Nesting Bald Eagles

American Bald Eagle

Recently I traveled to Bettendorf, Iowa to see my daughter.  Bettendorf is in the Quad Cities area on the border between Iowa and Illinois, and sits right on the west side of Mississippi River.  It is a quiet, charming little community.  Perhaps it was partially so quite because I was there during the winter season.

Lock & Dam #15
Rock Island Arsenal

One of the things I found very interesting is that bald eagles, as many as 2500 of them, come there during the winter months to fish along the lock and dam (#15) on the Mississippi River.  These dams were completed in March 1934 by the United States Army Corp of Engineers, and their use by passing ships during the winter months keeps the heavy ice on the Mississippi River broken up.  This is turn makes the eagles happy, because the turbulence below the dams allows them to feast on the fish in the open water.  There is a historic clock tower near the lock & dam where the eagles can easily be viewed fishing in larger groups.

Bald eagles mate for life, and many stay in this area on into the spring, roosting in the wooded bluffs and building gigantic nests in the hardwood trees lining the river.  Eaglets typically hatch in mid to late March.

Bald Eagle

I also learned that the local Alcoa Davenport Works company is the largest employer in the area.  In 2009 a pair of eagles, now named Liberty and Justice, took up residence in a large cottonwood tree on the company grounds, building a tremendous nest 85 feet high off the ground.  The folks at Alcoa installed a fantastic live eagle cam, that takes both close-up and long shots of the eagle nest.  Since its installation over 25 million people have viewed these American icons in their nest.   It is definitely worth checking out now as this pair of eagles have already started “feathering” their nest in preparation for new chicks.  I was able to hear the eagles and catch this juvenile eagle in the nest, but I am sure they will be there far more often now as nesting season progresses.  Such an amazing site to see!  Check out the live eagle cam.

 

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Oh That Face!

 

Final-Caska-1

Final-Caska

She really has a very expressive face, more so than any cat I’ve ever known.  There is her sweet face (top), and then there is this one.  The one that makes you think twice about getting any closer with your camera, for fear of what might happen.  Still she is a beautiful kitty, and a very girly one too.  She loves the water, and a favorite spot is to sit along the edge of the tub while her human takes a bath!

Instagram-Ten Reasons to #Love

Final-Instagram-ProfileAhh…social media.  An absolute must for business owners, and an addiction for others.  My route to social media use was certainly business oriented, and after using different ones now for several years I definitely have my favorites.  I started with a Facebook business page, which seemed like a fairly easy transition from a personal Facebook page.  Twitter came next, although it is actually more difficult for me to write short tweets sometimes than blog posts.  After a friend suggested I try Pinterest I found myself hooked on this social media, although I think of it more as visual bookmarks and don’t find myself engaging in the social media part as much.  Then came Instagram.  My Instagram.  Why had I not explored it further at an earlier date?  I love photography, so this social media just seemed like a very natural fit for me.  It is definitely now ranked as my favorite social media.

Here are ten great reasons to love Instagram:

1.  It actually works as social media.  Meaning that you really can easily engage with other Instagram users.  The Instagram app allows you to quickly scroll through your feed and “heart” user photos you like and leave comments.  It is easy to make friends from around the world!

2.  As with Facebook, you are able to easily read through all comments so that interaction between users is encouraged.  Just type the @ symbol in front of a friend/users name in the comments section of any feed so they are pointed to a particular photo!

3.  Like Twitter, hashtags are used to quickly identify keywords for a photo, or to identify the photo with a particular group.  I have a hashtag that I assign to photos that I want to appear in my Instagram feed on my website.  Very easy to do!

4.  Like Pinterest, the photos are truly amazing – stunning in their beauty.  And while Pinterest boards typically contain photos from many different users/sources, Instagram allows you to focus more on an individual photographer’s work.

5.  Instagram is a photographer’s mecca.  While you may add photos to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, Instagram was really designed by photographers, for photographers.  So if photography is your thing, this is the social media for you!

6.  No writing required, other than the hashtags.  You can write a brief (or longer) description if you want, and some great Instagrammers do, but you certainly don’t have to.  Writing pressure off!

7.  This social media actually encourages you to LEARN a skill – how to be a better photographer.  With photo editing apps like Mextures, folks share their formulas for their photo filters on Instagram, thereby sharing their techniques.  And often they share a list of the photo editing apps they have used.

8.  How did they do it?  Look at different feeds and try to figure out how a particular photo was created.  Then download some new photo editing apps and try to recreate a photo you see.  I guarantee you will become a better photographer just by doing this!   Also sometimes photos are made available for others to submit their edits to.  Great interactions!!

9.  It is the perfect way to visually display your products for a business.  I use my feed for all my photography, but have seen some businesses beautifully display their goods using their Instagram accounts.

10.  Other services, like Printstagram work with your Instagram photos for printing purposes.  Create business cards, magnets, calendars, posters, t-shirts, and prints for yourself or your business.  Can’t do that with Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  The folks at Facebook took a look, and purchased Instagram in April 2012!  Smart move.

Gabion Fence

Winter has finally come to central Texas, and I am grateful for the quiet because now my husband and I will get a much deserved break from the ongoing landscaping projects that we started in early fall.  Just prior to the holidays we completed a sixteen foot section of fencing and made a working gate for a portion of our backyard.  For years we have had a very large section of our backyard partitioned off; it was originally a dog run for our black Labrador retriever.  It has a long rustic section of fencing, comprised of 1×2 inch wire mesh, metal t-posts, and cedar stays.  We took one end section of this fence and reworked it, building gabion boxes and topping them with the original cedar stays cut to size.  The photos here show both the work-in-progress and the finished product.

The word gabion is Italian – gabbione meaning “big cage”.  It is essentially a cage or box filled with rocks, concrete, or soil and is most often used in civil engineering and road building.  You will quite often see them used as retaining walls to protect against soil erosion along constructed roadways.  For walls like we wanted, you stack them vertically rather than battered (angled back towards the slope).  They are quite trendy right now and you can find some beautiful examples of their use on my Pinterest page.

We had a definite reason for their use.  We needed three posts set into the ground, two of which were to hold our new gate.  But here’s the rub – we have VERY rocky ground in central Texas.  Dig two inches down and you hit white limestone rock, lots and lots of rock.  And since we are not as strong as we once were, we found digging 18”-24” post holes in the rocky ground to be an impossible task.  So I started looking for another solution, and that’s when I came up with the idea of the gabion boxes.  And boy do they work!  My posts which stand within the rock boxes are as strong as ever; it’s like they are basically set above ground.  So if you need a solution for setting posts other than digging holes, this might be just for you!

Though this fence was very labor intensive, it is also inexpensive to build.  Here is what we used:
1.  Three 2×4 6-foot posts cut to size (two for gate and one for end post)
2.  Two 5-foot t-posts (for supporting the wire in the middle section of the 16’ run)
3. A 50-ft section of 2×2” welded wire
4.  1 yard of 2-4″ diameter river rock (plus some rock from the yard)
5.  Bailing wire for forming the boxes and tying the welded wire and cedar stays on.

The boxes adjacent to the posts were built 2’ long by 1’ deep by 1’ high, with an additional box the same size stacked vertically on top of the first one.  To make the boxes we just cut the welded wire to size, allowing about a 1” overlap to connect the sections together as we went.  You can just use your fingers, or a pair of needle nose pliers, to bend the end pieces to tie them together.  My husband purchased an inexpensive angle grinder to help with the wire cutting.  You will also want a good pair of work gloves; the wire really can cut you if you are not careful.  Once the boxes are built (save the tops for last), place them on the ground, position the posts where you want them within the box, then start filling with rock.  Add the wire box top last, cutting as appropriate to slide over the post.  Then tie onto the main box frame by bending or using the pliers.  Complete each rock box and fill, going along until through.  Be sure to insert the t-posts in place as you come to those boxes.

Once the boxes were all in place, we added the welded wire fencing on top of the boxes, and then individually tied the cedar stays to the wire with 10” strips of bailing wire.  We left space between each stay so that the fence retained an open feel.  Cedar stays are readily available in this part of the country, but use whatever you have available locally.  The gate was added last, and painted a vivid shade of blue.  It really stands out in the garden, and I look forward to spring when I can add some more blue accents to tie everything together!  It does not show in the photo, but we have added a magnetic gate latch.  Full instructions for adding a magnetic latch can be found on this great website:  The Art of Doing Stuff.

Gabion boxes are great in that the are very rigid, yet can be conformed to the land on which they are placed.  Meaning they can be made in straight rows, or also can be shaped to a curved path.  I also thought about people who have dogs that are diggers.  It is pretty easy for a dog to dig under a wooden picket fence, but it would take a very determined dog to dig a 1’ long tunnel under a rock wall!  We love the way ours turned out.