Scissortail Ballet

October 17, 2017 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

One look at the impossibly long tail of the scissor-tailed flycatcher might make you wonder if handicaps this bird by its excess. But once you see the owners in flight, you realize the tails have a purpose.

They act as rudders of sorts, allowing the birds to dart after flying insects with finesse.

The males sport the longer tails, and if they had the capability, they’d probably take great pride in their amazing accouterments.

This is the Oklahoma state bird, and in summer they find plenty of places in the small trees dotting fields and prairies to make their nests.

It seems as if the scissortails revel in their acrobatic ability.

Notice the female’s shorter tail.

These birds were at Fort Sill, which is part of the Wichita Mountains.

In fall they gather by the dozens – or even hundreds – as they discuss their migration flight plans.

I haven’t seen a gathering that large, but just seeing one in an aerial ballet is enough majesty for me.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Washington, D.C. – the Expected and Unexpected

October 8, 2017 at 5:00 am (National Parks) (, , , , , , )

The long-over due memorial to the influential civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., was dedicated Aug. 28, 2011 on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington.

It was there that MLK gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

This memorial, as well as all of them on the National Mall and surroundings, are part of the National Park Service. I was fortunate to work at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta several years ago as a National Park Ranger.

This was the view from the Lincoln Memorial where MLK gave the groundbreaking speech.

It’s appropriate that the Lincoln Memorial is nearby.

Lincoln freed the slaves, but it was another 100-plus years that the descendants of slaves had full civil rights. MLK and hundreds of others worked tirelessly toward that goal.

I was with two other people, and we began our tour of D.C. at 9 a..m. on Sunday.

There were already plenty of folks out touring, people from many different states and countries. But one of the most unexpected visitors was Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was recognized coming down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As soon as I found out, I got a few super-telephoto images as he and a tall man with gray hair and two Secret Service agents walked out of view.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis

If anybody recognizes the man he’s with, let me know!

The venerable Washington Monument is a focal point of anyone visiting D.C.

This is also where Forrest Gump made his “speech.” I imagined Jenny running out into the Reflecting Pool shouting, “Forrest!”

The observation deck in the Washington Monument is closed for repairs. The monument was damaged by an earthquake several years ago.

As with many works of art, its power lies in its simplicity.

This chopper has the words “United States of America” on the side. It apparently had important VIPs on board.

Of course, a glimpse of the White House is a DC “must see.”

My 12-year-old (then) son and I had our photo taken with Bill and Hillary during our visit 20 years ago. The cardboard versions, anyway. I had absolutely no desire to see the current occupant.

I just HAD to do something a little cheesy. Apparently the Park Police didn’t mind me snatching the Washington Monument for a souvenir. 🙂

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Washington, D.C. War Memorials

October 7, 2017 at 5:00 am (National Parks) (, , , , )

The World War II Memorial on the National Mall was dedicated in 2004, and is between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Reflections of the Gold Stars

One portion is dedicated to the war in the Pacific, and the other to the Atlantic theatre.


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as the Wall, is one of the most powerful memorials ever erected. It chronologically lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives during this controversial war.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Anything left as a tribute at the wall is removed every night. Eventually a museum will be erected to exhibit some of the items left there over the years.

While I personally do not know anyone whose name is on the wall, the Vietnam War was the constant backdrop of my childhood.

Several days earlier, I had watched the final episode of Ken Burns’ series “The Vietnam War.”

The Three Servicemen

This statue is part of the Vietnam memorial.

There is one dedicated to service women, too, and even though I am a former member of the Women’s Army Corps, I missed that one. A sane person can’t help but wonder why world leaders think war is so important. The thirst for power, wealth and land causes so much misery.

If only that energy and passion could be put toward creating justice and peace.

Until then, we need our military, and we need to keep it strong and effective. God bless our service members and civilians who dedicate themselves to defense, and those who have given their lives.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

October 6, 2017 at 4:52 am (Photography) (, , , )

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

One of the most reverent and ritualistic ceremonies performed by the U.S. Army is the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb is guarded every minute of every day. The guard is changed every hour (every half hour April to September) for the public to witness. This is the soldier who is coming on guard.

This is the soldier being relieved. From the Arlington website:

Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

The way these Soldiers walk is a uniquely silent and controlled stride, which is all in the legs and feet, leaving the torso and head to glide with very little bounce of normal walking. They click their feet together at numerous points, with a loud metallic click. This is amazing to watch:

From the Arlington National Cemetery website:

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, “Pass on your orders.” The current sentinel commands, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of many distinguished military men and women, including John F. Kennedy.

We made it just in time to see the Changing of the Guard. It was the end of the day, so we did not have time to view the gravesite of one of America’s most beloved presidents.

The rows of simple tombstones are similar to those found in veteran cemeteries all across the country.

The patterns are evocative. I understand that a service member’s wife can be buried with him, in the same footprint, one on top of the other.

Rest in peace, all you brave men and women who served our country.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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A Touch of Nature in Maryland

October 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm (Butterflies, Dragonflies and Bugs, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography) ()

I’m visiting Maryland at the moment, and had a chance to visit the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center  during some down time. Several sweet whitetail does posed pretty for me. This gal has a floppy ear for some reason.

I visited the North Tract, hoping to see birds, but didn’t see many at all.

The deer and the butterfly garden made up for it though.

It was at the end of milkweed season, but a few caterpillars were still munching.

Monarch caterpillar

There was only one chrysalis that I found, and it was hours away from hatching a butterfly.

Aphids clustered along some of the milkweed stalks.

Bumblebees and various flies that mimicked bees feasted on the New England asters and other flowers.

Several very small flies rarely seemed to land.

The milkweed pods were releasing their seeds on silky fluff to be carried by the wind.

The seeds ready for their silk to unfurl.

Red/orange and black Milkweed Bugs also find a home on the milkweed plants.

Large Milkweed Bug adult

Even the nymphs are the color of “danger – I’m poisonous!”

A nursery of Large Milkweed Bugs

It’s amazing what you can find in a small patch of flowers!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Total Eclipse of the Sun

September 3, 2017 at 4:02 pm (Nature, Nature photography, Night Sky, Photography, Time-lapse, Video) (, , , , )

Solar eclipse as viewed from the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary along the banks of the Platte River, Gibbon, Nebraska, August 21. I used a Nikon D750 with an 80-400mm lens for the stills and the video of the eclipse’s ending, and a Nikon D600 and Canon SX60 for landscape videos. A solar filter was used on the lens prior to totality.

Since I live a day’s drive from the path of totality of the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, I decided to make the trip to near Kearney, Nebraska to see what may be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I chose the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary in nearby Gibbon because I had visited it in March to view another amazing natural event – the migration of hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes. I was surprised that so many people were gathering in predetermined places as if to watch a sporting event. Park for $10, enjoy the food concessions, buy souvenirs, etc.

UGH!

Since there were thousands of square miles available for viewing the totality, I couldn’t understand this mindset. Fortunately, only a handful of people had the same idea I had, including my brother and his family. I wanted to experience the total eclipse in its natural state, without a bunch of hoo-hah folks around ruining the soundscape. And this was already a special place for me.

I set up two video cameras in a blind, and stood just outside with a clear view of the sun. Using the prescribed solar filter, I recorded the progress of the moon as it “took a bite” out of the sun. When totality occurred, the filter came off, and I recorded the first half in stills, and the second half in video.

Here’s the video from all three cameras:

Three things struck me about this eclipse.

First, I thought it would be dark as night. Instead it was as if the last light of dusk was at the horizon, with a dark blue sky above.

Second, it reminded me of the annular eclipse I had witnessed in Maine in 1995, the way the light looked as if a window tint had been placed over the sun. You could tell it was sunny and the shadows were distinct, but there was a strange dimness. The sun dappling the leaf shadows on the ground took on the shape of the sun’s crescent, becoming thinner as totality approached. (During the annular eclipse, the leaf shadows were donut shaped!)

Third, looking with the naked eye at the ebony disc of the moon surrounded by its sun halo was one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had in nature. I can understand why this would have spooked primitive peoples.

One thing I didn’t take into account was the traffic jam on I-80 following the eclipse. I had made airline reservations six weeks earlier to fly from Omaha to Seattle to visit family. Speed for 150 miles averaged 35mph, meaning I was about 30 minutes too late for my flight. They were all booked for the next day, and I had to pay an extra $250 and two nights in a Motel 6. Grrrrrr…

But, the Seattle visit was a great one, and the experience of the eclipse was A. MAZE. ING. Especially because my brother, his wife and my niece were able to experience it, too.

Next one: April 8, 2014. Mark your calendars!

https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/april-8-2024/

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Nighthawks and Pauraques

May 29, 2017 at 8:12 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, Birds - Texas, Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Southwest Birds, Wildlife) (, )

Common nighthawk

Nighthawks are among the birds of my childhood. Their “buick buick” calls at dusk, the quick wingbeats followed by a glide, remind me of warm Southern nights. I remember being outside when it was nearly dark, and a nighthawk flew past my head.

I took off after it in my bare feet. (My feet were perpetually black in summer from running on pavement).

It landed in the fields behind our house, and to my surprise I was able to pick it up. I carried it around awhile, proud of my trophy. I figured it was a juvenile that didn’t know how to fly very well yet.

Of course, I released it after a few minutes.

I’ve seen male nighthawks courting their ladies. The females were on a post or the ground and the male would make a steep dive, pulling up with a roar of wind through his wingtips. It was an amazing sound.

Here’s a female I saw last month in Osage County, Oklahoma just as the sun had set. The male was flying nearby and you can hear the “roar” as he dives near her off-camera.

The common nighthawk is found all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The lesser nighthawk is found in very southern parts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of a lesser nighthawk.

 

I’ve only seen lesser nighthawks at Big Bend National Park in Texas. They tended to run right into my car headlights after insects, and it broke my heart when I hit one.

Notice how big the eyes are. Nighthawks need to see in the dark. The mouths are huge, too, to scoop flying bugs into their maw.

I saw about two dozen common nighthawks on a trip through farmland between Lawton and Frederick, Oklahoma recently. I’ve never seen so many before, many sitting on fence posts or “bob wahr.” One was even high on a phone line.

I also saw relatives of theirs, the common pauraque, in far South Texas several years ago.  We were told exactly where they were resting amid leaves on the ground at Estero Llano Grande State Park. But it still took a minute to see them even though they were literally out in the open. That’s how good the camouflage was.

Common Pauraque

See what I mean?

Common pauraque

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Eastern common nighthawks are browner than those from the northern Great Plains, which are silvery gray overall.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Greater Prairie Chickens

April 27, 2017 at 5:50 am (Bird photography, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Greater prairie chickens battling for dominance

It’s been a month since I saw the greater prairie chickens doing their spectacular mating calls and dance, but I’ve finally gone through all the photos and here are some of the best ones.

There were about two dozen males on the lek on the Switzer Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska late last month. They spent a lot of time “booming” and challenging each other.

No prairie chickens were harmed in the making of this blog.

The facial feathers, the orange eyebrows, and the bladder sacs that create the woo-woo-woo “booming” are dramatic enough, but the little dance and flared wing and tail feathers that go along with it make this display absolutely charming.

Three hens finally showed up, having visited another lek. Apparently they didn’t find the make and model they were looking for, and left the boys strutting their stuff among themselves.

Male displaying for female

Two males sizing up each other.

Why can’t we all just get along?

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Hackberry Flat in Spring

April 25, 2017 at 1:36 pm (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Wildlife) (, )

American Badger

I figured I’d start with the badger since it’s the most unusual animal of the day. It’s technically not in the boundaries of Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in Southwest Oklahoma, but pretty close. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rattlesnake Roundup

April 19, 2017 at 6:00 am (Oklahoma, Wildlife) (, , )

I’m not a fan of this, really. It’s not what I would call a lighthearted family event. But geeze Louise, it’s a tradition here in Oklahoma. It’s part of the culture. I mean, many of these folks are raised on farms. They hunt and fish. They eat what they kill. But still…

There are some interesting facts that accompany a rattlesnake roundup like this one. And some opinions that may or may not be accurate. To be honest, I found it fascinating. All of it. Even the part that comes next — the shock and awe of seeing a perfectly good snake butchered. I was transfixed. Don’t watch this next video if you get easily freaked out. Read the rest of this entry »

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