Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Around the Yard

Friday, June 30, 2006
Woke up to a crystal-clear morning. Still lots of birdsong in the air though July will soon arrive to put a damper on that. We sat out with coffee and tea from 7 to 9 and I played hide-and-seek with the shy male indigo bunting I want so badly to digiscope. He's a sly one.

Fortunately a few other local denizens were willing to let me take their images.
The indigo bunting male who will NOT let me get close enough for a good digiscoping image. He sings each morning and through the day from a willow tree on the hill by our fire circle. The light is all wrong in the morning (as show here), and in the evening when the light is perfect, he's a spooky as any songbird I've even tried to sneak up on. Doesn't he know how much I LOVE indigo buntings? We named our farm after this species.

This Dad bluebird is doing a typical Dadlike job feeding the kids--sloppy. This reminds me of the days when Liam and I are home alone and all we eat is hotdogs. This adult male is doing the feeding because his mate is building the nest for brood #3 in our garden bluebird box.

For the first time ever, we've let house sparrows nest in one of our bluebird boxes. Now before you bluebird fans organize a mob and start marching over to our farm with pitchforks and torches, let me do some 'splainin'. Julie is painting the nestlings day-by-day. This will someday become a book. The sales from this book will allow me to retire and live the life of bon-bon-eating leisure I've always felt entitled to live. And, once the project is over, we will suggest in the strongest possible terms that the house sparrows find somewhere else to live.

Luther, the healthier of Julie's two rehab phoebes, has been living free and wild for several days now. He still begs the occasional meal from us (and flies down to eat mealworms from our hands). And he obliges us by perching where we can take pictures of him. He is, I would wager, the most photographed eastern phoebe of all time. More (and better stuff) about the phoebes on Julie's blog.

Our dominant male ruby-throated hummingbird has a knack for choosing artistic perches. He is also relatively tamish, so my stumbling and fumbling around with a scope and tripod and camera does not frighten him away. I wish he'd speak to our indigo bunting friend.

This image, capturing the color on his gorget, was pure luck.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Long Summer's Evening

Thursday, June 29, 2006

We had five dear friends over for dinner tonight and the weather cooperated beautifully. It was one of those June evenings where the sun's lemony light seems to slant in from the West at such an angle as to make everything it strikes look its most beautiful.

As the sun fell, the planets rose. We enjoyed several hours of viewing Jupiter and five of its moons.

The sunset always lasts longer from the tower.

We talked and laughed and languished in the long arms of the gentle evening. And we weren't the only ones enjoying the pleasant, bucolic setting....

This male ruby-throated hummingbird knows a good perch when it sees one.

This is not a sword plant or yucca leaf, it is the wing of our heron weather vane, the hummer's favorite perch.

Here's a toast to good friends Mary Jane and David, Zane and Margaret, and to Shila. And to our dear friends near and far. May every evening you enjoy be as lovely as this one was for us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Song in My Head

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Steady As She Goes
by The Raconteurs
from their album Broken Boy Soldiers

This song is really stuck in my head these days.

At the start of the song, the chord pattern and rhythm is somewhat reminiscent of Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him? It's full of power pop hooks, something I find I seek out in the music I listen to in the summer. Lead singer for The Raconteurs is Jack White from The White Stripes, which lends immediate cred to this band in my book.

Give it a listen.
My favorite lines are "You've had too much to think" and "But no matter what you do, you'll always feel as though you tripped and fell." Simple, clever stuff.

The photo above is Volcan San Pedro, towering above Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. In early March, I climbed nearly to the top of this volcano, seeking the rare and elusive horned guan. The only way to make it up the mountain, huffing and puffing in the thin air, to the highland woods where the guan lived, was to have a "steady as she goes" attitude.
Otherwise, you'd never make it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Pharewell to Phoebes

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Avis perched on a stick outside the picnic tent. This was his first minute of freedom.

Today was freedom day for the two orphaned eastern phoebes we've (well, Julie and Phoebe) have been raising. It baffles the mind how quickly birds develop from squirming, barely feathered, helpless creatures, into fully flighted and feathered miracles. Avis and Luther (named by our very own Phoebe) have been catching their own flying food inside the picnic tent we erected, so Julie decided it was time for them to be released. We opened the zipper doors and within minutes both birds flitted to freedom.

Julie knew the phoebes were ready to go when they began catching their own free-flying food and became skittish around us.

This did not please our Phoebe at all. She LOVES every nestling or rehab bird we get and she's becoming quite a big help in the care and feeding of them. Julie saw Phoebe's dejected look and tears this afternoon and reminded here "This is why we got Chet Baker, so we'd always have something to love." This did not help Phoebe feel much better, but it made Chet happy.

Julie gives a lot to her birds, but she also gets a lot in return.

I am in awe of the effort Julie puts into saving these orphaned and injured birds. She does it out of love for them. But she also gets something out of them--intimate knowledge of the birds she cares for, a peek into the personalities of the individual birds, and she often draws and paints them from life. Very few of the birds that have shared our home over the years have not "made it." And that's a testimony to Julie's skills as a rehabber. She loves it, but it's also an incredible commitment. And this time of year, when the phone rings, it's often someone calling with a sick or injured or orphaned bird. Julie takes all the calls, even though we cannot take all the birds. One she cannot handle or our facilities cannot accommodate, we send along the The Wildlife Center in Columbus.

So farewell, little phoebes. Tonight is your first night out there in the big world. We did our best for you. Please be safe, be aware of possible danger, enjoy our pesticide-free populations of insects, and please, come back and see us! We miss you already.
It made little Phoebe Linnea Thompson quite sad to see her fellow phoebes go. But she knows it's best for them...

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Lifer in Maine

Monday, June 26, 2006
At the Bangor, Maine ABA convention, on Saturday, June 24, I joined an early morning field trip (4:15 am departure) heading north to the boreal forest in search of boreal birds and creatures. Leaders on m y bus were Jeff Bouton (or Leica) and Stephen Ingrahm (of Zeiss) and Marion Bates, a local ornithologist and avid breeding bird census-maker. When it was discovered that I had my IPod and mad IPod skillz, I was immediately given a field commission to co-leader for the trip.

We drove 1.5 hours north of Bangor, nearly to the New Brunswick border, and spent the day walking along logging roads in the boggy boreal forest habitat. As we stepped off the bus to begin this adventure we immediately found ourselves black with mosquitoes. Bug juice of varying intensities only seemed to discourage them. It certainly did not dissuade them from robbing us of pints of our blood.

On the long drive north, as I dozed in the second row seat, a cry of "MOOSE!" went up. A young moose was tramping along the roadside ditch, and into the woods. I leapt awake, binos at my eyes and saw the huge, hairy mammal. A life mammal for me! Too bad it was gone as the bus whipped past, it would've been nice to photograph it.

Shortly after we got off the bus, a small flock of red crossbills came through the woods. The light was unbearable for photography, but when did that ever stop me?

The two gals above are modeling two very different styles of protective mosquito netting. I would go nuts having to pull a wedding-veil-like hunk of netting out of myt way each time I raised them. But the folks with the netting spent more time watching birds and less time shooing the skeeters from their heads.

This cedar waxwing was most photogenic. Too bad he wasn't bohemian.

We walked for a couple of hours along one logging road, encountering little pockets of bird activity that garnered good looks at Blackburnian warbler, cedar waxwing (above), yellow-bellied flycatcher, white-throated sparrow, and a brief glimpse at some gray jays. Then as I played the black-backed woodpecker call for the last time on my IPod. A lone adult male appeared—my preference for seeing this bird was to see a male with the yellow on his head, and thank my shooting stars and lost lucky charms, that's exactly what we got: and adult male black-backed.

Ahhh! My life black-backed woodpecker! He responded to a woodpecker drumming sound on my IPod. This species is one I have tried to see numerous times in the past. This guy really showed well and soon began preening and loafing. Un pajaro bonita! I oohed and ahhhed as it called, drummed, and eventually flew off, having vanquished its imaginary foe.

They got this bird's name right. How much blacker could its back be? None blacker!

After we got the black-backed woodpecker, I asked everyone for whom it was a life bird, to stand with me (in solidarity) and perform the Life Bird Wiggle. This is the photo documentation.

Raise your hands in the air like you just don't care! The shake your body, wave your arms, and go "Whoooooooo!"
Congratulations, you now know the proper way to celebrate a life bird!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Giant Things of Maine

Sunday, June 25, 2006
I know this is the kind of stuff you REALLY want to read here at BOTB.
Heck with the haiku.
Blah-blah-blah on the birding trips.
It's giant things that float your blog-surfing boat.
Don't even TRY to deny it.

Well, here you should be ashamed of yourself.
I met Paul Bunyan in Bangor, though for some reason I thought he was from Minnesota. (foto by Jeff Bouton)

Jeff Bouton met Paul Bunyan, too. Later that night, Jeff sang his heart out at karaoke. I think meeting Paul B really inspired him.

I enjoyed dinner on Thursday nigh at The Angler's Inn, with some jocular folks from Field Guides, plus Jeff Bouton and Jeff Gordon from Leica, and Amy Hooper from WildBird, plus Sharon Stiteler from Eagle Optics. On our way into the restaurant, we were confronted with this creature:

Is it a bear? A raccoon? A pig? This is a seafood restaurant. Is it a manatee?

Outside The Angler's Inn was Maine's most familiar icon, a giant lobster.
This is giant lobster, served alone.

This is giant lobster, with two side dishes.

Thursday's Maine Adventure

Enjoying the king eider in Acadia NP.

Howdy friends! So sorry for the blackout here at BOTB. I have been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest at the ABA conference. And a bit more tired than usual. But I feel the need to share some of the adventures from my Maine journey, so here goes.

I am once again in the Detroit airport, having missed another flight (we were late leaving Bangor this morning). But that's OK, I feel so at home here, somehow. Can't wait to get back to the farm and family this evening.

After arriving in Bangor at 3 am on Thursday morning, I showered and made my way to the loading zone for my field trip, which left at 4:30. Greeted a bunch of bleary-eyed friends and told my tale of travel woe a few times, them it was time to help people see birds. Our trip was to Acadia National Park and we had several good leaders on our bus. I was added on as a helper, but since my pal Jeff Gordon was one of the leaders, I knew we were in good hands. We went immediately to see the king eider--a male along the causeway onto Mount Dessert (not Desert) Island. The waters around the causeway were full of common eiders, but it was not long before one of our local Maine guides found the king. We all got great looks at it--and I got a few documentary pix.
Male common eider on Mt. Dessert Island.

Jeff Gordon as Ewell Gibbons. "Many parts of this rocky Maine beach are edible! Take this seaweed for eample!"

Then we walked up the road to the restrooms (a birding trip must) and a bit of easy birding along the forested road. We had several northern parulas, a black-throated green warbler and distant looks at black guillemot and black scoter.
Squnit really hard and see the black guillemot in this award-winning photo.

Cropped and fuzzy, but undeniably a northern parula.

This male black-throated green warbler was singing with his beak full. Is that polite?

The beauty of the Maine coast never ceases to astonish me. It's so ruggedly charming. Plus there's lots of lobster to eat. I spent about 15 minutes walking by myself along the rocky shore, breathing deeply and trying to soak in as much of the moment as I could. It felt good to be there, in spite of my long journey of the night before.
I just wanted to take all of these rocks home.

Soon we were back on the bus to head inland for a stop at Wonderland. I was excited to finally meet Alice and perhaps the hookah-smoking caterpillar, but no such luck. We did however see some other birds of the northern woods, including purple finch, both kinglets, red-breasted nuthatch, magnolia warbler, and so on.
John Mayer's voice was running through my head "You birding in a WON-dah-land!" That and "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane.

Pete Dunne was along (and his wife, Linda, too) and was quite happy to demonstrate his pishing technique for our group of 40 birders. Pete has a new book out on the subject of pishing (published by Stackpole), so we kidded him that every pish and squeak was a not-so-subtle reminder to everyone to buy his new book. Of course his OTHER book is the impressively large and extensive Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion (published by Houghton Mifflin). This one was harder to work into in-the-field conversations, but he did share a few of his Dunne-isms--the alternative names he's given for every North American bird: swarm warbler for yellow-rumped, flash-dancer for American redstart, etc. Clever man, that Mr. Dunne. He and Linda are off on another birding/writing/traveling adventure soon, which sounds like a dream trip.
Male swarm warbler in full swarm.

The birding the rest of the day was a tad slow--though we made the most of it: Philly vireo and chestnut-sided warbler at one stop. A peregrine fledgling on a precipice (spotted by the always-observant David Bird--BWD's behavior columnist). Message to David: I remembered the joke thanks to Julie and I'll tell it to you next time we meet. It involves a small businessman and his two employees Jack and Kay, and it's too awful to share here...

We ended the day with a decent bird total and happy birders on the bus. I was catatonic from lack of sleep, so I nodded out on the trip home. This seemed to be just enough recharging of my batteries to give me a second wind. For there was karaoke koming in the night, with the usual suspects. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The King of the Eiders

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Just enough time to share a digi-pic of the day's best bird (for me) a male king eider.

Will elaborate after I have sustenance, a frosty hoppy beverage, and perhaps a wink or two of sleep--(have been up, save for a few tiny nods in a bus or plane seat, since 6 am yesterday).

Bangor Update

The only cool thing about the Detroit airport is this tunnel of light. I spent three hours inside it today, just zoning out.

OK. Here's my final whiny update on this trip to Maine.
Spent the hours between 12 noon and 9:45 pm inside the Detroit airport.
Spent the hours between 9:50 pm and 1:15 am on the tarmac at the Detroit airport.
Got into Bangor at 3 am.
4:30 am bus trip to Acadia NP (which my bro Jeff Gordon got me on) so I'm staying up to go birding.

Why sleep now?

Needless to say I've had some idle hours to think up some new marketing slogans for my friends at Northwest Airlines. (I know these delays were Mother Nature's doing, but so many of the NWA folks were being real Crankypants, that I thought I'd help them out a bit here).

So here's what I suggest for NWA's 2007 marketing campaign.

Northwest Airlines
Helping you appreciate the automobile

Northwest Airlines
We fly only on sunny days!


Northwest Airlines
Not when our planes are wet. Eeeeewww!

Northwest Airlines
We don't think you've spent enough time in Detroit

Northwest Airlines
Try our Next Day Express Service—We'll get you there in 2 to 3 days MAX!

Northwest Airlines
We've got your seat right here, next to a 380-pound man who just had Mexican food for lunch! And look! He's taking off his boots!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Motor City Madness

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Stranded in Detroit's trying-too-hard-to-be-modern airport with thousands of other disgruntled fellow travelers. It's looking grim for my 9:12 pm flight to depart with the tornado watch that's in effect, the almost-constant lightning, and driving rain. Presently every flight is delayed and the longest-delayed ones are being cancelled one by one.

So I've done what any savvy traveler does, I've staked out where I'll be sleeping tonight if the flight does not go to Bangor. It's at Gate C27 in the back left corner, behind the fake pine tree. If I get cold I can plug in my laptop and cuddle with it. It'll be just like camping, but on carpet and with lots of announcements going on overhead. Oh and many, many loud cell phone conversations--I'm totally updated on Aunt Flo's gout. Stop by and we'll read all yesterday's newspapers!

I'll pretend the beeping courtesy carts are crickets and I should drift peacefully away to the Land of the Sandman.

Happy trails 2U! BOTB

And All the Garden Ladies


Yesterday our farm hosted two local garden clubs. Jules and I spent most of the weekend prepping for this event and I must say, the farm looked great. This is almost entirely do to Green Thumbs Zickefoose, who can make plain wooden tomato stakes sprout sweet-smelling cascades of flowers. I, on the other hand, contributed merely labor in mowing and weed-whacking and a bit of raking.

The garden ladies (and it WAS almost entirely female--the only males were kids accompanying their moms) oohed and ahhed at Julie's gardens, her bonsai plants, our gazing pond, and landscaping. They stood slack-jawed as Jules told about the phoebes we've been raising (and Julie has been doing paintings of). Perhaps the highlight was when everyone who wanted to do so got to hold tiny nestling bluebirds in their hands.

It's a special treat to share an experience like that.

I am very lucky to have my own garden lady. And I am happy to be her designated weed-whacker.

Not Leaving on a Jet Plane


Today I am supposed to fly to Bangor, Maine for the last four days of the ABA convention. But right now I am stranded at the Columbus, Ohio airport watching the kindly gate attendants at Northwest Airlines deal with a long line of unhappy travelers. It's no one's fault, unless we can find out who is in charge of summer thunderstorm scheduling.

I was dismayed when I saw that my travel route today was going through Detroit. I have never flown through the Motor City without complications. Asi es la vida!

One thing that drives me insane about airport travel is that you are forced to listen to other people's cell phone conversations. Right now, here at Gate B36, there is a mullet-sporting woman in stretch pants talking loudly about tax shelters for her client. I think she's a lawyer or an accountant. Now maybe it's just my own personal bias, but if my accountant or attorney showed up for a meeting with a long, flowing mullet (with wings), I think I'd have to replace them.

A few aisles away there's a classic worn-out businessman in what's left of a three-piece suit, a tie that's too short, and sensible shoes. He's not going to make the sales conference in Eau Claire, and everyone else around him knows this because he's now said it three times in a row.

Think I'll pull out my phone and have a loud conversation of no importance with my imaginary friend. I'm just dying to talk about my collection of Chia pets, and that conversation simply cannot wait.

OK. Sorry for being so cranky. I should know better. After all, there's no whining in Blogland.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

This June Morning

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I awoke before the birds this morning, about 4 am. Could not sleep, so I sat outside on the patio for about an hour, listening to the world stirring, stretching, and rising to meet the day.

It was a lovely morning, with lemony light slanting in from the East--perfect for digiscoping. I heard a prairie warbler out the meadow, so I geared up, grabbed my coffee and headed out. Little did I know that this was the only prairie warbler in the universe that does not sing from an exposed perch near the top of a tree. Perhaps he spends the winter in the tropics picking up bad habits from antbirds and antpittas. Never got a glimpse, or even a shot. I considered getting my iPod to lure him out, but quickly rejected the idea. There will be other chances.

I did manage two distant shots which I'll share here: a northern cardinal male and an indigo bunting male. Neither image is going to get me the cover of National Geographic but it felt good to snap some bird pix again.

Tomorrow I leave for Maine and the remainder of the American Birding Association convention. It'll be nice to hang with some birding pals. And who knows, I might just head off on another quest for a couple of life birds--spruce grouse, black-backed woodpecker, northern three-toed woodpecker.... Call me a dreamer, pero no somos nada sin nuestros suenos.

The Song in My Head

Just a Memory
by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
from his "Taking Liberties" album,
released in 1980.

I'm reaching way back in the cob-web-covered archives for this one.

As a young, punk-leaning musician in 1977-78, I was captivated by the new, hook-filled pop-punk coming out of England. In particular, Elvis Costello (later to become Elvis Costello and The Attractions) grabbed my ears with "Alison," "Accidents Will Happen," and "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?" It was new rock, but with a great melodic sense, clever lyrics, and seriously good rhythms.

I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1980 when Elvis' third album, "Taking Liberties," came out. It hit me like a ton of bricks--especially the song "Just a Memory." Something about the way Elvis sang "Losing you is just a memory. Memories don't mean that much to me" resonated deeply with me. Goodbye high school girlfriend, and cozy life at home. Hello big, cruel world.

All the other songs on the album were punchy, raw rock of the time, save for Elvis' cover of "My Funny Valentine." Twenty-seven years later and I can still remember how listening to this album in my dorm room in Peabody Hall made me feel. For most of the 80's, Elvis Costello's music was my sonic reference point.

But the album had other effects, too: I started writing songs (nearly all of which were hopelessly bad). And I started my first college band "The Shades" --just wanting to play thoroughly modern music. Of course we settled mostly for cheesy frat rock, but the gigs we played and the hours of practice did me a world of good.

Perhaps least importantly of all, as you can see from the photo above, (taken recently in North Dakota) I've still got an affinity for nerdy, Elvis-like eyewear.

The lyrics to "Just a Memory" are here. One of many major Elvis Costello fan sites is here. You can't (legally) download most of the older Elvis songs, but on the ITunes website you can get a version of "Just a Memory" done by Tywanna Jo Baskette on an EC tribute album, called "Almost You." It's a decent version, but I still love Elvis' best of all. I've gone back to it many times over the intervening years.

And it's not completely true--memories, as you may have inferred, DO mean a lot to me. Sometimes they're all you've got.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Turtle Rain

Monday, June 19, 2006

Every June, when we get our first really rainy day, the box turtles get on the move. Males are looking for females. Females are looking for males and for places to dig their nests.

As I lay awake last night, listening to the rain spattering onto the hosta leaves outside my bedroom window, I knew I'd be seeing turtles on the way into work in the morning. And sure enough, I was right.

I saw five box turtles total and saved four of them. One met the fate that so many of these slow, gentle creatures meet each June--smashed by the tires of a passing vehicle. I won't share that image with you.

Here are two of the turtles I saved, one (the yellow one) a female, the other, a dark, old male. Box turtles can live a very long time and these two might even predate the asphalt-covered county road I was on today. I imagine how, for an old survivor, crossing a busy highway or even a well-traveled country road, is like playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later their luck is going to run out.
This bright yellow female box turtle was heavy with eggs.

A bottom view of the dark male I saved. Males have a concave portion of their undersides to facilitate a better fit for mating with females.

I try to stop to help each turtle that I see. Sometimes I'm too late. Sometimes, while I'm waiting for traffic to pass, I have to sit and watch in anguish as the turtle gets hit. And yet, when I help them safely on their way, it gives me a a small measure of satisfaction for a deed well done.

It felt good to help four turtles across the road today.

I think I needed it as much as they did.