Vaux’s Swifts

I joked with my daughter the other day that “there’s lots to do here in Roseburg.  You can go and see the swifts fly into a chimney!”  While I don’t think this is going to cause her to move here from Atlanta, it actually turned out to be a very interesting thing to do…you know, for us old folks.

The Vaux’s Swifts (Chaetura vauxi) are a fast flying relative of the hummingbird and were named after Sir William Vaux, an Englishman.  So the bird’s name is pronounced “vawks”, not “voh”.  The one time I get the French pronunciation right…and it’s not French.

They are similar to the Chimney Swift but a different species.  The Vaux’s species is found west of the Rockies and the Chimney Swift is east.

Their bodies are 4-5 inches in length and appear like small, dark, fast-flying cigars with wings.  Their wings are crescent shaped and beat with swift, rapid, bat-like movements.  In fact, the previous owner of our farm told us he saw bats flying around at dusk and I thought that maybe they were swifts.  He said, no, they were bats, but they do look alike, especially at dusk.

The Vaux’s lack a hind toe and cannot perch.  When not flying, they cling to vertical surfaces such as trees or chimneys–something that has a rough texture.  Vaux’s Swifts have historically nested inside large, hollow tree snags.  Because suitable snags along the migratory routes have become harder to find, the swifts have begun occupying brick chimneys, but these types of chimneys are no longer used in new construction or the existing ones are being torn down.  The nests are made with twigs pasted together with saliva on the inside of the snag or chimney and disintegrate soon after they are abandoned.

They spend much of their time in the air and forage, drink, court, collect nesting materials and copulate all in flight.  They have a voracious appetite for flying insects and ballooning spiders.  Each bird eats up to 20,000 insects a day!

Vaux’s Swifts arrive in Oregon in late April, mate in May and June and have their eggs laid and hatched by July.  They depart beginning in late August.  In the fall swifts congregate in large groups as they prepare for their migration southward to Central America and Venezuela.  During September large groups of swifts pass through Oregon and commonly use chimneys to roost in during the night, settling down inside the chimney just around sunset.  Once a population of swifts locates an appropriate chimney they are likely to return year after year.  The size of the groups can range in size from just a few birds to several thousand.

Umpqua Valley Audubon Society @ http://www.umpquaaudubon.org

The “Chapman swifts” are part of a migratory population of Vaux’s swifts that roost seasonally in the chimney of Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.  This is North America’s largest concentration of Vaux’s swifts.

Every evening from mid-August to mid-October, thousand of swifts gather in the sky over the school shortly before sunset.  Count estimates of 1,700 to 35,000 swifts have been reported.  Shortly after sunset, over a period of 10 to 30 minutes, they fly into the top of the brick chimney (constructed c. 1925) to roost on the interior surface until they depart at sunrise.  The school is on the birds’ migratory route to their wintering sites.

The birds began using the site in the early 1980’s in response to the loss of much of their natural roosting habitat–old growth Douglas-fir and forest snags.  Vaux’s Swifts prefer roosting in standing hollow trees.

To protect the swifts, the school stopped using its heating system during the weeks of roosting.  Students and teachers wore sweaters and jackets, especially toward the end of September when classroom temperatures can drop to 50 to 60 degrees F. (10 to 16 degrees C.)  Around 2003, the Audubon Society of Portland, school fundraisers and corporate sponsors donated $60,000 to $75,000 for an alternate school heating system which is independent of the brick chimney.  The chimney is now maintained solely for the use of the birds.


In Roseburg, the swifts use several chimneys in town but the one we went to was the Clay Place chimney behind the Arts Center in the Fir Grove section of Stewart Park.  The migrations last two weeks to a month and Audubon members are on hand for several of those nights.  They are a great source of information about the swifts.

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We arrived at the park at 630 p.m., with our chairs.  The chairs are important, because there is no place to sit and it can be a long wait.  One of the Audubon members came by to talk to us about the swifts and gave us some pamphlets.   A man sitting behind us was a birder and kept us up-to-date on what was happening and what would happen.  At first we saw small groups of a few birds flying overhead.


Those small groups gradually became larger and larger.


All the Audubon members were getting anxious because sunset had come and gone and the birds were not anywhere close to going into the chimney.  I figured that Bruce & I had jinxed it.  Some more rational explanations were that the weather has been hotter than usual and the birds were waiting for it to cool down and/or finding lots more insects to eat because of the heat.  But, whatever the reason, the birds finally got it together and we heard more and more bird calls.  Large groups were flying overhead, swooping down like they would go into the chimney and then flying off, only to return minutes later with even more birds.  We were beginning to feel like extras in a Hitchcock movie.

At long last, the birds started circling around the chimney and formed the ever important vortex, which happens just before they go in.  They were circling around, constantly changing direction.  Occasionally one or two would go in, but soon enough they all decided it was time and they funneled into the chimney.  Birds were flying in a huge circle and then swooping down and into the chimney.  It was like passengers getting on a Southwest Airlines flight!  Hey, there’s room for everyone, no need to push!

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After they all stuffed themselves in, we got the final count.  There were two Audubon members actually counting how many birds went into the chimney.  Their counts were very close to each other and the final tally was about 2,500!  Wow!!


If you’d like to see video of the swifts going into the chimney or what it looks like inside, click on these links:

http://www.vauxhappening.org/Movies.html–some movies of the swifts in the chimneys…and other disturbing videos involving crows, with crow solutions.

http://www.vauxhappening.org– lots of info here about the swifts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxJnjTfkslY– a video of the swifts going into the chimney in Roseburg.  As the videographer wrote in the video, it’s better to see it in person.

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Vegetable Garden, August 2014, No. 1


The garden continued to produce through August.  The peas and green beans finished up and the newly planted green beans have not really gotten with the program. We canned and froze lots of both peas and green beans and pickled green beans.  Tomatoes are really going and with this heat will be done soon.  With help from our friends from San Jose we have canned the living daylights out of them. I now have 21 quarts of sauce and 12 pints of whole tomatoes.  I plan to can another dozen pints of whole tomatoes and freeze enough tomatoes to make chili sauce with my own hot peppers once they get ready.  The zucchini are nearly done, but I noticed that one of the local U-pick farms had young zucchini plants growing and looking good.  Next year, I will try a staged planting of zucchini in an effort to extend the harvest season.  This is more of a “learning how” effort vs. a “need more zucchini” thing.  We have a tough time eating what we grow now and are well done with zucchini by now, but still it would be cool to have young producing zucchini plants in the garden now.

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The melons produced very well and we have enjoyed the fruit.  The corn is a bust.  They did not produce any viable ears.  I am certain that soil conditions are the main issue.

The dry beans and watermelons are getting ready to harvest.

Aleppo peppers for seed and powder!

Aleppo peppers for seed and powder!

The big news is the peppers.  After not looking great for most of the season, they have sorted themselves out and are now looking good, growing, and producing. Not all of the plants recovered, but most are doing well.  It looks like we will have enough to pickle some and freeze some.  The Aleppo, Espelette, and Hinklehatz peppers are producing well enough that I should be able to get some mild pepper powder.  And the big news for me, the Bhut Jolokia, Habanero, and best of all Trinidad Scorpion all have fruit and are growing well. This means a fresh supply of extremely hot chili sauce and pepper powder!  I really wondered if we were just too far north to grow these hotter varieties.

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Fall and winter vegetables:

The onions, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce I started in late July are all doing well. I up potted about 150 plants which is about half of what I started.  The double digging is not going well.  I would like to say hot weather, visitors, canning activities, and other priorities were the main issue, but the truth is the ground is just too hard!  Of course this means it needs to be done even more, but still it is very hard.  My current excuse is that I should wait for the early fall rains to soften the soil a bit.


Plan September

  • Harvest tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, melons, and eggplant.
  • Up pot/plant winter vegetables
  • Double dig at least one of next year’s tomato rows maybe if I have the stamina to do it.



  • Plant beans zucchini, lettuce, and spinach in at least two maybe three waves.
  • Plant more pole beans as they are easier to harvest than bush beans.
  • Plant more of the bigger variety eggplants.
  • Plant the bigger paste tomatoes. The small varieties have no advantage over the bigger ones.
  • Double dig beds that are not planted with winter vegetables during the dryer spills in the winter.



It’s tuna season and we were determined to take full advantage of it.  We had been told for months from various people that if you can your own tuna it can’t be beat for flavor and it’s extremely easy.  Well, it’s also intimidating–where to buy it, how much to buy, how much is a fair price…and the list goes on.

We were over at the coast in July and saw the signs for fresh tuna–straight off the boats.  We went over to the docks and found some fishermen selling the tuna, but really, we had no idea of how any of it worked.

Not to worry though! Our friendly neighbor and veteran Master Food Preserver (MFP), Rusdee, came to our rescue.  She volunteers each year to help the new MFP’s (that’s us) learn how to can tuna.  She told us who to call and we put in an order for how much fish we wanted.  This was amazingly confusing.  In the end we found out that you have to tell him how much fileted fish you want.  You actually pay for twice this amount because you are paying for whole fish, and the filets are half the amount of the whole fish.  Since there was a lot of fish ordered we got a break on the price, but the actual price came out to about $2.5o a pound for the whole fish, or $5 a pound for the filets.

Next, Rusdee went over to the coast and picked up the fish and paid for it.  She picked up 400 pounds of fish at a price tag of about $2000.  That’s a lot of fish!

We went to her house for the canning.  Our fish was very nicely fileted and put into bags.  The fish had no odor which was a pleasant surprise.

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The tables were set up outside with trays, cutting boards and knives for putting the tuna in the jars and the stoves were there for pressure canning the tuna.

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There were six of us learning to can tuna–Bruce and me, our friends from California, Jeff and Nancy, plus Barbara (another new MFP) and Leslie ( a former MFP).  There were two veteran MFPs, Rusdee and Maureen.

The first step was to measure the tuna against the size of the jar and cut the tuna into those sizes, then stuff as much of it as you can into each jar.  Jeff, Nancy and I did that part.

Oh, wait, the first step was to put on some gloves!  No one wants to actually touch raw fish (not me, at least) or smell like tuna the rest of the day.

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Jeff and Nancy–Nancy makes it look like fun, and it was.


 Bruce kept us supplied in jars, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings.


It all went very smoothly and efficiently; we were done in less than 2 hours.



Since we had dragged our friends along for this canning session and we didn’t know if they would enjoy it, we had decided earlier to do the pressure canning at home.  This entailed a new batch of problems.  We didn’t want to can indoors because of the potential smell, but we didn’t have a way to do it outside.  The week before canning we went over to our local, friendly Bi-Mart and bought a single burner stove that hooks up to a propane tank.  We took the empty tank over to the U-Haul place and got that filled.  Now we were set, or were we?  Bruce and Jeff checked it out the day before the canning and found that the wind played havoc with the flame and it was very difficult to control the pressure on the canner.  They ended up piling large cement blocks around the burner as a wind break and that worked great!

So we were finished with putting the tuna in the jars, but we weren’t done yet.  Rusdee took us all on a tour of her walnut farm.  They have quite a few walnut trees and it gets to be a huge operation picking, hulling, drying and shelling the nuts.  She showed us all the necessary equipment and the drying rooms.  The equipment is all hand-made from many years ago.  We thought it was so interesting that we volunteered to come out and help with the harvest in October.

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1) The walnuts with husks are put in here where the husks are broken open; 2) the walnuts with shells drop down into the center box and the fan to the right blows away the stems and broken husks, they go up the conveyor belt, then 3) the walnuts go into the white round chamber for sizing-the small pieces are sifted out; 4) the nuts go up the conveyor belt and fall into  a box; 5) nut cracker-takes the shell off the nut; 6) drying room 7) walnuts in the husk

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Back at home we set up the pressure canner outside and loaded it with half the jars of tuna.  We used half pints and the total was 64 jars.  You have to bring the water to a boil in the canner, wait for the steam to come out of the vent in a steady stream, vent for 10 minutes, then start the time for canning which is 100 minutes, or one hour and forty minutes.  If you let the pressure fall below 11 psi at any time in the process, you then have to start all over.  Bruce was in charge of this part of the operation and it involved constant monitoring of the pressure and constant moving of the gas dial to increase or decrease the amount of heat.  After the 100 minutes are up, the canner needs to cool until the pressure is zero.  That took about an hour.  Then you take off the petcock and wait another 10 minutes.

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Finally, the jars of cooked tuna came out and the rest of the jars of raw tuna went in for another round.

Now, for the smell.  Yes, it was well worth it to do it outside.  The tuna inside the jars does not smell at all, but there was residue on the outside which had a very strong fishy smell and they all got a good cleaning.

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All in all, this was a very interesting canning project, we all enjoyed taking part in it, and best of all,

the tuna looks and tastes wonderful!


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It’s been hot this summer, too hot for me to work outside and almost too hot for Bruce.  But he’s been out digging in the garden getting ready to plant the fall vegetables.  We’ve been canning and freezing lots and lots of vegetables with no end in sight.  Right now we are getting loads of tomatoes, so we’re canning spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes and slow-roasting San Marzano tomatoes.


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Sauce reducing on the stove; Jeff grinding up the tomatoes; finished sauce in quart jars; San Marzano tomatoes ready for roasting

In-between all the canning we’ve been somewhat busy with volunteer work with the Master Food Preservers and lots of visits from friends and family.  Bruce’s parents were here in June through July.  His dad helped him to finish his barn, which still needs to be painted.  Our daughters, Sara and Laura,  were here in July.   Our former neighbor, Anita, and her friend Dorothy came to visit in late July and our friends from CA, Jeff and Nancy, came to visit us a few weeks ago.  They were very helpful with a few of the canning projects.  We enjoyed all the visitors and it gave us an excuse to go out and see more of Oregon, instead of slaving working out in the garden.  Ahhh…Bruce does love to dig, but I think he may have met his match in this new garden.


Dorothy and Anita up above the valley on Coos Bay Wagon Road.

The weather is starting to be very cool in the mornings, but we’re in for another very hot week.  Summer isn’t over yet, but fall is surely coming.  I went out to the garden yesterday morning and picked a few fruits to see if any were ripe.  The Italian plum is almost ready for harvest, the Red Gravensteins are ready to go and the grapes are getting sweet and turning red.

Autuum Fruits1

from top: Granny Smith apple, Red Gravenstein apple, Asian pear, Melrose apple, Winesap apple, Italian plum, Crabapples, grapes, hazelnuts

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Wild Turkey

We’ve heard them in the woods and seen them in neighboring fields ever since we moved here six months ago, but we’ve only seen one turkey on our farm.  Today we were rewarded with a sighting of a female turkey and a flock of juveniles.  I happened to look out the kitchen window and there they were, making their way through the tall grass, crossing the back yard.   They moved along slowly, the poults in front and the hen herding them forward.   What a treat!  I hope this means we’ll be seeing many more turkeys in the future.

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Check out this site,  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/wild_turkey/sounds , from the Cornell Lab of Orthinology to find out more about these birds but, especially, to hear their calls.  Turkeys use 28 different calls. For example, males gobble while females yelp and cluck.




Only the Lonely


I’ve been taking photos of things for the last few months that I find interesting and the photos have been piling up with too many to make into separate posts.  So this post is dedicated to all the lonely photos who have no home.

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1.  Wild rose–they grow all over the farm.

A true wild rose is actually called “species rose”, a species that occurs naturally, with no help from man.  Others are hybrids.  The thorns on introduced (non-native, non-wild) roses are generally curved, while those on the native roses are more or less straight.  If you look closely at the bottom center, you’ll see a curved thorn.

So, it’s technically not a wild rose, but it gets no help from us, so that’s how we think of it.

Roses provide pollen for the bees and butterflies and are good for beekeepers and orchards.  They also provide nesting places for birds and seclusion for small animals.  The hips, or fruit, develop in the fall and can be made into a variety of products–marmalade, syrup, tea, soup and even beads.  They are high in Vitamins A, C, B, D & E, flavonoids and zinc.

Rose Petal Beads:

Pick a shopping bag full of fresh petals (old wild roses are best). Process in food grinder until resembles clay. Place ground petals in a cast-iron skillet or pot and regrind daily for 2 weeks (no kidding). The paste will become thicker every day until it can be rolled into smooth, hard beads. Roll beads until they are smooth and rounded. Place a hole through the bead with a pin and pin to a corkboard. (Finished beads will be around 1/2 the size of the fresh ones.) Let the beads dry for 2 weeks on the board. Remove the pins and polish each bead with flannel or a soft cloth. String beads into a necklace. As you wear the necklace, the beads will darken and polish and release their rosy fragrance. These beads are suppose to last for generations!




2.  Wild blackberry–This may be a Mountain blackberry or Himalayan blackberry, but without fruit it’s hard to tell.  The way to tell the difference between a blackberry and a raspberry is that the torus (stem) stays with the blackberry fruit, but it breaks off of the raspberry leaving a hollowed out center.  The blackberry provides food for caterpillars and mammals, especially deer.

3.  White hyacinth, or fool’s onion (Triteleia hyacinthina).  I found some conflicting information on the edibility of the white hyacinth bulbs (or corms).  They were an important food source for the Native Americans–eaten raw, steamed, boiled, roasted and mashed.  It is native to western North America.


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4.  Cinquefoil (Pontentilla nepalensis)-this is growing in the flower garden.  I thought it was a wildflower, but it must be part of one of the more established pontentilla in the garden.  The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of many Lepidoptera, notably the grizzled skipper butterflies.  It has been used as an herbal remedy for inflammation and GI disorders.  Research continues to determine its safety and usefulness as an alternative medicine for such disorders such as ulcerative colitis.  Some pontentilla are used by the Chinese as an herbal remedy for diabetes.

The cinquefoil emblem signified strength, power, honor and loyalty on coat of arms, flags and similar emblems.  The depiction of the flower appears as early as 1033 in the architecture of the church in Reulle-Vergy in Burgundy, France.


5.  Self-heal or heal-all (Prunella vulgaris).  This plant is herbaceous and edible and is part of the mint family even though it  has no odor.  The stems are four-sided.

The entire plant is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.  Its flavor is like bland romaine lettuce.

Heal-all has been historically used as a medicine for just about everything.  Modern herbalists regard it as an excellent emolient, astringent and vulnerary agent (heals wounds).  It is used in several commercially available all-purpose salves, ointments and lotions that are intended to soothe and speed the healing of minor burns, wounds and other irritations.  As a tea, it is considered to be useful in relieving gastritis and diarrhea and healing digestive ulceration.  Besides containing the vitamins A, C & K and flavanoids, heal-all contains ursolic acid, a compound that has been shown to have diuretic and antitumor qualities.

(Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford, page 70)

6.  Sea Holly-(Eryngium)  A genus of over 200 species.  This plant is in the flower garden, and is gorgeous with it’s electric blue leaves.  The great British gardener of the Edwardian period, William Robinson, said that Sea Holly was “not surpassed in beauty by any plant!”


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7.  The native grasses grow all over the farm and when I can take the time to look at them, instead of endeavoring to mow them all down, I find beautiful specimens such as this pink grass.

8.  Fuller’s teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).  The dried version of this plant is growing all over the farm. It has an interesting form, but it’s spiny.  A biologist told me that it does bloom and the blooms start in the center and move up and down the flower head, so I had been waiting all spring to see that happen.  Finally, it bloomed in the summer and just as I was told the blooms began opening in the center.

The flower heads of the teasel are used in the wool industry to raise the nap on cloth.

(Wildflowers fo the Pacific Northwest, Turner & Gustafson, page 449)

9.  Everlasting Pea or perennial sweetpea (Lathyrus latifolius).  Our daughter came for a visit and found this very pretty wildflower growing out by the main road.  We had hopes that it was an orchid, but I think it is just as pretty.  The flower petals look like they’ve been painted with watercolors.


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10. Dandelion- I love the symmetry of this plant.

11.  Common monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), same family, figwort, as the snapdragon.  Captain Meriwether Lewis collected a specimen of this flower, also called Yellow monkeyflower, on July 4, 1806.  Used by the Native Americans in many ways–a decoction of the stems and leaves was used as a steam bath for soreness in the chest or back; poultice of crushed leaves for rope burns or wounds; brewed into a tea for stomachache.  Can be eaten raw or cooked.

12.  Farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena).  I saw this flower in my wildflower book and hoped I would find it one day.  On a trip to the coast there it was, growing alongside the road by the river.  It is native to western South and North America.

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13.  Yellow velvet long-horned beetle (Cosmosalia chrysocoma).  The long-horned beetles are a very large and well-known family of wood-boring beetles.  The adults feed on wood, leaves, roots, pollen, and rarely, other insects.  Most long-horns are wood-boring in the larval stage.  The holes they make are circular in shape, but they mostly prefer weakened and dying trees or freshly cut logs.

(Insects of the Pacific Northwest, Haggard & Haggard, page 33, 35)

14.  This is the nest of the very scary Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata).  It is a black and white wasp, belonging to the yellowjacket genus.  Because of its large size it is called a hornet.  The hornets chew wood and mix it with starch in their saliva.  That mixture is spread with the mandibles and legs and dries into a papery structure.  The hornets are more aggressive than most yellowjackets and the females defend the nest with repeated stings.  They eat nectar, tree sap and fruit pulp.  In the winter all the hornets die except the newly fertilized queen.  She hibernates underground, or under logs and hollow trees until spring.  The nests are usually not reused.

15.  I couldn’t find the name for this butterfly, but it has some very pretty, lacy type markings.  It looks like she’s wearing a ball gown.


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16, 17.  I believe this is either a female rufous hummingbird or a female allen’s hummingbird.


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18.  Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).  True to its name, these birds were trying their best to make a home in our new barn.

19.  American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

20.  Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

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21.  The easily identifiable skunk.  Bruce saw him wandering around the upper pond and was able to get some good photos–without getting sprayed!

22.  This is our one and only elk calf sighting.  We haven’t seen the elk since then.  I suppose they are ranging in areas with more water.



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23.  Oh, she’s so sweet!  But she is learning to like the flower beds a bit too much.  We had three fawns this year from two does.  They are loads of fun to watch.


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24, 25.  We’ve been getting some spectacular sunsets this summer.  What a treat!  Just as the temperatures are cooling off we get a gorgeous view of the sky, although to be honest we were a bit concerned that the red glow was from a wild fire, not the sunset.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better – Albert Einstein