creek

Posted by Ellen

When Joe got back to Tuscaloosa this month after his semester in Cuba, he had fish to check up on.

He's a fisherman and also sort of a fish collector; for the past year or so, he'd been raising baby fish from the Black Warrior River, the little bream and other small fry that would normally be thrown back into the river. Joe kept dozens of them in a large aquarium in his living room, and dozens more in a pool in a tiny creek that runs into the Black Warrior near downtown Tuscaloosa. He named them and fed them and got kind of attached to them.

But when he left for Cuba in January, he moved all his fish to the little creek and wished them well. They were on their own.

Happily, they survived the winter, though heavy rains apparently washed them downstream into a different pool. In this picture, Joe was walking along a drainpipe that criss-crossed his creek, trying to see how his babies were doing. They were growing and swimming actively and doing all the right fishy sorts of things.

Joe now is living in Philadelphia, where he has a bowl of goldfish. He's completed all his coursework and will graduate in August from the University of Alabama.

Posted by Ellen

Somewhere near this scene, just out of camera range, there's probably an old inscription scratched by a pocketknife into a barn rafter: "Norman Rockwell was here."

It's Minnesota in the springtime. You can tell it's Minnesota because the little boy with his back to the camera is still wearing his winter hat, with the earflaps folded up.

The photographer is not known, but there's a caption written on the Kodachrome slide: "Dam at Blue Earth, just below the cemetery, May 4, 1952."

Posted by Ellen

This rufous-sided towhee–aka Eastern towhee–is bathing in a creek in Randolph County, North Carolina. Red eyes are natural with towhees.

In case you were thinking that these Eastern towhees are really living the life, you should be aware that they commonly suffer severe bullying by mean girls of the somewhat larger Brownheaded Cowbird species. Cowbirds lay eggs almost constantly, like chickens, up to 40 a year, far more than they could ever raise themselves in nests of their own. So they lay their eggs in other birds' nests; they'll take advantage of any convenient nest regardless of the type of bird that built it, but towhees, who nest on the ground, are among their favorite surrogate brooders and baby-raisers.

In some parts of the country, more than 50% of towhee nests contain cowbird eggs in addition to towhee eggs. Some species of birds can tell the difference and will actually push the cowbird eggs right out of the nest, but towhees aren't that smart. Cowbirds, on the other hand, are very smart; to give their own eggs a better chance of survival, and to prevent discovery of what they've deposited in the nest by nest-owners who might know how to count, cowbirds often push some of the towhee eggs out of the nest when they lay their own.

Even worse, the cowbird babies grow faster and bigger than the towhee babies and soon muscle the towhees aside to claim all the food. They sometimes even knock the baby towhees right out of their own nest.

And even worse than that, because towhee nests are on the ground, under bushes, baby towhees may also be victimized by . . . our own sweet little Dobby the Miniature Dog. I believe that Dobby–who is terrified of cats and won't bark at the mailman until he's safely upstairs and under the covers–got himself a towhee last summer while I had him on a leash, waiting for a light to change at a busy intersection right in Center City, Philadelphia. Dobby suddenly dived into a brushy patch, and it was bye-bye, birdie.

Personally, I can't tell one species of cute, innocent, harmless baby bird from another. Maybe it wasn't a towhee, just some other kind of ground-nesting bird living under the bushes of Philadelphia. But thanks to the google, I found a website called ebird, on which I could locate 6 different lists of birds sighted by 3 different bird-watchers within a quarter-mile or so of where Dobby did the deed. Every single list included towhees.

I want to believe, however, that the baby that Dobby dispatched was not a towhee but . . . maybe a cowbird?

Posted by Ellen

Our neighbor Carolyn Duffy poses for a snapshot along Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, with her dogs Max and Toby. The big dog, Max, must really like Fairmount Park because he is notorious for making all the decisions with respect to where they'll go on walks and how long they'll stay out. He weighs well over a hundred pounds, and if he doesn't want to go somewhere, it's probably just as well if you don't bother trying to go there.

Posted by Ellen

On a crisp October Saturday, deep in the Loyalsock Canyon of World's End State Park, you have to wait on line for your turn to take pictures of the waterfalls.

Ordinarily, creeks and waterfalls have shriveled to a trivial trickle by this time of year. But after a wet, wet summer and then the floods of Hurricane Irene, waterways throughout Pennsylvania are putting on a show.