Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finally -- some backyard birding!

I went out today and got some Wiscoy's Best birdseed, some nyjer thistle and a sock, and one of those big hooks and set up my backyard for the birds!

AB gave me a fancy feeder when we moved in here, but the birds ate all the seed pretty quickly -- and I didn't have time to even watch them do it. So today, I set it all up, turned on the camera, and took some time to enjoy. Here are the fruits of my labor.

I first chopped up the downed branches from a recent windstorm into firewood:
It was an outdoorsy kind of day. Then I set everything up. Here's the suet feeder with suet from Baby G (another present):

The crook and bird feeder and the thistle sock on my makeshift pole:

After I'd been inside for a while, the birds got brave and started dive-bombing the feeder:I had at least three different White-breasted Nuthatches
at least four or five Tufted Titmice
even Mrs. Cardinal made a brief appearance!

Here was a thrill: an American Tree Sparrow showing off his hatpin spot:
And one brave nuthatch even scoped out the suet, though he didn't eat any:

No one touched the thistle sock either, but I'm hopeful. I also had some birds who weren't quite brave enough to approach the window feeders:This Dark-eyed Junco practically pulled a Woody Harrelson and beat me up for taking his picture.

I also had a picture of a beautiful male Northern Cardinal who came as close as the rocks at the back of the yard but no closer -- however, my camera seems to have eaten that photo. Hmmm....

Here's the whole backyard, starting with the window feeder set-up:

The rocks in the back right corner, where I've placed some corncobs to keep the squirrels busy and away from my feeders:

The creek that runs behind the house:to left, behind the rocks

the center

the sunset side with the little footbridge

It's a pretty nice backyard, though it's a little small -- the septic and drain field kinda dominate. As a result, I've been researching the growing of vegetables in containers. Come spring, I'll have tomatoes, peppers, corn, carrots, herbs, and squash -- all grown in containers! More on that to come -- as soon as it warms up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Owls O, Stars 2

Gretchen and I went owling tonight in the Scotia Barrens but came up empty. I'm guessing we should've waited longer or something, or maybe it was too cold (in the teens) -- but my feet were frozen!

Still, I had mounted the camera on the tripod in case we got any looks at owls, so when I noticed the bright stars I couldn't help but try to capture them:Orion the Hunter! I had the camera set to Night mode, and with it mounted on the tripod I was able to get something (especially once I slid the Brightness slider over to the max in my photo editing software). I even managed to get the Messier clusters in the hunter's crotch area.

You can see the slight blur on each point as, even though the aperture was only open for a few seconds, the stars had time to move. That makes me think that I could try a longer exposure and maybe point at the North Star and get one of those crazy star-trails photos like you see in astronomy books. Next time!

Here's another:Though not as bright as Orion, it's still visible: the Big Dipper, held high overhead.

I sent some emails to the Birding Nerd to see if he's going owling again anytime soon; he had some Great Horned, Eastern Screech, and even a Barred Owl the other night. I'm sure he probably stayed out there longer than the 20 minutes we stayed out. But it was cold!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bff birding and a lifer

Gretchen and I went birding today in search of mergansers and Horned Larks; we found both and then some.

First, we hit the marina at Bald Eagle State Park after Common and Hooded Mergansers as well as Common Goldeneyes were seen up there by my buddy Joe Verica. Didn't see the Goldeneyes but we saw the mergs:At this point in the day, the sun was shining and it was almost warm outside (probably in the 50s).

We then went in search of some Horned Larks I'd seen in my sales territory in Clinton County near Belle Springs Golf Course. I saw two of them on Friday, and I learned an important lesson: listen for them first, because you'll never see them unless they're flying around. That lesson served us well today as we passed field after field until finally trying Williams Rd (where Joe and I had seen some a few weeks ago).

We had been watching a mixed goose flock of Canadas and Snow Geese (1 white morph and 8 blue-morphs, which are my favorite) feeding in field when we started hearing the crazy little HOLA calls. Sure enough:BINGO! There were probably 100 birds in the flock, though it was like the whole flock would take to the air then a bunch of them would almost literally just disappear and it would only be like ten birds.
They are crazy-stealthy; once they landed, they hunkered down in the corn and old soybean stubble and just vanished. Only when we happened to catch them walking around (they're so cute and fast!) did we see them.

While I was trying to snap some photos in the now dim light of a cloudy afternoon (by now it was in the 30s), I happened to catch this rather rufous-touched individual:LAPLAND LONGSPUR!!!!! LIFER! I didn't even realize it while I was snapping the photo because it was all I could do to catch the motion, center and focus the frame, and snap the picture. So I snapped some pics and started looking at them -- look at that beautiful little bird with his rufous patches! Talk about a lucky break!The focus isn't great but it's good enough for a positive ID! WHOOT!

So that's lifer number 290. I can't believe I'm only ten birds away from 300. Based on the Texas eBird lists I've been looking at, I'll hit 300 somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, which is fitting somehow, as that's where I started out as a little egg in a nest some 46 years ago.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

And we're up!

Just plugged everything in--TV, modem, router--and hey, we've got Internet! We've got cable! We're up!

And of course the first thing I did was check the Gmail to see the Texas needs list; Kenn freakin' Kaufmann has entered some observations from Edna, TX, in Jackson County (near Victoria, north of Corpus Christi). It's pretty wild to know that THE Kenn Kaufmann was right HERE earlier today!

I kinda feel like a stalker now.

It's really getting late now, so I won't post a million things, but here's a pic of little Niblet that Gretchen took earlier tonight; we had some great bff time, as she came over and we watched Buffy! (Season 2, "Becoming," Part 1 -- pure greatness)

So here's the little Son, Moon, and Stars just about to split the scene:Baby G got him just as he was about to bolt. And yes, I know--I need to clip his claws! Just look at those talons!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Texas notes

I've been doing some research prior to my upcoming Texas trip, although I haven't been able to tell you about it as I haven't had much computer access for the last week. We finally finished getting everything into the new house and out of the moldy apartment! What a relief, but what a chore.

Anyway, I'm still waiting for our new tv/internet/phone (yup, I'm adding a land line! It's work-related) to get set up, so I'm blogging from AB's office at PSU. I don't want to get her account flagged, so I won't say anything like "Ohio State rules!" or "Michigan is No. 1!" Heh heh.

Back to the research: I have a bunch of checklists downloaded for all the birding sites we're planning to visit. We want to try to hit all nine World Birding Center sites; plus Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana national wildlife refuges; then perhaps a quick jaunt up the Valley to the Falcon Dam area; then a swing through Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park near Kingsville on the way back to San Antonio. (They've been seeing some amazing birds there!)

The plans are thus: I'll leave here Friday, March 4, and fly into Austin. Mary and I will drive to San Antonio Saturday morning and see our parents, then it's down to the Valley to start our bird-intensive trip. We'll stay down there until Wednesday, when we'll head back to S.A. Then I'll hang with my parents until Saturday, when it'll be back home to PA.

There will be pictures galore, and we're hoping to see some crazy-ass specialties, rare birds, and so forth. I've been getting the ABA Rarities and TX needs-list emails from eBird, and they are seeing some WILD birds down there!

from the Rarities list, seen at places where we'll be birding:
Hook-billed Kite
Aplomado Falcon
White-throated Thrush!
Blue Bunting
Black-vented Oriole!

and from the Texas needs list, also seen at places we'll be birding:
Greater White-fronted Goose
Ross's Goose
Northern Bobwhite
Snowy Plover
White-tipped Dove
Green Parakeet
Red-crowned Parrot
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Green Kingfisher (which we missed seeing last year)
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Cave Swallow
Clay-colored Thrush
Nashville Warbler
Lark Sparrow

Man, we're gonna be absolutely SCOURING every place we go to try to see every bird we can. I'll be keeping lists, lists, lists! I can't express how much I enjoy reading those eBird update emails; I scour them every day, clicking on every link, making my little plans!

There are some other great Texas birds we won't see, like the Yellow-faced Grassquit and a bunch of other seabirds, because we won't make it to Aransas; we don't have enough time. Still, out of the nine days I'll be gone, we're spending five days birding! Mary has gotten so hard-core; the schedule was all her idea!

I'm really excited about seeing my parents, of course. I got so used to having them around when I was living down there last winter; it was so hard to leave. Still, I like my life up here with AB in PA, and I'm glad I'm able to get down there and see my parents. We're also planning a Christmas trip down there, and I'm sure there will be more winter birding adventures and family fun-time (and AB will be there too!).

So--sorry about the lack of photos in this post; I did see a Black Vulture soaring and circling over my workplace this afternoon, only about a hundred feet up! But of course I didn't have my camera.

Hoping to have internet access at the new house soon; I have so many photos of the new house, and I'll be taking pics of my new bird feeder (my Valentine's Day gift from my valentine!) tomorrow. The birds have found it already, as I discovered this morning after being strafed by a little White-breasted Nuthatch this morning as I stood on the porch. He buzzed me on his way to the feeder, where he grabbed a sunflower seed and flew off to crack it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

On to new horizons

So we did end up getting out of our lease (thanks for all your support and advice!), and I'm scrambling to schedule movers, transfer utilities, etc. Meanwhile, we had another cave-in last night -- incredible!

Some cracks had opened up in the bedroom where we had all the leaks last week and we noticed that, just from the time we left in the morning, things deteriorated:


Last night around midnight:

This happened after we'd just gotten into bed, which we'd moved back into the bedroom but even farther away from the cracks. Thank goodness for that; one foot over made a big difference.

And all THIS happened after we'd gone out to the new house to look around some more (signed the lease yesterday), and then while driving back I lost control of my vehicle, spun around, and landed us in a deep ditch filled with about three feet of snow. Two hours and $200 later, a wrecker had come and pulled us out, along with the poor guy who pulled over to see if we were okay but then got stuck in the same ditch (I paid for his tow too, of course).

So last night, about 2 a.m., we lay in bed (in the dining room, which is now the "good" room, despite the plywood over the giant ceiling hole) and wondered what else could happen.

On a good note, I caught this little moment this morning:Maya's allergies are acting up again (due to the mold?) so we had to put the cone back on her to prevent her from scratching up her face; we're taking the kitties, the bunny, and an airbed over to the new house tonight after work!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Big changes

Well, it's time to move again. Our apartment has been leaking -- severely -- on and off for the last month, and we've had it. Our landlord has been responsive, but his responses have been rather lackluster. His attitude, now that he's finally getting the whole roof redone after not doing it in the summer like he said (last winter) that he would, is that we should make sure the leaks have stopped, then let the remaining water "leach out" of the insulation and ceiling plaster/drywall, and then dry it all out with a dehumidifier.


As AB's mom asked last night, "'leach out?' LIKE INTO OUR LUNGS?!!!" Yeah. Everyone I've talked to has said we need to get out NOW -- mold develops in as little as 24 hours! When part of the ceiling in the dining room actually came down in a massive cave-in two weeks ago, we saw black mold-y looking areas on the plaster, but I was just so stunned by the fact that a 2ft by 3 ft piece of our ceiling had just caved in, I didn't even consider that I might be looking at a dangerous air situation!

Then when water started coming through the light fixture above the kitchen sink and seeping out of one of the electrical outlets in the kitchen, I started to think, "Um, this might not be up to code."

So--we've been talking and researching, and we're getting out. I sent an email to our landlord last night telling him yet again about all this stuff, and that we think this is no longer a safe place to live, and that he really won't be able to repair the damage properly while someone is living here. I was very firm but conciliatory, thanking him for his efforts so far; AB's mom helped me tone down the hysterics.

Yesterday, we checked out a very nice old farmhouse in nearby Stormstown -- a big fireplace, out in the country, few neighbors, with a creek running about 200 yards behind the house (and down a little hill), and plenty of bird-feeding and bird-watching opportunities right in the backyard! It's a little more than we're paying now, but it's got so much more room and we'll be able to have a garden! It'll be almost like the Marsh House, only with AB and no obligations to fix up the place -- which means almost heaven!

We're just waiting to hear back from our current landlord about whether he'll release us from our lease without argument or whether we'll have to get more serious with him. I'm giving him until 2pm to respond, then I'm calling him. We need to put our deposit down on the country house.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some photos of our current situation.

Here's where the ceiling caved in:The landlord had his guy come in a few days after the cave-in (and after we'd experienced days with the joy of bare fiberglass insulation serving as our ceiling) and put that piece of plywood over the hole. God only knows what it looks like now above that plywood, but you can see the areas where water has come through the plywood too.

The bedroom bucket brigade:We'd just gotten into bed Wednesday night when water started dripping onto our bed. We had to move it out of the bedroom. I had already had to stay home from work on Wednesday to empty these buckets every 2-3 hours. Yes, there was THAT much water.

The corner of our bedroom, where you can STILL see a water-filled bubble under the latex paint, as well as a line of wet plaster that dripped off the ceiling (and onto AB's nightstand):The ceiling looks like it has leprosy.

Updates yet to come!

UPDATE! We're out! Our landlord, who really is a decent guy, has granted us a release. I contacted the country house owner and we're signing the lease tomorrow! Now I just have to figure out how fast I can pack us up, retain a moving service, and get over to the other house!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Rest in peace, Domino

My bff Gretchen's wonderful dog Domino passed away last night. Here are some photos of her in her prime.

I'll love and miss Nom so much.