Thursday, November 29, 2007

I've looked at clouds that way...

Note: I've been working on this post for a while, or at least working on acquiring the images for the post. The text--it'll be grasshopper product, produced on the fly; the pics are pure ant product. (In case you don't read Julie Zickefoose's blog, check out this beautiful entry, which ends with her classifying bloggers as grasshoppers and ants. I'm always a grasshopper, just writing on the fly.)

I love clouds and have names for the different kinds of clouds I see but not like "cumulus" or whatever. I have my own little cloud names, coined over a lifetime of watching the sky. Here are a few of the clouds I've seen lately that exemplify the clouds in my lexicon.

1. First up is the "Ferris Bueller" cloud--those tiny puffs that insist on making themselves seen in an otherwise cloudless and spectacularly blue sky:
I call them Ferris Bueller clouds because of that part of FB's Day Off in which he says he couldn't possibly go to school on a day like today, and then they cut to several quick shots of tiny little clouds like these, as though they made the weather too severe to go to school.
2. Next up is the general post-storm cloud cover, featuring little splotches of blue:
I've always thought that it's almost cruel the way the sky always seems to clear up and turn beautiful right after a really fierce storm. This was especially true in Texas when, after a tornado would rip through, the sun would come out as if to spotlight the devastation. Has anyone else ever noticed this? The above picture wasn't taken after quite so fierce a storm--just the steady cold rain and windy storms that gripped Cape May for the first day and a half of this autumn's Migration Weekend. I was standing outside the convention center on Saturday, just as the skies were finally clearing and the Flock--Susan Gets Native, Laura H in NJ, Susan at Lake Life, and I--were about to go walk on the beach for the first time.

3. Next up is the kind of cloud that produces sunbeams:

This isn't the best picture, but you get the idea. When I was a kid, my little sister Mary and I would look for these clouds and the sunbeams, especially near evening; we would say that the sunbeams were God's robe coming down as he stood on the earth.

4. These are wispy, melting butter clouds:

This type looks the way butter does when you melt it, with the oils and stuff separating out. It's one of my favorite cloud types. I like the different textures and the way the winds slice the clouds into different bits at different altitudes.

5. The sunlight-diffusing morning clouds are another favorite of mine:
I like the pinks and oranges produced by these clouds and their effects on the morning sun, almost Monet-like in its translucence.
6. This is an example of a rather thin cotton-batting sky:

I have a slightly better though smaller example of a more dense cotton-batting sky here:
I remark on the "cotton-batting sky" more than any other kind of cloud cover, because it's my favorite. You'll see it before it rains or snows, when the cloud cover looks like cotton batting stretched out across the sky like a blanket, with thinner and thicker parts, but shielding out the blue behind it (except in the case of the thin batting in the first example). I wish I had a better photo, but lately every time I've seen it, I haven't had the camera.

7. I love clouds at sunset, especially the clouds high enough to look over the edge of the world:

See how there's dark gray evening clouds, shaded from the sunlight by the edge of the earth's disk, and then there are the higher clouds that are lit by the setting sun's last rays? I love these. It would be like getting an extra peek at the sunset, being up that high.

Here's another example, which also includes some really beautiful evening gray clouds, another favorite:

Clouds in the evening and at night, dimly lit by setting sun or moonlight, are beautiful to me.

8. Finally, there's the wispy clouds, smaller bits of what are usually called mare's tails:
These aren't the whole tails, mind you--just little splashes of tails.

I'll leave you with a photo of evening gray clouds I took on my way to calculus class one night. It was bitterly cold, and the moon was hanging in the sky, following the sun:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winter blahs

Winter's not even officially started yet, and already I have the winter blahs. I find it difficult to post anything, difficult to go birding, difficult to do much more than sit on the couch and read Harry Potter books over and over, wishing I had a cool wand and could do magic.

Oh dear, I think I might have revealed a little more about the real me than I should've. . . .
At any rate, please excuse my sporadic posting.

I will say that I saw a great horned owl this morning on the way to work; I only wish we hadn't been running late (as usual), or I would've stopped and tried to get a picture. That's only the second time I've seen a GHOW that wasn't chasing me.

I went birding this past weekend with Roana and Nan from the State College Birding Club, and The Kid even came along. Em's developing an interest in birding, FINALLY! She always seemed a little resistant to get into birds when I would try to take her with me places, but she apparently saw a bald eagle flying near her dad's not too long ago, and it seems to have been her spark bird. I'm so excited that she's interested--I'll have a family birding buddy! We had a good time but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I'm hoping for horned larks, snow buntings, and maybe Lapland longspurs sometime during the winter, when they are supposed to feed in newly-manured fields. Maybe we'll get a good snow soon and I'll spot some. All three would be lifers.

Speaking of which, I just checked my list and I'm up (drumroll please) 163 species! The Cape May trip really boosted my total. I wonder how long it'll take to break 200--probably a while, as I'm not really a chaser. With the surprising number of irruptive species being seen in my area this fall, though, I'm hoping to add at least a few more soon.

So--a rather lackluster post, but hey--it's a lackluster day.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Laid-back LOLcat Monday

Who can resist the LOLcat?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Funny book meme, interesting results

I heard about this meme from Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest, where you go to Amazon's Advanced Book Search, type your name under Title, and pick the most interesting result.

I did it two ways. First, I typed in both my first and last name (I don't have a middle name). I got three hits:
Okay--what in the world is up with that first one? Ooh, I see--it's an Oprah Book Club selection--it all makes sense now. See, not a lot of people know this, but Oprah pretty much bases her whole club selections thing around MY taste in books. No, really! Okay--get this: back in the late 1980s, I did my master's thesis on mother characters in Toni Morrison's novels; Oprah starts up her book/reading club and picks Beloved as the first club selection. See? What did I tell you?

Now, I realize that she hasn't picked any forensic science books yet; I mean, I don't see her having the Oprah-lovers of America read Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI, but you know--she focuses on fiction. Still -- I read Love in the Time of Cholera when it first came out; that's on her list. I majored in English and read all of Faulkner's novels (on a bet); she puts Light in August, As I Lay Dying, and The Sound and the Fury on her list. I'm a woman, and I have a heart; she puts Maya Angelou's The Heart of a Woman on her list. Do I need to go on? Puh-lease. It's so obvious.

But I digress.... Okay, the second one is YOU Staying Young. Uh... yeah.

And finally, Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. (Is this Jerry's wife?) Well, I might be delicious, but I'm sure everyone knows it, so there's not so much "deceptively" going on.

After these weird results, I only typed in my first name, and this time I got a ton of books by some cookbook writer named Delia Smith. Believe me, when you have a first name that you have to spell for everyone, it's easier when your last name is something like "Smith." Anyway, she's written a million cookbooks and holiday books and stuff--she must be the Martha Stewart of the Delia world. Here's the best one:
You go, girl.

Happy Turkey Day!

Just think: for some people, a wild turkey would be a lifer.

Here's an interesting story to ponder while you stuff yourself tomorrow. Enjoy the holiday!

I'm thankful to have bloggy pals like you with whom I can share my little birdy adventures. Thanks for two years of fun!

Monday, November 19, 2007

First snowfall

. . . and already I'm OVER IT!

Sure, for the first couple of years up here, it was cute. It was beautiful. It was wondrous and special. It was white Christmases and sledding and postcard-perfect winter scenes, just like I'd always imagined it would be when I was a kid living in South Texas, enduring 70-degree Christmas days and such.

But now? After five PA winters, I'm kinda tired of it. Sure, it's still beautiful and wondrous, but
--Not at 7:15 in the morning, when I'm digging the car out from under a night's snowfall.
--Not when I can't park in my driveway anymore because it's a hill, and if I park at the bottom I'll never get back up and out. (Not that I would mind it so much, but my boss might have a little to say about my not coming to work anymore.) Now I have to park in the little pull-off space up top, and I get covered by the snowplows every day.
--Not when I have to drive slowly and carefully, running the wipers constantly, washing the mud and salt off the windshield and trying not to think about the salt eating the car's paint and underside coating, rusting it from beneath.
--Not when the arthritis in my right foot and ankle are really bothering the heck out of me from the first snowfall to the last.
--Not when it starts getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.
I'll admit that I still love watching the birds at the feeders in the snow. They stand out against the pure white backdrop like little brown and red and blue gems. However, the light's usually so crappy that it's hard to get a good shot.
I still love looking out at the snow on the trees and the mountainsides, the fields covered with white blankets, the night-glow of reflected white between the clouds and the snow.
But I gotta tell you: this snow business ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Oh my gosh, you can check the reading level of your blog! Got this link from D-Cup, who's one sassy broad. Mine:

As if! The funny part is that I put my other bloggy in there and got

I guess politics is a juvenile activity. Hee hee hee!!!

Friday Night Nibble

Keep your eyes on my badonkadonk-donk!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Raptorful morning

My drive to work is rather long each day because I have to first go from East Jahbib where we live, to downtown State College, then back up to Bellefonte. Some of the drive is two-way two-lane, but a lot of it is divided highway. Every morning along these roads I can expect to see at least two or three kinds of raptors. Today, however, was a truly raptorful morning! I saw

American Kestrel
Golden Eagle (HUGE!)
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk

What a great day! But don't tell Kat, because she hates it when I bird while driving down the highway at about 70mph! Still, I wanted to get a photo of at least one of these guys, so I tried to pull over a couple of times but each time I spooked the bird with my 70-to-zero, slam on the brakes and pull over past that loud-ass rumble-strip on the side of the highway. Dangit! I would've had an amazing shot of the red-shouldered; he was in almost the same spot as the one I saw a couple of days ago--same bird, maybe?

Still--I'm so glad I attended that raptor ID workshop and that I spent so much time around raptor expert Susan Gets Native in Cape May. Otherwise, I would've missed most of these! The Golden Eagle was especially striking, sitting at the very tip-top of a tall snag near the highway. He was enormous. I read that they migrate through here, and just this morning I saw a posting on the listserv that someone had seen a golden near downtown. Perhaps this was the same bird?

I also saw a big flock of ducks (couldn't tell what kind) overhead. I sure do love ducks and geese. And raptors.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Can you pass 8th grade science?

I did, but I'm still not sure which question I missed. Check it out!

I like that little graphic of what I'm guessing is some sort of Neandertal man touching fingers with a space-age guy.

Mystery bird and a lifer

First, I saw a red-shouldered hawk! He was on a fenceline next to the highway on my way to work--woo hoo! Lifer! I'm reasonably certain on the ID as I'd boned up on them before my last field trip, when they were expecting to see red-shouldereds. (Then I ended up not going on the trip, and they ended up not seeing any of the potential lifers I'd wanted to see. So it all worked out.) Wish I hadn't been running late; otherwise, I would've stopped for a photo. Next time.

The mystery bird: This morning when we got in the car, I looked across the yard and saw a dark blue bird, like indigo-bunting blue, only the bird was larger than a bunting--maybe starling size, but with a long tail. He was eating seeds among the dried-up goldenrod next to the fence. I didn't have my binocs with me (dangit!), and we were as I said running late, so I just stared at him with my feeble eyesight. I have looked at the bunting pics online, and I know he was larger, slimmer, and had a longer tail. Almost like a grackle shape. Maybe he WAS a grackle? You know how they have that blue-black tinge to them. But up here in November? And it was completely overcast this morning, but he was decided blue even in the dim light. I wish I'd had my binocs to get some idea of beak shape, etc. but I didn't. Any guesses as to what I saw? Then I could look for photos and see if I could make a guess-ID.

I'll also do a run through the WhatBird ID site. I wish I'd had more time and my binocs this morning.... So frustrating!

Oh--one more thing--off to a good start on this year's Project FeederWatch. I had a good variety of birds at the feeder. I absolutely love doing PFW, because I really like keeping those records. I know I should probably do it even during the off-time of PFW, but for some reason, I don't. Maybe the added knowledge of knowing I'm contributing to a body of statistics spurs me on, even when I am sleepy, to get up and watch my feeders.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Strange spam address

This post is rated PG-13 -- maybe even NC-17! You've been warned!

You know how you always get those spam emails (I won't go into the topics themselves), and they'll be from an address that will have a suffix like "" or "" I get them too, even at work. So I got one earlier that caught my eye, because the address had "" at the end Geese? The subject line and content of the email did not seem to be about geese! So I decided to explore and typed in Here's what looks like:

So now I'm confused. Why would (ahem) off-color emails come from an address at

What's really sad is how the site is all about killing geese. Why isn't it Or I don't know what I expected, but I guess I thought it would be more like a site with lol geese or something.

The bottom of the screen had something interesting, though:

In case you can't read those things at the bottom in the orange -- it says:

Grey goose vodka Squirrel Seagull Quail Duck as pet

Duck as pet!!! I want a duck! I want some grey goose vodka (dirty martini, lots of olives!)!

Oh, sorry--got a little involved there. Anyway--what a weird site that is. And I guess they also do porn emails. Weird.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Reading Kingbird Highway

I just finished Kenn Kaufman's birding classic, Kingbird Highway, and it struck such a chord in me that I thought I'd blog about it. Most birders have probably already read it, so I'll try not to spend too much time blabbing about the "plot" such as it is, because there's so much more to the book.

On the surface, Kingbird Highway is a fascinating look into one young (18)man's "Big Year," trying to see as many bird species as he can over the course of a year. He's competing against other birders for the record (626 species), and his competitiveness reaches a level of obsession that drives him to hitchhike all over the continental US, Alaska, and Baja California (Baja was included in the American Ornithologists' Union's coverage area back then). He sleeps on roadsides, eats cold soup straight out of the can for breakfast, endures blazing heat and freezing cold, sometimes goes hungry for days, and works picking apples to scrape enough money together to take a few pelagic boat trips and two plane rides in Alaska. He lives on about a dollar a day, and his Big Year cost him a total of less than $1,000, which is pretty incredible even by 1973 standards.

The book is also a great picture of the country in the early 1970s, with all the "longhairs" and "hippies," the popularity of hitchhiking as a real mode of travel, the undeveloped areas on the coasts and other birding habitats, and the truly rugged nature of living on the road. Further, it's a study in pre-Internets birding: small telephone networks of birders who'd call one another when a rare bird was seen, meaning that by the time news of a rare bird got out, the bird might already have moved on by the time you heard about it, much less got there to see it. He meets most of the big-time birders of the day in person on his travels, depending on "friend of a friend" introductions to help him find his way in strange territory.

As a beginning birder, I appreciated learning about his field craft: finding birds on territory, differentiating habitats, sticking with a spot until you find a bird, and really studying each bird to get more than just the typical fieldmarks you find in a guide. I'd really like to get one of the Kaufman guides; I bet there would be tons of information in them.

The idea of doing nothing but birding, living for the next bird, full-time, is enchanting to me. I would love to live that way, but I have a family; it just wouldn't be possible, or even desirable--they need me, and I need them. Still, when something mundane like work or school trumps birding on my schedule, it's a sweet fantasy to think of leaving those things behind and just going birding any time I want.

His writing is at once straight-forward and lyrical; he appreciated not only the birds but everything around him as he traveled the country. His eagerness to learn more about each bird instead of just checking it off a list and moving on finally turns his obsessive quest into a chore by late September of his year, but he sticks with his commitment. He probably wouldn't have gone on to write his field guides had he not learned the value of truly studying each bird and enjoying it for its own sake. That's an important lesson for me, as I work to not only see (and count) new birds but to learn more about bird behavior and bird life; to see birding only as "listing" is to shortchange both the birds and yourself.

He doesn't end up setting the record; another guy who has the money to travel as fast as he needs to beats his list--but only by three species. Still, by the time you learn this fact at the very end, you really don't care anymore than he does. His Big Year changed him forever, just as beginning to bird has changed me--in ways I never anticipated. I have new birds, new friends, and a new life in the blog universe.

Now if I could only get the similarly titled Gordon Lightfoot song "Carefree Highway" out of my head, I'd really appreciate it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Elementary, my dear comet

Thanks to Mike McDowell, birding digiscoper and skywatcher extraordinaire, I found out about Comet 17P/Holmes, which is currently visible in the constellation Perseus.

It was really easy to find, because Perseus is just to the right and down from Cassiopeia, the sideways W in the eastern sky and one of my favorite constellations. If you know your Greek myths, you’ll know why Cassiopeia, her daughter Andromeda, and Perseus are together in the sky.

Anyway, find Cassiopeia; go right and down a little toward Perseus, and start scanning with your binoculars or spotting scope. We have a very dark sky out at the Marsh House, so it was easy to find the comet. I think you could probably see it even in the city, though. Mike has a photo of it on his blog. It’s like a big light blob in the sky, as though someone out there is shining a flashlight back at the earth. I couldn’t see the head or tail of it with my binocs, but I may go out there with the scope tonight (more power!).

The last time I saw a comet was late 1973 or early 1974. I was nine, and I had a terrible ear infection. I’d heard about Comet Kahoutek and begged my mother to wake me up around 2a.m. so I could see it. She did (gotta love that mommy!), and we saw a small bright smudge in the sky (the comet was a big disappointment to scientists because it was so dim). I can still see that smudge in my mind, still remember standing there with my mom in the backyard holding my hand to my painful ear in the cold of winter, and seeing the first (and until last night, the only) comet I’d ever seen in my life. (I won’t even go into the tragedy of missing Halley’s Comet in 1986 due to overcast skies.)

Ever since watching the moon landing a few years earlier, I had wanted to be an astronomer; that dream would intensify until 5th grade, when my teacher Mr. Steussey ruined math for me. I knew then that giving up on math meant giving up on my dream of being an astronomer, but what can I tell you? Mr. Steussey was a jerk who threw chalk at students for giving a wrong answer, and who once picked me up by the waist and held me up to the blackboard to do a problem at the top of the board that he’d intentionally picked for me to do because I was so short. (I can’t remember if I’ve told you about this little trauma before; if I have, sorry to repeat.) After that, I never wanted to do another math problem again, so astronomy was out. (Obviously, I had to get over that feeling, but I still hate math.)

Don’t despair for me, however; by then Jacques Cousteau’s TV show had caught my eye and I had decided to become an oceanographer. Ah, the dreams of youth! So resilient!

But I digress. Get out there and see a comet tonight; it should be visible for the next few nights, so don't miss it!

Thursday, November 01, 2007