Nature Adventures

  • 2018 Pisa and Tuscany

    From Monterosso we took the lovely train ride along the

    Mediterranean coast to  Pisa.

    Along the way we noted that the station pillars were made of marble.

    After picking up our rental car, and exchanging it out for a smaller one (wise move), we visited the Piazza dei Miracoli. This is the impressive Duomo di Pisa and the Torre behind.

    Yes, it's leaning.

    There is always military security at the ancient treasures. Here you can see the jeep, and the soldiers are armed and nearby.

    Battistero di San Giovanni.

    Then we drove from Pisa to our agriturismo which we highly recommend to anyone going to Tuscany.  I give you Querceto di Castellina.

    This doorway leads to our two-bedroom apartment, the Riccio.

    Fully-equipped kitchen.

    Single bedroom.


    King bedroom.

     Wine on the terrace.

    It's a wonderful functioning organic winery. See the vineyards.

    This is the tasting room. 

    Filippo will give you a fantastic tasting experience free if you stay here.

    Gorgeous tree behind our apartment.

    Looking out over Chianti.


    Another apartment entrance behind ours.

    The vineyard owner's family lives here.

    Part of the owner's property.

    Vineyards need to be on slopes so water drains away from the roots.

    The next day we went out birding and visiting the countryside with Marco Valtriani, a guide we highly recommend. He lives in Arezzo, about 2 hours away.

    He was kind enough to pick us up and drive us all over the place in Chianti and Crete Senesi. 

    He found us a few birds. This is a Serin.

    This is a real Turtle Dove. We don't have them in the US. 

    The always-beautiful European Bee-eater.

    Did you know they nest in holes in the ground?

    Chianti has been a wine-growing region since the Etruscans were here. The Romans put them to work supplying wine to the empire.

    It's an arid, rocky area. We were there in May, cactus-blooming time.

    It is a wide-open agricultural area broken up only by the farm homes or ancient security villages which are ALWAYS on a hill.

    Absolutely amazing was our visit to Murlo in Fiore (Murlo in Bloom). It is a small circular wall of medieval stone buildings built to protect inhabitants of the region when a battle was on, which was often. They were effective protections, but the people who came in for refuge here were often under siege from enemies.

    This is the entry arch.

    Etruscans lived here in the 2nd-9th Centuries. Below is the church where a bishop served. It is now an archeological museum. 

    This is where the bishop lived, next to the church in the middle of the circle of protective walls.

    This may have been a well, centrally located. Obviously, a source of water within the walls was essential during times of siege.

    Murlo is still inhabited and is kept looking beautiful and spotless.

    We three were the ONLY souls within these walls when we were there. Everyone must have been at work somewhere. NO TOURISTS.

    Perhaps another well.

    Well, we did meet up with these patient souls.

    Cutest town ever.

    Even the larger towns in the area are beautiful. We had lunch in

    Vescovado nearby. The picture below may or may not be Vescovado.

    Another lovely working winery. No tourists.

    They were happy to let us look around.

    Wine barrels can be stainless steel.

    or oak.

    This is one of the many ancient olive oil urns that we saw on every farm.

    Terracing has been an important skill for centuries.

    I remember the WW I disaster that took so many lives and settled nothing.

    Poppies have overtaken the bloody battlefields of World War I and in 1915 they inspired Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae to write the poem "In Flanders Field."

    Many wear a single poppy to remember that war and its losses.

    The day of this posting is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918 when the guns finally fell silent. One hundred years ago today.

    We were able to roam about several farms. I found Scott.

    I found this nook behind the house.

    Vegetable garden.

    Crete Senesi is named after its clay soil. It is just south of Chianti and has an entirely different agriculture. Wine can't grow here, but grains and other crops do, and sheep-raising is important here.

    A little church in a little town.


    Sheep farming and cheese making. Pecorino cheese is made from sheep milk a little further south than the cow cheeses from the northern regions of Italy.

    This sheep dog is retired and not threatening...but be careful of the ones at work guarding their flocks. They are serious about their work and can be dangerous to trespassers.

    The land was covered with trees when the Etruscans arrived from the Middle East, but by the 7th Century was almost completely cleared for agricultural pursuits. These are fields of grains.

    The next day we visited San Gimignano, a large fortress city. It was built in a  same style and for the same reasons as Murlo, but came to its peak a bit later, in the 12th and 13th Centuries. It is full of tourists, but the scale of it is impressive and is worth the visit.


    Towers were important reconnaisance tools and church bells no doubt important early-warning signals when armies approached. San Gimignano sports 15 towers now and at one time had 72.

    This is a functioning city...people live and work here.

    Here is the old central well...or one of them at least.

    Eats at San Gimignano.

    Italian style was impressive. Shoes must fill their closets. 

    No time to check out this Da Vinci of many in Italy.

    Statue nooks.

    Then was Siena...a magnificent hilly jumble of buildings and narrow streets where getting lost is just what you do there. These street signs don't really help much and maps of the city are hopelessly useless.

    Find the magic escalator...yes, there is a HUGE one near the parking lot, but hidden, of course. Then follows these ladies.

    They are probably headed this way. Although there are more than ten cathedrals in Siena, this is the most famous, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, built in the 13th century (very gothic). Within its doors and in the spaces surrounding are multiple artistic treasures by Bernini, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Pinturicchio. It must be stunning in there, but we just didn't have time to pay and go in.


    There are statues of multiple prophets and patriarchs on the facade.

    There is also a prominent statue of Romulus and Remus, twin brothers raised by a she-wolf, of course, who are the main characters in the Roman myth about the founding of Rome.

    This is the Piazza del Campo, a huge square dedicated to public celebrations, including the famous horse race, the Palio, that takes place here twice a year.

    Peaking in an archway, I saw some pretty good mountain bikes which would be needed to ride this city,

    and outside the plaque which refers to a University of Economics you can attend there. Wouldn't that be a kick?


    Wandering about in the rain, 

    we found the Basilica di San Francesco.

    Then made our way to one of the exits in the city wall. 

    Tomorrow we will be sad to leave our lovely Chianti agriturismo, but eager to drive to Florence. 

    See you there.




  • Cinque Terre, Italy, May 2018

    Cinque Terre was an awesome location to kick-off our Italy trip in May, 2018. Although already ridiculously crowded with tourists, the trains and boats ran efficiently, and we were able to appreciate the wonder of these old villages on the cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea. Our studio Airbnb was located in new "Monterosso," perfect for us, close to an adorable little grocery, the beach, several restaurants, but not close to the mobs of people and their night noise. This picture was taken from the trail to Vernazza which we took the first morning after arrival. Walking the trail was a lot of up and down and took several hours to get from Monterosso to Vernazza. 

    Along the trail....
    Padlocks left by romantic lovers symbolizing their unbreakable bonds.


    Delicious homemade no-added-sugar juice refreshment. This lovely gentleman had what must have been a very, very long electric cord and kept his eyes on us, warning us not to take a step backwards since it was a LONG way down the cliff to the sea below.








    Then on to Manarola where Scott had a sandwich called "The Manarola" and I found an "all gluten-free" gelato and cannoli shop.


    and then Riomaggiore

    It was late in the day at this point and time for a sit-down.

    where we enjoyed a glass of local wine.

    This Riomaggiore lady watched us.

    We took the train all the way back to Monterosso. 


    And stopped to poke around in old Monterosso for awhile

    Time to get back to the apartment for a relaxed pasta dinner and rest.

    The next day we set off for Portovenere by boat. 

    This was our helmsman.

    He had to supervise mobs of people getting on and off the boat 
    as well as drive.

    We passed this residence early on...who lives here?

    And the rugged, steep shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

    Here's turning the point at Portovenere. What a grand old church on the point.

    Here's the town of Portovenere with the wall and fortress behind visible.

    Portovenere was our favorite town and not as crowded.

    Walking the interior of the towns is fascinating. These are not Hollywood sets. Real people live and work here and have for centuries.

    This is a lady with her cane coming home from a spot of shopping.

    There are stairs and people on them everywhere.

    Here's that old church, again. It is so gorgeous up there!

    We walked up to see it up close.

    The inside with all those layers of black and white marble and

    the light streaming in was really lovely.

    Just outside there was this view of the Bay of Lerici (or Poets' Bay).

    And out the other door...well, check out the door first.

    Then a quiet spot behind the church.

    A little further on we approach Byron's Grotto.

    Lord Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley swam here, from whence comes the familiar title Poets' Bay. Portovenere was a popular spot for many poets and artists to escape the dreary English winter months.
    Through this door is a popular place where the poets swam.
    It is still used today.

    On the right there are changing rooms and I imagine that people do swim off the rocks here in the summer, but there is no sandy beach.

    Here's a man reading at the grotto.....

    And here's an oboe professor playing his latest passion, the harp.

    Yes, I bought CDs.

     Here's a shot as we left the town to return to Monterosso.

    On the way back we pass this cute borgo (village) may be part of Corniglia which we missed due to overcrowded buses.

     We loved Cinque Terre just because it's like no other place. Real people, real shops, real houses, real crops, real wine, real sailors are found here. 

    Next we head for Pisa where we'll pick up a rental car to drive around Tuscany for a few days. Wow, that sounds like a dream when I say it, but we DID it.




  • 2018 John Martin Reservoir, Bent County, SE Colorado

    Hasty Campground is a favorite of ours for RV camping because the sites are well spaced and there is lovely shade. As for birds...well...Robins. And Robins. and Doves. and Doves, although I do believe we saw more doves in Kansas.

    Let's discuss. Is this is an Orange-crowned Warbler? There's a lot of olive green, but his bill is pretty long, more like a Yellow Warbler.  

    The streaks on the upper chest don't really help me.  Either Orange-crowned or Yellow could have those. Wilson's shouldn't have a bill this long.

    And I'm saying this is a MacGillivray's Warbler

    Nashville immature? 

    Over and in the water were American Pelicans

    Western Grebes

    And Clark's Grebes

    As we drove around the north camping area we found Rabbitbrush and a plethora of Monarchs.

    And some Painted Ladies

    Then...on JJ Road at the marsh....TADA! We had the happy encounter with Wilson's Snipes. We counted at least 16 as we walked the road...the initial five or so that allowed photographic documentation and then the rest as flush/flyovers as we passed their feeding areas.

    This is an adult male

    Here's the immature one with what I think is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

    Here's my masterpiece of the day.

    Here's one giving himself a shake.

    I believe this is an immature snipe feeding next to a

    Greater Yellowlegs (14 inches). 

    Isn't he/she cute?

    Now you can see how dark the markings are on the adult's head, and how the immature's markings are fainter.

    There were two Killdeer hanging around with their usual worried look.This is a decent size comparison. Snipes (Sibley's says 10.5" long, exactly the same as a Killdeer) are not small shorebirds. And they are chunky!

    Now here we have what I believe are two Pectoral Sandpipers (8.5 " long, yellow legs and a very strongly streaked breast).

    Quite a streaky breast! The stripes on the head actually confused me initially...they resemble immature snipe stripes. But, of course, the bill is a sandpiper bill. 

    Look how massive the snipe appears in comparison to the sandpiper.

    This was an interesting behavior I observed. The immature snipe on the left suddenly crouched down low in the water as the male on the right approached. I assume this was a submissive move. It was quite sudden and caused dramatic splashing as he dropped.

    He remained crouched for several minutes as the adult waded nearby, then seemed to feel it was OK to stand up again and start feeding even while the male stayed close. Here's the adult again.

    So, here are some stand-up shots of the Greater Yellowlegs (14 inches) that were feeding in the area.

     Say good-bye to our lovely adult snipe. 

    Just down the road a bit we had a Blue Grosbeak female, loving these seeds. Does anybody know the name of this plant?

    When she showed us her back and top of head, you can get a whiff of slate blue, even more so on the right wing.

    So, the snipes were definitely the highlight of the trip for me, just to watch them feeding so vigorously and being close enough to work on some special images. Hope you enjoyed them!












  • 2018 Meade County, Kansas, September 6,7

    After Scott Lake we trekked 150 miles south to Meade Lake State Park where we stationed for two more only slightly less gray days. We birded the park and found a few birds.

    This immature Mississippi Kite had a full crop that looked downright uncomfortable.


    A Loggerhead Shrike continued our gray and white theme.

    Despite the smudged chest spot, I believe this is one of several Lark Sparrows we saw. Otherwise we had very few sparrows on this trip.

    We took a day trip out of the park but still in Meade County toward Clark State Lake and decided to check out this tourist trap...the Big Basin. It's a big sinkhole. We did not encounter much traffic up the little dirt road to this geological "wonder,"

    but saw one of our many Monarchs.  SO MANY MONARCHS.

    Take likes Liatris.

    Back on the track toward Clark State Lake we got onto some great dirt roads which made for really fun birding. There was ZERO traffic and the roads were well-maintained. We enjoyed good looks at Scissor-tailed Flycatchers,

    I first thought this was a Hairy Woodpecker, but MB, an old birder buddy of mine has pointed out that this is likely a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. I do agree. This bird had a very patterned back and speckled breast that is more consistent with Ladderback than Hairy. I just really wasn't looking for Ladder-backed, but its range does seem to reach to southern Kansas. Neat. I love it when my birding friends yank me into reality.  Thanks, MB.



    We found the actual lake and campground to be unreachable for our Honda CRV due to a washed out road, but no matter. The birding en route was quite adequate. On the way back we found a magic tree at a farmhouse that yielded an adult male Baltimore Oriole,

    Yellow Warblers, right?


    and a wonderful American Redstart male



    By the time we left Meade for John Martin Reservoir in Colorado, the weather was starting to clear. Ahhh. 

    Meade State Park is the most adorable camping park. Like Scott (the Park, haha), it has both water and electricity for RVs. One year in the spring we enjoyed a migration evening fall-out of about a thousand very loud Yellow-headed Blackbirds just behind our RV. This year a little of this, a little of that.

    Please join me tomorrow for a snipe bonanza at John Martin Reservoir and JJ Road in SE Colorado. 





  • 2018 Lake Scott State Park in Kansas September 4 and 5

    We had a fair bit of rain in Kansas as we started our trip on September 4. Fortunately, most of the rain was at night and we were able to get out and bird most of every day.  For photography, though...well, bear with me...the light was ..bad!

    Red-tailed Hawks we had aplenty, both young and old.

    There is a herd of partial albino bison at the park. Remember the legendary 
    White Buffalo...these are said to be his or her descendants.

    Here's a family of Baltimore Orioles - just one juvenile

    Male on the left, female on the right

    I grew up in Kansas fairly oblivious to the wonders of birds. But I do remember Blue Jays. They were hard to ignore, and are still just as noisy and full of interesting antics.

    These Brown Thrashers came up for a spot of sun.

    I always love finding Great Crested Flycatchers.

    This is a scruffy Downy Woodpecker - you can tell it's not a Hairy by the short bill. Scruffy is the primary descriptor for a lot of birds in September. Many birds are molting  or trying to achieve basic adult plumage, or are "worn" from nesting or otherwise in disarray, not really needing to impress any potential partners at this time of year.

    Eastern Kingbird - not all had migrated out of Kansas.

    Great Blue Herons were not hard to find.

    But Green Herons...oh that's a find we always appreciate. This one flew across the front of the car where we were parked investigating the lake inlet. 

    This Northern Flicker looks like a hybrid (part Red-shafted and part Yellow-shafted)

    Olive-sided Flycatcher...darn hard to get any detail on this high tree dweller with completely gray sky behind.

    A flock of six immature Pied-billed Grebes was accompanied by a single Coot.

    This is a young robin with a Cedar Waxwing for size comparison.

    Here's an image with a little color in it to finish this chapter.

    We love Lake Scott State Park - it's a beautiful place with lovely old trees, has great camping spots and cabins, and is special for birders.

    We recommend it!

    Next...Meade State Park, just 150 miles or so straight south.


  • 2018 Southern France- Part II- Mostly Culture

    And then came the Mistral, the blustery, cold wind from the polar north that blows through Provence from time to time, sometimes for two weeks at a time. In our case it was just two days, but, it made an impression.
    Being bold birders, we carried on anyway, and walked through La Crau Nature Preserve, steppe habitat that used to be the delta of the Durance River. It has been shaped by 6,000 years of sheep and nature and has been preserved as a sheep grazing area since plantings and only a few buildings needed for sheep and shepherds. There is little protection from the wind. 
    We wore our warmest digs, but still.....
    Below we see S's pants blowing up and J. about to lose the blasted scope.
    L. and I thought the howling wind called for a poem and she hatched the brilliant opening phrase..."O Mistral."  For whatever reason, though, we couldn't seem to flesh it out after that perfect title, despite wailing it out from time to time during the trip.  "O Mistral" we would cry with desperate emotion in the hopes that the second line would follow.  But, no..nothing. The whole trip...nothing came to us. It wasn't until I saw these pictures that the rest of the poem burst into my poetic consciousness.
    O, Mistral, leave low thy mace, thy flail,
    Regardez, O Mistral, your flagrant fail,
    Thy worst yields naught, our smiles prevail.
    O, Mistral.
     Vegetation was quite low and the place was studded with stones.
    There were many of these conglomerates 
    During World War II, the occupying Germans forced the Provencals to make these piles of rocks to deter any allied air landings.
    This is a sheep breeding building and the home of a not-so-friendly large shepherd's wife and their scary dog. The large white sheep dogs can be dangerous when they are performing their jobs as sheep protectors.
    These are sheep.
    Thanks to M's brilliant spotting we saw a Hoopoe there, but not much else, and I couldn't run fast enough against the prevailing gale to photograph that desirable, but distant bird.
    At this point, our fearless leader decided to show us some of the well-known Provence culture (always with an eye out for birds, though).
    We started out with an ancient castle and fortress on a hill.
    The Mistral continued to pummel us that day, so our "picnic" on the grass may have lacked something in the way of comfort, but will forever remained scarred into our memories. The only bird we hoped to see there was a no-show. But the Crag Martin (no pics) braved the breeze and we got good looks. 
     The Three Marys are famous in Provence for being sent out to sea in a boat without food or water, yet surviving and washing up on the Meditarrean shore not far from here.
    I found doorways awesome in Provence....
    Walking up to the town
     There was a little village within the walls. I had a hot chocolate.
    On a chilly breezy evening we went to La Caume in the hopes of seeing the very unusual Egyptian Vulture. We did, and although it was very far away, the wind was blowing my large lens all over the place and I was chattering from the cold...well, these are my shots...take em or leave em.
    The weather turned nice and we visited the Pont du Gard...the ancient Roman aquaduct, and the museum that explained everything about it.
    The weather stayed pleasant, and we visited some quaint little towns, all of which were very much still lived in, not like our ghost towns in the US.
    This is Gordes, surely the most adorable little town on a hill. 
    A lot of rock houses
    Do cute little towns on hills get any cuter?
    Well,'s Roussillon...
    And here are some garages built into the ocre rock
    "You have to be of a certain stature"...said L.
    Where does the color come from for the houses here?
    The ocre sandstone hereabout
    We had lunch and the waiter had a tough time understanding "I'll have a hamburger without the bun, please"  Kind of out-of-the-box thinking for him, but he was a bit of a tease, I think. 
    It had been 50 years since I'd spoken French and really enjoyed it, but was glad to get this tip about "Kiwi"
    And in case you want to buy an "ocre thing"'s your shop.
    We saw many memorial statues to the "enfants" who died for France in World War I. "enfants" means children, but in this context it is a word of respect with a patriotic nuance. Eg: National Anthem = "Allons, enfants de la Patrie" or "Let's go, sons of the country"
    And upstairs to residences
    Good-bye, beautiful, clean, colorful Roussillon.
    Then, there was Ezes where the European Robin managed to make it impossible to get a good photo by sitting and singing enticingly at eye level in a tree....but in the deep shade. Also, toilets were in short supply.
    Our next stop was Avignon where we did laundry. It was actually quite exciting to figure out how to make the machines run from a master board of buttons and switches...but mostly because we got to sit en plein air at a table on the square and have a glass of wine while we waited.
    We had several memorable meals in this town, and we visited the grounds where the popes lived...looked pretty fancy from the outside.
    At some point on a lovely day, we visited the sanatorium in St. Remy where Van Gogh lived for 15 months during his most difficult time. He surely must have had a bipolar experience because there were times when he painted ferociously, a painting a day, and times when he was so depressed he could not get out of bed. It is thought that he may also have been exposed to toxins and that he had epileptic seizures as well. It is all very sad to me and brings me closer to understanding the mental torment that so many others have undergone. 
    Because it touched me so deeply, I want to show you some of what we saw ...  so many familiar paintings .... so many of which were painted on the grounds we were standing on. Here is the entrance. Imagine you are there.
    This is the Dutchman who left Holland for Paris, then left Paris for Arles where he wanted to set up an artists' colony, and who after just a short while had to admit himself to this "hospice" after he assaulted Gauguin in the streets of Arles and then cut off part of his own ear. Here he was lovingly taken care of by doctors and nurses who must have provided him with some peace after the town of Arles asked him to leave.
    This is the garden at St. Paul's painted in this very spot. Looks very much the same.
    "La Nuit Etoilee", painted here in St Remy
    "Almond trees in blossom", painted here
    "The Olive trees", painted here
    Love this quiet space
    This was Van Gogh's bedroom in "the yellow house" in Arles 
    Below is the room he stayed in while he lived in the sanatorium
    "Butterfly Garden at St Paul's"
    The bathtubs outside his bedroom...looks like they might have offered some sensory deprivation experience to patients
    From the back garden - looking toward the chapel
    "The Yellow Wheat", similar to the wheat fields of La Crau where he shot himself (presumably) in the abdomen..the event that ended his short life.
    Prairie in the mountains, painted here
    Here's the beautiful atrium...St Paul's was originally a religious institution that housed several different religions before it became a hospital
    This is the garden where prints of several paintings are posted
    This Great Tit was feeding young in its cavity nest in this tree along the entranceway.
    Here he is again with a packet of spiders for his offspring
    Chaffinch in the garden
    Outside of town there were birding areas where we caught a couple of species and this pretty sight.
    Common Kestrel
    Common Kestrel
     After our lovely eight days were up with our new friends, we had to split         up...some to go to Paris for a week, and Scott and I rented a car to drive south to Nice. Scott was an awesome driver, but I was a loser navigator on this leg. I couldn't figure out why my phone GPS kept leading me onto narrow dirt roads...very frustrating until I realized I had the GPS set to find routes for Bicycles, not Cars. Got better after I figured that out.
    We passed through Nice and stopped at our first apartment in the eastern suburb of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. This was really a terrific beach town and we got our first taste of real "walking" here when we walked from one end to the other along the Mediterranean Sea. Plus our apartment was up, up, up a hill from the beach. We also enjoyed finding the little grocery shop where we bought our gluten-free food (and a baguette or pastry for Scott) to cook up in our apartments.
    When we would have our pre-dinner glass of wine, we enjoyed our very own "Rear Window" (a favorite movie of mine) experience. So much "living" noise coming from the apartments across the way, or above us, or next to us, plus some very insistent tomcats about.
    It's right on the Mediterranean
    Around the bend from the busy business port of Nice
    And just beautiful to walk around in, visit the old fortress
    Two days here was all we got...then we turned in the car at the train station and hopped TrenItalia for Pisa. It was a lovely ride...all of it along the Mediterranean coast...such a calm and clear coastline...not like the crashing waves of many of the US coasts we've traveled.
    See you in Italy!