Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The official wings of beginningtobird!

Here's how this birder's getting around during the autumn migration!

It's an awful lot of car, with bells and whistles all over the place. I'm still amazed by it all; I can press a button and see how much air is in each of my tires! Insanity. I'd never buy a car like this new, because it would cost too much and it would seem like I'd turned into a republican. But as a used car--I got a great deal, I got a warranty, and I got the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want.

And I bought American, even!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Molting of old ideas

"What the heck is going on?"
Well, a lot of things changed over the weekend. The Corolla fell through (the credit union wouldn't loan me enough to pay what the dealer wanted, because their price was too far over NADA value). So the wings are still in a state of flux. However, I've got a line on some other cars at another dealer near here, so things are still moving in a forwardly direction (sorta).

Saturday and Sunday, I helped my friends Niki and Ian move from their apartment in Bellefonte into their new home in Tyrone, 45 minutes away from work. We were all exhausted, as the August heat has come back in full force. Still--we're moved in, and I have my own room and stuff. I get to hang out with them and their 10-month-old little girl baby, Sidney (aka Beanie), too:We're all riding into town together for work, so for the moment I have a nest to squat in (like a brown-headed cowbird egg), and I can get to work.

However, because the car fell through, and because I was freaked out of my gourd at the thought of having to figure out how to get to class AND how to learn all that crazy shite, I dropped my chem class. It was just too much. Next semester, I'll take the lower-level chemistry 108, in which I'll learn all the crazy shite I would need for Chem 110. Kinda disappointing, but it's also a RELIEF. It would've been too much to deal with this semester.

So I'm still looking at cars, and I'm supposed to go look at my new little nesting site tomorrow (I hope). Then (I hope) I'll move in there this weekend and finally get Niblet, and then set about preening my feathers and tidying my own little nest box.

Breeding, however, is OUT OF THE QUESTION.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A lot going on

As was not-so-subliminally communicated in my last post, life at beginningtobird is in a state a flux right now. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends both here and online who are making the transition a lot easier for me.

My new nesting site will be in the tiny burg of Bellefonte (pronounced Bell-Font, not like Harry Bellafonte). I'm in the process of securing a two-bedroom apartment about three miles from work, which I'm hoping will enable me to bike to work when the weather allows.

I'm also getting some new wheels--a Toyota Corolla (used), which is my favorite kind of car. I drove three of them before Kat and I bought the Saturn; it was wonderful to sit in it and feel like I knew where everything was. It's a luxe edition, with CD player and a zippy manual transmission, power everything. I'll miss having a moon roof like the Saturn did, but that moon roof always did threaten to make me have an accident, as I was constantly trying to check out birds overhead.

I start school on Monday, which is already making me nervous. It's a busy time for me, and school makes it even busier. I had to take a "pre-quiz" this morning to determine my fitness for this course (which is just the basic Chem 101, or so I thought!), and I scored a miserable 6 out of 20! Oh dear. Obviously, my days of non-stop studying are far from over, but at least it's not another math class! Still, here are some of the skills I'm expected to have already:
--Solve “word problems,” i.e., translate words into algebraic expressions
--Relate functions and graphs (rectangular coordinates)
--Manipulate logarithmic expressions and solve equations involving logarithms
--Manipulate algebraic fractions
--Manipulate algebraic expressions involving exponents and radicals
--Understand and use exponential notation
--Do numerical calculations involving these concepts with a calculator
--Understand and manipulate standard units of physics and chemistry, including unit conversions and dimensional analysis

Uh... I think I have the dumb again....

So it's going to be a long semester. However, fall migrants are already starting to fly through Pennsylvania, and I'm hoping to get around a little easier to see as many as I can. Just last night, Gretchen and I saw a flock of fifteen Canadas heading to the north. A bit early, isn't it? But maybe they're ... wait for it ... EARLY BIRDS!

Wow. Tough crowd.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The poll ends (and subliminal messages are relayed)

So the singer poll closed on Monday (I forgot to check until now), and BIG SURPRISE! Joan Baez won! Not like she was in the lead from the beginning and no one else was even close or anything.

Who knows what we'll poll next? Favorite bird? Favorite ink color? It's all up in the air, as is my life. "What's this?" you ask. "What are you trying to say?" "Well," I answer, "life at the Marsh House is about to change in a drastic way." "How so?" you inquire. "I won't be there," I answer, with a look in my eyes that clearly says "you do the math." Next post: "A change of scenery" in which I describe my new surroundings, life without Kat, and the fact that sometimes things happen to us that we just can't understand.

Matty gets the job done

This past Saturday, I was honored to attend the graduation of my friend Matthew Callahan from Penn State with his doctorate in Social Psych. Flockers Susan and Laura met him earlier this year and got to witness his truly brilliant and biting wit and personality. He's my rock, my mentor, my friend, and now he's Dr. Matty McMatterson, aka Dr. Faggot, aka Dr. Gaaa-aaaa-aaaay! (He studies sexual prejudice and sexism, hence the nicknames.)

Congratulations, Matty!
Advisor Dr. Terri Vescio and Dr. Matthew Callahan

Friday, August 15, 2008

Doin's around the Marsh House

Sorry for the long hiatus. I've been busy taking on some new responsibilities at work: technical editing, which is more along the lines of my education and training. Fun stuff! Did you know that a ground green coffee bean sample kept in ambient air loses .8% of its moisture content in just five minutes? Now we both do.

My ten-foot sunflower finally bloomed:
The flower is about a foot across, counting the petals and stuff. Nice!

The other day, I made some veggie eggs and discovered a rather odd thing:I've never seen a double-yoke egg! So that was cool.

I then proceeded to break a few more eggs for the dish:Amazing! Two double-yokes! What are the odds of that happening?

Um...okay, this is starting to get a little creepy. Just where did these eggs come from, some radioactive site?
"Fresh as a country breeze," indeed. They've got some weirdo chickens at this farm.

The garden is doing well, with some plants done and some just now coming into their own. Some herbs:

(click for huge)

From left to right, that's a little rosemary plant, lavender (which made it through last winter), basil, peppermint (a thriving survivor--invasive little bugger!), purple coneflower (another survivor from last year), and parsley. I also have a huge purple sage (to the right of the peppermint thicket) that came back after last winter's snow melted, but I didn't get a picture of it.

Here are some little peppers:
The peppers don't seem to want to grow much bigger than about 2 to 2-1/2 inches, which I guess is fine. The plants are rather small (maybe ten inches tall), so I figure they're giving it all they've got, and I'm proud of them.

The Indian rainbow corn is coming along:

The yellow squash are growing rather slowly this year; I think I might need to water more often:

And my Blue Lake green beans are slowly coming into flower. No little cute beanpods just yet, but I'm hoping I'll get at least a few beans before the cold weather comes.

Serrano peppers for salsa, anyone?

The tomatoes are still green, for the most part; I didn't take any pictures. I've gotten a few cherry toms (and eaten them before I even got back in the house), and two full sizers from the 'Early Girl' plant, but I've still got a lot of green tomatoes. They'll probably all ripen at once and I'll have like thirty tomatoes. Of course, I love tomatoes, so there are worse things that could happen.

Monday, August 11, 2008

IN: Eva Cassidy, OUT: Celine Dion

The commenters have spoken, and the late great Eva Cassidy will bump an ailing Celine Dion out of the final four best singers contest!

Of course, it won't much matter if Joan Baez' fans keep it up. She is completely cremating the competition (ick) with over 70 votes. Her closest competitor, the great Ella Fitzgerald, has a measley 15. And my personal favorite of the four, Barbra Streisand, limps in with only 9!

So--um, I wonder how I change this poll widget thing... Oh man, I can't edit it! Okay -- I'm going to have to declare a mistrial or mispoll or whatever. Otherwise, Celine stays--and that's not what The People want! I'll delete this poll and put up a new one.

All you Baez fans--I'm sure you'll come to her rescue again and vote. As for fans of Barbra, Eva, and Ella--better get clickin'!

Friday, August 08, 2008

LOLcats are irresistible--even to Joan Baez, I bet!

Well, I'm listening to Joan Baez--I've heard "Diamonds and Rust," "Goodbye, Angelina," "500 Miles," "There But Fortune," "Jerusalem," and "For All We Know." My very opinionated assessment: right off, I think she is a first-rate guitarist. She's incredible, finger-picking that lick that goes under her vocals for "Diamonds," for instance. Amazing. Now, for her voice--I have to say that I'm not a fan. I really wanted to like her singing, but I just don't! It's a little falsetto-ey/operatic for my taste. But did I mention she's an excellent guitarist?

So--I'm sorry, all you Joan Baez fans--I'm a fan of her guitar-playing, and I love the fact that she loves birds, and her politics and activism are stirring and admirable. But the voice? I gotta say: meh. Give me Streisand or Fitzgerald, or any number of other singers, any day.
Now--for the business of clearing out Celine Dion for someone else. No other singer has gotten more than one comment/vote in the last post update. But we got suggestions: Eva Cassidy, Etta James, and Cher! Please either comment/vote one of these three in, or add someone new--but whoever takes out Celine is going to need at least two votes.
So--who's it gonna be?
P.S.--whilst googling for Joan Baez singing "Cucurrucucu Paloma," one of my favorite songs from when I was wee, I came across this unfortunate display. Watch at your own peril.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Updates of all sorts!

by the numbers...

1. Last night, I heard a very eerie-sounding call from the wooded hillside across the road: an Eastern Screech Owl! WOO-HOO! A new yardbird! I'd seen these sweet little owls before, both in Texas and here, but I'd never heard that call. If you've not heard a screech owl before, give it a listen--spooooky! (my owl did both the A song and the B song found on that link)

2. Some Joan Baez fans--and new visitors to the bloggy!--must have been playing with the google yesterday, as Joan has moved into a commanding lead with 45 votes for best female singer! I need to go over to the YouTubes (as opposed to the "series of tubes") and listen to her sing.

3. I saw a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds moving north over our valley last evening. I'd noticed that you can no longer hear the "oh-ka-lee!" calls on the marsh as well, though on Sunday there were still a few RWBLs hanging around being territorial. Are they starting to migrate? Why would they go north?

4. Found two froggies in the yard last night but didn't have my camera: a Southern leopard frog (beautiful!) and a tiny little reddish frog that I couldn't ID. Might've been a baby spring peeper?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Female singers voting report

If you haven't noticed the poll in my sidebar, please check it out. I was curious to find out people's opinions on who the best female singer (in English, anyway) is.

Many of my favorites didn't even make the final four--Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell, Sinead O'Connor, Chrissie Hynde, to name a few.

The leader for pretty much the whole contest has been the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, with seven votes.
This isn't surprising--she sang forever, and she sang like no one else. She could sing anything and make it her own.

Tied for second are the two Joans: Joan Baez and Barbra Joan Streisand.I never knew Baez had such a strong following! I always figured Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell (what's with all the Js?) would've come out as the strongest singer of that era of musical history. But hey--what do I know? I don't know that I've ever even heard Baez sing. Maybe I'll get over to YouTube and give her a listen.

In last place we find... Celine Dion; I can't say I'm disappointed by her performance! She only got in by virtue of getting two votes where others had gotten only one each, but that's not to say that one or both of those two votes wasn't a joke-vote!

Please let me know in the comments if there's someone else you'd like to see take over Dion's slot in the final four. Our judges will certainly consider the voices of the people in making their decision!

So vote now, vote often!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Marsh madness

It had been some time since I'd walked around the marsh, so Sunday morning I woke up early and walked around for about two hours, hoping to see some late youngsters and perhaps some early migrants.

First, a report on the loosestrife, which is as rampant as ever if not more widespread. Here's a view of the main marsh area from the road:
Near the road, it's all teasel and thistle--good stuff that the birds like. But the water areas of the marsh are overgrown with loosestrife. Here's the boardwalk, completely surrounded by this stupid plant:
That's Egg Hill in the distance. I walked out a little ways, but I couldn't see a damned thing in the water for all the loosestrife. Here and there, a brave little cattail struggled for breathing room. How much longer before they're all gone?

I don't know what to think about these biological controls; the measure just doesn't seem to be working. I feel frustrated, as though they should mow this stuff down and collect it all before the plants go to seed--to at least prevent new seeds from falling. I realize that there are still animals among the plants; I heard at least one Virginia rail calling. Still, this invasion has to be stopped. It's only getting worse. Here is what it looked like back in March, when the plants were just dead stalks. Even then, the stuff was everywhere, but at least it was lower and didn't completely block one's view. Like this, the boardwalk is useless.

I remember back when we first moved into the Marsh House, in 2005, before I even knew what a blog was. I was sitting in the back doorway, holding my new Peterson's Guide (which was only new to me; it was printed in the late 40s or early 50s, and I had just gotten it at a local AAUW book sale for a quarter). I looked out on the marsh and saw a bunch of red-winged blackbirds (which I probably thought were crows or grackles or something) flying around something low to the ground and yelling at it. That's when I saw my spark bird--the American bittern--my first bird I ever ID'd using a field guide. The bird was in the tiny pond right near the back fence, doing his beak-in-the-air thing, being harassed by these RWBs. There was little if any loosestrife blocking my view back then. If the marsh had looked back then like it does now, I never would've seen the bittern. I wonder if I even would've become so interested in birds had I not seen and ID'd that strange bird.

Sigh. So the loosestrife pretty much prevented me from seeing anything in the water, both from the boardwalk and from the walking path next to Long Pond. I did get a glimpse of a mother wood duck and her two almost-grown babies on the Long Pond, just before they disappeared into the loosestrife jungle. Of course I was too slow to get a photo; sorry. Here's where they were, though--and this turtle was too busy getting some early morning sun to move:
I think it's a red slider. He was craning that little neck of his, trying to warm himself.

I found this on the boardwalk railing; an American crow left it behind:It was still soggy! Looks to me like a bunch of cricket exoskeleton parts. Ick! But it is my first pellet! (And of course it made me wish I could've found the pellet from that crow that ate the starling a few days back--there would've been a beak in there!)

So--moving on. Muskrats were everywhere, nibbling on vegetation. This one was in the grass right at my feet:

Here's a new flower I've never seen--anyone know what it is?

I saw lots of butterflies: some kind of hairstreak?

I also saw this gaggle of sparrows, but I can't figure out what they are--they don't have a breast spot or streaks, and the photo quality isn't good enough to determine too many more field marks. Anyone care to guess?

On the walk back, I happened to be looking down into the grass just off the highway and saw this:

What the heck? Voodoo stuff? There's dryer sheets, a devilish looking rubber duck, some straps and cords, a crumpled up photo maybe?, a candle, a cellphone battery, and an empty (?) prescription pill bottle. WTF?