Tuesday, June 24, 2008

OMG a new yardbird!

Tonight, Gretchen was over for dinner, and when she went out to her car, she heard an owl! It was dusk, so the blue of the post-sunset sky served as a backdrop to the silhouetted trees and Egg Hill.

I went outside and heard it: "hoo h-hoo, hoo, hoo!" Great Horned Owl! Coming from the willow and oaks at the back of Neighbor Ed's property!

We listened to it for a little bit, and then I called back to it with my BirdJam, and it called back to me! "hoo h-hoo, hoo, hoo!"

I ran upstairs to get Em so she could hear, but when we got back the hooting had stopped. Repeated calls with the BirdJam were of no avail. Still, Gretchen said she didn't see the owl fly out of the trees, though he may have stayed low and flown farther into the marshland behind Neighbor Ed's.

This is not only a new yardbird for me; it's also the first time I've ever heard an owl--any owl!--in real life!

I'm so pumped!

UPDATE: This brings my yardbird total (counting the marsh birds I see and hear from the backyard) to 71!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mission: Time Wastage

(is wastage a word? waste-age? the age of the waste?)

All you song-savvy birders need to run over to Beckeye's pop culture blog and take her massively cool song lyrics quiz. Four decades, three levels of difficulty per decade, three songs per level of difficulty.

It's a killah!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yes, Susan, I do own a camera!

and I took some pictures to prove it!

First, here's a bug I found flying around on our three-season (enclosed) porch a couple of weeks ago:

What the heck is that? He was a big bug--at least two inches long. He's sitting on this weird rock I found in Wooster, MA. (it's silvery and flaky)

Here's a profile of him, with me kinda pissing him off because I held him by the wings so you could see him better (you know how cruel I can be to bugs):

UPDATE! -click for terrifyingly huge- (I think I fixed the click-for-big thing!)Look at him rearing up and trying to bite me with those terrifying jaws! He flew off shortly after this photo was taken. Go figure.

After I took my power walk last night (I was too sleepy in the morning), I grabbed the binocs and camera and ran back out to photograph this little family of mourning doves:

It was really late, and it was kinda sprinkling, so all we have is a silhouette. That's mommy on the left, with two smaller ones huddled down beside her. Daddy (I guess) was on the power line that you can see crossing the bottom of the screen, only out of frame.

I'm also happy to report that I drove a bunch of Eastern meadowlarks positively bonkers last night by playing my fake BirdJam's meadowlark recording! One of them flew right at me and then circled me a couple of times, trying to figure out just what the heck I was and where the sound was coming from. It was incredibly exciting! I didn't even have to play the whole recording before these guys just started "spring of the year"-ing all over the place! It was awesome.

Next, I know you're all dying to know how my little vegetable garden is doing. I took this picture last night after I came back from photographing the MODO family, so it's pretty dark:
In the front, you can see a bunch of what I first thought were carrots but now I realize is probably just Queen Anne's lace. Oops. Behind that are my raspberry plants to the left and right in front of the fence. That tall thing is a volunteer mammoth sunflower (from last year). There are also some volunteer cilantro plants here and there, making the stepping stones a little harder to navigate.

Here are the lettuces--arugula and green leaf (left to right):

This is my first try at arugula--and boy howdy, it's way spicier than the stuff you buy in the store, even the organic stuff. It's pretty strong, but it does add a nice zip to salads.

The cilantro has already gone to flower--this is all volunteer stuff from last year; I didn't even plant one seed; also pictured to the right of the cilantro are my four brocolli plants, a new veggie for me:

I gave Nibble some lettuce (including arugula, which he ate) and a big leaf from one of the brocolli plants, and he was in bunny heaven! Here's a little Pandering: a shot of the Nibble-tocks, to satisfy Fran's Nibsession:

Back to the garden: Here are three little green pepper plants 'California Wonder', with some crookneck yellow squash behind them, and another volunteer sunflower plant behind that:
Again, it's really getting dark by this point, so it's tough to see. There's also a little volunteer cilantro plant in the lower left corner; the cilantro is kinda out-of-control this year. But then my garden is always a little wild. Remember the lettuce tree and the weedy wonderland? The morning glory that took over the world?

Oh, and I realized that I did actually take one photo while atlassing last week with Roana:
This is a little mountain stream near Poe Paddy State Park. There were about a million butterflies flying around in this area, but I didn't manage to get any pictures of them. Sorry!

To finish off, I have two cloud photos I took with my Sony-Ericsson Walkman 580i camera phone. The first one was taken while driving about 75 mph down Rt 220 toward State College:
I dig the sunbeams. This next one is the weirdest-looking cloud/sun combo I've ever seen; it was taken in April, so it was still really cold which might explain the clouds:

That's a birch tree in the lower left corner, with the sun shining through these weird cotton-batting-like clouds. Creepy, huh?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Atlassing and lifebirds!

What a busy week it's been! I've barely had enough time to read and comment on other blogs, much less post much on this one. However, I had a great time atlassing this past Sunday with my pal Roana and wanted to tell you about it.

Sadly, I have no pictures of my TWO LIFEBIRDS that I got that day. I think some kind of funk comes over me when I'm in the field sometimes, and I just forget that I have a camera. I'm so busy looking at the bird that I forget to take a photo of it. This happened a lot this weekend, which is a real shame because the views I got of both birds were spectacular!

First, I finally got to hear a black-billed cuckoo's soft "coo coo, coo coo" coming from a tree. I didn't see the bird, so I'm not counting it as a lifer. You know what a hard-ass I am. Still, it was so cool to hear a cuckoo saying "cuckoo," you know?

Second, for my first lifer, I saw an entire family of Louisiana Waterthrushes! They were up the hill from a creek, and I got to see one of the adults do quite the little tail maneuver. They move their tails up and up in what is quite honestly a silly and cute little dance--but hey, the chicks must dig it! I was no more than ten feet from this bird, and I STILL didn't think to get a picture. Can you believe it?

I also FINALLY got to see a Hairy Woodpecker, and the size difference from a downy was so freakin' obvious that I realized that I'd never seen one before that day. I thought I had, but I hadn't -- so this one doesn't really count, because I'd already counted it!

Finally, for my second lifer, I got a great look at a Veery. Might've been a female, because it wasn't singing at all, but it was still great to see this beautiful singer.

Overall, we got 51 species in two different blocks in Mifflin County. One of the blocks is mostly Amish farmland with some great woodsy areas, while the other is in Poe Paddy State Park. Both yielded various habitats and some great looks at birds--not to mention one spot where we found cicadas covering EVERYTHING.

Cicadas were all over the weeds and plants, the trees and powerlines, the signs and the fences. I believe most were part of the 17-year cyclical group, which was really neat. When I was a kid, we used to get cicadas every year, from little green ones to big old black and red ones. We would catch them and then tie some thread around their thorax area and fly 'em around like they were on a leash! (sorry!) These guys on Sunday must've just hatched because they were just sitting around, dark with glowing-orange-red eyes and wings. They didn't even try to evade capture. Still, I had no thread with me....

Here's my list, then, of what we found:
Canada Goose
Mallard (a female on her nest!)
Turkey Vulture
Rock Pigeon (including an entire flock of snow-white ones)
Mourning Dove
Black-billed Cuckoo
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood Pewee (they were everywhere! yay! I love them.)
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo (these guys were everywhere too)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush (got a great look at one of these, as he was pecking around in the leaf litter)
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Euro Starling
Northern Parula (so beautiful)
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler (one of my faves)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (my favorite warbler)
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Canada Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (I thought all of these had gone north, but they breed here in the higher elevations)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (love 'em!)
Indigo Bunting (sigh)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common (oh so common) Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (not too many, which was good)
Baltimore Oriole

We had a great time, and then we had the world-famous French toast at the Honeycreek Inn in Reedsville. If you're ever on Hwy 322 between Lewistown and State College, go there. Get the French toast. Prepare for heaven in your mouth!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Dguzman: Squirrel murderer

It happened this morning, the thing I've always dreaded since I started driving: I accidentally ran over and killed an animal this morning on my way to work. It was a squirrel.

The little guy was sitting in the middle of the road, and I'd just come around a curve--and I couldn't stop in time. I tried to kinda veer over to the side, but I guess he ran under my driver's-side tires. I felt two little bumps under the tires and I knew it was over. I glanced back in my rear-view mirror and there he was, no longer a live little creature.

Dangit. May he go to a place where he can run and scamper without fear of death.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Morning Walk Birds

I mentioned the other day that I take a two-mile brisk walk (without binocs or camera) each day, preferably in the early morning from 6ish to a little before 7. When I've had enough sleep, this walk really energizes me for the day; last night, though, I couldn't get to sleep until about 1:30am so when the alarm sounded today, I was not happy. But I said my little motivational phrase ("It is NOT an option"--my friend Matty taught it to me) and got out of bed.

It is a warm humid day in Central PA; the morning was damp and foggy, but I saw a few good birds. Here's a list of the ones I've been able to see or hear as I (ahem) speed by:

Blackbird, Red-winged
Bluebird, Eastern
Cardinal, Northern
Catbird, Gray
Chickadee, Black-capped
Crow, American
Dove, Mourning
Finch, House
Gnatcatcher, Blue-gray
Goldfinch, American
Heron, Great Blue (more on this later)
Heron, Green
Mallard (I see a drake, two hens, and their (?) eight ducklings every morning. It's a "new" kind of family, I guess....)
Mockingbird, Northern
Robin, American
Sparrow, Chipping
Sparrow, Field
Sparrow, House (I always give them dirty looks)
Sparrow, Song
Starling, European
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Tree
Swift, Chimney
Thrush, Wood (at least one has taken up residence on the wooded hillside across the street--yay!)
Vireo, Warbling
Warbler, Yellow
Waxwing, Cedar
Woodpecker, Red-bellied
Wren, Carolina
Yellowthroat, Common

The gnatcatcher and the green heron were newbies for me today, but the others are pretty much right there with me each and every morning. (or evening, if I can't make myself get up early)

Do you remember those two stick nests I found near my house, built high in a couple of dead pines?

the photo I took in March

Turns out they are great blue heron nests! I've seen two GBHEs flying and landing on the nests and the trees, either brooding on the eggs or just hanging out on a nearby branch. I still haven't seen one land in the marsh, but maybe these are my herons from the past few years? These nests are now well-hidden by leaf cover, but if I look up through a clearing just around the bend of the creek from the nests, I can see the herons and the nests from a slightly different angle and from much farther away than I could in March. I hope we get babies soon!

Not taking my binocs and camera guarantees that I'll focus on walking fast, instead of dawdling at a leisurely pace and looking for birds. Still, it's a nice route, running by sections of Penns Creek so I get to see ducks and geese and their babies sometimes. That, along with running with the cows, is pretty much the highlight of the morning walk. Oh, and all the melting-off of the extra pounds! That too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Running with the Cows and stuff

a neighborhood cow, pre-teen model

Every morning I take a two-mile walk along a country road near my house. Because it's for exercise, I don't take my camera or my binoculars. I do a mile in about 20 minutes, which I'm hoping to whittle down to 15 minutes within a couple of months. (I have short legs, so I'm moving as fast as I can right now!)

I pass a cow pasture on Kline Road, and if I'm lucky, I get to see the cows in the pasture run toward their barn. I don't get it every morning, because sometimes I'm too late or too early. When I do see it, I've noticed that first one cow begins to run, then another, and then they all get the hint and start tearing toward the barn for their breakfast.

On the mornings when I'm there to see them run, I run with them. They stare at me, but I think they're getting used to me. It's only about fifty yards, but they work those big bodies of theirs as fast as they can. There's always one pokey one, a brown cow with a very light brown face (as opposed to a white face) whom I call Chloe. Chloe is always last to the barn.

I wish I had pictures of this spectacle for you, but as I said--I don't take the camera. Otherwise, I'd be doodling around out there for hours, stopping and snapping and looking through the binocs and stuff. This is one of the cows Gretchen and I photographed a few weeks ago.

- - - - -

I don't have a new pic of the phone for this section, so I'll pander and put Niblet here!

I'VE FINISHED THE FAKE BIRDJAM! I was a little stymied by the whole mp3 / AAC file thing, but Jay remembered that you can change the options in iTunes to make it convert files to mp3s! So this morning I tried it, and it worked! I now have the edited files on my phone, complete with a transcription of the bird sound (tzip-tzip-zee), and the Latin names for the birds! I didn't load the photos of the birds onto the phone because I don't think my phone displays the art for the tracks. Still--no more Lang Elliot saying "Savannah Sparrow" and no more double tracks! Best of all, thanks to Jay's generosity, it was FREE.

In return for the Birdjam Maker software, I have to write detailed instructions for Jay on how I made my fake Birdjam. I've been keeping notes, so that won't be hard.

I'm just glad this project worked out successfully. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that my little do-it-yourself projects don't always work out well; in fact, sometimes they result in disaster. (I won't bother to think back, as I can simply remind you of the homemade scope and the broken Nikon camera... sigh.) (Actually, the homemade scope works okay, but it's certainly not high enough quality to use for photography or anything. I have used it to look at the stars and the moon, though.)

- - - - -

Clawsie, sleeping on the bed--as usual

My final little tidbit is to tell you that Clawsie's been a little under the weather. She got some sort of infection at the base of her tail -- she might have gotten a mosquito bite or something, and she kept messing with it, and then it got infected because her immune system is not as strong as a normal kitty's (remember that all my kitties are FIV+). We had to take her to the vet, which was the usual traumatic experience (she pukes, she drools, she has explosive diarrhea--it's a real circus act). But she's on antibiotics now, and she's doing much better. She was sleeping all the time before, and she kinda smelled. Now she's able to clean herself and she's running around with the other kitties like usual.

The pilling isn't a picnic, as she got wise to the Pill Pockets after only two times. Now we use one of those plastic syringe-like tubes to blast the pills down her throat. She hates it!

So she's doing a bit better now, but the sore on her tail is healing slowly. Send some good wishes her way; I'm sure she'll hiss at you for your trouble.