Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for December, 2007

Lucky to Have Mice

posted: December 30th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: As a brief follow up to the postings written for my granddaughter about “Pero the Luckiest Mouse

Mouse and Saw whet Owl

Tme-honored relation, mouse & Owl

Alive” and about “Mice and Airstream Travel Trailers,” I want to add that, ecologically, mice rank high in the order of importance. In fact, if you enjoy owls and hawks and the occasional howl of the coyote, we’re lucky they’re here.

In this part of Montana (from a mammal book I wrote years ago for GNP), there are seven different species of mice-like creatures, and although the layman commonly refers to these rodents as mice, the biologist categorizes them as voles, lemmings and mice. Specifically, they include red-backed, montane heather, water, long-tailed and meadow voles. All are distinguished by their short hind legs, a short furred tail and ears that can just barely be seen. All five voles are distributed from our valley floor to alpine areas.

The lemmings of more northern fame are represented only by the bog lemming. This one, as its name implies, makes its home in wet bogs and meadows where there is a thick mat of ground vegetation. If its shorter tail is not noticed, it is easily confused with the voles. Lemmings are rare in Montana’s Flathead Valley.

Mice, as most people know them, are most typified in Glacier by two species, which may easily be distinguished from other mouse-like animals by their large, conspicuous eyes, ears and long tails. Specifically, I’m referring to deer mouse of yesterdays posting and to the western Jumping mouse.

All the above are essential to the existence of such predatory creatures as the Saw Whet owl, shown here. They are also, essential to all the valley’s other predators such as wolves and coyotes and the dozens of different hawks that constantly circle overhead. Without mice, these species would perish.

Except when “Pero” invades my Airstream, I’m happy they’re all here.

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Pero, The Luckiest Mouse Alive

posted: December 29th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Last night my six-year-old granddaughter called to tell me that she had read my posting on mice invading my Airstream. She hoped, she said, that I was encouraging their presence, just as I did when her mother (my daughter) had to contend with them as a child–the days when I worked summers in Montana’s Glacier National Park as a ranger and when we actually had wild mice as pets.

Pero the luckiest deer mouse alive

Pero, the luckiest deer mouse alive

At the time, we lived in a remote log-cabin ranger station in Cut Bank Valley surrounded by towering mountains inhabited by elk, grizzly bears–and mice. For my daughter, Angie, mice may have come to be pets out of some degree of boredom, but it all began one morning when we discovered a mouse struggling in our ceramic sink to keep its head above the water we’d left standing. Apparently, it had slipped, for ceramic provides no purchase. Angie wanted to save the forlorn-appearing creature from drowning, and so we reached into the sink with a spatula, intent on lifting it out. The mouse came out easily, for it was too weak to resist.

“Should I throw it out?”

“No, Daddy, let’s see if we can make it all better.”

And so we placed it in a cardboard box and then nursed it back to health. And all the while I thought this could be a wonderful learning experience. From a mammal book we quickly learned that a mouse that was dark on top and light beneath (protective coloration) was a deer mouse and that its generic name was peromyscus.

And, so, we called it Pero. Before long, Angie, seated, would have Pero climbing up her blue-jeaned leg. The trusting mouse dug in hard with its tiny sharp claws, knowing that when it ascended just above the bend of the knee that it would find some cheese, cracker crumbs or maybe even some scattered bread crusts. There it would nibble, peering at Angie with huge deer-like eyes that seemed to adorn. And, then, after feeding, Pero would clean itself thoroughly, for as we learned, deer mice belong to a group that is exceedingly fastidious.

Daughter Angie explained all this the other night to my granddaughter, and now Halle wants to know if I’m really going to kill one of these deer mice.

“Are you really going to kill Pero, Grandpa?” asked Halle, who so guilelessly sat on the lap of Santa Clause just a few weeks ago. “Can’t you trap them, alive?”

Of course I can, Halle; I have live traps. And maybe if I move them far enough away after trapping they won’t find their way back. But that’s not likely for scientists have marked deer mice and then proven the species has exceptional homing instincts.

Still, that’s my plan. I won’t kill Pero; I’ll move him. And should he return to our Airstream before we can leave on our trip into the Southwest, I guess I’ll have to move him or welcome him once again. And then, because deer mice are usually the most abundant of all mammals in a given area (probably why we hear owls each night), I guess I will also have to welcome any new friends he might have made on his journey back to his new home–our immaculate Airstream.

So have at it, Pero. (Pero, you may be the luckiest didly-durn mouse alive!) And since, God bless you, you make babies year around (as many as eight in each litter), the stuffing in our sofa (our bed, too) should make good nesting material, and we welcome you.

Isn’t that the least I can do for my daughter who has done such an extraordinary job of retaining environmental lessons from her childhood–and then passing them on?

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Digital Night Photography

posted: December 28th, 2007 | by:Bert

Techniques for creating greater arcs

Techniques for creating greater arcs

©Bert Gildart: Recently I’ve been sharing photographs with a group of Nikon camera enthusiasts, particularly when I’d like to improve a particular image or know how to do something different.

One such image is attached here (used previously for story about North Star ), and my question was: how can I increase the star trails with digital photography. With the Nikon D200, which I used to make this image, I had set the camera at f 4.8 and placed the shutter on “B,” which holds the camera open until you release the snap on your cable release.

The challenge is to keep the shutter open for hours, rather than for the hour-and-a-half, which seems to be about the limit using Nikon’s EN-EL3e batteries.

Nikon users who have been working with digital images for years seemed to think it was possible, and offered several solutions. One, I could purchase Nikon’s optional MB-D10 battery attachment; or, two, I could purchase one of the Quantum batteries. Both would drastically extend either of my two camera’s abilities to remain open, though the Quantum battery would do it best, keeping the shutter open for the entire evening if I wanted.

The effect of exposures lasting for hours would, of course, be to create star trails that form arcs of about 90 degrees rather than the 12 to 15 degree arcs to which my current setup now limit me, as you can see here.

But extremely long exposures also create another problem, one known as “noise,” or the accumulation of unwanted light spots. High ISO ratings also generate noise, but the D200 and the D300 have a remedy. To eliminate noise, which this image is just on the verge of acquiring, go to Menu>Shooting Menu>Noise and then turn on “Noise Reduction”. According to other digital photographers, that should eliminate the problem. Other camera brands also offer similar remedies.

Of course a person could also revert to film, but for those needing instant results, the problems can apparently be resolved digitally.

Night photography is some of the work I intend to conduct in the Southwest on our upcoming trip, so I was delighted that so many photographers offered their thoughts.

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Getting Rid of the Mice in our Airstream Travel Trailer

posted: December 26th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Today, in the course of beginning preparations for a four month trip into the Southwest, we began carrying items to our Airstream–to discover that since last inspection one week ago, mice have somehow managed to get in. This is most discouraging as the trailer is fairly new and we thought all conduits were thoroughly sealed.

What’s more we had a shed built this past year for our trailer, and it too was well sealed. We knew that if mice got in they could create havoc. We know of several instances where mice have destroyed sofas by pulling out the stuffing. We also know of cases where mice feces and urine have created such horrible odors that the RVs have been rendered unusable. Those are problems we want to avoid.

TRY STEEL WOOL

My neighbor, Bill Hutchinson, who spends winters restoring antique cars, says that it can be hard keeping out determined mice, though it can be done. He says the challenge is to discover just where they’ve invaded.

“The hole doesn’t have to be big,” says Hutch, placing his index finger about half an inch from his thumb. “But you got to find it before they go to work and then stuff it with steel wool. Mice hate the stuff and that along with lots of traps has kept them out of my cars.”

Though I looked for spot in which mice might have crept in, I wasn’t able to find anything suspect, so I’ve strategically placed mice traps around the shed floor. As well, Janie and I’ve got three traps inside our Airstream and are now anxious to see what happens. We need to get the mice out of the trailer before we start bringing out certain types of food and more bar soap, which they’ve shredded.

TRAVEL PLANS

Obviously, with travel looming, we starting to look to long-range weather forecasts that might be anticipated after January 1st. We’re certainly going to wait until the roads south are free of the ice that has been created by a recent storm that carried with it a mixture of snow and rain.

Probably it also means we’ll want the trailer to be free of mice, which I suspect will be the case by tomorrow.

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What is Christmas?

posted: December 24th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert and Jane Gildart: We’ve tried to find a quote that expresses the feelings we hold close at this time of year, and the best we could do is this one by Agnes M. Pharo. Though we could find no date, she posed a question and then answered it, as follows:

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

Chrsitmas in the Arctic and the Wonder of Nature

Chrsitmas in the Arctic and the Wonder of Nature

For us as photographers, this tranquil but powerful setting makes us think of Pharo’s wishes, and, of course, that makes us think of how we lucky we were then and are now. For a year this cabin was our home, and each winter night in the typically clear skies of the Arctic the northern lights would blaze overhead and about that time the wolves would begin to howl. And we would stand in wonder and gaze and listen–and think about how lucky Man can sometimes be.

The solitude was immense and it reminded us of blessings in the same way that Christmas often does, no matter where we might be. It also reminds us of our many good friends and family members, and we hope that “every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal and that every path may lead to peace.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS WHERE EVER YOU MAY BE. WE MISS YOU ALL.

 

 

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Turkeys In Montana–Successful or Too Successful?

posted: December 22nd, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: After eating all the unpicked apples we left hanging on one of our trees, turkeys are back on our feeder. We had thought to let the apples ripen then pick them before a hard freeze. Our timing, however, was bad, but that’s OK, as they became food for the birds, including the turkeys now massing beneath our porch and even on our deck. Yesterday, for instance, we battled two huge gobblers intent on devouring ever bit of seed we placed in the feeder.

Return of the Turkeys

Return of the Turkeys

Turkeys are relatively new to the valley; in fact, there were no wild turkeys in Montana prior to the 1950s. But over 60 years ago 18 Merriam’s turkeys were introduced into the state near Billings, nearly 500 miles away. Within three years, the population numbered 750 birds. From there, the population took off and now, according to state fish and game biologists, turkeys in Montana may number as many as 150,000. Of course that makes the hunters happy and every now and then neighboring farmers allow them on their land.

Turkeys & our neighbors yard

Introduced in Montana about 1950, turkeys have expanded range

Once I used to hunt them as well, but today, disruptive as they may be (see Thanksgiving pardon ), we enjoy hearing their daily clucking–and even laugh at their antics when they land on the railing of our porch. One has grown pretty aggressive, ignoring our banging on the glass window making us ask: Has the reintroduction been too successful?

Roosting in our apple tree

Partridge in pear tree? No, turkey in our apple tree

In fact, one old bird lingers until we open the door to the porch and then start walking toward it, at which time the old gobbler takes a short hop, spreads its wings and soars into the yard. There it settles and there it watches–knowing that sooner or latter the feeder will once again be all hers.

Hmmm, maybe I’ll take back up turkey hunting.

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Nikon’s D300 Inspires

posted: December 19th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: There hasn’t been a camera released in a long time that has excited me as much as Nikon’s new–just released–D300. The “D,” of course, stands for digital, and though it’s fundamentally the same as the D200, it has many new features worth shouting about. The camera is built tough, helping to maintain the Nikon tradition–and it inspires creativity.

Nikon D300

Nikon D300

How does it accomplish all that? First and perhaps foremost the D300 shoots at 12.3 Megapixels, an upgrade from the D200, which shot at 10.3 Megapixels. Two other features, particularly helpful for those of us who spend much time photographing wildlife, is this camera’s ability to shoot about six frames a second. With the optional battery grip, the number increases to 8 frames per second. As well the camera features autofocus with 51 points that improve the tracking of a moving object. That simplifies flight shots of birds.

I also like the huge 3-inch LCD monitor display that supports LV–or Life View–a feature you can dial in on the release mode dial, located on the top of the camera. Using LV you can place your camera on a tripod and then compose using that huge LCD screen. That’s nice when there’s not much action and when you want to control exposure with your cable release.

Much larger LCD screen

Much larger LCD screen

Again, for the wildlife photographer, this camera also has an easy-to-use mirror lock up, very important for images such as the one of the Yellow-crowned night heron shown here. The picture was taken last year in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve and was made with a 600mm lens in a swamp where light was very low. My exposure was something like 1/30th second at f5.6. In other words, though the lens was wide open, shutter speed was slow, and it was only because of luck and possibly some bean bags that helped prevent camera shake with the D200. Now, with mirror lock up there won’t be any vibration so the percent of blur-free images taken at slow shutter speeds will increase.

After exposing, if you want an instant view of your image to see how sharp it is, there is a “+” button on the back of the camera that allows you to “blow up” the image on the LCD. Though you could accomplish the same thing with the D200, more steps were involved. Such critical evaluation allows you to examine important portions of the picture, such as the eye. Is it or is it not in focus? With the D300, that’s something you can evaluate in seconds.

From a maintenance and appearance perspective, I appreciate the smooth transition of metal to rubber where the two substances meet. On the D300, they’re perfectly flush, but not so on the D200. Here, the rubber tends extrude just enough to snag on camera bags when storing, imparting a much-used look to a relatively new camera. I’m wondering now if I can use super glue to reattach the small lip of rubber now sticking out from the D200?

Mirror lock up enhances stability

Mirror lock up enhances stablity when using long telephoto lenses

All that said, I have one complaint regarding the D300 and it’s introduction. There’s no advisory explaining that if you want to work with RAW images you will need to upgrade from Photoshop CS2 to CS3. That’s not a major complaint, and other Nikon users say the new features in Adobe’s CS3 are so improved over CS2 that you should upgrade anyway. I respond saying I think Nikon and Adobe are in cahoots. In turn, friends counter saying it’s a sign the two major corporations are in sync and working well together, and perhaps they’re right.

Regardless, I’m excited about the camera and continue to find that the advantages of digital over film are immense. Obviously digital is required for people who need high-quality images in a hurry.

At any rate, my one complaint is more than balanced but all the upgrades the D300 incorporates, many that I haven’t mentioned. In short, the camera inspires creativity, and in the two weeks now I’ve owned it, I probably shot close to 300 images, some on assignment for a travel magazine. That tells you that the transition from the D200 to the D300 is an easy one, else I wouldn’t be taking the chance of having to cope with new camera functions with which I was not familiar.

Still I’m glad it arrived well before we depart for the Southwest, but essentially to learn what’s new in Photoshop CS3. We’re not in a real hurry to leave Montana, but after Christmas, during a window when the roads are clear and when the weather man says there’ll be no storms for a few days, that’s when we’ll be heading out. We’ll be pulling our Airstream–then setting up housekeeping somewhere in the desert sand.

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Bay Bayou, A Tampa RV Resort

posted: December 14th, 2007 | by:Bert

Do not go swimming

Bay Bayou RV Resort

©Bert Gildart: This month’s issue of Motorhome, published by the Affinity Group, features a story of mine on Bay Bayou RV resort. The company is affiliated with the Good Sam Club and publishes books and dozens of periodicals, most with some sort of an outdoor theme. Each month, I write several stories for the Group, but this particular piece brought back many wonderful memories of the two month’s we spent in Tampa, Florida. I featured the resort because I could honestly report that it was upscale and attracted a wonderful group of interesting people, many of whom return annually.

Though normally we wouldn’t have stopped in such an incredibly frantic city as Tampa, we had friends there and I needed several months without travel to catch up stories and photo submissions. We wanted a place that had a well-tended swimming pool and lots of activities and Bay Bayou had all those features. We also needed reliable wireless connections and, of course, hookups.

By staying at Bay Bayou I was able to accomplish all my goals and learned some surprising things about this city of several million. From those experiences I posted many blogs about what actually became exciting urban adventures–something I never dreamed possible. Click on the links and you can see and read about some of those experiences which include Kayaking , Sunshine Bridge , Trailer Trash , Tiny and Tamp Florida-Naturally. I also wrote about Mayra Volk and her husband Jim. Both became good friends and I focused on Mayra as she and her parents had escaped Cuba and the Castro regime and had an interesting story to tell.

You can see all the postings and others from the area by clicking on the months of December 06, and January and February 07.

Despite the congestion that could at times be maddening, there were actual ribbons of sanity that coursed throughout city in the form of bicycle trails. In fact, right from Bay Bayou we could pick up a spur trail that linked with the Upper Tampa Trail. In turn, that took us past wildlife viewing areas, where I saw a huge alligator. Because of his size, Bob Feely, one of my bicycle companions, called him “Tiny.”

In my story for Motorhome, I wrote about this trail that linked with Bay Bayou:

Like Tampa’s many other bicycle trails, this one is paved and well patrolled. Though some proceed for over 60 miles, Upper Tampa Trail is but 10-miles long (each way!), and about three miles along we encountered several large ponds-and there, about 50 yards away on the far bank of this Paleozoic setting, was a huge gator.

Well patrolled cycling trails

Well patrolled cycling trails

During our months there we rode all the trails we could and visited some wonderful suburbs (Tarpon Springs), and, again, in my story I wrote:

One day we drove 45 minutes to Fort DeSoto State Park, where we kayaked, hiked and studied the panels describing the fort’s history. Another time we rode–almost sailed, it seemed–to Tarpon Springs for a Greek dinner and a visit to the suburb’s famous sponge business.

Tampa Bay, an incredible bay for kayaking

Tampa Bay, an incredible bay for kayaking

Whenever possible I tried to include mention in my blogs from Florida of some of the wonderful people we met and they were many. Nancy, Bob, Kathy, Jo, Ken and Gordy were just a few. We think of these people often and believe that another year, our journeys will in fact take us back to Bay Bayou.

Note: If you want to see some wonderful collections of photographs log on to AgPix . Obviously mine are there but so are the portfolios of many others. All who are represented subscribe to this service and we do so as we receive daily want lists–and more sales, mostly editorial.

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Christmas in Bigfork

posted: December 11th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bigfork Bay

Bigfork Habor

©Bert Gildart: Snow has begun falling in earnest here in Bigfork, a small town in northwestern Montana. Accompanying it, a season of festivities has been kicked off. Weekend before “elves” helped decorate the town with a garland of lights. Then, a few days later, Saturday, December 1st this year, the town hosted its annual Christmas parade.

LITTLE ANGEL

All the obvious business organizations participated, and for the youngsters, it was one of the highlights of the year. Horse-drawn carriages passed down Electric Avenue and so did several riders, but one particular crowd pleaser was a little girl perched atop a large horse lead by the young lady’s mother.

All decked out in white, indeed she did look like an angel.

As well as all the children and this little angel, there was Alan Quimby, a man who once worked in Alaska as a biologist. Quimby, a fourth generation draft-horse teamster, willl be offering horse-drawn carriage rides around Bigfork until Christmas.

Cowgirl Angel

Cowgirl Angel

On parade night the local fire department also got into the act, driving their trucks up and down the several-hundred yard-long street that is this village’s main street. Every now and then firemen would blast their horns, and though it didn’t sound like Santa and Rudolph, it certainly added to the festivities.

CIRCLES OF LIGHT

Falling snow certainly complemented the wintry atmosphere, creating white points of light in most of my photographs.

The circles did exactly what I hoped they would do, and that was to suggest that the air was graced by a multitude of lights all enhanced by wintry weather. In my photographs, they added to the array of lights that changed as fast as the twist on the tube of a Kaleidoscope.

Janie and I attended the parade because we wanted to feel a part of the community, and that in itself was reason enough. But we also attended because I’ve been hired by a travel magazine to document some of the highlights of Bigfork’s festivities these next few weeks. Probably, the magazine obtained my name from AgPix , an organization to which most professional stock photographers subscribe.

If you want to see some wonderful collections of photos, follow my link. Obviously mine are there, but so are those of many others, and some of their names you may recognize.

Annnual highlight for Bigfork children

Annual highlight for Bigfork children

 

CHALLENGING PHOTOGRAPHY

In assembling my Bigfork Christmas photos I wanted to show the stream of lights for which the town has become so well known. To do that I increased the ISO (ASA) on my Nikon D300 to 640 so that it could record the background lights. For foreground I used my strobe. Because the photos are to be used at ¼ page, my settings should work fine, with no loss of clarity.

The evening dusting of snow on December 1st seemed to have timed itself to just the hour-long parade and little accumulated; still, luck has been with me. Night before last it snowed and did so with substantial accumulations occurring throughout the night.

Elves ride in the parade

"Elves" ride in Christmas Parade

But when morning broke, the clouds lifted and the skies began to turn blue, and so (for the first photo, above) I scurried to a bridge overlooking Bigfork Harbor.

The harbor represents that point where the Swan River empties into Flathead Lake, which is the largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi.

Sometimes the harbor and lake freezes almost solid, but we haven’t had that kind of extreme cold since 1998, when temperatures hovered at -30F for several weeks.

Next weekend I’ll be photographing Santa just off Electric Avenue in yet another of Bigfork’s winter festivals. With more snow and all the stores now so beautifully decorated, it’s little wonder Bigfork has become the focal point of so much attention.

Right now the festivities represent small town America and about the only thing that could undermine their charm would be an excess of success itself.

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Pileated Woodpeckers—Is it Hector or Hortense?

posted: December 5th, 2007 | by:Bert

Hortense finds suet

Hortense finds suet

©Bert Gildart: The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest of all woodpeckers, and every time one shows up at our feeder, I’ll alert Janie or she’ll alert me. “Hey,” called out Janie yesterday, “Hortense is back.” Several days ago, I alerted my wife. “It’s Hector!” I yelled. “He’s here again.”

MALE OR FEMALE?

Yes, we’ve actually taken to naming the birds. Hector is male and Hortense is female, and it’s easy to differentiate between the two, as Hector has a red mustache. On the other hand, the line above the upper mandible on Hortense is plain, meaning that she’s not so beautifully endowed. Or so I contend.

As you can see, yesterday Hortense, and not Hector, was at our feeder.

Neither of the two birds is casual about its arrival. Both arrive with a great deal of fanfare. Both know they want to feed on the suet that we’ve placed in a small grated container on the side of the huge Douglass Fir immediately adjacent to our much larger bird feeder, which we nailed to the railing.

CAUTIOUS APPROACH

The problem for them, however, is that they’re shy, and so they approach surreptitiously. Typically, following a loud Kik, kik; ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki from some way-overhead perch, possibly from the huge cottonwood some 50 or so feet away, one will fly to the Doug fir, landing some 15 or 20 feet above the feeder. Then Hector or Hortense will make tiny leaps downward, each time a little closer. If they’re not particularly hungry, they’ll move down diagonally, peeping first from one side of the tree then the other. Finally, as they approach the suet, each seems to loose its reserve and then it will quickly scoot to the container of food.

Hortense--not Hector

Hortense–not Hector

Other woodpeckers also love the food source, and our feeder typically attracts Downies, Hairies, Red-Shafted flickers; all arouse our interest, but none so much as do these two Pileated. Neither seems to be particularly pugnacious, certainly not like the hummingbirds of the summer, which tolerate no competition what-so-ever. Pileated woodpeckers, however, seem relaxed with their large size, for neither seems overly aggressive–despite their potential power.

ADAPTED FOR FLIGHT

Both Hector and Hortense stand about 20 inches tall from stem to stern, weigh about 12 ounces, and have wing spans of almost two and a half feet. Like all other birds, they have hollow bones, air sacs, common urogenital openings; incredibly large and strong hearts coupled with powerful respiratory systems–feathers–all features designed to keep weight down and make flight possible. And these two Pileated can certainly do that.

When one has had its fill of suet, with a quick flap of its wings, Hector or Hortense is off. But we know they’re still around by their incessant chatter: ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki.

On a cold winter day, we’re always glad for their company, and delighted we might be able to make their lives a little bit easier. Certainly, they (and all the other birds that alight on our feeders) enrich ours, as our other postings suggest. As you’ll see, the Pileated is a common visitor.

Camera used: Nikon D300

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