Friday, September 29, 2006

Chrysalis Day 29

Twenty-nine days after finding a monarch caterpillar in Kat's outdoor ashtray, we've arrived at this point tonight:

But still, no eclosure. Here's another look:
You can see that the chrysalis skin looks like it's stretching to hold the enlarging butterfly. Maybe tomorrow. I may have to spend the whole day outside, watching. Wouldn't that be a pity?

Also, I took some photos of the babies, as you haven't seen them in a while. They were wandering around Niblet's space (two connecting area rugs in the living room), playing chase and generally hanging out last night.

Niblet reading the paper.

Clawsie arriving on the scene.

Kisses exploring Niblet's willow tunnel.

Niblet exploring his willow tunnel.

Bird ID revision, chrysalis update

First off, prepare to be a little confused--but try to stay with me.

I saw that mystery bird again--not the one I ID'd as a red-bellied woodpecker (that really was a RBW female), but the bird I actually saw the first time I saw the mystery bird. Apparently, I've been seeing two different birds.

Yesterday, I saw the original mystery bird again--no red on the nape, the ring-like thing around the neck, the stripes on the back--the way I remembered it in my initial description. Here is a really horrible drawing on MS Paint:

This is really bad--and the text is too small to read. But basically, the wings are stripey, there's a definite white stripe/patch on the back between the wings, and the nape and face--well, you can see why I thought it was a ring now. But it was more of a mask-like kind of thing, two of them actually, extending onto the face (I think). Didn't get a great look at it, but I did see it long enough to note the complete LACK of any red on the back of the head/nape.

Thus I ask you--what is this bird? The downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodies all have some red on the head. This one had nothing but black and white all over. Definitely clung to tree and moved very fast around the trunk. About the size of a cardinal.


Further--the chrysalis is soooo close. I hope he's just starting to eclose when I get home, but I may miss him. I got a great picture last night, which I'll post later this evening (it's at home, still on the camera).

UPDATE! Per my birding friend Roana, it's a female hairy woodpecker!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chrysalis update

This morning, as I ran out of the house, I took a quick peek at our chrysalis--definitely getting darker. No pictures, unfortunately, but I'm confident that he will eclose today. And that I'll miss it!

I'm hoping he'll wait until late afternoon. Either way, I'll have some photos soon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wind turbines lecture

I just attended a slideshow on wind turbines in Pennsylvania and the damage they might do to our songbirds and raptors. Basically, energy companies want to put long lines of 70-80 meter-diameter turbines on every ridgetop in the central part of PA. That, according to the lecturer from the Audubon Society, could negatively impact every species of bird (not to mention mammals and snakes) in our state, essentially changing migratory routes and causing unknowable species effects.

It was a pretty scary lecture. One slide presented the number of birds killed by a communication tower on one foggy night. The tower was under 200 feet tall, so it has a steady (non-blinking) white light at the top. On a foggy night, it's like a flame drawing moths--over 400 songbirds were killed on one night in 2003. The slide even presented little bird carcasses, which really hit me hard.

If we allow these wind turbines to line our mountain ridges, in combination with the communication towers and other structures, we could see a massive drop in bird population.

Definitely a thought-provoking presentation, and one that more people need to see.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Clearly something is happening

ancient, delicate instructions

form eyes from cells,

legs from impulses,

wings from air.

clearly, something is happening.

a color, a tint,

a hint of something happening.

striving to become something

more beautiful than yourself,

you hide away as you become

something new.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A-ha! A woodpecker!

I believe I've identified that mystery bird I saw for a second or two on the platform feeder on Saturday. He appeared again on the suet feeder yesterday morning as Kat and I were digging a big hole to find our well. (long story--suffice it to say, there's still a big hole in the backyard)

As I said, he appeared again at the suet feeder, and I got to look at him for a little longer, and I noted a distinct red patch on the back of his neck (his nape). Turns out I'd seen a female red-bellied woodpecker. I still didn't get a photo, but I'm pretty confident on the ID. Definitely a female, as the red patch was only on the nape, not on the head as well.

Thanks to -- and the bird herself for making a second appearance so I could spot that red patch.

One note needs to be set down, however: Look at my original description and see all the crazy characteristics I attributed to the bird that could not possibly have been there--"crested head"???? Oh dear. Hallucination? Bad memory? Bad eyesight? You decide. Needless to say, this beginning birder might need to study up a little more on key identifying characteristics to look for--and carry a camera on her person at all times.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Birds at the feeder

Many times, birds come to the feeder as a couple. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal pretty much do this all the time:
You can't see Mr. Cardinal too well--he's on the feeder, near the front edge, hidden by a pine branch. But there's Mrs. Cardinal on the fence wire, watching for danger. It's interesting to me how the male is the more skittish of the pair, preferring to have Mrs. C come and check things out before he finally makes his appearance. And he's always more easily startled than she is.

Or maybe she's just a pig and won't let a little danger keep her from eating her fill?

The house finches also made an appearance, though Mr. Finch's coloring has faded somewhat from its summer brilliance:

When I worked at Domino's Pizza in Fort Worth, I used to spend my time between deliveries hanging out at the back door, feeding and watching a little house finch who liked pizza crust. I'd throw pizza crusts out into the parking lot beneath tree where he'd always perch, and he'd show up eventually to eat. I guess he knew my schedule.

This platform feeder is homemade, and it's at an angle because the top of the fence post was cut at an angle. I get a lot of tufted titmice, black-capped chicadees, cardinals, and sparrows. This morning, I got a very strange bird I'd never seen before--though by the time I turned on my camera he was gone.

He had a cardinal/titmouse shape, though he was about the size of a cardinal. Here's what I remember of his appearance: he had a white breast, a ring around his neck, a dark head with white parts (see the horned lark head and neck for similar example), kind of a crested head, and horizontal white-and-black striping on his back when perched. I don't think it was a woodpecker, but maybe? I don't know any other birds with horizontal stripes on their backs when their wings are folded. I wish my camera had been on!

I tried finding him on, but I couldn't. There's no telling what he was, what with the season, the migration going on, etc. He was only on the feeder for a couple of seconds, then he flew away.

This was a lifebird for me--whatever he was. I had another lifebird yesterday, as I digiscoped (through the binocs) this kingfisher on the heron tree:

Apologies for the blur, but it's over 200 yards away. Shortly after I snapped this pic, he dove for something--a fish? It looked silver and longish, but I don't know whether there are fish in the little ponds on the marsh. At any rate, I missed that shot, getting only an empty branch and green background, which I won't post a photo of. Here are a couple more photos of him:

I also went around to our wildflower bed in the front yard and took some photos of a new flower that's sprung up:
It also comes in a rather ostentatious shade of purple:
I don't know many wildflowers of Central PA--any help on ID would be appreciated--both on the flower and on the mystery bird.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cloudy day photos

I tried to take some photos (through the binocs) of a mourning dove who decided to just sit on the platform feeder, but I think it's too cloudy and dark today.

I also got a quick picture of my still-not-eclosed monarch chrysalis.

I'm starting to get worried that perhaps the carcinogens seeping up from the tobacco-filled water have hurt him somehow. I tried to dump out as much water as I could, but I had to be really careful not to detach him and there's still some brown murky tobacco water under him. What if he's developmentally impaired? It's been 20 days. LauraHinnJ said hers eclosed in 17. And now it's really chilly today--in the 50s--and a little damp. I'm concerned. He's not even turning dark yet.

I also wanted to post some photos of the babies. Perhaps someone can add captions?

Niblet ______.

Sweet Kitty Kisses ________.

Miss Kitty Claws _________.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I had to get some photos in.

Because the sun came out for the first time in about a week, I had to go sit on the back porch.

And because I was sitting on the back porch, I had to get my binoculars out and look at birds.

And because I was looking at birds, I had to get my camera out.

And because I got my camera out, I had to get some photos in.

This first one is the mum plant that is blooming ahead of all the others.

Looks like we'll have these orange-yellow ones, plus some dark maroon ones that are just now becoming little buttons of flowers.

I ended up sitting outside for a few minutes taking pictures until I got too tired. I haven't eaten anything besides a waffle, a bowl of vegetable soup, and a piece of toast (no butter) for the last three days. I guess I may have overdone it trying to get some photos, because I'm really exhausted now. So I'll give you these last photos with a minimum of comment:

My little sister Mary and I used to call these floating seeds "weasels" and we always liked it when they had heads (seeds). This one's for you, Hairy Mary:

Our little chrysalis, Day 15:
striving to become something even more beautiful than itself

I also got a little tufted titmouse eating from the suet feeder on the tamarack tree:

These are not digiscoped; he let me get about ten feet away, then I zoomed.

Blogging meme from LauraHinnJ

I meant to add to this "meme" I found on LauraHinnJ's blog the other day:

Are you satisfied with your blog's content and look?

Sort-of. Sometimes I get weird spaces in the text, and I can't fix them. Otherwise, it's not exactly creative, but it works.

Does your family know about your blog?
Yes, and I found out that my parents read it sometimes, as does my sister Mary. That's neat. Hi Mom! Hi Poppy!

Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or do you consider it as a private thing?
I don't feel embarrassed if my friends look at my blog. They already know most of this stuff anyway, and it's a chance for them to see Niblet.

Has blogging brought about positive changes for you?
I do like writing a lot, so that's been positive. And I've enjoyed cataloging the process of building my spottting scope. Many times when I wanted to give up, the blog kept me at it.

Do you only read blogs of those who comment on your blog or do you also like to find new blogs?
I like to read a lot of birding blogs, and sometimes I just go to blogs randomly--having people comment on my blogs is a new thing, thanks mostly to the presence of Niblet. So that's been really fun, knowing that complete strangers are reading my writing and seeing my photos.

What are your thoughts on commenting? Is it important to you that people leave comments?
I didn't think I'd ever get any comments until someone commented on how cute Niblet is, and I got really excited, as though I'd published a book and someone had read it. I like reading comments, but if no one ever commented, it wouldn't be that big a deal.

Does your visitor's counter matter to you?
Don't have one.

Do you try to imagine what fellow bloggers look like?
Not really.

Do you think there is a benefit to blogging?
I think it's fun and educational. Most of the blogs I read have to do with nature, so I learn about birding, photography, bugs, trees, animals, etc. So that's definitely a benefit. I'm always trying to learn new things.

Does criticism of your blog annoy you?
Haven't had any criticism yet, though I don't think it would annoy me.

Are there any types of blogs that you avoid?
Nothing comes to mind, though I don't revisit blogs that don't have something of interest to me: nature, space, photography, some politics. I do avoid anything that's been written by Bush/war supporters--it makes me too angry.

so tired, so sick

Now I know why I was so tired the other day. Seems I had a little stomach bug churning around inside me, waiting to make his presence known. The evening I went hawk-watching, I saw no hawks. I came inside, ate dinner, played cards, and went to bed. Uneventful.

The next day? All hell broke loose inside my colon. The big D, and I don't mean Dallas. Today is the first day I've been out of bed to do anything besides go to the restroom. After two days, I figured I'd better go to the doctor, who wished me a happy birthday then proceeded to poke on my belly. Ow. While I was spared the humiliation of a rectal exam, I did have to "collect stool samples" and they took some blood. Now I'm on a "BRAT" diet--bananas, rice, apples, toast.

No photos today, no nothing. Not even a surprise birthday party tonight that Kat had to postpone until Sunday. At least I already got my presents.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chrysalis update Day 12

The chrysalis looks largely unchanged today. The weather is much like it was on Day 6, when I took the photo below:
To my untrained eye, they look the same. Anyone else see something different?

I thought I should get these pictures taken and posted both before my camera battery died and before I went out to look for migrating hawks. Now I'm going outside to look for hawks.

Hawk migration notes

Sunday evening, as I packed in my gear after watching birds in the late afternoon, I looked up into the gathering storm clouds to see two hawks, flying far too high for an amateur like me to be able to ID from my little spot on the planet. Both were gliding peacefully on thermals, which carried each bird in a different direction, it seemed. I guess that was due to the storm's turbulent winds.

I wish they'd have come lower, so I could at least attempt an ID, but inspired by the Stokes' abundance of hawk-watching posts, I am going to head outside this afternoon after work and see if I can't get some IDs based on my Peterson's silhouettes of hawks from below. I hope I see at least one. They're seeing literally hundreds per day up in New Hampshire.

I'll report my sightings tomorrow.

Digiscoping Realization #423

While looking over my latest bird photos and marvelling at the better focus (even though the lighting was pretty poor), it occurred to me that perhaps I'm asking too much of a digiscoping rig (especially a homemade one like mine) when I try to photograph the herons on their tree out on the marsh.

I haven't measured it, but I'd say the heron tree is about 200+ yards away from the back fenceline. In contrast to this distance, Mrs. Cardinal and the mourning dove in my previous post were at the fenceline while I sat in my Adirondack chair--probably 20 yards away, max.

Might this be the problem?

I googled "digiscoping distance" and read some entries on about this very subject. It seems I am being a little unrealistic in my expectations. One person who replied said she rarely tries to scope anything over 100 feet away with her 80-90mm objective (mine's an 80mm). So light-gathering is definitely an issue, especially at great distances (perhaps photographing in the afternoon/evening isn't such a good idea!), and I should increase my ISO to 800. Interesting. I'll have to try to make some adjustments in the camera settings.

I don't know whether I'll be photographing today; we're socked in under a solid cotton-batting sky of gray clouds. The weather's turned chilly, with lows last night in the low 50s. Kat noticed that the thermostat read 55 last night and decided we needed to turn on the furnace to warm up the house. In September!

As much as I love cool, crisp autumn days, I just don't know if I'm ready for the cold and the snow this year. I've been enjoying wearing shorts, plus we still have a lot of outdoor work to do. I feel a lot more tired these days, too. Not enough sleep? Too much stress? Trying to learn everything there is to learn in the whole wide world in record time? Who knows. I just know I feel more run-down, and I kind-of dread the thought of holding tight against winter's chill. Seems like just last week, we were putting away sweaters and coats; now it's time to get them out again. In no time at all, we'll be shovelling away the snow, digging out the car, sliding around on slick roads.

It sure was easier in Texas, where you just had to pull out a little jacket and hope it wasn't going to be one of those freak ice-storm years. I've experienced 80-degree Christmas days. Not exactly "Let It Snow!" but then you could still run outside and toss the football around at halftime of the Cowboys game.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Nittany Antique Machinery Show

I didn't take any pictures of cool old tractors at the machinery show and flea market; instead, Niki and I (Kat hates flea markets) decided to show you these glimpses into Central Pennsylvania culture.

First, we have what might possibly be the ugliest chair ever made. Move over, Marty Crane's duct-taped Barkalounger, and make room for "Patch."
Practically jumps right off the screen at ya, doesn't it?

Second, there was a live bluegrass band at the show:

Two things intrigued us: 1. That's an elderly woman playing that big old bass guitar, and 2. what's with the guy on the left taking off his shoe? Is that their tip jar?

Scope Prototype II

I finally got my newest lenses and worked out a mount for the huge 80mm objective. Here's what I have now:

I'm still working on a better eyepiece mount; I need to get some Forstner bits if I'm going to follow Astronomy Boy's directions on creating a wooden housing. However, the rest of the scope seems to be working rather well. I went with this peel-and-stick cordoroy fabric I found for the sliding focus part, which both helps me get finer focus and really cuts down on those little felt fuzzies that were inside the barrel of the first prototype. Not that my focus in photos was so good as to be obscured by said fuzzies, but hey, I can dream.

So here are the first digiscoped photos using Prototype II and the Nikon CP 4800:
Mrs. Cardinal, eating her blackoil sunflower. I cropped this down to eliminate most of the vignetting, but I also got a red flare from the old wooden eyepiece's light-colored wood reflecting back flash. I then put a black ring around the whole thing and kept snapping:

Here's Mrs. Cardinal again, though what's with the slanted view? Well, without having secured a real tripod yet, I had to get creative:

And with this little set-up bungeed to my Adirondack chair (no photo--too embarassing) I set out to digiscope. Insert laughter here. I had to lean it forward and back, all kinds of crazy ways, to get it aligned with the subject, so that's why the photo is taken at a weird angle, though cropping kinda minimized that.
A sweet little mourning dove came to the feeder after Mrs. Cardinal took a break. By this point, it was getting pretty late and a thunderstorm was blowing in, hence the rather poor quality (at least I hope that's why it's so bad). I'm guessing that because it became harder to get a good image through the scope as the sky darkened.

Wish I had some great shots of the lightning, but I was busy making dinner for Kat and me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nikon Coolpix 4800 -- "It's so choice."

Well, Ferris Bueller had it right--this Nikon camera is great! OF COURSE Kat broke down and gave it to me last night, and then I stayed up until like 2:30 in the morning playing with it and reading the manual (like a geek).

As soon as I got home today I busted out the camera, the binocs (more on the scope in a bit), and got out to the fenceline. Like an actor hitting his cue right on, one of the juvenile herons flew in.

Here we see our adolescent heron circling the marsh, heading for his usual tree. This is the first time I've seen any herons for at least a week, and his timing is impeccable.

I then focused on his little tree, and as I snapped pictures, I wondered if this was a blue heron after all. I mean, what's with the rufous neck and the greenish body?

Admittedly, the focus is pretty bad, but the colors are there. Is this what juvey great blue herons look like? I'm sure his mother was a blue. She's too large to be a green heron. I'm confused. His coloring really matches that of a green heron. Is it possible that this little guy is in fact NOT a juvenile blue but an adult green?

Local birder Roana Fuller told me there might be a rookery out there on the marsh, given the adult and the smaller birds. While I agree there are a lot of birds out there, I'm wondering if there were no juveys, just adults. It is a little late for babes to be out in the woods. It's downright chilly here tonight.

Heavens. My world is rocked.

Here is another photo--though the focus isn't much better. Just not enough light, and not enough experience behind the camera, I'm afraid.

Okay, I need to calm down. So what if this is a green heron? I'm pretty sure I saw juveniles before, but if not--well, so be it. At least now I can chalk up another lifebird.

Pretty exciting around the old marsh tonight.

So now I want to go back to some unfinished business regarding caterpillars that looked like little powder-donuts. I went back to the little tree where I saw them, and lo and behold--they were gone! All that was left was these little shrivelled carcasses!
What the hell?

So I continued my investigation, and I found a completely different caterpillar on the next plant over--see Exhibit A:

Who is this guy? And why is he in the same pose as the powder-donut wormies? See Exhibit B:

Not much powder left on this guy, but at least he's not shrivelly!

What kind of worm is this?

Okay--back at the computer after a temporary intermission. My investigation then led me to this, which we'll call Exhibit C:

A-ha! From the looks of it, perhaps the stripey worm comes out of the powder-donut worm skin, like a butterfly from a cocoon? Or it could just be a coincidence that LOOKS like one is emerging from the other. I've never heard of such a phenomenon, but then I'm no caterpillar expert. Any comments?

I tried to get a pic of the foliage they were eating, but alas--it's GONE! Look--this is all that's left!

Seriously--this is the only bit of leaf I could find. Hungry little guys, I guess.

I took some other bird photos, though they too aren't great. Still, I saw what I would guess is a female red-wing blackbird, judging from the reddish shoulder patch.

I also some a lot of cedar waxwings, which was neat:
Sorry about the low quality, but this is the best of the bunch.

Speaking of bunch, I caught this little gang hanging out together on a tree:

Looks like the possible lady redwing blackbird, some starlings, a grackle maybe?, and a brown-headed cowbird. Maybe?

Finally I have some updates on prior situations around the backyard: First, our little chrysalis:

See how you can see the stripes on his little wings already? This Nikon will take close-ups as close as 1 centimeter in beautiful sharp focus. I love the little raindrops on there too. I ended up gently dumping out some of the tobacco-stained water, so our little guy wouldn't drown if we get more rain.

Finally, the pears are ripe and delicious! I found a few on the ground, and then I saw this:

Someone's been eating the pears on the ground! Who could it be? Perhaps this guy?
Looks a little suspicious and plenty guilty! However, his little mouth couldn't possible have nibbled away this much fruit overnight. That's when I saw it--a clearly delineated opening in the verge, right at the fenceline next to the pear tree. . . .

I think we can all guess who's been coming in and partaking of the pears.

And really, I have no problem with that, Mr. Nibbles. (that's the Eastern cottontail who hangs out in the yard all the time. he's not even afraid of us anymore and will sit there nibbling on grass until we get within about a yard of him--that's too close for his taste.)

Here's a neat pic of a ladybug:

And my little nasturtium, the first close-up I took with this camera: