Saturday, 22 February 2014

Hidden signs of Spring

I first photographed these snowdrops several weeks ago.  Since then we have had more than a foot of snow, much of which hung around for almost a week. 

The snowdrops are undaunted and, in their blanket of leaves, are thriving.  Today the temperature rose to 16 C which must have been quite a shock to them.  Next week overnight temperatures are due to be as low as -9C which will be equally shocking!

It was strange to go out today without putting on layers and layers of clothing.

Friday, 21 February 2014

On the Road!

As I wasn't brave enough to take any pictures this morning whilst waiting at the rather forbidding Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, I am shamelessly using this image that was sent to me today (thank you Karen) to record the fact that I can now take to the road legally in the US, having passed my road test this morning.  Hurrah!

This afternoon I went along to the Bargain Loft, a thrift shop run by Herndon-Reston FISH - as above, to meet other volunteers and the shop manager and be trained for working in the shop.  Everyone was very friendly and it was fun looking around the very eclectic mix of goods for sale.

The aim of the shop (already named the Fish Shop by David) is two-fold - firstly to provide low income families with necessary household items at a very affordable price and secondly to raise funds for work that the organisation does to provide help to families in dire need eg with bills to prevent eviction.  The money raised also provides courses and a helpline to assist families with their future budget management.  At Thanksgiving and Christmas the organisation also funds food hampers for needy local residents.

It will be good to work as part of a team again and contribute to the success of the charity which is 45 years old, just five years 'younger' than Reston itself.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Saved by a Grackle!

This is the logo of the Women's Club of Greater Reston, which I joined recently and today attended my first meeting.  Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and the speaker on Shade Gardening in Virginia - with particular reference to plants and shrubs that deer are less likely to eat - was very helpful and interesting.

The meeting was held at Lake Anne which is quite a picturesque part of Reston - the lake was still partially frozen and quite photogenic but I went off to lunch with some of the other members of the club without taking any pictures.

Great lunch but I arrived home with no photos for the blog and was just wondering what I might do when we had a new visitor to the bird feeder.

We have been a bit overrun with starlings lately and some of the smaller birds have been put off.  However the newcomer was more than a match for them..

He is a Common Grackle - about the size of a magpie and quite similar in habit I think so maybe not a bird to encourage. However he was quite striking and in this instance I was pleased to see him!

Eventually a second one came along and then a third.. 

One rather persistent starling clung on to feed alongside its rather large cousins but most of them flew off, complaining loudly.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Birds Great and Small

Returning home from a driving lesson this morning I was surprised to see, just up the road, a very large bird tearing at the remains of a squirrel and trying to fend off another large black bird.  

When I hurried back with the camera, one bird was still there..  He was not too impressed at my arrival and retreated to the tree above when I moved too close.

Looking at his shape, large size and his rather unusual features, he was recognisable as a turkey vulture.  Our 'backyard' bird book suggests that the bird he was fighting off may have been a black vulture - apparently  known to follow turkey vultures until they find prey or carrion and then fight them for it.

Not a typical backyard bird !  However, as the sun came out today and the temperature rose to the dizzy heights of 12C, the snow which had remained deep for almost a week started to melt at speed and the sound of dripping water was everywhere.  

A pair of mourning doves, almost impossible to see amongst the leaves, snuggled themselves down on a dryish patch of ground, warmed by the sun and sunbathed for a good 30 minutes without moving!

A little more lively and searching for food under the damp leaves and running surface water were a flock of robins who spread themselves out over the garden and neighbouring woods and gardens.

I think that by morning, most of the snow will be gone and some of the surface water should then drain away.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

More Extraordinary Sights in NY

This rather imposing post office is just along the road from the hotel.  It has an inscription written over the top of the columns..

'Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds'.

I thought that this may be the motto of the US Postal Service but in fact it is a translation from Herodotus in 500BC writing about a Persian mounted courier service.

The inside of this building, open 24 hours a day, was equally grand..

Another rather grand option for postcards was in the foyer of the hotel itself.

David was working this morning and for the first few hours it was snowing.  Once it had stopped, I noticed that despite the cold, work had resumed on an extraordinary advertisement being painted on the wall of a building opposite the hotel.  We had photographed it last night..

This morning from our window and afterwards from the pavement outside, I could see a gantry with two people working on it..

One of the many high rise and very cold jobs that we saw being done in New York where there seemed to be a great deal of building and renovation work being done.

Not to waste my last morning I took the metro to Grand Central station and 'grand' doesn't really do it justice.  It is immaculate, immense and very imposing indeed..

Beneath the main hall is a market selling fresh produce, as well as a dining concourse and access to other shops (and, if I understood correctly, more than one hundred railway tracks).

I walked back to the hotel via Times Square.

My last port of call this morning was back to where we started on Saturday evening with a trip to Macy's and a daylight view of the Empire State Building.

We left this afternoon feeling that we had learned a little about the city but that there is much more to hopefully explore on future visits.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Presidents' Day in New York

We started our day, a very cold but sunny one, with a brisk walk to the Hudson River for a boat trip.  Our craft was not the Intrepid, above, which is now a museum, but a suitably coloured NYC Water Taxi.

We had the choice of an indoor or upstairs, outside seat and decided the photos would be better from the top.  At -6C and with the additional wind chill we had some cause to regret that decision..

We travelled down the river with a number of stops, as far as the Brooklyn Bridge and then headed out past Governor's Island and Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty.

The view of Lower Manhattan from the water is such a well known sight it felt almost familiar even seeing it for the first time.

We were very cold leaving the boat and walked briskly to a restaurant near the Lincoln Centre for lunch.  The speciality was guacamole made at the table..

Some audience participation was also required..

After lunch we headed for Central Park.  As Presidents' Day is a holiday the park was free of cars and full of families, runners and others enjoying the sunshine and snow.

We had a little smile at the notice by the gate..

We completed our day with a bus tour of Uptown Manhattan - this time in a glass roofed bus rather than an open top, which was a relief even though it did not make for the best pictures.

We arrived back at the hotel as it was getting dark and realised that our view had become significantly more colourful in honour of Presidents past and present..

It is due to snow again tomorrow and we are due to fly back to Washington.  Fingers crossed..