Thursday, August 30, 2007

What's your spark bird?

I learned a new birding term from Roana yesterday: "spark bird," which is "the bird that got you into birding." The cool thing is that I actually HAVE a spark bird; I didn't forget or just wander into birding.

I had always loved birds and nature, but shortly after we moved into the Marsh House in 2005, I was sitting in my back doorway, looking out at the marsh. There was barely any purple loosestrife then, so I could see a lot of little patches of cattails, short marsh grasses, all kinds of things. (sigh) Anyway, I noticed a little group of redwinged blackbirds making some squawking noises and flying in a little area just over the ground. I got my binocs and saw this weird brown bird that looked kinda like a small crane, sticking its long beak straight into the air. I ran and grabbed a book that I'd bought only a couple of months before -- a 1940s edition of Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds. I stared at the bird, looked at the book, stared at the bird, looked at the book -- and ID'd my first bird that wasn't a cardinal or a bluejay or a robin.

Since then, I've seen American bitterns out on the marsh and in Cape May. A very experienced birder I know and respect told me that it's rare to actually see American bitterns because they hide so well. I've seen them lots of times! He also said that there are only 5 confirmed breeding records for this upcoming Breeding Bird Atlas, and that my marsh was the first one. My report!

After that day, I was totally hooked on birding. Shortly thereafter, I started this blog. It makes me smile just to think of it -- my bittern, my little blog, and birds.

What was your spark bird?

Welcome to my world

Note that I added my bloggy pal Splotchy and my new bloggy pal FranIAm to my blogroll; both are well worth a (daily) look. They don't really write about birds, but they write about our world--and isn't that what we're all interested in?

Baba Wawa I ain't

But I did have a great time interviewing Splotchy. Check out his witty, frank, and revealing answers to my insightful questions.

More interviews comin' atcha (the list will be updated as interviews are completed):

Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein

Man, I should get an agent! Or publish my own magazine! Or do my own blog!

oh wait a minute. oh yeah.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moonlight, foggy night

Interview with a Vampire Vegetarian

My bloggy pal Splotchy's been doing interviews with people, sending them cool, penetrating questions and eliciting thoughtful, compelling answers. Following are the cool, penetrating questions he sent me, along with my answers--you can judge how thoughtful and compelling they are.

1. I see mention of a Mennonite grocery store down the road from you. What makes a grocery store a Mennonite grocery store? Any special products, or absence of products that I should be aware of? Would I be able to get beef jerky there?
The Mennonite grocery store down the road is staffed (mostly) and owned by Mennonites, hence the name. We’re talking ladies in their plain dresses, white aprons, and those little bonnets. It’s like watching Witness at the grocery store (kinda). The actual name of the store is Burkholder’s. I guess that’s a Mennonite name? What do I know, I’m from Texas. As for special products, they have the usual grocery store stuff, though I don’t know about the beef jerky. (I’m vegetarian so I never looked.) You can also buy these Amish-themed books there, like teen romances and stories about young Amish/Mennonite people; most of these books are written by someone named Beverly Lewis. I always wonder if she’s Amish, or just has a really good research assistant. Also, it’s the only grocery store I know of where you can’t buy cigarettes or any tobacco products. I once asked where the cigarettes were (my partner smokes), and the lady behind the counter gave me a look like I’d said, “I just had an abortion in Aisle 7; can you get someone with a mop?”

2. Please describe a favorite unexpected or unplanned bird-watching moment.
My favorite unplanned moments in bird-watching always occur when my partner Kat, who doesn’t like birds because they creep her out, is around. Usually, this happens in the backyard when I’m looking for birds on the marsh behind our house, because she NEVER comes birding with me. One time, I was sitting in the yard watching the birds at one of my feeders when she started screaming, “BIG WHITE BIRD! BIG WHITE BIRD FLYING AWAY!” After I recovered from the heart attack she caused, I turned in time to see a great egret pair – beautiful big white birds – taking flight together. That was nice. And her knowledgeable and poetic description really put a capper on the experience.

3. Are there any birds you see when watching, to whom you would just like to cry "MOVE ON! You are boring and are keeping me from seeing birds of more interest!"
I try not to be a snob to the more common birds, but it does happen sometimes, especially when there’s like 50 grackles hogging up all the birdseed at my feeders, and the little songbirds can’t get in there. It also happens a lot when I’m driving around in the countryside looking for birds, and I see something and slam on the brakes, thinking it’s some cool hawk or falcon, and it’s always a damned pigeon.

4. I really enjoy the many beautiful pictures of your garden, including the occasional pics of food. Which of your home-grown food do you savor the most?
Tomatoes, without a doubt. I’ve always loved tomatoes right off the vine. I rub ’em on my shirt for sanitary purposes, then I eat them – right outside. Eating something you’ve grown yourself, nurtured from the time it was a little seed, is magical to me. As a vegetarian and nature-lover, it just doesn’t get any better. At least until I can grow veggie egg rolls, fried up crispy and golden.

5. I see that your other blog, "Impeachment And Other Dreams" has been dormant for quite some time. Is impeachment no longer a possibility, even the dream of impeachment?
I’ve stopped believing it’s a possibility. I used to listen to news about the latest scandal or lie or crime connected to this administration and think, “okay, THIS is the tipping point! This is IT!” But that tipping point never came; it’s still never come. I just got too discouraged to keep writing about it; that’s when I started the birding blog. It’s easier to keep from throwing up all the time when I just write about birds and stuff. Besides, there are so many great liberal blogs and news sites out there; I just read those and throw up on a limited basis.

Now it's your turn: Here are Splotchy's Rules of Order:
1. If you want to be interviewed, leave me a comment saying "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
And so on, and so on, and so on....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The fall semester begins

"Time in the hand is not control of time...."
-- Adrienne Rich, "Storm Warnings"

I started my calculus class today, the next step toward getting into my desired major: forensic science. All we did today was review old algebra concepts and already I'm lost. I didn't really "get" algebra all that well, and none of those concepts seem to have stuck with me. I am hoping it all comes back soon, and I'm able to get through this class the way I did trigonometry--studying all the time, but doing well and coming out with an A- and ending up on the Dean's List to boot. Kinda silly, that.

As I waited for class to begin, I had a weird thought: I came to class today in shorts and a golf shirt, with the late afternoon sun still high in the sky and a cool breeze blowing a little before 6pm. I realized that before this course is over in December, I'll be coming to class in a heavy coat and boots, under a darkened sky with a bitter wind--and most likely snow--blowing. Class ends at 8, and on this day I drove home and watched the sun set, admiring the moon rising through the pink band of sky known as the girdle of Venus. Soon, it'll be dark by 5, and I'll trudge to and from class in the snow. The weather has to change so much before I am done with this course! The strange thing is, I feel like the days are changing so fast when I look at the sunlight, the birds, the sky, the weather; yet it seems like this semester is stretching out before me like a life sentence in prison, one day after the other, unchanging. How can it be both ways at once?

Time is such a strange thing. The hours of a day can be so cruel, hurrying by when we want them to last but dragging when we just want them to move along. The length of those hours never changes, except in our minds. What seems like a mercilessly unending day to me can, at the very same time, have flown by for you. And we can tell each other of our different perceptions, and it doesn't make a bit of difference.

Makes wearing a wristwatch seem pretty pointless.

I'm an auntie! Again!

My baby sister Nora and her great husband Mike just had her second daughter yesterday! I don't have any pics yet, but I do have some adorable pictures of her first daughter Alyssa, who's so cute that she almost looks like me!

The obligatory bath photo.

Look at that sass!

Congratulations, Nora and Mikey!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quick link: Must-read

Haven't had the chance to read it all yet, but I wanted to share this article with you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Bird Almanac by David Bird

I finally found some time to look through my Bird Almanac; what a fascinating book! For trivia-goobers like me, this book is a veritable gold mine of information. Some highlights:

The New Jersey Audubon Society's World Series of Birding: the first winning team, in 1984, competed for Zeiss Optics and was composed of a few names that might ring a bell: R. T. Peterson, P. Dunne, L. Dunne, D. Sibley, P. Bacinski, and W. Boyle. (the book only gives first initials) I was reminded of the first Olympic basketball team composed of professional athletes, back in 1992, with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Clyde (the Glide) Drexler, and John Stockton on it (and some other guys). Can you imagine going hard-core birding with RTP, Pete Dunne, and David Sibley!? Holy moly. Incidentally, they tallied 201 species to get the win.

Top U.S. ABA World Lister as of January 2002: G. Winter, with 7,716 species. Wow. Only a couple thousand to go, and this person racks up every bird species in the world; it's kind-of hard to even fathom that. My lifelist isn't even to 200 yet.

Top U.S. ABA USA Lister as of Jan 2002: M. Smith, with 907 species out of the total 984 species in the USA. Sheesh. By now, this M. Smith probably has to go to another country just to get a life bird! Can you imagine that?

The common swift can go up to three years without landing. The sooty tern can go from three to ten years without landing! Don't they get tired of flying? I mean, the birds could kind-of float on the breeze for a while here and there, but I'd sure want to sit down after about a year or so.

Assemblages of birds: We've all heard of a murder of crows and a gaggle of geese. But have you heard of these grouping terms?
hawks: boil, screw, cast, kettle (Susan Gets Native -- have you heard of any of these?!)
warblers: yellowing ("there's a yellowing of warblers over in this thicket!" as if.)
flycatchers: zipper (are they just making this stuff up?)
nuthatches: creep (come on, man...)
vireos: cheer (yeah, right)
gulls: galaxy (my leg is getting tired of being pulled)
ravens: unkindness (seriously, that's what the book says: an unkindness of ravens. Indeed.)

I even found a personal connection: Julie Zickefoose's recipe for bluebird food is in the book.
5 parts oatmeal
1 part each of corn syrup, peanut butter, and bacon grease or lard
Mix well, then push into holes in a feeder log. Other birds like it too.
Cool. Who else would they go to for the best bluebird information? Who else but the Science Chimp! Her husband Bill of the Birds also has a blurb on the back cover.

Speaking of Zick, did everyone get a chance to hear her commentary about marriage on NPR yesterday afternoon around 5:30ish? Another driveway moment, compliments of Julie.

The bird also contains all kinds of crazy anatomical and physiological information on birds; some sections, I can't imagine using unless I were in the Jeopardy final round and the category was Birds. (Bet it all!) But some parts--including the chart on length of incubation of eggs, clutch sizes, and other such charts--are really useful. All in all, it's a really great book. This edition was published back in 2004. Still, other than the listing records and award recipients, the facts are still the facts. Thumbs up for David Bird's The Bird Almanac.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Scheduled outage? Huh?

Boy, nothing like seeing this on your blog dashboard:

Farewell, friends!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quiet Sunday

The birds are strangely quiet this morning, and we're under a cotton-batting sky of solid gray. I heard a catbird's mewing earlier, but now everything is quiet. I'm wondering if the birds know something is coming--a storm, maybe. Do birds sense these things? I would imagine they do, but does it make them get very quiet? I've seen that phenomenon on movies, like just before the big hurricane, all the tropical animal noises stop. But this is Central PA; not much chance of a hurricane.

I went out on the marsh to my migrant-stake-out location and saw. . . nothing. It is colder this morning than it has been, in the upper 50s; maybe that's a contributing factor. Yesterday was beautiful as well, sunny with a high in the low 70s, so we took advantage and finally mowed the lawn and weeded all the garden beds. The front of the house looked like a jungle, with Queen Anne's lace and ragweed reaching up to three feet high.

Yes, I let it get that bad.No, I didn't take a picture; it was too embarassing.

It's all cleared out now, though, and I mowed for the first time in about a month. Neighbor Ed, a compulsive lawn-mower, probably began to cry when he saw me finally starting me up the mower,

One more garden-related note: the Garden Arch, weighed down with morning glory, finally gave up the ghost night before last. I went out to find the metal had completely snapped off at the ground level, and the whole thing had just collapsed. Kat and I worked on clearing that out as well.

Before, a couple of evenings ago, with five-foot Em for scale:

After, yesterday:

It's quite forlorn now, but I imagine those rabid morning glories will take it back over within a couple of days. Meanwhile, I finally cleared out the old lettuce tower (which had grown taller than I am) and all the old bitter lettuce and gone-to-seed cilantro:

Now I can plant some more lettuce and cilantro; I should be able to get some before the cold weather starts.

Here's the collapsed archway, still being strangled by mo-glo's:

That whole thing must've weighed at least 60 lbs; I couldn't lift it, and I can lift 40-lb bags of birdseed without much trouble. The puny little archway (metal, bought on clearance of course at JoAnn Fabrics or someplace--one of Kat's bargain purchases) just rusted and fatigued until it couldn't stand any more. I'm thinking of building a new one out of wood, but then there's the whole pressure-treated thing to deal with. I don't want anything like that near my veggies. I suppose I could get some redwood or cedar; I'll have to price that at the local mega-home-improvement store.

And my beautiful sunflowers, dancing in the breeze:

It's a quiet Sunday here at the Marsh House, and although there are no birds around, I'm not complaining. The weather is cool, there's a gentle breeze, and all seems right with the world. But then, it always seems that way when I'm home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Finish the Phrase

I'd love my job if _______________________.

A marsh with a view

Yesterday, whilst on my way to the Mennonite grocery store down the road, Em and I decided to take a quick sidetrip to see what was happening on the marsh behind our house. Unfortunately, one of the big things happening is a full-bore purple loosestrife invasion:

It's as high as six and seven feet in some places, completely obscuring the habitat and choking out a lot of the native grasses. The marsh owners, Greg and Mary Kay Williams, told me they'd started a three-year plan to attack the loosestrife with some sort of beetle that will, over the course of three years, get it under control. We're all hoping these beetles turn out to be safe predators and not become a problem in and of themselves. We shall see....

The beetles have their work cut out for them.

Thanks to our hot and dry summer, the water level has been really low this year, making the long pond the only real water source here, and that only in spots. Note the complete cover of algae here, nicely contrasting with the purple loosestrife:

On a positive note, some early migrants have started arriving, among them some sort of sandpiper which I didn't get a photo of, thanks to the loosestrife. Roana told me that shorebirds migrate pretty early, so she wasn't surprised that I saw a sandpiper. He was small--maybe 5-6 inches. Solitary sandpiper? Wish I'd gotten a photo for a better ID, though thanks to Birdchick's recent Shorebird Immersion Course photos, I at least knew a shorebird when I saw one.

We found lots of tracks on a small stretch of the long pond that indicate birds of all sizes are visiting; here's a sample:

Note that giant one; here it is with my hand for scale:

That must be an adult blue heron, no? Or else it's a pteradactyl or something, because that footprint is BIG.

I also saw a non-bird track:

Is that a possum, maybe? Feet prints and dragged tail? Or maybe a muskrat? Can someone Science-Chimp me, please?

The Canada geese were flying over; their mournful honks are one of my favorite sounds in nature:

Look at this tiny little flower (and my unfiled thumbnail):

What kind of flower is this?

In the deeper-water sections (probably a foot deep or so), we saw several muskrats, including this guy who decided to charge us:

I like the way his little head cut a vee in the water, darkened by the setting sun's fading light.

Also hard at work was this little bee, who was completely oblivious to the camera less than a couple of inches away from him:

He was concentrating on that pollen, I guess.

Finally, I decided to scout a good location for later this week, so I could go back, maybe set up a photo blind I'm working on, and take photos of the migrants and residents who'd left their tracks in the muddy flats of the long pond. This looks like a good vantage point:

I think Roana and some other people, including a guy who's really good at IDing shorebirds, are coming out tomorrow to see what's hanging around the marsh. Hard to believe that the fall migration has already started for some birds; I keep mentioning it to Kat and she keeps telling me to "stop talking dirty!" -- she hates the cold weather, preferring the heat of summer to the chill of fall and winter, so she's refusing to look at the signs of the coming seasonal change and doesn't appreciate my pointing them out.

Oh, one more exciting thing: I got a new bird book, The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds by (interestingly enough) David M. Bird. This edition was released around 2003, so the sections on "world record lists" and stuff like that are out of date, but there's a lot of material on nesting, breeding, behavior, etc. and I can't wait to dig into it. Of course, I went and left it at my friend Matthew's house so I've only given it a cursory look, but I'm getting it back tomorrow when we go to Matthew's for dinner. I'll fill you in on its usefulness. Does anyone else have this book?

I'm hoping my next blog entry will document some great photos of birds. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Post #175 and a new addition

My new bloggy pal Splotchy has a neat idea: giving starving character actors nice homes by adopting an actor! The mind reels at the possibilities:

1. Natalie Portman? She's cute, she's vegetarian, and I loved her in V for Vendetta. She'd probably love Niblet and the kitties. But she's probably rollin' in dough after the Star Wars movies....

2. Dame Judith Dench?
I loves me some Judy Dench. Wrenching dramatic role? No problem. Whimsical comedy? Easy peasy. Regal royal? P-shaw! Conniving closet case? Been there, done that. Still, perhaps a younger actor might be easier to deal with, someone not quite so set in her ways. I mean, what if she leaves toothpaste in the sink? Who's gonna tell her not to? Not me, sister.

3. I GOT IT: Hugo Weaving! Loved him as the voice of Rex in Babe(one of my favorite movies of all time), adored him as Lord Elrond in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and feared him as Agent Smith in The Matrix. He's the guy!

Now he'll finally have a place to call home, instead of sleeping on the streets or in fleabag motels in between auditions and open calls. No more waiting tables, Hugo! No more insecurity about making rent! You'll have a loving, stable home from which you can jet to NYC or LA for those auditions! Welcome to your new family!

I feel all warm inside, just knowing I've done a good deed and spread some love into a dark and desperate life. *sigh*

Friday, August 03, 2007

A new feature

In an attempt to jazz up my blog a little, I've added a link to my sidebar. Each Friday, I'll link to a different political blog--whatever is entertaining me at the moment. This week, I'm featuring Princess Sparkle Pony's Photoblog. If you've always wanted a way to keep up with this fast-actin', democracy-promotin', disaster-relief-givin' administration of ours, not to mention Condi's latest hairstyle, the Princess delivers all the important photos of the day.

Note: not for the faint (or conservative) of heart.

Now I know what you're thinking--THIS is "jazzing it up"??? What can I say? I'm no web designer. It took me about an hour just to put that paragraph about Cape May and the Bird Blogger Confo out there on my sidebar....

Finally, sunflowers!

The giant sunflowers have finally stopped trying to be skyscrapers and have instead set some beautiful blooms. Here they are, trying to get some water:

Look at that one on the right, at least a foot taller than all the other guys. Over-achiever.

I also checked on my pears, growing bigger by the week!

The tomatoes are finally ripening, usually two or three per day, which is the perfect complement to my lunches. Here's a little gaggle of 'em:

Er--can they really be called a gaggle? I think that's for geese....

Julie the Science Chimp featured a new (and ooky) roach on her blog, so when I found this little specimen, I figured I'd share too:

Not much new about a big ol' tomato hornworm, but if it hadn't been for those white parasitic wasp eggs (larvae?) on there, I never would've seen the three worms that were munching on my 'Sweet Million' plant. Jerks! Go, you little waspies, go! I realize that parasitism from the inside out must be a terrible way to die, but the hornworm is a pest. Perhaps they're ichneumon wasps? That's the only species of parasitic wasp I know the name of.

Finally, I leave you with two indoor photos:

Why haven't you started growing cat food, like I've asked you to? Is a pond with a few fishies in it too much to ask? Sheesh.

One of the man-leg-sized zukes, who hopped off the plant, walked himself in into kitchen, and is now downstairs having a cold one. As the late great Steve Irwin would say: "Crikey! Look at the size of 'im! Isn't 'e a beauty?"

Cape May info at Birdchick's blog!

So I've been in minor-panic mode since I started investigating the details about going to Cape May this fall. I emailed Mary at Mary's View, hoping for advice on what package to pick, where to stay, etc. etc. You know this is only my second birding festival, and my first fest was scary enough -- and it was just a fledgling one out in the wilds of PA. Cape May is HUGE! and my previously documented fear of getting details wrong played a big part in my eyes-glazed-over reaction to the registration form for the Fall Weekend. If Kat were coming along, I'd feel oh so much safer, but she'll be doing grad-school stuff, so I'm on my own. Eek!

Then this morning I checked Birdchick's blog as I do every morning, and lo and behold--a light in the storm! Thank you Birdchick!

If you're even CLOSE to Cape May, and you'd like to meet some hardcore birders (and some not-so-hardcore birders, I'm sure), check out the Cape May Autumn Weekend web site. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why, why, why?

Installment No. 2 in my questions for answering. Feel free to answer, and/or to raise your own questions.

1. Am I the only person who, when I'm waiting for a bus/plane/etc., has to look at my ticket, look up at the bus/gate number, look back at the ticket, look back at the number, look around to make sure no one else is looking at me, look back at the ticket, look back at the number, look around to see if anyone else is feeling a little lost so I can ask them if this is indeed the right bus/plane, etc. etc.

2. What is it called when you do what I mentioned in #1?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Feature: Finish the Phrase

I've been thinking about this for some time now, as a way to amuse myself. I'll start a sentence and you finish it. Easy, no? Here we go...

E=mc2 means __________.

KIDDING! Seriously, here we go:

The Pythagorean Theorem states that ____________.

KIDDING AGAIN! hee hee hee! Sorry, but this is making me giggle. Okay -- really, now -- seriously. Here is your first real Finish the Phrase:

I feel really old when ___________.

Fire away.