Friday, July 28, 2006


I finally got a hold of a digital camera. I have to thank my great friend Niki and her husband Ian for the loan. They're the best!

My first post has to be this picture of Niblet doing his best Cinnamon imitation, with extreme disapproval.

Well . . . he doesn't quite have it down, sad to say. Try as he might, he's just not that good at disapproving, especially when there's a carrot to be eaten.

Perhaps I should've snapped him while I'm brushing him or trying to pick him up--he hates that!

I also have a pic of my backyard--the view of the marsh from my driveway. You can see my garden to the left, and the adirondack chairs where we sit and watch birds and stuff. And yes, that's a still-working two-seater outhouse back there--what a perk that was when we were first looking at this property! Geniune curb appeal.

No bird pics yet, unfortunately--still waiting for some new lenses. But the eyepiece mount is pretty much ready to go; I just need that 8mm eyepiece set. Then I'll mount everything into my homemade scope and get busy! I'll be sure to post even my clumsiest first efforts here, to capture the magic.

This weekend we're going to New York City--my first real trip there. We drove through Times Square once on the way to Boston to see Fred Francis, and all I could think was, "there are people walking around, talking on cellphones at 3 a.m.? Who the heck are they talking to? If they called me, I'd hang up on them!"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fred's bird story

Be sure to check out my friend Fred Francis's new short story, Birds:

He's a great photographer of cityscapes and city people, and he's been my friend for a long time, back since I was in publishing. I was once the managing editor and sometime-gardening editor at a small non-fiction trade publishing company, Taylor Trade Publishing in Dallas. But they were sold to Rowman & Littlefield, and the staff was not retained, to use a euphemistic phrase.

Otherwise, I'd still be in Dallas right now. It boggles the mind.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It's a hard-knock life for us, it's a hard-knock life for us! --Annie

First off, the good news: I'm getting my grubby little paws on a friend's digital camera tomorrow. Prepare for some rather amateurish photos of flowers, trees, my garden, the marsh, and the bunny and the kitties!

Now—to the hard knocks.

It seems one can learn a lot by trial and error. In my case, mostly by error. I finally began corresponding with "astronomy boy" Jeff DeTray, and he cleared up some important little details for me regarding such things as focal length (FL), scope tube length, and optics. As a result, I'm having to rethink this whole scope project.

But don't despair! With just a few adjustments, a couple of purchases, and some tape and stuff, I should be on my way!

Let's go through the illusions shattered:

1. If I use my 26mm FL eyepiece and the 800mm FL objective lens, my scope will have be almost 32 inches long. Not exactly what I had in mind for a portable, user-friendly scope. Granted, the power would be 30X, but it's just not practical.

2. If I use the 26mm FL eyepiece with the 200mm FL objective, my scope will only have about 7X power. That's barely enough to read the spines of the books on my bookshelf from my couch. BUT the scope would only be about 8 inches long! Hey—bright side, people, bright side.

Jeff went on to tell me that spotting scopes work with short-FL eyepieces and objectives with FL of 350 to 500mm, hence, their shorter tube length as well.

Thus, my new plan:

1. Order a new eyepiece—there's a two-element RKE eyepiece set with a FL of 8mm. Back to the Surplus Shed web site. Only $3.50.

2. Pair the 8mm FL eyepiece with the 200mm FL objective lens, in a tube that will be about 8 inches long. (200mm = 7.87 inches) Portability with 25X magnification. Not too bad.

3. Buy a 45-degree image-erecting diagonal. I was going to just look at things upside-down and backwards, but when I made a low-power experimental prototype last night, I discovered it's much harder to use than I thought it would be. I figured I could just adjust my brain like you do when you're brushing your hair in the mirror, but it just makes it really hard to sight things through the scope. I have enough problems just by accident without inventing more of them for myself.

For the prism, I have a couple of options.

a. The semi-expensive option: I could buy a 45-degree diagonal from Orion for $40. It would be easy to mount on the end of the tube then just attach my eyepiece and I'm good to go.

b. The cheaper option: Buy a prism, make a mounting for it, and then attach it somehow to the tube. I'm tempted by my desire to keep things as low-priced as possible; however, will it end up being a big mess like the rest of this project has been? Should I just bite the bullet and spend the $40 and get the pre-mounted thing? Or should I retain my pioneer spirit, my can-do attitude, and buy the prism and make a mounting out of god-knows-what—puka shells? How would I know? What do I know about mounting prisms?

What to do, what to do. I suppose I should just buy the mounted diagonal. It would make putting the scope together easier.
. . . what would Galileo do?

Monday, July 24, 2006

When Animals Attack!

While tending to my tomatoes in my garden yesterday, I suddenly felt a rather insistent and somewhat painful poking on my lower back (right where my left kidney is). Mind you, no one – neither Kat nor Em – was home, so I pretty much jumped out of my skin and wheeled around, only to find a gray catbird had just flown up onto the fence beside me. The little guy pecked me! He then sat on the fence, not a foot from my face, staring at me! Then he flew into the tamarack next to the garden and kept on staring. This whole time, I was still pretty freaked out at the sudden scare, and I just kept saying, "He pecked me! He pecked me!" like the little girl in the movie version of Jurassic Park saying, "He left us! He left us!"

He really scared the livin' doo-doo out me. I've seen mockingbirds taunting and pecking at cats before, but I must say I've never been pecked by a bird. Why did he peck me? What did it mean? I've been gardening in that same spot for two years now. I was just wearing a white t-shirt and shorts – did the color attract him? Help! I'm a little traumatized.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life without birds

When I was a kid growing up on the Gulf Coast, I remember what the atmosphere and the weather would be like as a hurricane approached. Cloud cover would envelop the sky, and a strange quiet would settle on us. I supposed the birds and beasts all knew what was coming, and they'd already made their way to shelter in the face of the approaching storm. I never got to experience a direct hit, complete with eye of calm, that I can recall, but those hours just before the storm hit were as calm and quiet as a tomb--and it was like being in a weird dream. The sky was a weird color, and everything glowed in this surreal way, and there were no birds singing. Freaky.

I guess that's what a life without birds would be--like a tomb. I can't imagine going outside in the backyard now and not hearing my birdy friends calling and singing to one another. Sometimes the noise of all the birds is almost deafening; you can feel your eardrums vibrating with the overwhelming high-pitched sounds.

Life without birds would, in a word, suck. Let's hope we never have to live such a life.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Back to the Birds--and Why

All this talk about lenses and such--I realized I haven't entered much bird-focused info lately. Honestly, it's been so freakin' hot up here that I haven't spent too much time outside. I did see a group of goldfinches playing around the yard night before last. They were chasing each other, singing and flying; it was sweet. It's amazing how just watching a bird--any bird--can lift my heart out of whatever doldrums it's in, or put the finishing touches on a magic moment. That's why I bird.

I blog because it keeps my mind focused on the task at hand; seems like the last few years, I've let too many days slip by me without my giving them their proper attention. If the unexamined life is indeed not worth living, then the examined and blogged-about life must be worth something. Blogging certainly fulfills a need I have to record my crazy little thoughts and share my observations. Even when my family is too busy to listen, the blog always has its ear open.

I blog about birds because it gives me joy. The first thing I do in the morning when I get to work is check out all my favorite bird blogs--Sharon Stiteler's Birdchick blog, Julie Zickefoose, Bill of the Birds, the Stokeses, and more. It makes my day start off on a good note. When I add to my humble little bird blog, I feel like I'm a part of a great community of great birders. And that's a good feeling to have first thing in the morning.

Hail to Astronomy Boy!

After some googling and fiddling around, I found a site that absolutely rocks. With instructions from his site, I was able to put together the three elements of my eyepiece, and I've started work on a wooden housing for it using his detailed instructions. Lucky for me, my other obsession is woodworking, so I figure I'll be able to do a bang-up job on the housing!

In the course of my research, I also discovered that my 50mm, 200mm fl objective lens will only give me about 8x magnification when paired with my 26mm fl eyepiece. I've decided to return the objective and purchase a slightly more expensive, compound objective lens that comes pre-mounted. The power on this baby is awesome. Here's the descrip from Surplus Shed: "Coated air spaced glass doublet objective lens, 70mm clear diameter by 800mm focal length. Plastic mount with threaded end. Mount is 74mm diameter. Threaded end is 70mm diameter."

Yeah, baby. I'll get a magnification of over 30x with this, PLUS a bigger field of view, which equals more light, which equals a better monocular! (at least, that's what my research so far indicates). As I've always been a "more is better" kind of person ("if two teaspoons of cough syrup will help me, then two TABLESPOONS will REALLY help!"), I figure this lens is definitely better. A little more pricey--$19--but I've also decided that maybe the PVC pipe idea is a little too complicated for me. I've discovered a source for FREE thick, hard cardboard cylinder of various sizes, and I'm going that route, at least for now. That keeps my total cost under $30, which was my original goal.

So--I'm returning the single 50mm lens today and ordering the big-daddy lens! Woo-hoo! Digiscoping, here I come!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lenses--check (part two)! Confusion: Double check!

I finally got my lenses from Surplus Shed. Some surprises, lots of confusion. I thought the eyepiece set would be all in a little metal thingie, but it's just three pieces of glass all loose! So I have no freaking clue what to do with that. Plus the three lenses are labeled "eyepiece" (okay), "middle" (uh--middle of what?), and "field" (uh---huh?). So I'm confused--are these three pieces supposed to go together? So I read the little letter that came with them, and it has some "tips" for mounting--one of which says to place the three pieces "as close together as possible" and then wrap masking tape around them. ?? The lenses are convex--how can you put them together in any stable way? Very confused here. They attached some copies of different lens set-ups, but they were no help either.

The other lens I got, the objective lens, is what I expected (just the lens, not mounted).

The other problem is that they are a diameter that doesn't fit into any standard PVC pipe size, so I'm not sure how to get around that.

I need a book or something. Maybe I'll go to the library and find a book about scope-making. If only I hadn't been scared away from my original dream profession (astronomer/astronaut) by all the math and Mr. Steussey in 5th grade. Big jerk. I liked math until I met him.

Sigh. I'm a little disappointed with my own lack of knowledge here. I guess it will take some more research and some creativity. Better start reading. . . .

Friday, July 14, 2006

My mom the birder


My mother, whom you'll remember lives in Harlingen right by the big Arroyo Colorado birding area, has quite the avian following. She regularly feeds several different kinds of birds with her backyard feeders. She gets regular visitors and the occasional newbie, and her hummingbird feeder is always hopping.

Yesterday she underwent a "minor" surgical procedure, and I'm thankful to the entire universe that it went all right. If anything happened to her, I just don't know what I'd do. It's funny how, even as I've watched myself grow older, I'm still always surprised when I realize my parents have grown older as well. She's 70 now, but she's in great shape thanks to her daily exercise routine and gardening. She's the inspiration for many of the things I now call my hobbies—birding, playing board games and cards, watching old movies and remembering all the actors' names, crossword puzzles. She's just the best.

I hope she gets a chance to go to some of the RGV Birding Festival activities this fall; I know she'd enjoy it.

Learning to sing

I've decided that I will probably always hear more birds than I'll see, so my new little scheme is to learn birdsongs and ID them that way. I've heard tales of people who can watch movies or TV shows and tell you whether that bird you just heard should really be wherever the movie is set, etc. Pretty impressive. My ears are good (years of musical training), so I figure this should just be a memory challenge for me.

I have a Stokes' audiocassette set, plus there are many web sites that feature bird songs. Among these are, which is pretty decent for the more common birds. That's a good place to start, I think.

Lens update: still haven't received my lenses from Surplus Shack. I guess the post is a little slow. I'm getting pretty antsy, though.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Golden Moon

Night before last, we were lucky enough to glance out the kitchen window and catch the full moon in glorious orange-gold. I called Kat (my partner) and Em (our daughter) to come see, and we sat outside on the adirondack chairs, watching the golden moon rise over the marsh. The addition of the fireflies' nightly display (which we call "Hollywood") really made it a night to remember.

I happened to be on the Woodsong blog ( and I saw this:


July - Month of the Ripe Corn Moon

I guess that's what we saw. Unfortunately, my corn is not yet ripe, but I did notice yesterday that some baby corn is definitely being born on my plants (I planted 'Bandit' and 'Honeycream'). I can't wait to sink my teeth into that stuff. My tomatoes ('Early Girl', 'Sweet Million', 'Better Boy') are coming along, and soon I'll have more tomatoes than even I can eat. What a great problem to have.

Still no ID on that bird from the other night. Also, Roana Fuller forwarded me an email from another birder wondering if something is up with the cedar waxwings around here. No one is seeing very many, and certainly not in their usual big groups. Weird. I finally saw one waxwing the other night on Rte. 45, but again he waited to show up until it was too dark for me to see his full coloring, and he was alone and stuck around for a couple of minutes.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A big brown bird

I saw a bird last night that was big--say, robin-sized--and pretty much light dusty grayish-tan all over. No marks on chest, no visible wing bars, no visible marks of any kind. Breast was slightly lighter than wings and back, but certainly not white or even cream. I have a feeling it was a female, due to the drab coloring, but I don't know what it's a female of.

Maybe a female brown thrasher? No--they have striping on their breasts.

Maybe a female kingbird? Don't think so, but I can't find a decent photo of a female, so I can't be sure.

Any guesses? I realize my description isn't too great, but I'd like to know. The site only offered 197 guesses after punching in "perching-like" and tan, brown, and buff for color. I began to get a little overwhelmed. Wrentit? Middendorff's Grasshopper-Warbler Fall? (uh, it's summer)

Perhaps some sort of thrush.

On the same day, I saw what I presume to be a male, a female, and a young Baltimore Oriole in the trees/thicket next to the house--the trees that separate the marsh from the road. This is prime birding area, but I have to move my Adirondack chair out into the middle of the yard to see everyone who flies around there. Still it was worth it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Birdchick's going to Harlingen!

So the Birdchick will be in my hometown of Harlingen for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Fest. Sure do wish I could go. Then I could see my parents and see what my little hometown is doing to encourage birding. Note: Still feeling ripped off by Harlingen for not having this event when I was a kid.

Sometimes I miss Texas so much. I absolutely love living in Pennsylvania, but Texas is my home, and every once in a while, I hear it calling to me. I'll probably never move back (for various reasons) but my heart will always burst with Texas pride.

They're holding a big expo in the Municipal Auditorium at Fair Park. I still remember going to that auditorium for school talent shows and plays. It had a neat smell (it was new back then in the 70s) that I really liked. (ah, the wonderful smell of harmful VOCs!) Good old Harlingen. Good old Texas.

Do they build trucks that are "Rhode Island tough"? Nope. Do they name steakhouses "Beehive State Roadhouse"? Nope. Did Pee Wee Herman need to go to an old mission in Oregon to find his bike in the basement? Nope. Where is "America's Team" from--New York? NEVER! The Lone Star State will always hold a certain mystique in the minds of people all over the world, and I kinda like that. Yup, it's nice to be a Native Texan, even if I'll never live there again.

- - - -
Saw a big brown thrasher this morning, flying with a worm in its mouth, probably going to feed its brood. Nice. It's a cool summer morning in beautiful Central Pennsylvania, and I wish I were birding.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lenses? CHECK

My objective and eyepiece lenses are on the way! Surplus Shack ( rocks! With postage, I'll get the lenses for $15. I'm very excited!

Monday, July 03, 2006

On a completely-unrelated-to-birds note . . .

Annika Sorenstam, the best woman golfer in history, has just won another U.S. Open. Way to go, Annika!

Consistency is the aim of every athlete, and Annika is the most consistently fantastic golfer in the world.

Digiscoping update--lenses forthcoming!

My effort to duplicate the spotting scope of Roy Goh ( has begun with a bang. I've just found the same Plossl eyepiece he bought ($6.50 on and I'm trying to decide between an OBJECTIVE LENS, 38MM X 297MM FOCAL LENGTH ($7.50) and a Double convex lens with 50mm diameter and 200mm focal length ($3.50). Goh used a 200mm fl objective, but wouldn't the 297mm fl be better? However, the 200 is 50mm in diameter, whereas the 297 is only 38mm in diameter. I would think a bigger objective would be better---wider field of view. So I'll probably go with the 50mm/200mm fl lens.

Any advice from someone in the know? I'm just totally impressed that I'm getting two lenses for like ten bucks. Woo-hoo!

A new life bird!

This weekend, I saw a bobolink--during the Penn's Cave wildlife tour. Nice bird. I didn't get to hear its little call or anything, as we were far away.

While on the tour, I also saw some (captive) wolves, deer, elk, bears, and bobcats. I don't like zoos at all, but this was slightly better than that, as most of the animals get to roam around a big enclosure of habitat land. However, the bears and the bobcats weren't so lucky--they were in cages with just these little private rooms they could retreat into. Didn't much like that. People always tell me that zoos are better than just leaving some animals out there to die at the hands of poachers, etc. But I know that if I were an animal, I sure wouldn't like people staring at me all day, and being in a cage to boot.

Still, it was nice to see a life bird.