I have often tried to photograph the Brown Pelican in action: taking off, landing, flying, fishing but they are so fast moving that it is difficult to track, focus and release the shutter in time to capture a crisp image. But you know what they say: stick with it, and “luck comes to the well prepared” photographer.
I have always loved the Brown Pelican, because their grace belies their large stocky body, and they are quiet birds who frequent the beach. It is fascinating to watch them dive-bomb fish by careening straight down into the ocean to stun the fish and later scoop them up in their large beak, letting the whole fish glide into their ample pouch.
This bird photography adventure took place at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.
I have to agree. It has been many years since my last trip to Paris, and I have good news: My friend Diane invited me to join her in November in Paris. Pourquoi pas? I’m going!
Making travel plans again for the iconic city allows me to think back on my 2004 trip to visit my friend Louise, who was living there with her family. We walked all over the city together, starting with Le Tour Eiffel.
We hiked to the top of Montmartre for lunch, the art in the square and a visit to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful Catholic church.
On Ile de la Cite, the first arrondissement, where the Cathedral of Notre Dame is located, we stopped for ice cream at Berthillon before wandering the narrow streets lined with elegant shops.
It’s hard to make a short wish list for my November trip, since I spent over a week in Paris in 2004 and toured countless museums, churches, gardens and neighborhoods. One things is for sure: I want to walk the city again. There is so much to discover on foot.
The Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland (a northeast region of England) taught me about the chemical properties of many common plants. Here is a sample list from the notes I took.
The beautiful poppy flower is the source for opioid medications as well as the dangerous illegal drug heroine.
Willow tree bark contains salicylic acid, an ingredient of aspirin. This compound is a natural pain reliever, not a poison.
The Rhubarb leaf and about 3″ of the stem near the leaf contains oxalic acid, which in enough quantity can cause liver failure.
Laburnum has a pea-like berry. Four of them could kill a child. However, the entire plant is toxic.
Periwinkle lowers your blood pressure, and is now used to treat childhood leukemia.
The seed of berries of the Yew are toxic, yet are used in chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Giant hogweed, Heracleum, causes a horrible rash that can last up to four years when skin that has contacted the plant is exposed to sunlight.
The bitter honey of the common Rhododendron is poisonous.
Foxglove can give you heart palpitations if you handle it. All parts of the plant are poisonous, even deadly, if swallowed.
Break a laurel leaf and smell the almond scent at your own risk. You are inhaling cyanide, which prevents oxygen from bonding with your blood. People who trim laurel or handle the trimming must be careful.
Rosemary oil and Juniper berries? Avoid them while pregnant. They can cause miscarriage.
After touring Edinburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne Castle, Durham Castle and Alnwick Castle in North England and Southern Scotland, my favorite one (hands down) was Alnwick Castle in England. All of them are interesting and worth a visit, and there are even more to see in the region — Stirling, Duane and more. I’ll tell you why I enjoyed Alnwick Castle the best.
Upon arrival on the castle grounds, I quickly joined the film tour where I heard fascinating details of the filming of Downton Abbey (Christmas scenes) and Harry Potter. Those are the recent ones, but other films include Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth I, Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, and Hollowed Crown.
Soon after, I joined the History Tour where the guide explained which parts of the castle were built at what time, and the purpose of each. After the Norman Invasion of 1066, the English built huge stone castles. A substantial stone castle was built here in 1133. This castle was never taken by force.
Next, I joined the tour of the castle interior where the Percy family has lived for the past 700 years. The interior was updated in 1750 and again in 1850. Current residents are the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, who life here five months of the year, starting in October. The public may only tour Alnwick when the Duke and Duchess are not in residence, in the summer months. (No photos allowed of the inside). I took copious notes throughout each tour, just so I could remember the information.
About 5 pm, I was still feeling curious and walked down to the gardens, just in time to join the last tour of the day, the Poison Garden. The fenced in section contains numerous poison plants, and the guide shared even more fascinating stories.
With no break for lunch, I was hungry, and luckily was able to buy fish and chips near the garden around 6pm. What a full day!
Before you have ever been to Edinburgh, Scotland, people will tell you, “Edinburgh is a beautiful city.” You think to yourself, “why does everyone say that?” I wondered if I would come away from my trip saying the exact same words to others. I do.
My simple explanation is that the architecture is beautiful. As you walk the city, you may find yourself pausing to admire architecture right and left. Before we even left our hotel, I was enchanted with this view out our window.
The curve of the street leading to the Cathedral in the West End makes lovely leading lines. This photograph was taken in late evening dusk, around 10pm.
*With apology to E. M. Forster for using the name of his book title.
Edinburgh Castle towers over today’s modern city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its perch atop Castle Rock. From the top on a clear day, you can enjoy a beautiful vista clear over to the harbor at the Firth of Forth.
The Castle holds within its walls numerous buildings built from the 12th century to the 20th century. The oldest building is the tiny Saint Margaret’s Chapel, just large enough to hold about 10 people, if they aren’t too large.
The newest building is the Scottish National War Memorial, built after the First World War to commemorate the Scots who gave their lives in wartime.
The Upper Ward and the huge cannon “Mons Meg” represent the 15th and 16th century, a period when the castle was the site of battles.
There is much more to discover in Edinburgh Castle, including the Crown Jewels (which may not be photographed), the Great Hall, a suffocating old prison and a military history museum.
Buy your tickets ahead of time online, and allow yourself plenty of time on what will hopefully be a clear day.