War and owls

For eight years, Mark and I have lived 10 miles from Manassas National Battlefield Park, where the two battles of Bull Run were fought in the American Civil War, and in fact we drive through it all the time on Lee Highway, but I’ve never visited it. I’m not interested in wars, and if I were to pick a war from American history, I’d be like Mark and choose the Revolutionary War, because a fight for independence is something I can get behind, whereas the Civil War just makes me sad. Moreover, I couldn’t grasp how a battlefield could possibly be anything but hot, overly bright, and buggy – from Lee Highway I can see people trudging along the grass under the glaring sun on hot summer days and I just picture them hot, sweaty, and bored. And really my perception isn’t all off because the vast majority of it does look like this, minus the interest of the trees on the right:

Then one day last week it was raining after work and, annoyed, I was procrastinating getting on the treadmill, which I hadn’t had to resort to using in days because the weather had been so gorgeous, by scouring the internet for new bluebell stands, when I came across people talking about some stone bridge on the battlefield. This interested me: water, old bridge, bluebells? I was deep in bluebell ecstasy at the time and committed to heading there straight after work the next day, when, lo, the gray clouds suddenly parted, the rain stopped, and the dazzling sun streamed into my eyes. Tomorrow, I asked myself? HECK NO! I grabbed my camera bag and was out the door two minutes later. And what do you know, but 20 feet from Lee Highway, I DID find bluebells by an old stone bridge!

It turns out that the area directly around Bull Run itself is wooded and the Stone Bridge Loop trail, though short, is actually pretty idyllic.

Especially when the bluebells are blooming.

If you followed Bull Run downstream a few miles (which you can’t actually do on foot), you’d end up in Bull Run Regional Park, my favorite place for bluebells.

I was so happy that night I was literally running through the trail – camera gear and all – trying to take it all in before the sun went down when the next thing I know, A BARRED OWL FLEW OVER MY HEAD!! I’ve only ever seen one owl in the wild before but I’m ALWAYS looking for them so I was beside myself with excitement…though slightly annoyed the longest lens I had with me was a 24-105mm, as I was expecting to take bluebells photos, not wildlife. But he did land on a tree and pose for me for several minutes and I went home totally elated.

Turns out the boring old battlefield DOES hold some interest for me!

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Scott’s Run



A month’s worth of April showers are being dumped on us right now. It’s dark, gray, and very, very wet. So here is a picture of falling water in a more appealing format:

From Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

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Things I have seen swimming in the Potomac River, as viewed from Riverbend Park

Horned Grebe (this guy was totally charming: he’d swim under water for several minutes, then pop up somewhere unexpected, swim above water for a few seconds, then go back below again):

Common Merganser:

Double-crested cormorant:




On Conn Island, from the Maryland side of Great Falls. The gray blobs sticking out of the nest are babies.

From the nest at Occoquan Bay NWR:

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April is nesting time for many species. Most animals are extremely wary of others getting near their eggs or young, but I met a Canadian snow goose the other week at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens that let me walk right up to her nest.

After carefully arranging and checking the eggs, she settled down and preened, although I decided she was doing goose yoga.

Who else has been tending to their eggs?! The bald eagles, of course! This picture is from a couple of weeks ago; I’ve heard the eaglets have now hatched. I can’t wait until they start flying!

And yes, although they don’t come in eggs, it’s baby raccoon time as well! Taken two weeks ago, this is one of Emmy’s babies. It was 5 days old in this photo. Emmy is a wild raccoon that was rehabbed by Dogue Hollow their first year, so she’s ten years old. She’s also a great mother and has raised orphan babies for us in the past. In fact, when a neighboring mother raccoon left her den for too long last week, Emmy couldn’t stand the babies’ crying and trotted over and “rescued” one before the other mother returned!

Speaking of Dogue Hollow, a very kind reader alerted me a while ago of Amazon’s new “AmazonSmile” program. All you do is pick your favorite charity, then start shopping at smile.amazon.com instead of www.amazon.com and Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of many of their items (nothing I have bought in the last few months has not been included) to that charity. I’m not going to spam you and beg for money (although we desperately need some!), but this is really a free and effortless way to raise a little money for your favorite charity, and if your favorite charity happens to be Dogue Hollow, so much the better! Make a raccoon happy today!

(If you don’t want to set anything up now, I have created a Helping wildlife page under my “About the author” page that has information about donating to both Dogue Hollow and the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia.)


Wonton Soup and Kimchi to chase the sickness away…and I love nature!

Warning: the “recipe” for this post isn’t really a recipe and I don’t even have a picture of it. It’s just an excuse to say hello. I haven’t really cooked all month. Mark and I were in Charleston for a week, then he went to Boston for a week for work and came home deathly ill. He’s been home almost two weeks and still isn’t fully better, but at least he’s no longer cycling between being delirious and comatose. The only things he has wanted the whole time he’s been sick are wonton soup and kimchi. Frankly, I’m a little wonton soup- and kimchi-ed out but he’s STILL requesting it. Some nights I fix myself something different because I can’t eat wonton soup six nights a week. But here’s the recipe for making Mark a little happier when he’s sick; it’s actually extremely easy to do:

Wonton Soup
frozen vegan wontons (the Asian grocery stores have many varieties of vegetable wontons that are vegan-friendly, but read the labels)
as much water as you desire broth
vegan “chicken” bouillon – enough for the amount of water you are using
a couple splashes of rice vinegar
a few drops of chili sesame oil
maybe a little soy sauce
if you feel like it, miso

Bring the water to a boil and add the bouillon, vinegar, oil, and soy sauce if you are using it. If you are using miso, scoop some broth out before it comes to a boil and whisk the miso into it, then set it aside. Add the frozen wontons and cook until they are warmed through. If using, stir the miso into the soup. It’s also a great idea to add a lot of grated ginger to the broth, especially if you are serving the sick. Top with sliced scallions if you have them available. And I like to add sriracha to my bowl.

Serve with copious amounts of kimchi. Rather than making kimchi, I bought some. Mark was nothing but grateful to me during his illness, except for telling me I didn’t buy ENOUGH kimchi the first time. But that’s okay, kimchi is really good for fighting germs, so I just went and bought him more.

Yes, I realize this is a ridiculous “recipe” to give you after weeks of radio silence, but believe me, that’s what’s been going on culinary-wise in my house for the last two weeks.

Aside from taking care of Mark when necessary, I have been EMBRACING SPRING. I probably say this every April, but OH MY GOD I have NEVER been so glad to see spring. Last winter was cold, snowy, and STUPID. There is probably some truth to the fact that I’m more glad this year, even over other snowy years, because I feel like I just appreciate life in general more and more all the time. Not that I ever didn’t appreciate life, because I’ve led a happy life, but I don’t know; I seem to actually take the time to be thankful for things more than I did when I was younger. And to that end I’ve spent nearly every day of spring so far in a park, hiking and taking pictures. It feels weird to be sitting inside right now at 5:53, in fact, because I’m usually outside gallivanting around at this time. (I gave myself until 6 to write a post before going out so I’d better hurry up…).

I have felt neglectful of the blog, though. Not that I had any recipes to post, but I still felt as if I wasn’t doing something important to me. SO, I’m going to try to post much more often, BUT until the farmers market starts (next weekend, FINALLY!) and provides me cooking inspiration and/or until the weather turns less AWESOME than its been and I’m not pulled outside like a magnet every night after work until after dark, I’m probably just going to have pictures for you, and they probably won’t be food related. But so as not to be super annoying, I’ll just do one a day. Maybe two…we’ll see how good my self control is. So to start off, I present a few pictures of something that gives folks in this area super spring fever (other than the DC cherry blossoms): Virginia bluebells. The gorgeous usually-blue plant lives in marshy floodplains and is one of the first things to bloom every spring. They peak for a week or so and then they are gone, but while they are around, if you find a place where they are abundant, it’s like being in a wonderland. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ve been bluebell stalking in several places this year, some of them new to me. I’m letting myself post a few more than one picture today just because I’ve been gone a while (and also I can’t help myself when it comes to bluebells).

The pictures tonight are from two parks. The first ones are from Riverbend Park, which I just discovered a few weeks ago (when looking for prominent bluebell locations) and have since fallen in love with. Riverbend has everything: the Potomac River, the Potomac Heritage Trail, woodland trails, a meadow trail, BLUEBELLS, it’s free, AND you can hike into Great Falls National Park, which is lovely, but kinda pricey and the parking lot is often full on really nice days so it’s cool to “sneak” in for free. It’s only about 1.5 miles from Riverbend Visitor Center to Great Falls Visitor Center! I’ve been to Riverbend several times in the last few weeks and love it. And it’s especially great when the bluebells are blooming!

My favorite bluebell spot in previous years has always been Bull Run Regional Park, and even though Bull Run was a near fiasco when I went for my first visit of the year a couple of weeks ago (the trail was so muddy and slick I nearly fell about a hundred times, AND they are doing some water main work that disrupts the bluebell trail in two places and is ugly and constructiony), I have to say that when I returned for the bluebells, it won my heart again. Bull Run is THE best place to see bluebells. If you are local and go nowhere else to see them, go there. I might prefer other parks for other reasons, but for bluebells, Bull Run is #1. There are just ACRES of them. My tip: on the bluebell trail (from the entrance across from the water park), once you get to the water, head left off the trail. There is a very narrow path through the dense bluebells for a while (though it eventually stops), and if you keep going, you’ll find yourself completely surrounded by bluebells for as far as the eye can see. And you won’t run into everyone and their brother walking their dog and taking cellphone pictures while you are off the official path. After enjoying the blue solitude, head back to the trail and finish the loop – it’s all lovely (minus that construction), but there’s nothing like being totally immersed in a carpet of blue.

Okay, I NEED TO GO OUTSIDE now. I will be back, hopefully tomorrow, with another picture or two…although I can’t promise it won’t have bluebells in it.

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Raptors, raptors, raptors!

I’m going to dispense with all pretense of food for this post. This is a very non-vegan post in that it’s all about very non-vegan beings: birds of prey, or raptors. I love them! I’m just fascinated by raptors. So when I somehow stumbled over the Capitol Photography Center website while looking for something completely non-related and found an upcoming “raptor photo safari”, I was all over it. This happened this past Saturday and let me tell you, it ended up being such a fabulous day. It was one of those days where you don’t win the lottery or anything obviously fantastic like that, but at the end of the day you look back and realize, “I did everything I love today!”.

I think there are a couple different schools of thought when it comes to wildlife photography: one feels that it’s easier and safer to photograph captive animals, and also more interesting in that you have access to many animals you’d never see otherwise, while the other feels that there’s no challenge in captive animal photography. I am more a member of the latter school, although most of that is because I don’t believe animals should be in captivity in the first place. I don’t go to zoos, which rules out nearly all of my chances of seeing captive animals…I’m the rare specimen for whom it’s easier to find wild animals than it is captive animals! Well, other than captive raccoons, but all of our raccoons eventually become wild. I was interested in this particular photo safari, however, because it was held at a nature center where they presented several different raptors for us to photograph in a natural setting, which would allow me to get much closer to them than is generally possible. All of the animals are “education animals”, which are injured animals that have been rehabbed but are non-releasable for various reasons. I don’t have a problem with education animals being held in captivity. It’s either that or euthanasia for them and all the ones I have met have been well loved and cared for. I go to a lot of trainings and the like where I see education animals, but mostly they are being held by handlers and we are indoors – doesn’t make for fabulous pictures. So this was a really cool opportunity. They do it a few times a year (the next one will be on my birthday – October 19!); if you live in the DC/Baltimore area and that sounds interesting to you, I recommend it.

How about some pictures, you say? Well, of course. The first bird to come out was a barred owl. I think they said this was a male, because he was pretty small and I know that like many raptors, male owls are smaller than female owls.

Next up was one of my favorite owls, the Great Horned. I got a picture of the handler bringing him out because I WANT THAT TO BE MY JOB. Actually, I’ve been giving serious consideration to volunteering with a raptor group here, in which case, it MIGHT one day be my job! (Where by “job” I mean another thing I do that involves getting pooped on with no pay.)

You can see the jesses in this picture – the leather straps that tether the bird in place. He had enough mobility to hop around, but not enough to fly away.

This is why I love Great Horned owls – their EYES! Torticia makes this exact face at me all the time; I’ve always told her she looks like an owl when she does it.

Next was a red-shouldered hawk. This one is missing an eye. We also saw a red-tailed hawk, which is similar but larger, but I don’t seem to have uploaded a picture of that one.

I must say, Mark is more perceptive than I sometimes give him credit for. He was looking at my pictures later and when he saw the next one, he said, “this eagle doesn’t look…all there.” I don’t know how he can tell from the picture, but this bald eagle is brain damaged.

Brain damage or not, he was majestic. Eagles are just special, man. Another thing about Mark is he and I think alike, which is scary. He saw the next one and said, “he’s strutting!”, without knowing I had named this file, simply, “strutting”.

I want to hold an eagle.

I’d never seen a golden eagle in person. This one had been shot on the Maryland Eastern Shore. WHO SHOOTS AN EAGLE??? What is WRONG with people? Every time I think of whoever it was who shot this animal, all I can do is comfort myself by thinking of whoever it was who found the injured animal and took it to safety, and the person who meticulously removed all of the buckshot from its wing and performed surgery on it, and the people who care for it every day. That’s one bad person and many good people. The world is a good place, right?

The instructor told us he had requested the Eastern screech owl for the “cute” factor. He’s so tiny!! Smaller than my cats!

The handler didn’t say the peregrine falcon was her favorite animal, but she was clearly very attached to and proud of him. He’s 15 years old and has been all over the country, including a stint at Dollywood teaching other rehabbed peregrines how to be peregrines. I didn’t know that was even a thing that Dollywood did.

That was all of the animals. We had about 15 minutes with each one. The instructor was there to give tips and help with your camera or photography if you needed it. I would definitely do it again, although I admit that although I got some great shots, I didn’t quite feel the same indescribable joy that I do when I get a picture of something new when I’m out in nature. So later in the day I decided it was far too nice out to do my daily walk on the treadmill and instead headed to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my default park. I was only going with the intent to walk for exercise, so although I grabbed my small mirrorless camera just in case, I wasn’t expecting to take many pictures. I wasn’t finished going through and editing the more than 1,200 pictures (!!!) I’d taken on the photo safari! Well, five minutes into my walk, what should walk across my path but a wild turkey! This was amazing because I’ve seen them there before but I’ve never been able to get a picture because they are very shy and very fast. Usually you just hear them rustling about and never actually see them. So getting a picture of one has been a goal of mine. When you least expect things…

No, it’s not nearly as good a picture as any of the ones above, but it was in a way more fulfilling. I continued walking and eventually came upon a tree full of vultures. And found my camera battery was dead! As was the spare! I was so mad! So I practically ran 1/2 mile back to my car to get my “big” camera, which is a LOT better at telephoto shots anyway, then trotted back to the vulture tree, and they were all still patiently waiting for me. (Okay, they were probably patiently waiting for dinner and not the paparazzi.)

Two turkey and one black vulture:

One turkey and one black vulture:

Black vulture being a vulture:

Vulture flying into the setting sun:

Driving home from the refuge, I realized what a great day it had been, other than the waking up at 5 a.m. part. I was presented with a bunch of raptors to photograph as I pleased; the weather could only be described as “perfection”; because the photo safari was in Maryland, I got to spend hours driving my beloved convertible on a perfect spring day; I spent a couple of hours relaxing and editing pictures in my favorite chair; I went to my favorite park at sunset and got a picture of an animal I’ve been trying to photograph for a long time, and I got great shots of lots of vultures. AND I was exhausted when I got home – the best kind of exhausted – and Mark surprised me by making dinner. That, my friends, is my idea of a GREAT day! And guess what – my next post WILL have a recipe.

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Meadowlark Gardens

I have several ideas for posts, but time…is…getting…away…from…me. Aaaaaand we’re leaving for a few days in Puerto Rico early Thursday morning. So although I didn’t have time to put together a food post, I thought I would make a quick post tonight celebrating my favorite month, October, before it’s gone.

I’d been looking for new places to take pictures in Northern Virginia and I read about Meadowlark Gardens in nearby Vienna, and coincidentally they were having one of their biannual “photographer field days”, where they stay open before sunrise to after sunset, the very next weekend! I lucked out with that timing because the hour before and after sunrise and sunset is coveted by photographers as the “golden hour” and this park isn’t usually open until 10 a.m., so I forced my night owl self to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and hauled myself over there. Not only is 5:30 more a bedtime for me than a wake-up time, but we experienced our first frost of the season overnight and I HATE cold, so this was quite a feat. Sooooo worth it! If you live in the area, Meadowlark Gardens is beautiful, and being there at sunrise was damn near magical. Moreover, I was even happy about the frost, if you can believe it, because the cool color of the grass was an amazing contrast to the warm colors of the fall foliage. I’m so shy that even being in the same park with other photographers is slightly difficult for me, but I quickly got over feeling self-conscious and just felt happy. Not that there was any reason for self-consciousness in the first place because there were maybe 20 other people, all photographers, there and they all said a friendly “hi” in passing but kept to themselves.

I’ll let some of the pictures do the talking from here on out. These are all better bigger so I’ve linked them to at high-res.

I’ll be honest; I don’t often see the sun rise, but every time I do I resolve to do it more often.

Look at that frost. Can the hot, hot, hot summer really be over? It was 39 degrees when I got to the park.

It was so cold there was a ton of mist off the water; it didn’t burn off until around 10 a.m. when I left.

The three pictures above are almost “zooming in”. Really I, not the camera, was doing the zooming, but if you look carefully in the two above this one of the bridge, you can see the same bridge.

Can you tell that Mrs Duck is looking at me inquisitively in this one?

This is essentially the same picture as above, but taken with the “normal” camera and not my infrared one.

The next two pictures are from the Korean Bell Garden area of the park – it’s the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. I had to restrain myself from ringing – or rather striking – the bell. I know that goes counter to my statement above that I was self-conscious even being in the park, so why in the world would I possibly consider doing something I’m not only sure is verboten, but which would have been extremely loud and ruined the sweet, sweet serenity of the morning for everyone else around me and caused a lot of very unhappy attention to be heaped on me? What can I say, I’m a very curious person. Anyway, I controlled myself. I do want to hear it, though.

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I feel compelled to share a link to an article I enjoyed reading today: Showing Vultures A Little Love. I think vultures are neat, but I don’t think many people do. I’m always surprised when people react negatively when I tell them I rehab raccoons (they are so adorable I can’t figure out how anyone could dislike them), but vultures are even more reviled because they are “ugly” and – this is the part I really don’t get – eat dead animals. I LIKE vultures for eating dead animals. As far as I’m concerned, they are doing me a service; the fewer dead animals lying around to rot on the ground the better. Eat up, vultures!

Taken earlier this year in Occoquan, VA

I got to meet our local vulture rehabber a while ago, which was awesome. Weirdly, it was the day of the earthquake. I was on the schedule to transport wildlife that day, but then the day got really, really strange, what with the earthquake and everything, but I couldn’t see any reason not to deliver the birds I had been asked to transport before the earthquake, so I picked them up from the animal hospital and drove out to Manassas and had a long talk with the rehabber, Mattie, who takes just about any animal, particularly “unloved” species, but specializes in vultures. She was really cool and since then I’ve loved vultures even more. There are a couple of articles you can read about her if you are interested.

Taken a few years ago in Harper’s Ferry, WV

Turkey vulture, taken earlier this year

Since I’m babbling about vultures anyway, here are some other wildlife pictures I’ve taken recently. They are all from Occoquan National Wildlife Reserve.

Anyone know what this one is? I can’t find it in my bird book, probably because I’m a noob.

With that, I’m going to eat dinner… a very happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans!

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