Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Birding by ear, alone

The "alone" part in my entry title is for two reasons: First, Kat left yesterday and is now in Europe at a conference, and Em left last week to visit Kat's parents, so I'm all alone in the old Marsh House. *sniffle!* Second is the meat of this blog entry. Please read on, and forgive the lack of photos; Kat took it to take pics in Europe.

I've talked a few times about going birding with Roana and Nan from the State College birding club, and how phenomenal they are at birding by ear -- listening, hearing, and identifying all sorts of birds just by their songs and/or calls. Tonight, on my way home, I decided to take the scenic route home and go through some of the routes in one of Roana's atlas blocks. As it was about 8pm and getting dark fast, I had to use my ears instead of my eyes most of the time. Here's what I was able to hear; I couldn't always ID it, but these are my best-effort transcriptions of what I heard:

1. preet preet peer peer reet-reet-reet-reet-reet-reet That last "reet-reet" part is a long, slow trilling, almost like a swamp sparrow does. The call was always the same, always these three distinct sounds, in this complete pattern, uttered fairly quickly but certainly slowly enough for me to hear note. At the time, I was next to a grassy area but could see no birds. I was in open and fairly flat valley grasslands and farmland.

2. dut-tweedully-tweedully-tzee-tzay That first part isn't shown very well, but it was a fast twittering with a sequence of a hard first note, then two quick triplets, then the see-say of the Savannah sparrow. Here again, I was still in the open grassland/farmland area. The only reason I even recognized this one is that Hillel at work called me the other day and asked me to come outside to the parking lot to hear one of these, but when I got out there, the bird had gone already. But that's how I recognized the call: his rendering of the twittering and then the see-say. A lot of the texts say that first part is more like zut-zut-zut, but my guy sounded like what I have written here. Who knows why.

3. witchety-witchety-witchety-witch This one, I know well: common yellowthroat. By now, I'd started going into the woodsier areas, where there were some fields and some large woodlots dividing them. I've yet to actually see a yellowthroat, but I think there's one nesting either in the yew tree outside my bedroom window or in Neighbor Ed's huge maple tree. He sounds like he's in the yew, though; he's LOUD. I want to see him, though; I think these birds are beautiful.

3. teakettle-teakettle-teakettle Now I was next to a densely wooded area, and for once I heard this song and the witchety song, one near the other. There was a distinct difference in the two songs, and I'm pretty sure this one was the Carolina wren's teakettle song. Either that or this yellowthroat was British and uppity.

4. pee-oh-wee An easy one: Eastern wood pewee. I like this song; it echoed out of the dense woods.

5. the crazy twittering and tweaking and mewing of a catbird; I had help on this one: he landed in the tree right next to the road at eye level, just next to a wheat field. Love that dashing little black cap! Of course, let's not forget I once had a close encounter with one of these guys, so I'm still a little shy around them.

I did actually see (but didn't hear) two birds I couldn't ID. The first was sparrow-like, flying away from me into a cornfield, and his tail was medium-length, broadly spread, and was brown with black edges. Anyone care to venture a guess on this one? It's a pretty meager clue to work with, but it's all I got. The second one looked like the ugliest robin I'd ever seen; no red on the chest, just splotchy brown and gray, two wing bars on dusky gray wings, gray back; otherwise, his body and shape seemed like those of a robin. Perhaps it was a slow-developing immature of some sort? I don't know, but I felt bad for this bird; if it's a male, he'd better forget about getting any action this year!

The rest of the birds I saw were pretty easy to ID: a lot of tree and barn swallows, some red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, robins, grackles, etc. I was hoping to see an Eastern meadowlark but had no luck with that.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes spent birding by ear, alone.

OH--P.S. While googling things like "see-say" to make sure I remembered "Savannah sparrow" correctly, or "teakettle teakettle" is a Carolina sparrow, I found two great things:
1. A hilarious google response to witchety-witchety:
I'm throwing out all your shit, and changing the locks! Scrubbly grubbly scribbly wiggly witchety man! Witchety witchety man! ... www.outpostnine.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-5723.html - 6k - Supplemental Result -
I still haven't followed that link yet. I think it's perfect exactly the way it is, without finding out the rest of whatever this person said to this "scrubbly grubbly wiggly witchety man!"
2. a fantastic list of common mnemonics for bird songs! http://www.stanford.edu/~kendric/birds/birdsong.html Check it out!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Evening in the garden of good and weedy

FINALLY I got the chance to take Niblet out to the vegetable garden so he could run around. It's completely enclosed, so he doesn't need a harness. However, I was a little paranoid that some raptor would see him running around looking white and tasty, but nothing bad happened.

I took him out in a little cloth bag (he hates being picked up) and, once safe behind the gate, I put him down. He was a bit nervous at first (just like last year):

He got used to it out there pretty quickly, though, and started to explore.

“This is where I belong!”

Crouching Delia, Hidden Nibble

“Boy, these plants are huge!”

He spent a little time among his favorite veggies, but he didn’t even nibble any cilantro. I think he was too excited to eat:

Then he discovered my ‘California Wonder’ bell peppers:
“What’s this?”

“GIMME!” (he got out of frame here, tearing at my poor little pepper plant)


My peppers! Sheesh!

I got the requisite cutey-booty shot:

and one of him standing up looking around:

”The wild rabbit steps out of the jungle, moving with the grace of a -- well, a rabbit....”

Boy, you can really see his little nub-ear here. Poor sweet baby!

Once inside (he did NOT want to leave the garden, and he did a few backfeet-flippies just to let me know it), Kisses showed him how much she missed him:

I'm always talking about how well the kitties and Nibble get along; this is a typical greeting between these two. Clawsie's not always so friendly (I think she tastes him sometimes!), but Cookies and Niblet get along just as well as Kisses and Niblet do. We're lucky to have such a happy family!

Adventures in digiscoping: Two flowers vs. a Mountain

I was doing some digiscoping research, reading tips and tricks from various sources, etc. and I was inspired to give digiscoping another go this weekend. It's been a while since I've done any birds with the scope, because I just wasn't getting good results. This is a good representation of a typical d-scoped shot for me:

This was in good light (though the bird was shaded a bit), camera hand-held to scope (still working on a good adapter) on tripod, and I'm standing on the porch shooting through the open window. Decent, but still blurry. And no matter what I do, I can't get improve the vignetting problem! But blurriness is worse to me, so let's press on and ignore the "custom matte" around the photos....

So I read that setting the camera to different modes sometimes works better than just the general "camera" (on a Nikon Coolpix, this means the green camera icon) mode, which was previously about all I'd ever used on birds. When I photographed the moon the last couple of times, however, I tried different modes because it was so dark. Anyway, I read a lot of suggestions to try putting the camera on "macro" (two flowers icon), so I tried that one first:

These shots were taken while I was standing in the yard this morning. While the blurriness is I daresay significantly improved (I was concentrating on holding the camera steady and pressing the shutter slowly and carefully to minimize vibration), you'll note the weird yellow tinge to the shots. Don't know if this was because of the macro mode or the bright sun or what, but I decided to try another suggestion: the mountain icon, or "infinity" mode.

Again, shooting from my position in the yard, I set the camera to the mountain icon and scoped an obliging bunny:

If you look at the large version of that first shot, you can see the bunny's beautiful brown eyes! This isn't tack-sharp or anything, but WOW what an improvement! I was getting pretty excited, so I went back to the robin from two-flowers mode; he was kind enough to wait for me:

How about that!? AND I got my first shot of a singing bird, mouth wide open!

I'm reinvigorated now. In the fight between the two flowers and the mountain, the mountain wins! Apparently, the mountain allows you to focus not just with the camera but with the scope as well--something I'd never even thought of doing that before! It really makes a difference as I am now able to fine-tune the focus with the scope and get a good sharp photo.

Now, back to the vignetting: It's significant, no matter whether I zoom the camera up or not. I've got the scope's eyepiece rubber guard thing folded down, but I think the lens in the Coolpix 4800 is just set back in the camera pretty far. Still, clear photos, even small ones, are a real improvement for me in my quest to learn digiscoping on my rather modest budget. I'll admit I'm a little jealous of people who start out with a couple of thousand dollars' worth of equipment -- high-end Swarovski scope, custom adapter, and high-end camera -- and get crystal-clear d-scoped images right off the bat.

It hasn't been that easy for me. I've had my struggles, first with my attempts to make a homemade scope (remember that!?), then finally getting a lower-end Meade Condor scope and my nice Coolpix 4800 camera. I know the optics on the Condor aren't even close to what I'd get in a Swarovski or a Leica spotting scope, but I just can't see spending a couple grand on that (nor could I afford to!) right now. Maybe one day, when I win the lottery and live a life of bon-bons, servants, and carefree days.... or maybe not. Right now, I'm happy I got d-scoped some good images!

Now I'm going to wrap up the Nibble for his photo shoot in the garden!

Around the backyard

I took a walk around the backyard with the camera yesterday to see how things are coming along.

A robin has built a nest in the tamarack, just above the feeder. She used some plastic twine I had out there on the badminton net to make herself a nice home, which makes me feel like I helped. Here's a shot of Mama R, relaxing in her new home:

I don't think we have eggs yet, but I've seen someone I presume to be Mr. R watching over Mama R, so maybe we'll have eggs soon! I also saw an oriole making back-and-forth trips out beyond the marsh and the woods in front of the house. I'm sure there's at least one nesting pair up there.

Several others have made their homes for the season around the yard as well--on the side of the house:

and under the yew tree:

The marsh has greened up beautifully:

We're getting a nice stand of cattails right by the back fence, so I'm hoping for some good ops here:

I snapped this photo of a song sparrow and a female red-winged blackbird having a discussion:

The garden is bursting with green:

and the pears are about the size of a half-dollar coin:

I was hoping the honeysuckle would attract some hummingbirds, but so far I haven't seen even one. But the flowers scent the entire backyard:

Some unknown plants have come up--nature fans, give me a hand:

Yesterday, we shopped at the Centre Hall city-wide yard sale and got this for the backyard:
We've been wanting one of these forever! Now I can satisfy my primitive urges to build fires, something which got me into trouble a few times as a kid....

and this for the inside of the house:
We made our first loaf this morning, an easy whole wheat. FANTASTIC!

and this little bird:

Not quite sure of the ID, but I'm guessing a duckling of some sort? Think I saw one of these in a Bugs Bunny cartoon....

Coming attractions:
Adventures in digiscoping: Two flowers vs. Mountain
Niblet in the garden! (finally)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Great news for local birds!

Here's a great story from our local paper, the Centre Daily Times, about a great guy and his love for nature and birds.

Deal secures bird sanctuary
By Anne Danahy
PATTON TOWNSHIP -- Spend a few hours on Karl H. Striedieck's picturesque property on the Bald Eagle Ridge and you start to lose track of the number of unusual birds you hear.

"There's that cuckoo," Striedieck said of the bird making a clicking noise.

The chirping came as Striedieck talked about a conservation easement he signed last week with ClearWater Conservancy. The easement, supported by a $104,500 federal grant, permanently protects Striedieck's 245-acre property from development. The goal is giving forest interior birds -- such as scarlet tanagers, warblers and wood thrushes -- a route for migrating and habitat for nesting, breeding and getting cover.

"I thought at least I could do my part with 245 acres. It really doesn't affect my life that much," Striedieck said.

He made the comments from near the top of the 95-foot fire tower that he bought for $100 and had moved from Reynoldsville to his property.

"It's the greatest view in Centre County," Striedieck said.

It's also a bird watcher's paradise. In 1993, the group he was with saw 39 golden eagles in one day.

William Hilshey, ClearWater Conservancy's conservation easement manager, said the easement on Striedieck's property is the first one in the Pennsylvania to be completed through the federal Landowner Incentive Program. The goal of the program, which is administered by the state, is to support easement on private lands that have "species of greatest conservation concern."

"With land grant programs like this people can enjoy the property and still protect the resources that need to be protected," said Hilshey, who worked with Striedieck to coordinate the grant and easement.

The grant targeted the 190 acres of forest land on Striedieck's property, but the easement also protects the 35 acres of early succession fields -- with lower growth favored by some birds -- and 10 grassy acres. The easement means that Striedieck and whoever owns the land after him are limited in what they can do with it. Housing developments, for example, are off limits.

Striedieck's property -- most of which is in Patton Township -- is also about a mile and a half from State Game Lands 176, known as Scotia Barrens, which is also a designated important bird area.

Brad Ross, wildlife biologist consultant for ClearWater, said along with the forest, the early succession habitat is very important for birds such as Eastern towhees, field sparrows, indigo buntings and catbirds.

"Those are the two key habitats that this property possesses that are really valuable," Ross said.

Striedieck, a retired military fighter pilot, lives on the property with his wife, Iris. He started buying the property in 1966, when he got 14 acres.

"When you lived out here in the 60s, it didn't look like you needed an easement on anything," Striedieck said.

In 2004 he talked with ClearWater about looking into one. A longtime member of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Hawk Mountain Association, Striedieck said "it just seemed like the right thing to do."

When he was growing up his mother would take him to a fire tower and drop him off and he'd watch birds all afternoon, he said.

Later he became interested in raptors through the Hawk Mountain Association. He also learned falconry, which he still does, along with flying gliders from the runway on his property.

Striedieck said what pushed his interest in getting an easement was seeing the area in transition.

"This property is getting gobbled up by developers," he said.

Iris Striedieck said the easement is in keeping with her husband's love for nature.

"One of the things that's consistent in his life," she said, "is his appreciation for nature and birds and flying."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Getting caught up

There are a ton of photos and experiences to catch up on, as I’ve been too busy to blog lately. As a result, this is going to be rather a herky-jerky post; I’ll do my best to ease the transitions.

First, there have been many cute buns in the yard; fortunately, they’ve yet to get into the garden:

"Curses! Foiled by this stupid fence!"

Nibbling on a sunflower shoot from spilled birdseed

We’ve seen some springtime babies:

This American bullfrog tadpole was almost four inches long!

What kind of ducks are these? The adults look almost black--American black ducks? Or just mallards in the shade?

Is there a more exciting time in the garden than when the veggies start to appear?

Butterflies and caterpillars are everywhere:

What kind of caterpillar is this, nature fans?

Check out this upclose and personal time with Miss Kitty Claws:

and with Sugar Cookies and Chickie, Em’s stuffed baby bluebird:

Finally, this morning, I went birding with Roana and Nan from the State College Birding Club, and I actually saw an ovenbird! Normally, I just hear them--but we got lucky with this guy. Of course I didn’t have my camera ready. I pretty much birded by ear this morning as we drove through a lot of woodsy areas and heard all sorts of warblers and a hermit thrush--my first time to hear one in the woods. WOW. Now I know why Lang Elliot calls him the best singer in the bird world. We also saw a black bear run across the road and disappear up an impossibly steep mountainside--again, no photo. About the best shot I got was of this beauty:

"I beg your pardon, but are you going to eat me?"

I have to mow the rest of the lawn now, and then I may take the Nibble out into the garden later to see if he’ll succeed in eating the entire ten-foot row of cilantro; I wouldn’t put it past him!

Couldn't you just eat him up?

Friday, June 15, 2007

My kingdom for a car...

A few days ago, I read an inspiring post over at Mary's View about all the cars she remembered riding in as a kid and driving as an adult. I commented that it should be a new meme--to enumerate the cars (providing art when possible, even if it's just stock photos from the 'Net) we've lived with, put up with, almost died in, etc. Like a biographical timeline of our lives as passengers and drivers. Here we go, with my car-ography:

When I was a kid, we always had one decent car, huge for our big family (five kids). Then sometimes we'd have another car that dad picked up somewhere for like 50 bucks. Here are the ones I remember.

The first car I remember is our silver Chevy stationwagon. I think we had a few of these, always silver. Here's a picture of Mr. T's (not THAT Mr. T), so you get the idea of how huge it was. We had those until like 1977. Those cars were HUGE! My sister Mary and I would hang out in the back whenever we went anywhere--that way, Ricardo wasn't bugging us, and we had lots of room and windows to look out of. We would pretend we were in a big race with all the other cars, and if anyone passed us, we'd say, "oh that's a janitor going to clean up some of the track ahead!" A JANITOR on a racetrack? Okay, we were nutty.

Daddy also had a yellow VW bug for a little while---LOVED that car! I don't think we ever even rode in it--no seatbelts on that one, either. The only time we were in it was when we would play our driving game, where we would pretend to be two hunters heading for someplace (we'd pick a random Texas city, the crazier the name, the better), and of course we'd get lost because someone's thumb was covering up the right road! It was a silly game, like all our games.

Sometimes he would bring home a field car from the Highway Dept., where he worked before he went into business on his own. It was this super-dark blue thing -- I hardly remember it except for the fact that it had like a truck bed with these big steel boxes in it -- like utility trucks do--and it was sooo cool to us! We loved it when he'd bring that one home for lunch or something. We'd go outside and play on it--crawl all over it, etc.

Then he got this GIANT thing that he called "the hearse" -- he kept joking that he was going to buy a hearse, and we were all practically having fits, thinking he was serious and we were gonna get some big hearse with a coffin in it. Then he brought it home: an International Travel-All.
Photo courtesy of someone selling it on Ebay.

It was this gigantic SUV (before they called them SUVs) like a Suburban, only cheesier -- no luxuries at all! Everything was hard, rubber mats, no carpet, metal floor, vinyl seats, etc. -- and the back part with no seats was almost as big as my bedroom! We had some fun playing our driving game in that one! And it had the weirdest smell in it---it smelled like outside, and wild animals, and dirt. Perhaps some real hunters (including my dad) had thrown a deer in the back. . . and kept it there for a while. . . .
Then Daddy bought a brand-new Mercury Marquis -- color: champagne.
Here’s a black one (sadly, I couldn't find one in champagne) from the Fawcett Movie Cars web site. We all thought it was the fanciest car in the whole world! Even the paint color was fancy! You should've seen that boat -- it was like a mile long! Note the panels over the headlights—they would flip up like little garage doors when you turned on the lights. We had this for a long time. Sidenote: while googling for photos of this gem, I saw a link to a story about the search warrant issued for Timothy McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis. Eerie.

Then we got a series of Oldsmobile Delta 88s. See one here. Daddy had this one that was cream with maroon felty interior--we loved it! It was great until one day we had all this flooding (probably some random hurricane), and Daddy got trapped in the water--he tried to drive through but he didn't make it. The water came up into the car and flooded it almost to the bottom of the windows -- and it bleached out the maroon interior, ruined the car. (Daddy was fine!) So he got another one, a lot more boring--cream with brown interior. Blah.

By this point, I was old enough to drive, so I inherited my big sister Raquel's 1971 brown Ford Pinto Runabout—yes, for all you older people, it was a blows-up-if-rear-ended model! Check out this old ad:

This would have been around 1980-81; I was a sophomore in high school. We called the car the Brown Bean. It had been in a train wreck! Raquel had been going to a friend's house, and the lights/bells thing wasn't working but a train was coming, and she didn't hear or see it, and it kinda sideswiped her car somehow and spun it around -- she only had a few bruises!!! Pretty scary. Somehow Daddy fixed it with Bondo and by hammering out the dents, and then I inherited it.

When the Brown Bean died, my dad got me a used Chevy Chevette, in a light silvery blue. Check out some pretty hilarious photos here. I think it was a '79--by now I was a senior, so we're talking 1982-83. It had a tape deck and everything! I drove my sister and my friends crazy by ONLY playing Linda Ronstadt cassettes in the car. BUT WHAT A LEMON! It might as well have been painted yellow. That thing was always refusing to start, or dying on the side of the road.

Somehow, we held it together until I bought my own car when I was in grad school. My down payment was some Christmas money I'd gotten from my aunt, and my best friend's dad worked at the Ford dealership, so he helped me get a brand-new 1988 Ford Escort DX, in a deep red color. FANCY! Power everything! Great car. Had that until 1991.

Then I bought the first of three Toyota Corollas, one right after the other, between 1990-95. I would trade the cars in after two or three years, because I drove all over the state (for fun and to see family) so I didn't want to risk any breakdowns or whatever. I had the last Corolla, a 95, until the month before we left Texas. By this point, it had well over 120K miles on it, and Kat's car was in better shape. I sold it to some people from Mexico who were headed for Nebraska to work in the meat processing plants. If only I had already read Fast Food Nation then, I could've warned them that they'd regret it!

Anyway--I then drove Kat's white 1994 Cutlass Supreme for the last couple weeks of delivering pizza for Domino's, and then we moved up here. We had that car until it died and we bought our Saturn Ion in 2005. It's a nice little car, and we call it "the little particle" because it's small and it's an Ion.

Mary talked a lot about her emotional attachments to her past cars, but I never really felt a connection with cars until I had my own reliable one—the Escort, and then the Corollas. I called all of them the same thing: my little red gem. I loved my cars because to me they meant freedom. I could just get in, drive down the interstate as long as I wanted, and no one could stop me and the car wouldn’t break down. True freedom, behind the wheel of my very own car.

Back then, I used to LOVE driving. I would drive to think, to unwind, to see new places – I loved being in my car. Nowadays, driving is more just a way to get someplace I need to go. Gas is too expensive to just take a drive for a few hours, and there’s never enough time to just drive for fun. Still--someday, maybe I'll get a new sweet ride, and I'll post pics of it. I'll definitely have to put one of these on the bumper--thanks to Mike at 10,000 Birds: