers anon.

Waiting for the Bus

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


 We live in Paradise. Never is that more apparent than in September, when everything is ripe and full and the meadows haven't been mowed for awhile. Oh, I hate to see them mow right before fall, because then it stays barren all winter, no butterflies, no beautiful weeds sticking up out of the snow, no frost-rimed Queen Anne's lace. But the new guy who's tending our elderly neighbor's fields did come and mow it all down. These photos were taken before he came.

There's a little pair of eyes looking back at you in this first photo. You can see them better in this one:

It's been a very dry late summer. We're finally getting a slow soaking rain today. Chet and I ran anyway, and we both got a hot bath when we got home. Bad weather looks worse from inside a window. Once you're out in it, it feels kind of good. After the first mile.

When the bus comes, it trails a rooster-tail of dust behind it. On this day there was a sundog, too, a little strip of rainbow catching the 7:45 AM sunshine.
There is another little sundog who waits for the bus, too.

He guards Liam's pack, sits patiently and listens for the roar of the bus. He always knows when it's coming. He can hear it before we can.

        He checks for squirrelts in the huge pin oak overhead. He's never found one there, but he keeps checking anyway.

He's never more beautiful than in the morning sun, waiting for the bus, his satin coat gleaming. 

Here on Indigo Hill, where bluebirds sing the morning in.

Liam's Cape

Sunday, September 26, 2010


My son wears a cape to school. On the first day of the 2010 school year I gently discouraged him from wearing it, this remnant of a Superman costume he had when he was seven, but after a week my resistance wore down. I told him kids might tug on it and tear it, and we didn't want that to happen. He seemed unfazed. So, with some trepidation, I let him wear it. And he came home still caped, chattering like a parakeet as he always does, telling me the remains of his day, and it was fine.

He looks good in it, I think, and because he's in fifth grade, near the top of the elementary heap, and well-liked by the other kids in his tiny rural school, he wears it proudly and without a hitch. He says he thinks he gets more respect when he wears it. He says even the bullies say, "Nice cape!"  He says the teachers all love it. No wonder: Bill and I do, too.


He wore it on Picture Day, too. What is a school photo if not a record of who your boy is on the day it was taken? Why pretend he's someone else? Why want him to look like someone else? We don't. We love him as he is: creative, hilarious, quirky and unpredictable.  Caped.

I zhuzzed up his hair on Picture Day, making a perfect, fragrant flaxstack of its white-blond fibers.
And hid behind him, as parents will do when they've been eclipsed by their children's beauty.


And, having blessed his cape, it was only natural to answer the call when he came up behind me with a plastic sword in his hand. We were shopping in JoAnn Fabrics, his favorite store, fomenting spot for his creativity with its aisles of felt and balsa, styrofoam and paint.  He'd found the sword in the Halloween section, his favorite part of all, and it was just the thing to set off the cape.

I gave him two rules--that it never go to school, and that it never be applied to human flesh. And it never has.
                                                        photo by Bill Thompson III

But he swipes at imaginary foes, makes vicious whooshing sounds in the air, gives the coup de grace and then, in reverence for the life he has just taken, bows his head like any good knight.

The Pawpaw Festival!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


One of my favorite photos from the 2008 festival.

For those of you who saw this post on Tuesday, then watched it and your comments disappear, my apologies. The monarch piece rared up and grabbed the spotlight. So here it is again. Whew. what a week it's been!

Celebrating pawpaws--we've done it in our own woods, and every September I like to celebrate them with others. In Albany, Ohio, right outside Athens, there's a little festival that reached its tipping point this year. Now it's a medium-sized festival, headed toward largeish.

Everything was good this year, better even than last. The big Percherons were still giving carriage rides. Picture the four of us stuffing ourselves with all manner of food made with pawpaws (a creamy white sauce over chicken breast, a pawpaw/peach/hot chili salsa, a pawpaw beurre blanc over scallops,

(all of the above made by Chef Dave Rudie)

who showed us how to flip onions in a sautee pan, which I'm sure I could do if I had hours to practice and a tarp on the kitchen floor.I just came from the kitchen, where, following Chef Rudie's lead, I made a pawpaw cream sauce sweetened with our own pawpaw pulp and some sourwood honey from the Smoky Mountains, a gift from our editor, Lisa White of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Heavy whipping cream, softened butter, caramelized shallots, salt, pepper, and a dollop of honey mustard...and heaven can wait. We're going to try it over pork tenderloin at Margaret and Zane's. It was just ridiculously good. How can you go wrong with that ingredient list? I totally winged it, no recipe--just remembered how Dave demonstrated it, and it was ossum as creamed possum.

But wait--there was more in the vendor stalls that we sampled, including a
pawpaw crepe, pawpaw jelly roll, and a pawpaw mango ginger mint smoothie to name just a few.

But wait, there was still more...great live music and a mess of our friends who simultaneously and serendipitously decided to make the hour-plus trek to Albany for the festival at the same time.
David and Zane consult an iPhone for something...iPhone users are forever consulting them.

We hung out and listened to the music and watched the kids dance with Oona, who can really shake her moneymaker.

There was a lot of moneymakershaking going on at the bandstand.
I lost track of Bill for quite awhile...he was watching the hula-hooping, I think. Who could blame him.

This is quite a different demographic than we are accustomed to seeing, only an hour and a half away. Having Ohio University in Athens certainly results in more interesting people-watching than we get in Whipple. For me, most of enjoying a festival is people-watching, but this one has delicious food and great music, too. I give it a five out of five.

Many of those interesting young folks brought their dogs--it's hard to find a place where you can bring your dog anymore.

I did not because, having brought Chet to the last two festivals and having had a loose pitbull straddle and growl at him in 2008, I deemed it not worth the angst or the constant pull on my arm. It's hard to drink a pint when there's an unearthly strong steady pull on your other arm.

This little pied beauty stopped every few seconds to scratch, another reason I was glad I hadn't brought my as-yet-flea-free puppeh.

A dog rumble went down--Chet would've gladly flown into the middle of it.
It was rowdy but friendly, and fun to watch. Dogs who are socialized can do this without getting all snarly. Chet's not quite there.
He likes to be Numba One. He'd have been Offisa Puppin' all over those dogs.

The moon rose, the pawpaw wheat beer was wonderful, and still the children played.

A man walked by with a little light that put sparkles on the ground

arresting the attention of a sweet baby who pointed (don't miss that tiny finger...) and then knelt to try to rub the sparkles out

charming me even more

And the moon rose in a pastel sky and Mary Jane showed us how to catch it

and Phoebe tried, but her photographer couldn't see very well, as the photo of Mary Jane attests...
but Phoebe could see the moon in the viewfinder, so with her help I finally captured the shining orb

and the sky went blank for a moment

nothing but watercolor tints I could never replicate.

As it got dark there hove into view a giant and hilariously funny pawpaw whose barely audible voice came from the depths of his foam costume, asking us to give him a high five
but he had no hands so we squeezed him instead. And nothing popped out.

Plan to come to the Pawpaw Festival at Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio, next September. I guarantee you'll love it.

If you'd like to get some fresh pawpaws shipped, or, after they're out of season in late October, some frozen pulp to play with in your own kitchen, see Integration Acres' cool web site. We have them to thank for this wonderful festival, and for making "pawpaw" a household word in Appalachian Ohio. Well, in some houses. Soitainly ours.

Here end the pawpaw posts.

Monarch Metamorphosis

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I have been busy this summer studying and documenting monarch butterflies on my little monarch ranch off the back patio. It became an all-consuming pursuit as I strove to position myself in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to document the dual transformation of the monarch caterpillar: first, from caterpillar to jade-green chrysalis; and second, from chrysalis to butterfly.

It is not as easy as it sounds. Well, maybe it doesn't sound easy, but I can assure you it's tricky. The caterpillars and chrysalides have a sneaky way of doing their magic when nobody's watching: early in the morning, right at breakfast and bus time. They wait until you're completely distracted, trying to take care of your family and wham! they transform into something entirely else while you're buttering toast or answering the phone or signing a planner or digging up lunch money or racing to Athens to record a piece.

I decided that if I was ever going to catch the caterpillars at it, I'd have to have a whole lot of 'em, to increase the chances that one might decide to metamorphose when I was available to document it. And of the 20 or so that I raised in a big glass vase on the kitchen table decided to cooperate. I set the camera up on a tripod against a neutral background and by gum I got it, the whole breathtaking thing, in over 600 exposures taken over about 10 hours.

National Public Radio solicited a submission to mark the first day of fall, so I wrote and recorded a piece about the whole experience. I sent hundreds of photos to their multimedia wizards and Mito Habe-Evans produced a wonderful video from them. I am grateful to her for all her work.

In the end, NPR decided not to air my commentary. But you can still find the video on the NPR website. It takes my breath away, just as sitting before a metamorphosing caterpillar always does.

Please go see how I spent my summer. I would be much obliged if you would comment and hit "Recommend." Since the commentary didn't air, sharing it on Facebook and Twitter and recommending it is one way to help it get seen by more eyes. For my part, I'll hope that it leads more people to my blog.

Thank you.

All photos in this post and on the NPR website are copyright2010 by Julie Zickefoose. Use without permission is expressly forbidden.

Hickory Horned Devil!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


All photos in this post by Bill of the Birds.

Bill of the Birds was off to one side, peering up into the pawpaw branchtes, looking for fruit. Suddenly he hollered, three words, three times in a row, at the top of his considerable lungs. It sounded like this:


We peered up where he was pointing and saw something that looked like a thorny hot dog hanging, he ever saw it much less identified it in a nanosecond, I still don't know.

When he had composed himself, he held the camera up closer, and the little Canon G-11 did its very best in a difficult light regime. And that best is real darn good.

By this time, the caterpillar--for a hickory horned devil is a caterpillar, though it looks more like the hero of a planet-destroying Japanese horror flick--had composed itself into its most fearsome persona, compressing and drawing itself up into a sigmoid shape. It drew all its kabuki spines and swords--schwinnng! and made itself ready for whatever terrifying battle it might have to fight.

Dig those crazy black eyespots! Devil, indeed! I can't get over them, nor its enormous, leg-like claspers. (The caterpillar's real head is the little orange unit above the fearsome black eyespots). It was making short work of the hickory's leaves, eating each leaflet entirely before moving onto the next, then presumably backing up the petiole to go destroy another.

This is the larva of the royal walnut moth, or regal moth, as it's sometimes called. Latin: Citheronia regalis. We'd found it in its last growth instar, when it turns from brown to green.

We'd found it on a hickory tree, but they're also found on ash, butternut, cherry, lilac(!!), pecan, persimmon, sumac, sweet gum, sycamore, walnut, and other trees, according to David L. Wagner's WONDERFUL Caterpillars of Eastern North America.
This is a book you simply must have on your shelf. It changed my life.

Grab a Bic or a Flair pen off your desk. That's how long this monster is. And it's as big around as Winston Churchill's fattest stogie. You'd have to use two hands to contain it. And, despite its fearsome appearance, you'd come out unscathed.

For the Hickory Horned Devil is harmless: not poisonous, not even itchy. All he's got to defend himself is

You've got to figure he's delicious, or why would he be so thoroughly frightening?

So we photographed him in situ--Bill of the Birds holding the Canon G-11 waay up over his head while I held the end of the branch down enough to get our frightened quarry in range. But for Bill's long arms, we'd have not much to show for our first-ever encounter with the most coveted caterpillar in North America--on our pawpaw hunting grounds, on our land, no less! Not long from now, he'll climb down to the ground, wander about for awhile, and dig in and pupate underground in a silk-lined earthen cell, resting for the winter like an enormous brown seed before emerging next year as a glorious royal walnut moth.

From Wikipedia. Wish it were mine! This huge moth more than covers your hand. This is a very fresh one, probably still drying its soft, limp wings after emerging from the pupal case.

Being a Science Chimp, I didn't get very far down the trail before I smacked my forehead and said, "I've got to go back and find some horned devil frass!" I'd read that one way to find devils is to see their poop and then look up--a neat trick in deep leaf litter, but still...most of us look down in the woods, and I'm likely to spot something like that someday. I wanted to find the poop so I'd know it the next time I saw it. Now Bill of the Birds--he's always lookin' up.

So I went right back under that horned devil and got down on all fours and muttered and rummaged around for a long time while my family kind of chuckled and rolled their eyes and darned if I didn't find me a very nice bit of fresh devilpoop, a little grenade of compressed used up hickory chaw. It was big enough to completely cover my wedding ring which I can assure you after 17 years is still in situ.

As if the pawpaws weren't enough, I had fresh devilpoop. I think the pawpaw/devilhunt was the best expotition we had all summer. That's nature at its top-of-lungs hollerin' best.

And it's all FREE.


All photos in this post by Bill of the Birds
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