A Downy Girl Drops by the Buffet

I’ve posted before about my exploits creating a woodpecker feeder for my wild bird buffet. I have one very consistent customer – a red-bellied woodpecker who shows up almost daily. But recently a lovely little girl has been dropping by. She’s a little shy and not too sure about that big feeder, but she’s clearly attracted to the suet section of the buffet.

She’s a Downy Woodpecker – just a bit bigger than a nuthatch with a similar acrobatic flying style. She’s easily spooked so I stayed very still to get some shots of her…





The light was perfect the evening I shot these. No editing, no cropping, just straight out of camera goodness. These are 4 of the six shots I got off before she departed. Sometimes things just work out that way.

I’m hoping she returns often and gives that fancy feeder a try. She seems to prefer peanut suet to the berry that the others like – I’ll be adding it to the menu.

Topsy-turvy Nuthatch

When I set up the buffet last spring, the nuthatches were my first regular customers. They were the first to decide I was unimportant to their dining experience, the first to try out each style of feeder, and the first to just hang out with me. They seem to prefer to do all of this upside down.

Upside down on the landing…





Upside down as they eat…




Upside down as they throw me a pose… (Seriously, they get style points from me for this – it’s acrobatic)



And upside down as they check me out…



Now, to be fair, they do fly right-side-up, mostly.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure


Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.

This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.

Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.

They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.

Roomy and nicely appointed.

We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.

Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.


I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.


We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.


We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.


The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.


Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.

As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in the car.

I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.

You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.


Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

Station signal

Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.


Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)

We heard the train whistle in the distance…

Mary Jane was ready to roll!

Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.

Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

She explained how the switching process worked…

And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…

The conductor joined in…

The whole car sang along…

And Mary Jane ate cake.

She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.

Leaf Peeking at Sweet Spring

Fall color is starting to pop and I got a chance to shoot a bit before dark the last two nights. I headed to one of my favorite spots in Eureka Springs – Sweet Spring.


Eureka is the town that water built and it has dozens of free flowing springs that attracted Victorian types to come to find healing in the waters. In the 1880s the City created reservations that basically created a protective area around each spring, essentially they created dozens of small jewel-box parks.

Many of the springs on the west side of town have formal stonework surrounds and Sweet Spring is essentially a spiral staircase that goes down into the ground. It has amazing color on the hill above.


I shot these all within 30 minutes of sunset.

This was taken with a fish-eye from down inside the stairwell.

Vines over the wall


Maples on the hillside

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to just shoot leaves without any particular thought – I let myself get very right-brained – I hunt shapes and colors while shooting fast. I let my eye just find things without looking for them. It’s very different from shooting wildlife, it’s more organic – it’s more satisfying. I can get lost shooting leaves…






For my friends in Canada

On my way out I had to shoot this morning glory.

My favorite leaf shot of the evening.

Ending the week shooting leaves is good for my soul. Autumn is here!

It has begun…

After a long summer’s drought the forecast is for COLOR!

It’s just starting, here and there, but it’s coming. I was driving home about 10 days ago and saw my first glimpse – Virginia Creeper wrapped around the trunk of a dead oak. I parked the jeep and hiked into the woods to get a look. Mosquitos everywhere and too much glare, still I found some color on the forest floor where some of the creeper had fallen



Last Saturday I got a chance to walk around my property, there are some volunteer trees – not sure what kind, but they showed the first color. These are in a space I quit mowing about 5 years ago – birds nest in them in the summer and they show great color in the fall.


On Sunday I got just a small peek at the color to come in the Boxley Valley where I shoot elk. Not great shots, we were in a hurry and I shot these from the car.



The days are getting shorter so it’s almost impossible to shoot after work. I look forward to those crips autumn weekends where I can get lost in the leaves.

What’s the color like where you are?

A Color Study of Jazz

The community I live in has festivals most weekends from April through October. It’s a way of drawing tourists to out tiny Victorian village. I usually stay far away unless the festival is about art or antique cars – ¬†or unless there is a parade, then I’m there:)

A few weeks ago it was the Jazz Festival. I had just returned home from a business trip and was thinking about what I could photograph on the weekend when I contacted my pal Judy. She asked if I was interested in going to a jazz concert at the Auditorium. I don’t know much about jazz beyond music appreciation classes in school and what I have seen on Treme, but it sounded like a good time to hang out so I decided to go. To tell the truth I thought about backing out all day, but I knew Judy really wanted to go.

The artist was Delfeayo Marsalis, I recognized the last name from his brother who used to be on the Tonight Show. I decided to take just my camera body and my portrait lens, I wanted something fast so I would not need to flash. I was glad to see that we were in the front row to the left – perfect spot to shoot or get close to the stage.

I took a few shots and was intrigued by the color – the lights were casting purple and yellow hues on the musicians and their instruments. I loved the colors and how they seemed to express the coolness and crispness of the sounds of the trombone.



About midway through the concert I decided to try the grainy film filter on my camera – just experimenting. There want a lot of light so I focused on trying to bring out just a bit of the mid tones. What I ended up with was something with a feeling of chiaroscuro. Highs and lows – a lot like the music.



What I discovered is that I like jazz, I liked it enough to put the camera down and just take it in. I even recognized Brer Rabbit on an episode of Treme.