Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunday birding in Cape May

Once the sun came out, the Cape came alive with migrating birds. Sunday morning, we all got up super early and went to Higbee Beach, which was just crawling with songbirds and hawks. That’s where we stood in the same spot for almost a half hour watching dozens of birds flit around, including this cooperative palm warbler:

Walking back to the cars, I saw this bumper sticker:

After that, we went back to the hawk platform at Cape May Point and saw some freshly banded sharpies, a kestrel, and a red-tailed hawk. It was awe-inspiring to see these great hunters up close! They were all so beautiful and powerful. Sadly, I didn’t get any good photos, but Susan and Laura did so check out their posts.

After that, we walked through the marshes on their very nice boardwalk, and I remembered the last time I’d been there: with Kat in February, when it was FREEZING.

Look at this beautiful mockingbird; he was as interested in us as we were in him:
His expression reminds me of this lolcat.

Northern shovellers, way in the distance:
Even from all the way across the pond (not that pond), I could see their huge bills—like Daffy Duck’s bill.

Also got a lifer in the butterfly category, a buckeye:
As I said in my previous post, I didn’t get many pictures on Sunday because I was having battery trouble the whole time, despite having bought new rechargeable batteries on my way to the Cape. I hope they just need a little seasoning and will soon hold a charge longer than ten minutes.

After this we went for lunch and then took Birdchick and Jay from birdjam to the 2nd Avenue jetties, where we saw terns, gulls, and black skimmers. (by now the batts were dead, so no photos) I helped a really nice Canadian woman by IDing the shorebirds for her, confessing that I only knew them all because Birdchick and Laura had already IDd them.

I stood there for a while, watching the ocean waves and wishing Kat had been there with me to see the beach. She and I both love the ocean and hope to move closer to it when she’s done with her PhD (only a year and half to go!). Then, after saying my goodbyes, I got in the car and drove home. What a melancholy experience that was!

I can’t wait to get out in the field again; I’ll probably go on a field trip this weekend to Bald Eagle State Park, where I’ve been only once before. I feel like I’m a better birder now, having seen so many shorebirds and marshbirds in New Jersey. I have a certain confidence that wasn't necessarily there before, along with even more fervor for getting out into the field. All this leaves me wondering: Am I still a beginner? I hope so.

I might just see a few more lifers out there, as the field trip leader (from the State College Birding Club) says we might see some more peeps, some red-shouldered hawks, and maybe some ducks that I haven’t yet seen.

I have a ton of calculus homework to do tonight, but tomorrow night I'm going to start reading Kingbird Highway. I'm really looking forward to reading about what makes a birder "extreme."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saturday/Sunday lifer-rama at Cape May

A flock of double-crested cormorants flies over the Nature Conservancy's refuge area, which used to be known as "the meadows."

Despite the rainy conditions on Friday and most of Saturday, I made my goal of 20 lifers (plus another 11!) at Cape May. At one point on Sunday morning at Higbee Beach, we stood in front of two or three trees for like half an hour with bird after bird landing there and sharp-shinned hawks flying overhead. I was kinda hoping to see a kill, but we were spared any carnage. We finally had to surrounder our sweet spot to the next group of birders, or we might still be there today.

My lifers list:
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Snowy Egret
Pectoral Sandpiper
Black Skimmer
Surf Scoter
Bonaparte's Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Forster's Tern
Northern Harrier
Peregrine Falcon
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-rumped Warbler (finally!)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blue Grosbeak
Blue-headed Vireo
Clay-colored Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat (finally!)
Purple Finch (finally!)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
In total, I saw over 75 species during the weekend, which isn’t bad considering the amount of rain we had. UPDATE! Thanks to Patrick, I've adjusted my count to 31 lifers with that pectoral sandpiper (photo below). Now my lifelist count is now officially at 152, since I got serious about birding in 2006 and started keeping a lifelist.

It seems like it’s been a lot longer than that, but maybe that's because I’ve been looking at birds since I was a kid. I would never have guessed I'd come so far so fast (or it seems far and fast to me, anyway).

I ate some great food, made some good friends, got a copy of Kingbird Highway (which Taryn at Houghton Mifflin was kind enough to give me), and learned a ton about raptor ID, not to mention birding fieldcraft. I also met Pete Dunne, got some neat t-shirts for Kat and Em and me, and got a nice new comfy strap for my binocs.

I’ll be thinking back to this trip for a long time, always with a certain wistfulness right along with the joy. I miss Cape May, and I miss the birds.

Here are a few shots I got on Saturday:

a mated pair of American wigeons; I love their little call:
Sanderlings on the beach:

Pectoral sandpipers (thanks, Patrick!):

My best shot yet of a great blue heron:

Birdchick gives a presentation on blogging:

There were many people there who were geniunely curious and then excited about the prospect of getting on the Web. Directly to Birdchick's right is Mike of 10,000 Birds. What a great guy; he's the one who really started the whole bird-blogging scene. I handed out my card to several people during the festival; if you're one of them, visiting my blog for the first time, hello!

Sunday was another eventful day; I had a lot of trouble, however, with my batteries. Still, I'll try to post some Sunday photos later.

Friday Night in Cape May

It’s been difficult to find a few moments to myself since returning from Cape May. I’m trying to catch up on undone calculus homework, undone laundry and chores, and an email inbox that threatens to blow open at any moment.

Further complicating the situation, my thoughts and impressions about the weekend are almost too numerous, too jumbled to organize. That, along with the post-vacation blahs, has made it hard to put any coherent posts together.

I covered the Friday birding in my last post; now I’ll move on to the Friday evening Birds and Beers session at Jackson Mountain CafĂ©. They let us have the top floor, TVs on “Meerkat Manor” and then “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” playing in the background, and a waiter who probably cursed us bitterly every time he had to climb up and down those stairs yet again for another brewski or martini.

All these birders were lifers for me, this being our first in-person meeting. What a great bunch of birds!
Susan Gets Native and Sharon the Birdchick discover digital photography, with the incredibly nice Jay Davis of Birdjam in the background.

BornAgainBirdWatcher, Laura Somewhere in NJ, and a gloomy sea captain who obviously disapproved of our mirth.

Birdchick, performing an energetic display ritual and consuming one of her species' favorites, a dirty martini. I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but I’d guess she’s thinking, “Another bride/ Another June/ Another sunny honeymoon/ Another season, another reason/ For makin' whoopee.”

In the “It’s a Small World After All” category, Elizabird and I discovered that we’d gone to high school together! We didn’t recognize each other until she learned that I was from Harlingen, and then she came over and we reminisced and hugged and laughed our heads off, thinking about our time in drama classes, Children’s Theatre, and other antics. Liz is now a big-time birder, married to big-time birder Jeff Gordon of Jeff Gyr fame, and (as if that’s not enough) she was instrumental in starting the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival! How incredible is it that after 25 years, we would meet in a bar in Cape May, NJ, brought together by our mutual love of birds!? Life never ceases to amaze me.

Here we all are, the birding bloggers: (back row from left) Laura from NJ, (that's Harry Potter and Ron Weasley on the TV), Beth from Easy Ecoliving and Patrick from the Hawk Owl’s Nest, Jeff Gyr and Elizabird, Birdchick and martini, Sheri the hummingbird specialist and author; (front row from left) John the BornAgainBirdwatcher, me looking like some sort of thuglet doing a very scary gangsta pose, Susan Gets Native, Susan at Lake Life, Amy Wildbird on the Fly, and Mike from 10,000 Birds.

What a flock! Next time, we'll move on to Saturday, which started out rainy and miserable but ended up sunny and gorgeous.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Flashback: Getting to Cape May

I'm home again, and I'm exhausted! I was so happy to see Kat, to sleep in my own bed, and to be back in familiar surroundings, but I also miss Cape May. Actually, I missed it as soon as I crossed the bridge and got on the Garden State Parkway yesterday afternoon.

There is a SO MUCH to tell you about the weekend; I'll go in chronological order and give you a little account of each day's activities.

I drove to Cape May Thursday after work; en route, I got lucky:
Woo hoo, all sevens! What do I win?

The Cape Harbor Motel: clean, comfy, and affordable:

Down at Cape May Point near the lighthouse, I saw my first warbler--a palm warbler amongst some bare shrubs:

At the convention center, I walked into the vendor show area and met my first celebrity!--Wildbird on the Fly, editor of WildBird Magazine (oh, she's the cute one on the right; pay no attention to the chubby-cheeked geek on the left):My first lifer of the trip was a Savannah sparrow, seen on a field trip to the Beanery:Not a great photo, but note how dark it was with the rain coming down; it was wet and miserable, and Susan of Lake Life and I were soaked to the skin by the time the Beanery field trip was over. However, we got some good looks at a few birds, both in the trees and overhead.

I can tell you that the migration flightline definitely runs through Cape May. All weekend, we saw flocks of everything from red-winged blackbirds and robins to double-crested cormorants and great blue herons, all heading for their winter homes down south. It was awe-inspiring to see groups of 200+ cormorants, all focused on getting to their destination.

I'll flash-forward now to my drive home because, after all I'd seen and learned during the weekend programs and birding walks, I really began to think about this whole fall migration business. Like everyone else, I learned about bird migrations when I was a kid in science classes. What I didn't learn in school or even in these last few years of learning bird ID, behaviors, and so forth, is that a lot of birds don't survive the fall migration. I don't know if I just missed that part of 4th grade science with Miss Gomez or maybe I just tuned it out (you know how bird death bothers me), but I never really thought about the fact that, despite their preparations of packing on the fat stores and staying together for safety, a lot of birds will die en route to their winter vacation homes.

Thinking about it last night in the car as I watched another flock of cormorants flying over me, I wondered: Am I naive or just dumb? Neither option is very comforting. Of course, some birds die; it happens every day. But somehow, this was different. I imagined what it would be like to be forced to pack up, leave my home, and walk hundreds of miles to a new home. Along the way, there would be dangers--predators, man-made obstacles, and others around me competing for what food and drink were available on the way. I wouldn't have a choice about leaving; I'd be compelled by instinct to do this, not just once but every autumn, so I could get away from the snows of the north. This would be no fun vacation, no retirement trip in the luxury RV to Texas or Florida for the winter visitors from up north. During this "vacation," I could die at any moment. I might collapse from exhaustion, unable to continue because I hadn't brought enough food or couldn't find enough on the road. Someone might just decide I'm an easy meal and kill me. I met encounter a storm that blows me so off course I can't recover; I'm separated from my traveling companions and I'm lost. Finally, I just lay down on the side of the road, confused and tired, and sleep until I don't wake up again.

I know that to most birders, all these things are so obvious on their face as to be silly. But as I said, I just didn't think about that before this weekend. As I drove on toward Philadelphia in the fading sunlight of the day, I was filled with a sadness I couldn't shake. I thought about that forced "vacation" all the way home.

Spring migration at Oil Creek had been a wonderful experience; the birds were all dressed in their finest outfits, excitedly singing and looking for mates; I could sense the thrill of possibility in the air. Most importantly, these birds were coming home. They'd survived the trip south and the trip back north, and now they were singing and fluttering, ready to create the next generation of birds. Fall migration is different, though. Everyone has to leave; all the nests they'd worked to build, all the great hunting spots they'd worked to find, all the warm sunshine and gentle breezes of spring and summer are over, and now they're were facing a hard flight away.

For me, it's just a lot to think about. I looked up at a passing flock of 20 or so great egrets, and I whispered, "Good luck."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A quick hello from Cape May

We're sitting in the darkened corner of a bar called Cabana's, with a live band playing and a huge crowd jamming to the band and the PSU Nittany Lions losing to the OSU Buckeyes, and WE ARE BLOGGING. This WIFI business blows my mind!

The hotel's WIFI connection is rather lame; you have to sit in a breezeway just to get a signal, so we came out to this bar to get free wireless Internet access. Laura H of Somewhere in NJ was kind enough to let me blog on her laptop, so I'll do a quick hello from Cabana's in Cape May!

What a great two days of birding--sopping wet, trudging around in the mud, tired, cold, but 19 lifers later !!! I'm still incredibly happy! This has been a weekend for the ages, one I'll remember for the rest of my life. I've met some incredible people--Laura, Susan Gets Native, Susan from Lake Life, Sharon the Birdchick, Amy of Wildbird on the Fly, Mike from 10,000 Birds, and a bunch of other people. Laura and the two Susans and I have been quite the birding foursome, getting lifers left and right, learning about each other and ourselves in other people's eyes, and just having a great time. Quick impressions?

1. Susan Gets Native runs red lights but won't cross against the light when walking; she looks like a former beauty queen and is hilariously fun.

2. Laura H is just as beautiful and poetic in person as she is on her blog, and her sense of humor lights a room.

3. Susan of Lake Life is a grounded and earthy person, always on schedule and always ready to go to the next event and find another bird.

I'll leave you with this shot of us at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean on our first and only sunny day so far:

I'll post again from home. In the meantime, I hope everyone else in the world is having as great a weekend as I am.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's here--Cape May Weekend

It's finally here -- the Cape May Autumn Weekend. The Flock has been exchanging emails to set up last minute details like where we'll eat tomorrow night and when we're arriving, etc.

I'm so excited that it's hard to sit still. This is only my second birding festival, and this is THE birding festival in this part of the country. The Oil Region one was small and intimate, a great festival for a first-timer like me. Plus I met and birded with Julie Zickefoose--WOW. This time around, I'll be with the Flock and with tons of other birders.

I've packed everything I could think of, and I'll be leaving a little early from work (working through lunch) to get a little head start.

I'll blog from the festival, so be sure to check this little bloggy over the weekend!

Signing off from PA,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cape May Revised REVISED wish list!

First order of business is to announce that my friend Niki just had her first baby, a little girl named Sidney Lorelai. Mommy and Baby are healthy and well, and Daddy's happy as a clam. Whew! Of course, now I’m all alone at work for the next six weeks with no one to email back and forth with… ugh. Still--congratulations, friend!

Back to the birds: I got an email this morning from Laura H in NJ; seems a Jersey listserver was in Cape May and got the birding experience of a lifetime! Look at these birds:
Northern gannet
Little blue heron
Swainson’s hawk
Parasitic Jaeger
Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Western Kingbird
Eastern kingbird
Blue-headed vireo
Eastern meadowlark
Long-Billed Dowitcher
Short-Billed Dowitcher,
Pectoral, Dunlin and Stilt Sandpiper.
Brown Creeper
Vesper Sparrow
Clay-Colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
American Tree sparrow
Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglets
Black Throated Blue Warbler
Black Throated Green Warbler
American Pipits
Wilson's Snipe
Red-shouldered hawk
Broad-winged hawk
Pied-bill Grebe

Almost all of these would be lifers for me! We can only hope we get half as lucky this weekend, and that my eyes are sharp enough to catch all these birds. Now I’m panicking—I need to study my field guides! I’m freakin' out!

I can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow. It seemed like time was going so slowly, and now it’s flying by. I have to pack tonight because I’m leaving directly from work tomorrow. My tummy is starting to get all nervous and hurty now. I hope I don’t forget anything.

I’d better go check my packing lists again….

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My REVISED Cape May wish list

Seems I was a bit over-hopeful about what birds should be visible in Cape May this time of year; thanks to Patrick for his NJ knowledge! My revised wish list:

1. Sparrow
2. Sparrow
3. Sparrow
4. Another sparrow
5. Yellow-rumped warbler
6. ...Sparrow
7. Still a sparrow
8. Black-throated green....nope, sparrow
9. Sparrow
10. Hey a sparrow!
You get the idea. Especially given this crappy weather. Laura H in NJ was kind enough to send a pre-weekend postcard saying howdy-do and that we should hope for NW winds and a cold snap. I'm not too optimistic.

The other ten on my revised wishlist:
11. Susan Gets Native
12. Birdchick
13. Laura H. in NJ
14. Patrick at Hawk Owl's Nest
15. Lynne at Hasty Brook
16. John the Born-again Birdwatcher
17. Amy, Wildbird on the Fly
18. The spirit of Mary at Mary's View
19. Any raptor, especially at the hawk-banding
20. Sparrow

Who knows? Maybe I'll even see a sparrow! Seriously, there are a few "gimme" birds I have not yet seen, so adding a nice Savannah sparrow or my nemesis, the common yellowthroat (which I've heard but never seen), to the lifelist would ROCK.

I think the most important thing, though, will be meeting all my birding blogger pals--we know so much about each other from reading each other's blogs, but finally meeting in person will be so sweet! It's like hearing that common yellowthroat but still not having seen him; it's just not the same. So it's going to be an action-packed and memorable weekend, hangin' with The Flock!

Monday, October 22, 2007


Will ya look at this? That Dr. Monkey is having way too much fun with his scanner.

My Cape May wish list

Gosh, so much to blog about, and so little time! Here’s the first post of many I need to get done today.

I mentioned in my sidebar last time I updated my blog template that my lifebird goal for the Cape May Autumn Weekend is twenty lifers. Why twenty? Several reasons. First, at the last (and first) festival I attended, I got 23 lifers on one birdwalk with the great Julie Zickefoose, so I figure 20 is a realistic goal – when you’ve seen as few birds as I have, the lifers come pretty fast. (My lifelist is at 131.)

Second, I went through my NE list of possible birds and I picked twenty that I’d really like to see. Actually, if I only saw all the warblers on this list, I’d be thrilled! But you know me—always setting ridiculously high expectations. Here’s my list, and don’t laugh at some of the common “gimme” birds on here:

Ruddy duck
Northern pintail
Blue-winged teal
Purple finch
Common goldeneye
Gull (any besides ring-billed)
Plover (any)
Sandpiper (any besides Solitary)
Scoter (any)
Pine siskin
Common snipe
Tern (any)
Warbler, Blackpoll
Warbler, Cape May
Warbler, Connecticut*
Warbler, Hooded
Warbler, Nashville
Warbler, Prothonotary
Warbler, Yellow-rumped

Just this morning, a local bigtime birder I know went to Scotia Barrens and saw 75+ butter-butts, along with four other species that would’ve been lifers for me. Gees! I’ve been meaning to get out to the Barrens since late August, but it seems like my weekend mornings are always being filled with sleeping or birding somewhere else or housekeeping or just chillin’ with the bun and the kitties while reading Harry Potter or something. Sigh.

Of course, I’m leaving off these other lifers I’m hoping to see:
Sharon the Birdchick
Lynne at Hasty Brook
Laura at Somewhere In NJ
Susan at Lake Life
Amy at Wild Bird on the Fly
Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest
John at The Born Again Bird Watcher

I’ll be sure to get photos to confirm my IDs.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Disapproving rabbits in book form

Went to Barnes & Noble yesterday and saw Disapproving Rabbits!

Congratulations to Birdchick Sharon Stiteler, and to her ever-disapproving cover-model-bun Cinnamon! Finally, rabbits everywhere have a voice.

And look--here's the thank-you page: There I am!

On the way to B&N, I passed a car with a little sticker on his back window that said, "one by one the rabbits are stealing my sanity." I was in a hurry, though, and couldn't get a photo of it.

Next weekend is Cape May, and this weekend is play-with-camera! I can't wait.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Cause baby, I'm a star! Whoa-ooh!

(all credit for the title of this post goes to His Royal Purpleness)

It seems my bloggy buddy FranIAm has given me a "Blogging Star" award! Cool! Fran's posts about politics, family, religion, and other important topics have made me think, laugh, fume, and wonder. Her recent posts about going to the Holy Land are especially moving.
So now I get to pick five other stars--like I'm going supernova and creating more little points of light to twinkle in the heavens. It's difficult to keep it to only five because I'm blessed to know of so many great bloggers out there sharing their worlds and their viewpoints! But I'll try:
1. Mary at Mary's View--at once funny and touching, Mary's views on the world are always right-on, and her photography is quite simply stunning.
2. Julie Zickefoose--NPR commentator, bird-walk-leader extraordinaire, Science Chimp, wife, mether, singer, and all-around coolness personified, Julie's encyclopedic knowledge of all things bird, plant, and animal is enough to make me think she is actually Jeeves the answer-guy, with a shining-bright soul.
3. Distributor Cap in NY--witty, bitingly sarcastic, whip-smart and worldly, D-Cap is one of my heroes. He's always insightful, informed, and ready to speak truth to power.
4. Matty Boy at Lotsa 'Splainin--from his Gigantic Child BridesTM, math superpowers, great sense of humor and irony, and political commentary--not to mention his always-hilarious comments on Princess Sparkle Pony's blog--Matty introduced me to a larger world. Dguzman says check him out.
5. Laura H in New Jersey--If I had a "blogging mother," whose thoughts on nature, literature, and life were my inspiration and my touchstone, it would be Laura. Her beautiful photos and lyrical prose are always a balm for my weary soul.
Whew! It's a wonder I get anything else done, what with reading the amazing blogs of these and other stars out there. You guys light my universe!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What kind of blogger are you?

I found this quiz on FranIAm's wonderful blog. If you've never been there, you should read her thoughtful and compelling posts for a few days--you'll get hooked. She often comments on my bloggy, which is always a treat because she's so freakin' nice!

What Kind of Blogger Are You?
That's me--an undiscovered expert. On what? I don't think I've discovered that yet. However, I'm a little worried about my eyes and the amount of facial hair I seem to have acquired...

The new camera is here!

Oh joy and rapture! I'm looking at my new Kodak Z712 IS -- and it's a beautiful thing! Sadly, I had calculus and housecleaning to do last night, but I did get to read the manual (I'm a dork) and fiddle with buttons. I also took some photos!

I have yet to try my old camera's memory card in this new camera; I did, however, see an option in the menus for formatting cards. I'm guessing that will likely delete the photos (including the last fateful digiscoped crow photo) on it, though. But we'll see. Maybe not.

Here's Kat makin' it happen on her comps.

She'll be done on Friday. Whew!

Here's a cute photo of Clawsie, who seems to be saying, "Oh please, must you take my photo again? Blasted papparazzi."

And finally, a northern flicker! Or at least a photo of my calendar at work, with next month's Northern Flicker photo, copyright Maslowski Productions.

Well--better go. I will have better photos and stuff later, although tonight's another busy night with meetings etc., and then tomorrow night is calculus again.... ugh! This whole work and school thing really gets in the way of my birding and blogging. Sheesh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New yardbird, new camera

First things first, I have FINALLY seen a red-breasted nuthatch! The little guy was on the scraggly pine at the back fence. Beautiful! and so much smaller than the white-breasted NU. Lifer! I'm now up to 130 birds, not a lot in comparison to experienced hard-core birders, but not too terrible for a relative beginner. I'm hoping to add quite a few more at Cape May!

Second, the new camera is officially on its way: Kodak Z712 IS, with 12X optical zoom (sweeeet), 7.1 MP, and image stabilization! That part really gets me jazzy. I can't wait for it to get here! I want to learn its every little nuance before the Cape May weekend. Sadly, that means I'm going to have to spend sooooo much time outside, photographing birds and landscapes and leaves and butterflies. That's just too bad....


Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day for the Environment

One big thing you can do for the environment is to cut down on your consumption of beef, chicken, fish, lamb, and pork, or even go vegetarian (though that's very hard, I will admit). Even a small reduction in the amount of meat you eat each week can make a difference to the environment.

1. More than half our water in the USA goes to feed livestock.
2. Livestock consume more than 70% of the grains and cereals we produce in the USA.
3. Livestock (especially cattle) degrade landscape very quickly, land that could be reforested or replanted with native plants.

There are many more reasons: health reasons, emotional appeals, etc. As I said, going vegetarian isn't something I push on people because it's hard in many ways. Still, buying a little less meat at the grocery store is something you can feel good about, and something that will encourage you to eat more vegetables--which is always healthy.

Green Monkey Music Project Part 2

For the musically inclined, I just participated in the latest GMMP, which was a geography-related mix. You had to pick songs with place names in the title. My selections and why I picked ’em:

“Walkin’ to New Orleans” – A Fats Domino classic. I’ve always liked the tick-tock rhythm, the rhythm of a walkin’ man who’s “gonna need two pair of shoes when I get through walkin’ these blues.” Now that’s some sadness. Plus it’s kinda cute the way he says “honey” in the lines “You used to be my honey/ ’til you spent all my money.”

“Going Down to Liverpool” – A great song from the Bangles’ All Over the Place, which I got in vinyl. The song was written by Kimberley Roo, the guitarist for one-hit wonder Katrina and the Waves. Wow, just typing that band name now gives me the chills.

“Lodi” – CCR. This has always been one of my favorite CCR tunes, about the tough life of a traveling musician who’s so broke he can’t even leave town. This guy’s as sad as Fats, though he doesn’t think to walk out of town—whether to New Orleans or just LA or someplace.

“Wichita Lineman” – A Glenn Campbell classic. The lyrics are rather silly, though I love the chorus. The mood of this song reminds me of my childhood, spent listening to Campbell (and others of his ilk) when he was a GOD of country music. My mother listened to just about every kind of music there was back in the late 60s and early 70s, which shaped my own rather eclectic musical tastes.

“Anchorage” – Michelle Shocked, whose stage name is a take on “Miss Shell-shocked.” I knew about Shocked from her days playing the Kerrville Folk Festival, and the album from which “Anchorage” comes, “Short Sharp Shocked,” was a solid effort. I like this song because it talks about getting back in touch with an old friend after a long time: “I took time out to write to my old friend, I walked across that burning bridge.” That’s something I never have the guts or energy to do, though I do think about old friends and girlfriends sometimes.

“Walking in L.A.” – This great song is off the Missing Persons Destination Unknown, which was a great album. It’s great 80s rock, with the famous octave-hiccupping Dale Bozzio on lead vocals, and Warren Cuccurullo, an underrated guitarist in my opinion, on lead guitar.

“I Left My Heart (in San Francisco)” – The greatness of Tony Bennett. Need I say more?

One more project, and I'll get the green monkey crown!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The long way home, in pictures: A tribute to my Nikon CoolPix 4800

I wrote this post the other night but didn't publish it because it was too late to sit through the uploading of photos. These are some of the last few photos I took with my old camera. I really loved that camera.

A couple of days ago I took the scenic route home, and I thought you might want to come along for the ride.

The late afternoon has always been my favorite time of day. These days, "late afternoon" is coming earlier and earlier. Is there anything more beautiful than a late afternoon sun shining its deep golden light against turning leaves?

I love photos of paths or roads that turn up ahead, leading you to a future about which you can only guess.

Here's a pond that provided some great birding in the spring, but today it was pretty quiet except for some white-crowned and white throated sparrows and a shockingly red cardinal and his more muted mate. They were all the way across, however, and I didn't get any good shots of them.

On the road to my house. Almost there!

Ah, there’s no place like home!

This little American goldfinch in winter plumage let me get within a few feet of him before he flew away.

The next morning, and it’s back to work again.

Post-disaster post

Well, I messed with the camera all morning, trying to take it apart (kinda chickened out on that halfway through), reading various forums on the web dealing with what happens when your lens gets stuck, etc. Repairs would cost almost as much as a new one. (Why does the world operate like that? Why do vendors encourage us to throw stuff away instead of repairing it by charging so damned much to fix things? Another rant for another day.)

It's no good. My wonderful beautiful birthday camera is no more. And it's all my fault.

After several hours of messing and googling and being upset and everything else, I just couldn't sit here and look at the camera any longer. I went outside and picked raspberries, a whole bowlful. They looked absolutely beautiful in the autumn sun. I wanted to take a picture, but--well, you know.

There was only one thing to be done. I girded my loins, screwed up my courage, held my breath, and told Kat. After staring at me for about 15 seconds, she said, "Well, we'd better get you a new one. You can't go to Cape May without one." So I told her what I had been thinking about as I tried desperately to fix the camera: Should I still go to Cape May, or just take that money and buy a new camera? Do I really deserve another camera after so recklessly breaking this one? Should I just give up this whole photography thing?

After listening to my ranting, do you know what she said? "Honey, you put up with a partner who works 12- to 15-hour days and is never around. Taking pictures and watching birds is what keeps you happy when I'm working. For that you deserve another camera."

Insert the sound of my weeping here.

I really thought she'd lose it. See, you've only read a few of my tales of DIY woe (the homemade scope being probably the biggest one before this). She LIVES with me and my unfinished projects, my half-rebuilt broken stuff, my "yeah, I'm gonna fix that!" collection of junk. Now, I don't want to make it sound like I never get anything right. I mean, I built the Taj Majal of bookcases for Kat:

and several other pieces of furniture, and I've fixed lots of other things. However, I believe it's safe to say that some things are simply beyond my abilities. Working with electronic equipment is one of them.

Anyway, she took time--one of her most precious things right now, as she's working like a dog to finish her comps paper (imagine writing a master's thesis in three weeks--yeah)--to look online with me at some cameras. We determined a budget, and now I'm online to do some research. I have narrowed it down to the following:
1. Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS 7.1MP 12X optical zoom with Image Stabilization
2. Fuji Finepix 3700 7.1MP 10X optical zoom
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ8K 7.2MP 12X Optical zoom with image stabilization

All are comparable in price, but 1. and 3. feature image stabilization. Wow.

Perhaps I should go the camera store and look at these babies live. I'll keep you posted.

Disaster Movie

(Scene begins on back porch. Protagonist DELIA is on porch with tripod, scope and camera attached with newly constructed adapter. Hesitantly, but with great excitement, DELIA turns the camera on. An image is projected on the camera's LCD.)

DELIA (almost screaming): Holy crap! Oh my gosh! Okay. Calm down. Why's it all blurry? Oh--focus the scope. Duh. (adjusts focus knob until image on LCD is clear as crystal) Holy crap! Okay. Find a bird. There's a crow on the scraggly pine tree; perfect! (turns scope/camera assembly on tripod until crow comes into perfect focus) Oh my gosh. (snaps photo) Wow. Okay--I wonder if I zoom the scope lens... (crow image gets larger and vignetting is reduced in LCD) Holy crap! Okay, now I'll just zoom the camera lens a little bit... (crow image gets larger, vignetting is reduced yet more--

Ladies and gentlemen, we're sorry to interrupt your movie, but we've encountered some technical difficulties. It seems that when DELIA zoomed, the camera's lens was obstructed by the firmly attached adapter, and the camera then flashed "LENS ERROR" in the LCD. We are trying to correct these difficulties. Please have some popcorn and soda, courtesy of theatre management. In the interim, we'll show you the "Special Features" that were included on this special-edition DVD.


"Well, everything was going incredibly well until I messed with the zoom on the camera. I heard the lens kinda struggle against the rubber that was gripping it, and I removed my finger from the zoom button faster than a baby pulls away from a hot stove, but then that 'LENS ERROR' thing came up. And it wouldn't go away. I looked on the Internets and found some people who said I was pretty much screwed: the camera is dead. But some people said they forced the lens out or whatever and then their camera was okay. I wasn't that lucky. I think the camera is dead, right along with that beautiful picture of the crow. I don't even think there was any hand-shake-blur on it." (falls weeping to floor)


Friday, October 12, 2007

Adapter update!

I've completed the first prototype of my adapter to connect my camera to my scope! Here are some shots I took during the process:

First, after realizing that PVC pipe doesn't come in the best dimensions for the task, I tried something else.

I believe this little container once held season salt. It still smells like that.

That wasn't right. Besides, a clear adapter probably wouldn't keep light out. So I went back to the PVC. I had a small piece, into which I drilled three holes per end to accept the clamping knobs.

Here's a close-up of my beautiful cordless drill:

Kat and Emerson gave it to me for my birthday last month. My old one's batteries had stopped charging, and getting new ones cost almost as much as a new drill--a fact I find quite ridiculous. Anyway, this drill rocks.

Here, I've just put the screws/knobs in to the camera end of the adapter:

It looks pretty convincing, doesn't it?

That's when it started to get hard. The scope's eyepiece was quite a bit smaller than the camera's lens, so I was going to have to use the rubber strips (read: vacuum cleaner belts) to step the inner diameter down. After quite a bit of scavenging around my shop, cutting up stuff, and generally playing McGyver, I put together enough rubber to get the job done.

The finished prototype could not be photographed, as it was on the scope with the camera connected!

Now--all that remains is to go out tomorrow morning and get some shots. I don't know how durable it is, how well it will hold up in the field. It's almost impossible to remove it quickly, but I suppose that's what I have binoculars for, right?

We shall see on the morrow what my toiling hath wrought. In the meantime, I'm hoping someone can tell me what kind of bird belongs to this feather I found in the backyard. Help?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Feeling better, progress on adapter

After discussing my weird feelings the other day with several commenters, I think I figured it out--I was having an anxiety attack. It had been so long since I'd had one that I guess I'd forgotten what they feel like! I used to get them all the time back when I was teaching college English (1990-1996). After I quit, my ulcer, my anxiety attacks, and my general bad mood mysteriously went away.

It's strange; all my life I had wanted to be a teacher. Yet from the beginning of my career, the day-to-day life of a teacher was just so tough for me. The teaching part was easy; it was the meeting of new people every semester, the constant sense that I was "performing" as if onstage each day--that's what I couldn't stand. I had my moments of fun, especially when I designed a course with a teaching colleague, but the actual standing in front of people always kinda beat me down. And I won't even go into the ceaseless and exhausting grading. Students would complain about having to write a paper every week in my composition classes; I would tell them, "You have to write one paper a week. I have to grade 150 papers a week. I'd trade places with you any day!"

Anyway, that was many years (and many careers) ago. On to the birdy excitement of the moment! Here's the status on my camera-to-scope adapter.

Here's a picture of the little knobs and rubber strips I found at Lowe's:
thumb screws, clamping knobs, and vacuum cleaner belt

So tonight, I have to take some measurements of the scope eyepiece and the camera lens etc. and cut a piece of PVC pipe to serve as the adapter itself. I drill a few holes for the clamping knobs and thumbscrews. As to why I got the thumbscrews: I figure I'll leave the thumb screws set, and I'll loosen and tighten the clamping knobs to attach/detach the adapter. We'll see if that works.

I'll have an update for you tomorrow! And thank you to all the commenters who wished me well after my weird feeling attack. Happily, nothing was wrong with anyone -- at least no one I know. And I got a little insight into my "inner birds" as FranSheIs called them, those inner thoughts and subconscious goings-on that we all must face from time to time.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Weird feelings

This post is "apropos of nothing," to quote the great Stephen Crane in his wonderful short story "The Open Boat," but have you ever been overcome by a sense of doom I can't really explain it too well, but I was just seized with this strong sense that something somewhere is just not right. The feeling is so strong that it's manifesting itself physically: my scalp feels very hot and prickly for no reason. I'm inside, in an air-conditioned building, so there's no excuse for this weird hotness (unless I'm having a hot flash -- I mean, I am 43 now).

Has this ever happened to you? Maybe I should call Kat. And my mother.

It's really strange, and I just wanted to see whether this happened to anyone else. Pardon the interruption in my otherwise birdly blog.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The DIY Monster strikes again

Well, folks, I’m at it again – the DIY Monster has bitten me once more. Here’s the deal:
I have been trying to maximize the effectiveness of my modest digiscoping rig of the Nikon CP-4800 and the Meade Condor scope, right? One of the most important things is an adapter that firmly holds the camera to the scope. This is essential to prevent blurriness from hand-shake. I recently digiscoped some photos of a green heron, using the Mountain/infinity setting which helped a lot, but there was still obvious hand-shake (I’d link to that pic, but I can’t find it for some reason—maybe I didn’t post it?).

Anyway, I was sitting here thinking about adapters. I had tried a piece of PVC with some felt inside it to tighten up the grip, but that never really worked, so I checked out some universal adapters online.

Now we all know what happened the last time I tried to do something like this myself; need I remind long-time readers of the homemade spotting scope saga? I would embed a link there, but the saga continued for months—for a few laughs, check out my archives from the beginning of beginningtobird back in July ’06 all the way through November! That’s when I finally broke down and purchased a real (although a bargain one compared to Swarovskys and Leicas and stuff) scope.

Anyway, as I was saying, my last effort was not that successful OR inexpensive, so I determined I would do A LOT of research before spending even a penny on my crazy little plans. So I went to this one site called Photosolve, which is a great place for accessories of all sorts, and found this universal adapter:

But at $104, it’s really out of my current price range. I mean, I’m about to drop a pretty good wad of cash on the Cape May weekend, so I’ve got to watch my pennies. So I continued to look at the other accessories near this one on the web site and saw these:

That’s when the DIY Monster bit me again and I realized that basically, this is a plastic tube of some sort with a rubber sleeve collar tucked inside. Then the screws turn and tighten that rubber sleeve’s grip on whatever is in the tube. Hmm…. THIS COULD WORK!

So I’m going to Lowe’s at some point this week to look for supplies. I figure I have a ton of PVC pipe left over from the homemade scope, so that’s covered. I will go to the plumbing section, then, and look for rubber tubing of some sort. I mean, I can make something like that sleeve in the picture, right? And I can probably find some little screws like the picture, right? Lowe’s has “everything for home improvement,” right? Oh wait—this isn’t home improvement. But still—they should have something. I realize this might seem like industrial espionage—making a generic version of someone else’s idea. Hmm. I kinda feel bad about that aspect of it. What do you think? Should I just go for it?

Whatever happens, I am not even going to breathe a word of this to Kat, though. At this point, in the middle of her three-week-long comps exams, even the mention of these crazy plans would send her right over the edge. She still bristles when I mention the homemade scope fiasco. So mum’s the word, okay?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Spring Creek Canyon hike

Located here in the heart of Centre County is Rockview State Prison, and they own lots of land around the county including a big piece of the Spring Creek Canyon. Most people have never seen the canyon area, as the prison-land boundary starts before the canyon proper does, just past Fisherman's Paradise, a world-famous stretch of trout stream.

Today, however, our local group ClearWater Conservancy got special permission to sponsor a hike through the canyon. We were only allowed on prison land from noon to three pm, but in this heat that was plenty of time to get a good idea of how beautiful this area is, and how threatened: there's currently a bill in the PA State House to parcel off this stretch of land to various groups including Penn State University. The idea that this pristine riparian environment could be one day developed--into university housing, or worse--has a lot of local environmentalists up in arms. I went on the hike today to take photographs for our local community newspaper, Voices of Central Pennsylvania, so I thought I'd show you a little bit of the area.

Over a hundred people showed up for this hike, which was really encouraging:

A little rainbow trout (about a foot long) relaxes in the gentle flow of the stream:

In the upper middle of this photo you can see the limestone cliffs that make this area special, and home to 11 species of plants and animals considered rare in PA.

Here's another limestone cliff outcropping that is easier to see:

We walked through tunnels of turning leaves like this most of the way:

getting some great views of Spring Creek in its more natural state, without the different breaks and narrows that the PA Fish and Game Commission have put in place to make the fishing better down at Fisherman's Paradise:

I even found this little spotted sandpiper in winter plumage (I think) in one of the overflow areas:

The leaves are beginning to change around here, but there's always a tree who goes faster than his buddies and shows off his stuff:

PA lore says that this caterpillar's reddish-brown and black markings forecast whether we'll have a heavy snow winter or a light one, but I can never remember which color means what. Anyone else ever heard of this?

Despite the heat, which was stifling at times (boy I'm such a wimp now, can't even handle mid-80s), it was a beautiful walk, and I think the story and photos will turn out well. The woman who took over for me as Environment editor went along and will write the story.

Birding wasn't too great at that time of day, but I managed to see
Spotted sandpiper
Black-capped chickadee
American bluejay
Red-tailed hawk
Turkey vulture
Tufted titmouse

On my way home, I saw this appropos metaphor for what's happening to the natural environment all around us:


When I got back, I saw a white-breasted nuthatch in the tamarack tree--the first one I've seen this fall! Sweet! Better go put more suet cakes out there. I'm hoping to get a red-breasted nuthatch at the suet feeders (which would be a lifer), as some other people in this area do, but I won't hold my breath. It's not that piney or foresty around here, what with the marsh and the vast cornfields in this valley.

Thanks for coming along on my hike!