I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Friday, May 31, 2019

More urban poetry

Did I mention that Savannah is a real party town?

I've just started going through most of the pictures, which are, not surprisingly, mostly of pretty buildings and old trees draped with moss, and will post the best ones over the next week or so.

I had a funny dream where I was starring in a revival of A Doll's House on Broadway. It was opening night, and not only did I not know any of the lines, the play had turned into a mystery-thriller with a completely unfamiliar plot. And my first thought when I woke up this morning was, “Where were the cookies? I didn't get to eat any cookies.”

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Urban poetry

An empty building overlooking the river in Savannah.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Astronomy Tuesday

This image was released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubbell Space Telescope in 2015. 

The star cluster Westerland 2 in the Milky Way contains some of the hottest and brightest stars we can observe and you can see how the stellar winds from those massive stars are blowing the nebula gases away.

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

Monday, May 27, 2019

Random things I saw in Hilton Head

Flip flops and a ball left on the beach, sea grasses in Broad Creek, and some of the ubiquitous but beautiful live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. 

Plus a sunrise. Just because.

Ibis Pond

This is where the egrets, and various herons, were nesting. It was a little oasis in the midst of the marshes, although it's home to several alligators along with the birds.

They weren't showing themselves, but I wouldn't have wanted to go swimming, however tempting the water looked.

Speaking of alien

A better look at the sand fiddler crabs that frolicked by the thousands in the marshes.

I have to admit they gave me the creeps, maybe because they seemed more like very large insects than very small crabs. And there were so many of them! 

Personally I would rather have been eaten by alligators -- which are also plentiful on Pinckney Island, although fortunately I didn't encounter any -- than get too close to these things.

An inhospitable landscape

Views over the salt marshes on Pinckney Island. Those little black spots all over the water are crabs.

This island was once part of a plantation belonging to a Major General Pinckney. My own ancestors settled all over the South -- Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama -- in the 17th and 18th centuries, sometimes in environments very similar to this, but I can't imagine wanting to live here, wanting to claim it as my own, calling it home. It's so alien to me.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Bonus bird blogging

Here's the rookery minus the telephoto lens -- a tree full of young egrets.

Sunday bird blogging

As promised, here's another look at the egret nest at the Pinckney Island wildlife refuge.

I did the shortest of the available hikes and that was almost more than I could handle. The trail passed through salt marshes with no shelter from the sun, and not much in the way of wildlife to observe except for thousands of tiny crabs scuttling over the sands. 

But the pond at the end was beautiful and worth the hike. This egret rookery had dozens of birds and lots of babies, and I could almost see them through the sheets of sweat pouring over my face.

Friday, May 24, 2019

This is better

Same beach -- early morning and early evening. Perfect for long walks.

The beach at midday

Which I mostly avoided. First, although it was a lovely wide beach, it was crowded. And it was hot in the middle of the day. As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I still find the concept of an ocean you can swim in for more than a few freezing seconds just wrong.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Miscellaneous critters, part 2

A dolphin in Broad Creek, the tidal marsh that bisects Hilton Head Island.

I took a dolphin tour of the marsh, and despite my usual bad luck with these things, we actually saw dolphins before we were out of the marina, and saw dozens more during the tour. It was hard to get any good pictures; they disappeared so quickly, and it was impossible to guess where they'd surface next. After taking several not very interesting pictures of fins, I mostly gave up and just enjoyed the ride, but I do like this splashy tail.

Miscellaneous critters

There was a strip of muddy ground next to the lagoon on the hotel grounds in Hilton Head reserved for the use of turtles. There were usually half a dozen basking in the sun, looking about as interested, or interesting, as the mud they were sitting on.

But in the water, their colors came out and they were suddenly rather beautiful.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Beach fun

Horseshoe crabs are so strange-looking that a psychedelic filter is somehow appropriate.

On the beach

I took almost as many pictures of jellyfish as I did of sunrises in Hilton Head. I'm fascinated by their shapes and textures, though there were so many dead ones on the beach it made me reluctant to venture too far into the waves in case I encountered some of their angry survivors.

I'm back home in New York where I'm looking forward to enjoying the cool temperatures while I deal with laundry and shopping and other chores, including sorting through photos.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

In which I explore the culinary side of Savannah

This is the line waiting to get into a restaurant called Mrs. Wilkes.

Some things -- not many, in my opinion -- are worth standing in long lines for, and I wouldn't put most restaurants on that list. But multiple people told me I had to eat at Mrs. Wilkes, and because it's only open Monday through Friday (and only between 11 am and 2 pm) yesterday was my only chance to go. I got there at 10, and there were probably about twenty people in line already. I was seated shortly after the restaurant opened, and by noon I'd stumbled back out into the Savannah heat, lighter by $25.00 and heavier by approximately 25,000 calories.

This is Southern cooking, served family style, and though technically it's all you can eat, the concept is meaningless here. There were two main dishes -- fried chicken and barbecued pork -- and what is reported to be 22 side dishes. I didn't count; they were already occupying every square inch of space on the table when we sat down, and though dishes got passed around, it was impossible to try everything. I did try collard greens and creamed corn and mashed potatoes and rice and gravy and cornbread dressing and sweet potatoes and biscuits, and possibly a few other dishes I'm forgetting. I did not try the lima beans or the okra or the coleslaw or the cornbread muffins. What was in the other dozen or so dishes I never sampled or even saw, I couldn't tell you.

It was all good, some of it very good, but I realized early on that every bite of collard greens, however delicious, was taking up room in my stomach that should be assigned to fried chicken or biscuits, which were both pure heaven. The chicken managed to be both crispy and juicy, and the biscuits were light and crumbly and buttery and salty and the fact that I only managed to eat two of them is something I expect to regret for the rest of my life.

Yes, there was dessert -- peach cobbler with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yes, I somehow managed to finish it.

So was it worth standing in line for an hour? Absolutely! Great food, and a fun experience. Would I do it again? Well....maybe.

The problem with this authentic Southern cuisine is that you're eating it in the South. And walking through heat and humidity that were both in the 90's with a stomach full of fried chicken and peach cobbler almost erased my enjoyment of the experience. The twenty minute walk back to my hotel ended up taking more than two hours because I kept having to duck into stores and museums to cool off.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Do you want that here or to go?

I hadn't realized that Savannah was such a party town, kind of an eastern version of New Orleans. I saw several of these trolleys, which are basically bars on wheels; the riders pump bicycle pedals to move the trolley along while drinking.

There was a mixup with my hotel check-in, so they gave me a voucher for a free drink in the bar. When I went to collect my glass of wine, the bartender asked, “Do you want that here or to go?”

Hot as hell

This dramatic sunrise closeup feels appropriate after surviving a few days in hot, humid Savannah. The weather probably hasn't been much worse than we'd get in New York in July, but it's May and my body definitely isn't ready for this.

Also, my hair has apparently morphed into some kind of out of control shrubbery. Fortunately it's frequently plastered flat to my skull by sweat.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bonus bird blogging

I like how the early morning sun turns this crow's feathers red.

I left Hilton Head yesterday. After a stop at the Pinckney Island refuge, which was well worth a visit but so hot and humid that I can only marvel at the fortitude of those who visit it in July, I turned in the car at the Savannah airport and took a taxi into the city.

Three days was just about the right amount of time for Hilton Head; it's just a giant resort, and if you don't golf or play tennis or bask on the beach all day, there's a limited number of things to do. If I were still working, lounging by the pool and reading would have been a nice break, but I can -- and do -- lounge around and read in New York, so that's not exactly a change for me.

But oh I will miss those sunrises on the beach.

Sunday bird blogging

This is a  crop from a bigger picture I'll post later, but I have to highlight these adorable baby egrets from Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge yesterday.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bonus reflections

It's not as dramatic, but I did manage to capture moonlight reflected in the sand as well, in the soft pastel light of early evening.

Saturday reflections

Yesterday morning on the beach.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The moon also rises

A full moon rising over the dunes earlier this evening.

Audubon Newhall Preserve

There are things to see in Hilton Head away from the beach. This pretty little park has hiking trails and is blessedly uncrowded -- there was only one other car in the parking lot when I arrived.

Despite the Audubon name, there weren't a lot of birds. I could hear them, but saw only a few flashes of bright feathers in the undergrowth. It was still lovely to walk on the trails with the trees towering overhead and sit on a bench by the pond and absorb the quiet.

Friday morning

I'm not sure if it's possible to have too many pictures of sunrises -- I may be testing that -- but I just love this bicyclist this morning.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

More sunrise

I do tend to be an early riser, so it's not unusual for me to be awake at sunrise. And if it was visible from my Manhattan bedroom, I might occasionally see some of them. So a sunrise always feels like an occasion, and I have seen some memorable ones: over the Zambezi River in Zambia, through a fogged up bus window in Denali National Park, behind a courtyard of gum trees in the Australian Outback.

But sunrises, like sunsets, are best viewed over an ocean, and it's fun to have one right outside my hotel. Especially since I can have a breakfast that someone else cooked for me immediately afterwards.

Sunrise at Hilton Head

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Spooky footprints

The evening light created the illusion that these footprints were actually pressing up through the sand rather than being imprints, as though some group of magical beings had been strolling on the ceiling of an underworld below me.

The beach is next to my hotel in Hilton Head, South Carolina. What am I doing in Hilton Head? I wanted to piggyback off my successful week in Washington by trying a solo journey. I wanted to be somewhere by the water -- I don't really like beach resorts but I love the ocean -- and it's reasonably easy to get here. So I found a nice hotel on the beach I could pay for with points, booked a flight and a rental car and here I am.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Astronomy Tuesday

I've posted images from the Large Magellanic Cloud before -- and I've seen it, with its smaller companion galaxy, in the skies over Alice Springs, Australia -- but it didn't resemble this.

This image is a mosaic of 3900 frames with a total of 1,060 hours of exposure time in both broadband and narrowband filters, so you can see the clouds of ionized gas that surround the stars in a way that our eyes cannot. Cameras are often much less satisfactory than the human eye, because they don't have a human brain processing the light and deciding what we see. That's why it's impossible to get a good picture of a shadowed foreground without having the background sky fade to white unless you use a computer to stack multiple exposures; our brains can do the necessary adjustments automatically. But cameras do a much better job at seeing stars. They can see wavelengths our eyes cannot, and they can stare for hours if necessary to capture every photon of light.

Image Credit and Copyright: Team Ciel Austral - J. C. Canonne, N. Outters, P. Bernhard, D. Chaplain, L. Bourgon

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bonus bird blogging

Some uncooperative birds are so spectacular that it's still worth sharing the crappy pictures I managed to get.

The feeder where the blue grosbeak in the top pictures was hanging out was on the far side of a fenced area, so even though I had an unobstructed view, it was too far away for even a 500mm lens to see clearly.

The other blue bird is an indigo bunting, and it was so far up in the trees that without binoculars or an enormous lens it was only a dark blue dot.

I'd never seen either of these species before. And those are some beautiful birds.

Sunday bird blogging

It was fun to be able to go to the park three days in a row to see the spring visitors, including several I'd never seen before.

Of course, it's the warblers that everyone gets excited about, and of course, I've never had a whole lot of luck finding and photographing warblers. They're tiny, and they move fast, and by the time they show up in late spring there are too many leaves for them to hide behind.

But occasionally -- very occasionally -- patience pays off. On my way out of the park Wednesday, I went back to a small clearing away from the crowds. I'd seen a thrush running away there earlier and hoped to get a picture, so I sat on a log and just waited.

After maybe ten minutes, I saw a thrush in the shadows and stood up, and this little warbler landed on the bush next to me. On top of the bush! In plain view! I only got one picture before it flew off, to this branch. Which had No Leaves On It!

For me, that's winning the bird lottery. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Northern Parula!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Saturday reflections

Windshields reflect winter trees in Hell's Kitchen in a photo from December.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Who's buried in Grant's Tomb, botanical version

I saw these bushes of gorgeous, purply-pink flowers in the Ramble in Central Park this week, and almost asked one of my fellow birders what they were.

Since my question would have gone something like Do you know what those beautiful flowers by the Azalea Pond are? I am happy to report that I managed to figure it out on my own.

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