Friday, July 24, 2015

Exploring the Capitol Mall

The National Mall in Washington just became much easier to explore with the introduction of the Circulator Bus. A huge amount of walking is avoided at a very modest fare. It begins in front of Union Station and makes a figure-eight passing in front of the National Gallery and the Smithsonian Museums of Natural and of American History before circling around the Washington Monument. It then goes clockwise around the Tidal Pool to deliver you to the Jefferson, ML King and Lincoln memorials. The route returns passing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and again circling the Washington Monument on the way to return up the opposite side of the National Mall.

While in DC at a family celebration, we explored this new way to see the mall. It was extremely hot, and the Circulator allowed us to easily visit those sites, such as the Jefferson Memorial, with little stress. Here are some photos of what I found.

 I began straight off the Metro near the Capitol walking from the Federal Center stop to the US Botanic Gardens at the foot of Capitol Hill. It was 10 am, so I began outside before the heat soared.

The gardens offer a quiet  place among the constant traffic around the Mall. Still small glimpses of the buildings sneak into view like the National Museum of the American Indian (which is highly recommended).

Given the  heat, I found the gardens in surprisingly lush bloom.  This ramada was surrounded by native plants in brilliant bloom.

Hidden in among the natural stone were a wide array of colorful summer blooms like these.

Nearby is nice water garden with a Mallard drifting about looking for feed. The bench seemed a welcoming place to relax, but on this hot day visitors seemed more intent to keep moving and rest inside the air-conditioned conservatory areas.

As the heat built above 90F, I, too, retreated to the Conservatory building. One of my favorite places was a tropical orchid display.

Across the Mall,  one can board the Circulator at Union Station or at the National Gallery of Art.  The attractions at the east end of the Mall (near the Capitol) are easy to visit, so we rode to the west end.  Our first stop was the Jefferson Memorial.  Stepping off the bus, the west side is seen.  It surely echoes Jefferson's Monticello.

The east side presents massive steps up to the rotunda.  Note the red "Bike Share" bikes parked in front. They offer a second way to easily move through the city. Residents love them for fast commuting.

Inside the rotunda, Jefferson's statue is flanked by some of his most notable writing. His declaration of "We hold these truths to be self evident" flanks his left shoulder.

Another of his statements to the statue's right shoulder was new to me and certainly apropos 239 years later.  I felt moved to record it.

It was time to hop on the next Circulator for an air- conditioned ride to the Martin Luther King Memorial. The work of the sculptor appeals to me both for the overall memorial's design and for the beauty of the sculpture.

We were making excellent progress at a pace far exceeding what could be done on foot.  Back on a Circulator for the Lincoln Memorial.  More steps.

The view from the steps is a classic one towards the Capitol.

We found the Lincoln Memorial to be the most crowded of all.  The classic photo standing in front of the great statue seems to be the ultimate proof of a visit.  It took patience and holding the camera overhead to simplify the image.

Our long-delayed visit to the west end of the mall complete, we were again on the Circulator for a final stop at our favorite spot on the Mall.  The National Gallery of Art always has new exhibits, plus our beloved gallery of impressionist paintings. As usual, many hurry through taking snapshots without really seeing, and a few settle on the sofas and really see the art.

This time, there was a painter copying Monet's The Artist's Garden at V├ętheuil. This would seem to be the best example of really seeing the painting. It seemed that few visitors paused to see the paint being applied.  Isn't that a chance to go back in time as though Monet was working the canvas?

Thank you for allowing me to take you along on our exploration of the National Mall using the Circulator to catch some of the high points.  The standard fare is $1.00 for up to two hours of boardings.  They run very frequently too.


Monday, July 13, 2015

The Attraction of Trumpet Vine

There was a lot of bird chatter around our home garden this morning, as the early fog lifted. Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Cardinals and Woodpeckers were heard frequently.  But activity at our Trumpet Vine was silent, and, more interesting.  Only twenty feet from our sun room, there was a feeding frenzy by a flock of Baltimore Orioles with one Scarlet Tanager tagging along.  No time for the big camera and lens, so I grabbed the little Nikon 1 V2 and fired away. While most of the flock stayed in the treetops, individual birds would come down to the Trumpet Vine growing on the arbor.

They all appeared to be females and juveniles, maybe twenty or more. They were also in the cherry and osier, presumably after berries. The target of the orioles in the Trumpet Vine was a little different. They were taking apart the blooms for the sweet parts.

My original thought was that they were seeking the nectar just like a bee or hummingbird.  But the evidence on review of my photos changed my thinking. Now, I recalled watching them devour the meat of ripe oranges in spring. They did not restrict their feeding to open flowers. They also tore open the buds.

But, more was revealed by the photos. They had a wider diet - ants. Look at the beak of this bird.

Mixed with the fascinating display of Baltimore Oriole behavior was another visitor to the flowers.

On occasion, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds would land and crawl up onto the flower to reach the nectar. The activity continued for about twenty minutes before the Orioles moved on to new grounds. 

I had passed on a trip up to a natural area this morning with the intention to get some chores done.  The unintended consequence of staying home outweighed the  importance of doing those chores.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thinking Back for Two Months

The pace has been so fast, that I have fallen behind on sharing images. So, I've looked back over May and June to find those images that recall special days.  My first close encounter with a Marsh Wren in the Montezuma wetlands in May came as a surprise. He landed in an odd perch and stared at me with defiance.

Closer to home at the Newtown Battlefield Reservation this Hooded Warbler, like the Wren above, chose a nice spot to sing for me. I can regularly find one of them along a particular trail.

For a third year, a pair of Sandhill Cranes was spotted in a marsh near Watkins Glen. Would they be nesting this year?  The quest to answer that landed me on sight for some colorful mornings.

I found the cranes on several different days in June in the tall grass, so any chicks would be hidden. Then, on one day as I approached my parking spot to explore for the cranes, they were standing out in a corn field in plain view.  Dropping into a drainage ditch for concealment, I got very close; it was obvious that they did not have chicks this year.  Mixed with  disappointment was the interesting display that one crane made.

In addition to the larger animals, there is a much smaller world that can be interesting.  This black ant was feeding on the nectar in the blooms of my rhubarb plants.

A good part of June was directed at the Bluebird Trail Farms, which was the subject of an earlier message.  Surely a favorite of the grassland natives was the Eastern Meadowlark.  It is a very strong singer for its size.

I have created a new gallery on my website devoted to grassland flyers - birds and a few butterflies. See it at:

In late June and early July, some of my attention moves to orchids and other beautiful flowering native plants. Arguably, the most exciting are the Showy Lady's Slippers. This cluster of blooms was photographed with my smartphone.

Most exciting was this pair that provided the two orthogonal views in one instant.

Back at the Newtown Battlefield Reservation, a White-breasted Nuthatch found a spider nest under some peeling bark of a White Birch, and I captured the moment when it pulled out the spider.

The American Goldfinch is a seed eater, so it nests later when the grasses are going to seed. This male is in fine colors as July begins.

In the meadows and grasslands, the birds' young are fledging, and one is more successful finding colored butterflies like this Fritillary.

Saving one of the best subjects for last, we come to the Canada Lily.  It's hard to find, because the over-abundant Whitetail Deer find it tasty.  I was introduced to a pocket of them isolated between a big river and a railroad yard in an urban location. No deer get there. Arriving in early morning, I spotted the first plants next to the river.

Some of the plants had profuse blooms. It was very striking. This is just two plants.

One distinctive feature of the Canada Lily is the "freckles" on the petals.

So, there is a view into why my last two months have passed so quickly.