Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Birthday to Julie!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy birthday to the amazing gal we know as Julie Zickefoose! She is known the world over by a variety of names, and by her many wonderful works. Crazy Dog Lady is just one of the names she goes by—and proudly—since she has bonded with our Boston terrier Chet Baker about as strongly as the white is bonded to the rice.

She is the Science Chimp who leads the science club at Salem Liberty Elementary and gets young f0lks to tune into the amazing living things all around us.

She is the living embodiment of Scooby-doo's friend Velma, shown here with Daphne solving a mystery involving Old Man Wiggins.

She is called Mommy or Mom by a couple of the sweetest kids ever to wear dorky hats.

Crazy Bird Lady is another moniker. When this red-headed woodpecker showed up at our feeders last winter, Julie immediately hung a bird house up for it, held in place by bungee cords. The woodpecker, recognizing that this was the CBL, immediately moved in for a week-long stay.

She is rarely referred to as being tall—at least in physical stature. Yet she is a towering tree in terms of wisdom and talent. Here she is cracking us up on Easter Sunday while posing for a photo with my mom, Elsa.

Years ago, when we were first talking by phone about an art project for Bird Watcher's Digest, I found out that Julie was a musician, which made her vastly more fascinating to me. So I courted her with my best rawk song.

Now Julie plays in a band with me and several other special people: Craig and Wendy (Jessie and Kage not pictured, but equally special). We Rain Crows have fun always.

She plays the pennywhistle like a pro—sometimes morphing it into a jazz stick when the mood strikes her.

And she's not above throwing down some sweet dance moves, as she is doing here during a Hog Island seminar.

Crazy Turtle Lady is another nom de nature. As is Crazy Bat Lady.

In the fields of nature writing, painting, and sharing, she is outstanding. And out standing.

And sometimes she is also out lying in her fields of endeavor.

And she is the best person I've ever met at self-actualizing. She is rarely happier than when she is alone in her little kayak, floating among the birds and butterflies and turtles. Now if only she could bring Chet Baker along in the boat....

We love you, Jules! Happy birthday from all of us. We bask in the wonder of all you share with us, and consider ourselves so lucky to be a part of your world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kenai Fjords Birding Cruise Part 1

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Along the road from Soldatna to Seward.

In mid-May, Julie and I were invited to be the keynote speakers at The Kenai Birding Festival located in Kenai, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula. Do you know what the name of the local bird club is? The Keen Eye Birders! I'd never been to this part of Alaska and Zick had never been to Alaska at all, so we said "heck yes."

Our journey to Alaska was going to be long, even before the fog-canceled flights in Columbus, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia made us re-direct our trip via Dallas. But a mere 20 hours later we were trudging zombie-like out of the Anchorage airport and into the waiting arms of Janet Schmidt from Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and our friend Tricia Grenier and daughter Vivi who met us at the airport with snacks and gifties. A meal and a beer later we headed out on the three-hour drive to Janet's home in Soldatna, AK. Once there we slept the sleep of the undead for a few blissful hours.

The next day, as a "welcome to Alaska", the festival's organizers had arranged for us to go on a Kenai Fjords boat trip. We got up early (easy coming from the eastern time zone!) and drove down to Seward to meet the boat. Along the way we saw many coll things: Dall sheep, mountain goats, moose, and a distant brown bear, plus a mess of bald eagles. We also heard the ethereal fluting of varied thrushes. The scenery was just stupendous: deep forest giving way to soaring mountains covers in snow.

Dall sheep with lambs.

We made it to Seward just in time for our departure and a short visit with a representative of the cruise company Kenai Fjords Tours. Our boat was a very stable, diesel-powered catamaran with plenty of outside deck space for viewing, birding, and photography and an inside cabin below where you could get out of the wind (it was chilly on the water despite the sun). Inside was also where the food and hot coffee was!

Seward harbor.

Oohing and ahhing at the scenery in the fjords.

Right outside the harbor we began finding lots of birds and wildlife. I'll share some of the wildlife highlights in this post, and some of the birds in forthcoming posts.

Mountain goat.

We learned from the captain's narration that mountain goats come down in May along the lower sides of the fjords to forage on the new growth. Once your eyes adjusted to discerning between mountain goats and snow fields (goats are a bit yellower) it was easy to spot them along the nearly sheer cliff faces.

Spectacular views lay in all directions from the boat, even from the stern. And then the water around us came alive with a pod of marine mammals

Orcas appeared in small family groups and larger pods. Our captain knew many of them by name, using their fin shapes and other markings as ID clues. This was a lifer mammal for me. We later had one breach in front of the boat, but it happened so quickly that no one could get a shot.

Sea otter.

Otters were encountered in several spots, often floating on their backs cracking open urchins.

As we got farther from the harbor, and into some of the protected waters of the fjords, we began encountering small flocks of birds. I'll get more into that in the next post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Phoebe's Sweet 16

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Sixteen years ago this morning my life changed forever.
That was the day that Phoebe Linnea Thompson came into the world.
This photo (above) shows us on her first day back at home.
Man I was SO in love! And I still am.

Through the years, Phoebe has grown into quite an amazing young woman. Oh my, was she super adorable as a little girl. This is her first day of preschool. She was holding her pacifier in her right hand, behind her back.
Try as I might, I can't convince her to go back to the pixie haircut. Who can blame her? If I had hair that gorgeous and red, I'd wear it long, too.
Heck, I'd settle for just having HAIR!

See what I mean?

Phoebe is many things as a person. She loves flowers:
She loves birds. In this image she's loving up a fledgling eastern phoebe that Julie was rehabbing.

Phoebe loves a good session of dress-up—especially for Halloween.
She was the best Red Hat Lady ever a few years back.

And recently she's gotten into acting in plays at her high school.
She's a natural ham—we wonder where she gets it.

She loves her Pittsburgh Pirates (a trait she inherited from her dad).
This is Phoebe at a Pirates' game with my dad. We were celebrating Dad's birthday on that day. How I wish he could be here for this day.

Phoebe was not YET a crazed Pirates fan. That came later.
At Pirates' games the Pirate Parrot always seems to find Phoebe. She's one of the more radiant female fans, and her bodyguard (in fedora) also seems to enjoy the attention.

My girl helped me do a book once.
And she often has a long line of autograph seekers queued up to meet her.

Phoebe loves Chet Baker to the point of tormenting him.
But he adores her, as does everyone else.

We all love our tall, gorgeous redhead and we grab every opportunity to hug her (as her mama Julie is here), pull her close...

and we try to snap a shot or two. Because we know she will not be here with us for every day too much longer. She is bound for other places, and an amazing life.

No one in our family adores Phoebe more than her little bro-ski Liam.
I am most proud of the big sister that Phoebe is. She is old and wise and kind beyond her years.

She is a dreamer, this amazing young soul.

Phoebe, my precious little bird.
Once I held you in my two hands.
Now I hold you with my whole heart.

Happy birthday to you, my darling daughter!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Out standing!

Monday, July 2, 2012
Some kind person recently said I was "outstanding in my field." I was flattered.
Then I remembered I'd shown them this photograph just moments before.