Monday, March 31, 2008

Big Weekend commitment and birding!

Photo courtesy of Voices of Central Pennsylvania-- yes, Kat is really that tall.
The commitment ceremony was incredible; thank you so much for your good wishes! There must've been at least 500 people there, cheering us on.

Here's a list of links you can follow to read the local (and not-so-local) coverage of the event:

Local TV Channel 6 coverage

PSU's paper's coverage

Some other web site's coverage

Centre Daily Times coverage (State College's newspaper)

Altoona Mirror coverage

YouTube - Pride Commitment Ceremony at Penn State University -- these kids and their internets

The official site for the event -- contains stories about a lot of the pre-event publicity, both positive and not-so-positive

I'm supposed to get a bunch of photos from the million different photographers who were covering the event, so I'll post more photos when I get them!

The geographically closest Flock members Susan Gets Native and Laura H Somewhere in New Jersey were able to drive in for the event and we went birding on Sunday morning! They've both got coverage of our trip to the marsh as well, so be sure to check that out.

Unfortunately, I haven't even had a chance to download my photos from the camera, so I'll have pics later. For now, I'll tell you that the marsh really showed off for these Flock members! We saw
-wood ducks--at least 50 of them! of course, we were being bad birders and laughing and talking the whole time, so we only saw them as they flew up in terror!

-two sharp-shinned hawks, a male and a much larger female, trying to get it on in mid-air! The male was chasing the female, but only once did it look like they came close to a talon-lock; after that, the female played extremely hard-to-get.

-first-of-year tree swallows -- several pairs were arguing over the few nest boxes out there on the marsh. I'm thinking I need to make a couple of nest boxes tonight and mount them on the other side of the marsh, nearer the house

-Northern pintails -- from far away enough so we saw them on the water

-Great blue heron -- also fleeing in terror, but with those huge slow-motion elegant wingbeats

-mallards -- flying and honking at us for scaring them

-American coot -- in a driveby! We were on the boardwalk, and he half-flew/half-ran across a clearing in the loosestrife and cattails right in front of us

-red-tailed hawk soaring over the hill across from the marsh

-Carolina wren, calling a lot

-spring peepers, peeping even during the day

-muskrat -- a life mammal for Susan

-coyote poo, complete with little bones and fur in it--courtesy of Susan pulling it apart

I think that's everything we saw; an important development came when Susan and Laura informed me that you can call any bird that you can see from your backyard a "yard bird," which increases my yard bird number bigtime! I'll have to update my lists and see what I get.

We also discussed the possibility of having a birding festival right there on the marsh -- and you won't believe it, but Creeped-Out-by-Birds-Kat (COBBK?) came up with that idea! We could camp out in the backyard in tents and bird all over Penns Valley. Or who knows? Maybe I can swing something with the owners of the marsh and the very nice old bed-and-breakfast right next to it! This idea has definite possibilities, so stay in touch! We have a lot of great birding areas in this area, including a couple of hawk watches. Hmm...

Susan lobbied long and hard to make our next Flock gathering at Magee Marsh in May. Interesting--they have "garlic mustard pulling parties" there; perhaps we should have "purple loosestrife pulling parties" on the marsh. Believe me, now's the time; it's all dead and easy to grab, and then we could have margaritas in the backyard.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Public service announcement

Please see this post on my other bloggy to explain why I'm going to be off the blogs for a few days. Enjoy your weekend!

Listserv email trauma

I am enrolled (or whatever you call it) on the PA Birds listserv, and I just had a little trauma, thanks to my over-eager posting. A while back, I found what I thought was a feather from a Northern (yellow-shafted) Flicker. I posted my discovery here, along with some other photos.

Anyway, just now, someone sent a call out on the listserv for an ID of a feather -- with pics of a feather just like mine. The sender said something to the effect that "if you're really confident, reply to the whole listserv; if not, just reply to this other address." So of course Eager Beaver Delia (stop snickering!) writes, "I'm fairly certain that's a Northern Flicker feather, as I found one just like it after seeing a flicker in my yard last year!" etc. etc. I even linked to my blogpost and everything! I'm thinking, "boy, oh boy, maybe I'll get a little more traffic on the blog!" right?

But wait -- So then another listserv guy sends in an email that says he'd bet his boots that it's a guinea fowl feather. So I panic--I google guinea hen, and sure enough -- their bellies are covered with these spotty feathers! I've just embarrassed myself on a statewide listserv!

I then think--I should take my guess back! So I email the listserv and say "oh, you know that guy's probably right -- there's a farm about five hundred yards away with guinea fowl" or something to that effect.

But wait again!--neither of my emails has appeared... I then get an email saying that for some reason, my listserv email was sent to the listserv's monitor, who happens to work at the same company I do (cool). So that's why my email did not appear yet! So then I think, my pal the monitor -- he'll delete it before it goes out, if I ask him to! So I send him an email and ask him to delete my other email. Then no sooner do I send that email than I get a second "your email's being sent to the monitor!" email from the listserv! Sorry, pal who is the listserv monitor and works at my workplace!

AAGGGH!!!! Sometimes I hate the immediacy -- and the some-time lack thereof -- of email.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This week on the marsh

Last night, I took advantage of the ever-increasing amount of daylight remaining when I get home from work and took a walk on the marsh. I got another picture from up high near the road of some ducks, including American Wigeon and Northern Pintail (though I don't think there are any wigeons in this pic): I decided I would get closer to the Long Pond, and if I scared away the ducks, I would just camp out there and wait for them to return. Well, sure enough, just as I saw some Wood Ducks swimming around, I scared them away and then it was pretty much a mass freak-out as ducks everywhere scurried from my fearsome presence:


please don't eat us!
Um—sorry ’bout that... And while some ducks did return, they never returned to the area near where I sat down with my scope and camera, all set to take some award-winning photos. Instead, they flew over me and scowled, thinking, “Get out of here!” I think what I need to do is take some sort of portable blind with me out there, and then I could just sit inside and wait for the ducks to come back. They're too smart to come anywhere near someone watching them while holding a big black tube. They're no dummies.So I got up and saw a sparrow and, as I was watching it for ID purposes, I heard what sounded like a small plane buzzing about two feet over my head! I was just about ready to hit the dirt when I realized it was two mallards, giving me the business! I felt a little like this:

Run, Cary!

At one point, though, I think I might have heard a Common Snipe, but there were so many RWBLs all around, and all of them were being very vocal and telling me to leave their area right now!, that it was hard to tell what all I was hearing. I also heard what sounded like a baby’s “waaah,” coming from a densely brushy area (damn that purple loosestrife!). I couldn’t see what was making the noise. This morning, I went to What Bird? and listened to the sounds made by all the likely marsh birds I could think of (Virginia Rail, Sora, Snipe, Woodcock) just to make absolutely sure, but I didn’t hear anything like the waaah noise. Any guesses?

I did, however, see a real cat on the marsh:

He was stalking around toward the Long Pond when he saw me and then just sat there, staring at me, while I stared back at him. And just look at those evil eyes, staring at me and burning into my soul! Right after I took this photo, he decided he’d had enough and ran the other way. I’ve never seen this kitteh anywhere around the marsh before; I wonder where he came from.

I also heard (drumroll please) SPRING PEEPERS! Now I know it’s spring! They started up by the time I got back home.

Some other things I saw:
Mr. Cardinal, calling for Mrs. Cardinal. Loudly.

This may well be the best picture I've ever taken of a RWBL:I lightened this up a bit so that you could see that this RWBL is doing his “oh-ka-lee” (or as Earl Cootie would say, his “Jim Cav-ieeeeee-zel!”) thing here.

These two muskrats were doing some sort of mating ritual where they swam in unison, like a pair of ice skaters, always about a foot apart, all around the Long Pond:

“Looks like muskrat luhuhuh-uh-uv!”

This was right around the time those two crazy ducks buzzed me, and I figured it was time to leave! The rest of the pics were taken on the walk back to my house.

Another RWBL, in the sunset (red wings in the sunset, way out on the sea...):
Some rather strange scat here; you can see it’s almost like a bunch of really black grapes, pressed together in a big lump. It was probably two inches across. Any guesses?

One bunny’s very bad day:I thought I’d found an owl pellet right next to this, but I think it was just some old cat poo. Dangit... and gross.

This egg has been here since the last time I was on the marsh (3/9/08 – I forgot to report it here), and since then it’s snowed and been really cold: It’s right near my garden, just on the marsh side of the fence. It’s about the size of a chicken egg, and it doesn’t look like anything’s been brooding on it. Why is it here? What bird would lay an egg under the grass like this and then just leave it? We don’t have any chickens anywhere around the marsh, but it’s perfectly white and chicken-sized. Maybe it’s some other animal’s egg? (Platypus???) I didn’t touch it, just in case maybe someone has been tending it, but it’s a mystery egg for now.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bird's eye views and the lack thereof

While doodling around the birding blogs this morning, I came across a very cool link to MSN's Live Search Maps, which has a "bird's eye view" option so that you can view your own property from the air! As an example, here's my parents' house:
That's it, boxed in red. (ed. note: their house is for sale, and it's in Harlingen, home of the RGV birding festival! Hint hint!)

Note the fact that while others in the neighborhood chose to build pools in their backyards, my parents chose to beautify by planting all kinds of trees and plants--pecan, citrus, grape, peach, bottlebrush, hibiscus, roses, etc.--that serve to attract many different bird species to the backyard. You'll remember way back from when I started this blog that my mom is a bit of a bird lover herself. She gets tons of hummers, doves, chachalacas (which scared the pee out of me the first time I saw one pecking at the glass patio door -- her babies are nothing if not demanding of regular feeding).

Anyway, so I punched in my address, thinking I was finally going to get a beautiful aerial shot of my house and the marsh.... Yeah--no. No bird's eye option for me! I guess I haven't done enough to merit a spy satellite taking pictures of my house (yet). This was the best I could get:
Black and white, and not too legible. Hmph. Still--I've highlighted some areas of import. The small rectangle up top is my property--you can kind-of see my house and the crazy-uncle house/Kat's office below it. The circled area is Small Pond, where I haven't seen any ducks or anything yet this year. The longish area is Long Pond, where I saw the wood ducks, etc. last week. The dark area to the right of Long Pond is where the marsh owners built the short boardwalk and observation deck last year.
Boy, am I disappointed that I can't get a beautiful view of my area with the bird's eye option. I guess I'll just have to keep working on that rocket-pack.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Birdy movie review: Fly Away Home

Last night, Em and I watched one of our favorite movies, Fly Away Home. In the movie, 13-year-old Amy discovers a nest of Canada goose eggs, abandoned when developers come into a marsh and start mowing down trees. She raises the geese, and then she and her father attempt to lead them southward for fall migration.

There are lots of cute shots of the goslings following the actress who plays Amy (Anna Paquin, whom I like a lot), bathing with her, and just being sweet baby geese. The cinematography and the music are beautiful, and it’s a great film for anyone who loves birds and feel-good movies. The movie also stars Jeff Daniels and Dana Delany (whom I've had a crush on since her work on China Beach).

I had always thought that the movie plot was pretty much all true, complete with cute kid befriending and leading the geese, but it's actually based on the efforts of an artist-inventor-pilot named Bill Lishman, who first taught geese and then whooping cranes and trumpeter swans to follow a migratory path by flying with the birds in an ultra-light aircraft. He's a lot like the Jeff Daniels character in the movie, but there is no teenage daughter in real life, which means that the tale I heard a few years ago, that the girl had died in a ultra-light accident, wasn’t true! (I'm kinda relieved about that.) Lishman started Operation Migration to continue his efforts to help endangered birds. Check out his efforts by following that link. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Waterfowl on parade!

Yesterday after work I walked out on the marsh and saw quite a few new ducks and some other spring birds.

Here's the big view of what I could see (in the low light of a cloudy evening) from the road:

click for larger version

I can make out some Northern Pintails and Mallards, but can anyone else help ID any other species of duck? See the ones toward the back with the brownish heads? They look like Canvasbacks but they're too small, I think. Help! Looking from the road gives the highest-up vantage to see the Large Pond, but in that fading light and all the way from the road, and hand-held, this is as clear a photo as I could get.

Here's a cropped shot showing some mallards and some Northern Pintails:
I like that one who's apparently bowing up to take off. I loves me some ducks.

I also saw six or seven Wood Ducks farther back and to the right of these ducks, but I didn't get even a blurry photo because--despite my best imitation of Mary's stealthy sneaking--I still spooked them. I saw them through my binocs before they flew off, though, and it was definitely my best look at a wood duck. I wish I had a pic!

I also saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds; I cropped this photo within an inch of its life:

The following pic is the result of fiddling with one's camera settings despite not having read the manual:

Behold! The wonders of a wide-open aperture and high ISO, without a tripod. See the two blurry blue areas? Those are bluebirds (blur-birds) taking off. I can't wait until all these clouds are gone, and we get some decent sun.

Here are some ducks flying over--UPDATE: Canada Geese, thanks to new commenter Richard, whose blog looks cool!--and you can tell how dark it is by this time (it was close to 7pm):

I debated with myself about whether to crop out the little guy to the left, but I finally just left him in. Cropping is an art form, and if I were printing this to mount on my wall or something, I'd likely have cropped out the guy on the left. But here--well--I just couldn't decide.

Long-time readers will remember that the marsh owners, Greg and Mary Kay Williams, added a boardwalk and viewing station to the marsh last year:

The purple loosestrife may be dead, but it's still clogging up the entire marsh. Here's what it looks like from the viewing platform:

Were the loosestrife gone, you could probably see the large pond (at least one end of it).

When I got back to my yard, I remembered to check a spot where I found one little morel mushroom last year. Here's what I found last night:

Is that a young morel, I wonder? I'll keep checking.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lock the doors! Check the windows!

Mommy, don't let them take me!

Niblet has been reading the newspaper lately but I think I may stop giving it to him because he practically did a backflip when he read this story:

Teen charged with stealing bunny, trying to extort money
By Associated Press
March 12, 2008 9:06 AM

PORTLAND, Maine - A Portland teen has been charged with stealing a pet bunny and trying to extort money from the bunny's owner.

The 17-year old, who's being held at the Long Creek Youth Development Center, is accused of breaking into another teen's apartment and stealing the gray pygmy rabbit. Police say he then telephoned the rabbit's owner demanding repayment of a $100 debt [WTF!] or else the rabbit would be hurt.

Police Lt. Tony Ward says officers recovered the rabbit in good condition.

They charged the 17-year-old with burglary and theft in connection with the break-in.

The juvenile is also charged with robbery, assault and terrorizing following a confrontation last Friday in which he allegedly stole another teen's skateboard, backpack and pocket money.

OHMIGOD--"neither a borrower nor a lender be," indeed! Oh dear. Throw the book at this psycho!

Word clouds

My pal Laura provided a link to a site that will do a "word cloud" for your entire blog! Here's mine. I like some of the word combinations:

furnace good

water winged

like little marsh

I think that says a lot.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Do you like the new banner?

I took this pic from the backyard the other day, as a bunch of Canadas were leaving the marsh area and heading north. Many Canadas stay on the marsh, but I guess these guys were bound for colder pastures.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BIGBY Update

I’ve been keeping my BIGBY list separate from my regular list this year, to make sure I abide by the walking/biking-only rules I agreed to. My list, however, is not very spectacular, as the weather’s been so rotten all year that it’s been hard to walk anyplace. Most of these are just from the backyard and the marsh. There are a few from the woodlot behind my work, where I go walking sometimes.

Dark-eyed Junco
Chipping Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird - LIFER
Song Sparrow
House Finch
Mourning Dove
Tufted Titmouse
Downy Woodpecker
Common Grackle
Black-capped Chickadee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Canada Goose
European Starling
Red-tailed Hawk
American Crow
Northern Cardinal

So far, only one BIGBY lifer: I just saw the rusty blackbird yesterday, while scoping out the marsh for wood ducks. I know we get them back there, so I’m hoping to see some soon, as well as the teals and other ducks and herons.

Has anyone recorded findings on the BIGBY site itself? I still haven’t done it (I haven’t even logged all my Project FeederWatch dates either!). I just don’t get much time to do that stuff, what with working and blogging and other computer things.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A good side effect of flooding

FINALLY Blogger is letting me post photos today!

One of the good aspects of having had so much rain and snow melt lately is that a lot of what was formerly empty pasture and field has been converted to pond area, and the ducks are taking advantage.

Yesterday, I drove along a backroad that runs beside the very swollen Penns Creek behind the marsh, and I was rewarded with several good sights, though these photos are pretty rough:
Excuse me, Mr. Hooded Merganser, sir? Could you please quit being so shy and come closer to me?

Oh fine, then; just swim away. When your pics come out blurry, Mr. Snobby, don't say I didn't warn you. And yes, as a matter of fact that hairdo does make your head look weird-shaped.

I also saw many Eastern bluebirds--can you see them on the tops of the posts?

Shortly before I snapped, there were actually three of them on three consecutive posts! but of course one of them flew off to this tree:

It was quickly getting dark, so apologies for the crappy photos.

A great blue heron, back among the snags and such:

He stood stock-still in this one spot for. an. hour. That water must've been effing FREEZING too.

A little Northern mockingbird, looking cute:

Some ring-billed gulls, which is interesting--what are they doing inland? FINALLY--here's a pic of these guys.

I also saw these two twig nests, high in the tops of two side-by-side dead pine trees:
You can see the shape of some bird near the top (a raptor? almost looks like a crow, but I don't think it is); both nests were visited by birds, but I was looking into the setting sun and just couldn't pick out any field marks. His flight (I saw him fly away from the nests) and his general shape leads me to guess at a Cooper's or maybe even a sharp-shinned hawk, but I'm just guessing. My Peterson's Guide to Bird Nests and Eggs wasn't much help here; all the raptors have nests made of twigs, but they are lined with different materials. (But I did check the pic and info on crow's nests, and they do not (I think) look like this.) As you can see, however, I was nowhere near enough to see that much detail. I will monitor these nests (they're about 200-300 yards from the road, so I can monitor from afar, and next time I'll remember to take my scope so I can get a closer look.

Any guesses on these nests? I'll try to update with better/more pics as I explore this new fertile area!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Night Nibble

Niblet believes in laying everything out on the table.
That way, you can pick through for the good stuff.

Oh noes! Dryer woes!

Warning: The following is not exactly a birding post -- but I do have something bird-related to tell you before moving on to the non-birding post: I got a new lifer last night! Yesterday, on my way to school and the calculus quiz I was going to do not-so-good on (ugh--don't ask), I stopped for a few minutes at the duck pond near PSU, and I saw a Canvasback! Whoopee! I also saw a female ring-necked duck, a semi-lifer as I'd only previously seen male ring-necks. (I'll load a picture of both later!)
Thanks to Dr. Zaius’s nimble fingers, I followed a few links about dryer repair, and the outlook is not good. According to Hometips, “if the water was 3 inches deep or more, the unit is finished. It may work now, but motor damage may occur several months down the road.” Oh dear. The water in the laundry room was at least three inches, probably four or five.

Another link provided a helpful diagram of the anatomy of a clothes dryer:
Sheesh. The motor is down there? No wonder it’s dead. However, perhaps I can do what the furnace guy did and pull off and dry the motor! Maybe it will work! I have screwdrivers! I have a blow-dryer! I have flashlights! I have know-how! or --uh--guess-how! And I have this little picture to go by too!

Otherwise, it’s laundromat city for this kid, and I hate laundromats. A long time ago during my previous life as a college English instructor, I used to grade papers while doing my laundry. I saw some pretty scary people in the laundromat, and it seemed like they were always. staring. at. me.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

After the flood

Status report:
heater--still working!
washer--still working!
submersible pump--done working!
dryer--still NOT working... I'm hoping there's a reset button someplace...

Here are some photos of the backyard:
This is my backyard, taken through the window of my 2nd story office.

Lake Kimbell next door:

This morning, the water behind my house was frozen white; Lake Kimbell was covered with a skim of ice. No time to take pics, however, as I had to get to work.

Tonight is the big calc quiz. I spent about 2-1/2 hours last night working problems on L'Hospital's Rule, derivatives of inverse trig functions, and definite and indefinite integrals. Between work and class, I'm going to review integration by parts; then I'll be ready. Or as ready as I can be. (Note: This paragraph is dedicated to Matty Boy, Distributorcap, and Mathman--the math geniuses of the blogging world!)

Today, in addition to the red-winged blackbirds, I saw a couple of grackles! Imagine that--being happy to see grackles. No doubt I'll be bitching later when they're eating all my birdseed.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Red-winged blackbirds... I haz dem!

FINALLY! This past weekend, a few red-winged blackbirds finally came home to the marsh! Surely this means that spring is just around the corner! All we need is a few spring peepers and some fireflies, and it's springtime for Delia!

We're certainly having some spring showers here, along with warmer temperatures, that are causing some major flooding all around the area, including my basement:

That's four inches of water in the basement, which means my laundry room and my workshop in addition to a big room where the furnace and oil tank (and a bunch of other crap) are. The flooding shorted out the motor in the furnace, so I woke up to NO HEAT.

This melting snow and tons of rain are really making life difficult. I had to get the furnace guy to come and dry out (literally--with my blowdryer) the motor in the furnace, and we had to call another guy with a big pickup and a chain to pull the car out of the mud at the bottom of the driveway:

I've discovered that the washing machine still works, but the dryer does not. I'm hoping it is just drying itself out and I'll be able to put that freshly washed load into it soon... I hope?

Needless to say, no work for me today. Instead, I spent the day getting the car towed about four feet for $25 (other people wanted over $100!), buying a submersible pump to get the water out of the basement (another $75, but hey--we saved that on the towing!), pumping the water out of the big basement and the small basement (we have two separate basements under two different sections of the house), waiting for the furnace guy to get the heat back on (I'm only now thawing out from not having heat all night and most of the day), making some really yummy potato-leek soup, putting floated-away stuff back in place in the basement, washing clothes but not drying them, and finally settling in for a quick episode or two of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (I'm watching Season 3 right now).

After I'm done posting, I have to study for yet another calculus quiz tomorrow night. Oy vey. But let's not talk about that. Let's focus on the spring songs of the song sparrows and the oka-lee of the red-winged blackbirds! Welcome home, birdies! (Sorry no picture but it's still raining outside.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Eagerly awaiting spring migration

Niblet disapproves of waiting

I just realized something that threw me for a loop: last year’s birding festival at Oil Creek State Park in western PA, where I met Julie Zickefoose, happened in May. May. Let me stress that the month was May.

Why the stressing? Because here I’ve been thinking the festival happened in late March or early April, which made me ever so excited because it’s now March, which meant that the migration—in my mind, at least—should be starting in two to three weeks. But now I’ve realized, given that last year’s migration was at its peak in May, not March, that I have even LONGER to wait than I thought!

How will I survive? I’ve been so looking forward to the end of March, and now I’m incredibly disappointed that migration won’t really be going here for another two MONTHS, not three weeks!

*heavy heavy sigh*