Author Archives: Bluejay

A walk in the woods, pt. 2

I didn’t really plan this around Earth Day, but today was a rare day with no pressing obligations. I thought about taking the kayak out, but with a forecast of increasing winds through the morning, I decided to return to Croft State Park and take a more extensive look around. I got there a bit before opening time, but the gates were open so I deposited my admission and proceeded.

Since I was planning to spend quite a while on foot, I decided to forgo my Good Camera and rely on the cell phone, which doesn’t do too bad a job and I needed to take it with me anyway. Any other weight I was carrying went into food and water.

I hadn’t been out of the car but a few minutes when I heard a knocking up in the trees. I followed the sound and found a Pileated Woodpecker working the tree. Unfortunately, with the early light and just my cellphone, there was no way to get a picture. But it was neat watching her for a while. If you’ve never seen one of these birds, they’re One Big Woodpecker. About as big as a full-grown crow.

Things were a lot greener than when I was there the first of the month. I took the Fosters Mill loop trail to the Rocky Ridge trail (as usual, click on the picture for a higher-resolution version):

Most of the rocks I saw were down in the creek, but there was a good bit of “ridge” along this trail:

A short side spur takes one to a place called Whitestone Springs:

where there used to be a hotel and bottling business, but that’s all long gone:

Now it’s just a really nice place to sit and rest for a bit; here’s a little video:
VID_20170422_091642433
Rocky Ridge winds it’s way back to the Foster’s Mill loop trail.

which intersects with the Lake Johnson loop trail that takes you to, you guessed it, Lake Johnson. This is the smaller lake I didn’t get to see last time:

As I came around the lake I pretty much came out of the woods and encountered my first major gathering of humans around the boat ramps and picnic areas. I passed a couple of other hikers earlier, but aside from them, I had the place to myself, primate-wise. Of course, I really wasn’t alone out there.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to get back into the woods. I found a nice spot to stop for lunch along that trail. Just remember, everything is “to go” (leave nothing, take nothing):

Butterflies were much in evidence as the day warmed up:

I know I said “leave nothing, take nothing”, but it’s hard not to leave a few footprints, or take a few cobwebs that cross the path. This cobweb wasn’t hard to avoid. That it was bouncing in the gusting wind made it even easier to spot:

This area was used for army training back in WWII days, and there are frequent warnings to stick to the trails, as there may still be unexploded munitions laying around. This tree seemed to take exception to it’s role in holding up those signs:

Back to the other, larger, Lake Craig, where a few hardy canoeists were out in the wind:

With all the twists and turns, especially on the Rocky Ridge trail, I didn’t think a GPS track would come close to an accurate distance, but based on ded reckoning (my typical speed x time), I figure I covered about 14 miles during the almost 5 hours I spent in the woods. I’d call it time well spent, and a good sort of “tired”. And “hungry”…

A walk in the woods, pt. 1

I’m always up for a walk in the woods, but there’s not that many places nearby to really get out in the woods. I found one that’s not too far away, Croft State Park in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, United States. There are literally miles and miles of trails, plus a nice lake (there’s really two, but I only had a chance to see one on this trip):

I wandered around some and found myself following the Beech Tree Trail,


The trail was well marked, and there was even a native guide to make sure I saw the blaze:

Butterflies were all over the place too:

I even learned something about horses. Most all the trails are multi-use, and towards the end of my walk I encountered a couple groups of horses. I stepped aside for one pair, and was politely asked by the lead rider to step out from the bushes I had gotten behind. Seems horses don’t like that, as it looks like I’m trying to set up an ambush.

I’m impressed with the extensive network of trails, if I only had time to sample a small section. Even at that, it was the worth the $2 admission, and the staff I encountered (a fellow named Jay) was quite helpful and friendly. As you can see from the web site there’s a lot of other things there too.

If you’re going to be in the area for the solar eclipse later this year, you might want to add on a day or two and pay a visit.

Update: Here’s an overview of the park:

My little walk took me across the dam at the bottom of the larger lake (the lower right corner in this picture), and across the next valley, and along part way up the other side before looping back up to the lake.

Creature Feature 2017 #2

One of my familiars stops by the back yard (where the food is, of course):

The Ospreys were very active, cavorting in the air and working on their nest on top of the intake structure:

This is kind of interesting because it shows how their tip flight feathers splay and curve up to act as [what human aircraft designers call] winglets:

Of course, Osprey were using winglets long before humans produced the first inkling of aerodynamic lift.

Got a good look at this Heron from across a little inlet, who also got a good look at me, naturally:

A bit later, paddling out of the inlet, I reached for my camera to get a few more pictures of the Ospreys overhead, when I heard a floof floof floof right behind my starboard side. The heron passed within a paddle’s-length of me.

Ducks were hangin’ out:

and it was a good day for the Turtles to be out getting some sun:

Whenever I’ve become very familiar seeing something from one angle, like the spillway from the lake side:

I always find it interesting when I suddenly get a look at it from the other side. I was wandering around the Lake Rabon park below the dam when I suddenly realized “OH… This is where the spillway spills out!”:

It didn’t look like it had been used in a long time. If there were leaves on the trees, you could easily miss it entirely.

Creature Feature 2017 #1

I finally managed to get some outdoor time (and come up with something to blog about). There are signs of spring already, although most of them are subtle, mostly auditory. The calls I hear when I step outside early in the morning are definitely about spring and territories.
Buffleheads are winter residents here, and haven’t started to move north yet (I usually don’t fly close enough to water to create that good a reflection) (as usual, click on the picture for a full-res version):

but Kingfishers and Mallards are here all year round:


A Cormarant (ID based mainly on outline and beak shape) on early morning patrol:

I went down below the dam to look around and get a different prespective on the lake:

I spotted these Geese coming in low towards the dam, over wind-rippled water the same shade of blue as the clear sky…

…where they gathered, completely ignoring the signs that warn about people not being allowed on the dam:

That blue sky makes for blue water everywhere:

First winter storm of 2017

As often happens, this area is right where things change, and just a few miles can make a difference between the 4-6″ of snow in the counties to the north, and the dusting we got here in Laurens County.


Actually, I saw the first snowfall a week ago on December 31, 2016. We had to go to 9500′ over Oconee County to find it, but it was there, and it was falling, even if it wasn’t reaching the ground.

On helping

A friend sent me a story that got me thinking. I know, sometimes I just can’t help it. Warning: this is a bit of a rant.

As the story goes, a man was in a hurry to get through a supermarket line because he was on his lunch break and didn’t have much time. People weren’t too enthusiastic about letting him go ahead, but were curious why he was buying all these toothbrushes and toothpaste. When he explained that he was taking them to a nearby shelter where people evacuated from a wildfire were staying, and how nobody ever thinks to take a toothbrush when they have to evacuate, they all stepped aside and let him through. And soon everybody was buying something for the evacuees. The store owner even donated goods for the shelter.

I’m still hearing of stories like that from the floods that hit my own state of South Carolina over a year ago, and more recently the wildfires. Many, many people stopped and helped each other, often with little regard for their own property or even safety, working to make sure everyone was safe and taken care of. It seems we’re at our best when things are at their worst.

This time of year so many people volunteer to serve meals to those who have no food. People open their doors to neighbors who are alone. Charities are bolstered by people’s generosity. Toys are donated by the truckload.

Why?

I know what you’re thinking: of course people help each other when they’re in trouble. That’s not what I’m questioning. Turn that around.

What I’d like to know is, why do we do these things just when there’s a calamity, or a certain date shows up on our calendars? We’re pretty good at stepping up when disaster strikes (at least as individuals), or the “season of giving” rolls around. But what about the rest of the time? Why can’t we have at least some degree of that caring, that what-can-I-do-to-help attitude, all the time?

We fuss and fume about the way that idiot up the road cuts their grass, but if there’s a fire, illness, or some other catastrophic event, we can’t do enough to help them. Then, when it’s all over, they’re back to being an idiot. Ok, maybe there’s good reason they shouldn’t cut their grass that way, but that doesn’t make them an idiot or not worthy of our care and consideration.

I’m not saying that we need to call out the National Guard every day, but I think there are plenty of opportunities to help each other out in smaller ways. Maybe you see someone in the supermarket checkout line who’s a little short of cash for their bread and milk. Maybe someone could use a hand carrying or picking up something. Maybe a neighbor is having car trouble and could use a ride or two. Maybe you could hold the door and smile for someone. If we’re so concerned about our neighbor’s safety when a tornado hits, shouldn’t we be just as concerned as we drive by their house where their children are playing?

Wouldn’t the world be a whole lot better, wouldn’t YOUR world be a whole lot better, if we stop calling each other names and instead said “Can I give you a hand with that?”

Rant ends.

Pinnacle Mountain flight

A nice sharp clear fall Saturday morning, light wind out of the west, a brisk departure to the west off of Greenville’s runway 28. With a short flight planned, light on fuel, and we just about could have busted the class C airspace if we had a mind to.

By the time we leveled out at 4500′ I noticed we had a lot of headwind, and a groundspeed of only 89 knots, which helped to steepen that initial climb. We climbed up and circled the Pinnacle Mountain fire area, with due regard to the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction).

For those who may not be aware, there’s been a fire burning in this area for almost two weeks now, and is reported to be the largest fire ever in Pickens County. Smoke does not make for good picture-taking conditions when you have to keep some distance, but you get the idea.

That’s actually a cloud on the right. There was a pretty good cloud deck to the north of the area. Unfortunately, they weren’t rain clouds.

Heading back east, we got the wind behind us and promptly hit 177 knots groundspeed. By the time we got back to the airport, that wind was mixing down to the surface, giving us winds gusting to 20 knots and not aligned with any runway. We managed to land without too much excitement, though, which is a good thing.

Creature Feature 2016 #5

First, a few fall pictures of this living planet we have here. Cool mornings while the water is still relatively warm gives rise to early morning steam fog.


But once the sun starts to get up, the fog begins to dissipates and the sunlight makes the early fall colors stand out.

From the birds-eye view (if the bird is flying really high) the sun can make for some contrasting scenes and, combined with the wind, patterns on the water far below.

Now, back to the less-than-planet-sized creatures. I saw this large bird and grabbed the camera. I thought he was an Osprey, just because of the silhouette, size, and location, but I realized I was mistaken when I saw the photos.

Yes, that was the Bald Eagle. A bit later I found the Osprey, cavorting around the eastern side of the lake.


Have I mentioned how hard it is to get a good picture of a Kingfisher in action?

Nope, no Heron pictures this time. I saw a couple around, but maybe it was a bit early in the morning for them.
As usual, you can click on the pictures to get to a full-res version. I had to change photo sites because of problems with the previous one. Older pictures are still there, but henceforth anything new will probably end up on the new site.

Creature Feature 2016 #4

So much of our universe runs in cycles.

Some cycles are very artificial, of our own making. Like the workweek/weekend cycle, or election cycles (and that’s all I’ll say on that topic).

Some of these cycles are so short that we hardly notice. Like the day/night cycle. It happens every day, and we take it for granted.

Some cycles aren’t so regular. It rains, then the sun comes out, until it rains again, etc…

The lunar cycle is a bit longer, although if you’re not out much at night you might not notice. The tail end of a full moon is visible in the morning daylight.

Some cycles are so long that we might not even notice that there is a cycle going on. Haley’s Comet comes around every 75 or so years, making it a once-in-a-lifetime event, but still it’s a cycle. Clouds of gases collapse to form a star, that burns for a while, explodes into a cloud, that collapses… A cycle that probably no one is going to see in it’s entirety.

This time of year the season cycle is very much in evidence. The lake is noticeably quieter now as the resident residents prepare for the winter, and the transient residents begin to migrate to their winter homes.

With all that going on, there’s still plenty to see out on the lake. Like this Kingfisher:

or this Killdeer caught in flight:

This time of year is when I see Egrets around the lake (another cycle). This one had just made a short hop of a flight. Almost sort of a literal “puddle jumper”.

As I was paddling up the lake, I saw a large bird coming towards me. I grabbed the camera and just held the shutter button. I wasn’t sure at the time, but the pictures confirm that this was a bird that I’ve only seen a few times over the years.

Yes, that’s a Bald Eagle.

Gotta throw in a gratuitous Great Blue Heron picture:

Creature Feature 2016 #3

It’s interesting how all the divisiveness among humans contrasts with what goes on in the rest of the world. Sure, there’s competition and predation, but it’s all based on the needs of survival, and nothing more. Nobody is going at each other’s throats or calling each other names just because of an abstract concept, like the color of their plumage.

This Great Blue Heron was just strolling through a whole flock of vultures like it was no big deal, because it wasn’t:

Granted, these two species are very different and their needs don’t really overlap. On the other hand, this Egret and Heron do very much compete, and here they are within a couple wing-beats of each other:

Obligatory Heron action shot; that’s a lot of bird to land up in a tree, but the extreme control they have makes it look easy:

And, from the clouds-as-creatures department, here’s some of those: