Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Pottery Commission

Pottery classes started back up tonight, and I have missed them. I have been doing some independent work but it really helps to have your instructor around for tips and pointers, and to lean on when you need a hand.

Let me just say right now, when it comes to pottery, I don't do requests. At least, not yet. It is hard enough to make the clay and the glaze do what I want it to, without having to meet someone else's expectations. Still, when my sister asked me to make a specific piece for her, I had to try. After all, she has answered the call several times for me when I have wanted something made from polymer clay or natural hard-shelled gourds.

"I want a decorative bowl," she began, "something about the size of two cupped hands, glazed in that bright red glaze with white speckles."

OK, I think I can do that.

I weighed out and wedged 4 pieces of white clay without grog, a clay body called 181. 182 is the clay I started with, a white clay with a lot of grog, a fine sandy grit that helps the clay stand up to the abuse of a student potter. 181 is smoother and "softer," and I think it makes a nicer end product.

The goal was to throw four pieces, all approximately the same size, in order to obtain one perfect two-cupped-hand-sized bowl.

The first one didn't want to be a bowl. It wanted to be a mug.

This is the "Sun-Moon mug" from a previous post.

The other three all came out about the same size, 2.5" high by 4" wide with a 3" wide opening in the top. Two were glazed with Hot Tamale only. This is a glaze which can be fired at high or low temperatures, with different results.

This first bowl was high-fired. I don't know if you can tell, but it is not quite as glossy as bowl #2, with some slight pitting. Also, the red is not as brilliant in this piece.

The second bowl was fired at a lower temperature, which I had used previously. I like this glaze much better when low-fired.

Also, this bowl is structurally better than #1, though still a little heavy in the bottom. (So many of us are that way!)

Bowl #3 is the best formed bowl, although it has a little wobble. As I was glazing the inside with Hot Tamale, I had a mental image of a red rim over a white bowl, so I used Snapdragon on the outside.

This one is my fave. I think I will add some little felt cushions to the bottom. That ought to smooth out that wobble!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday at East Fork

East Fork State Park encompasses 4870 acres of land in southwestern Ohio, with a 2100 acre lake created by damming the East Fork of the Little Miami River. Like all state parks in Ohio, there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors here, including swimming, camping, boating and fishing, trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, and generally enjoying nature and the out-of-doors. I bird here on occasion, especially after attending a couple of guided bird walks, when I learned the "good" spots.

Today seemed like a good day to be out and about. I left home at 7:15am, in order to get to the lake just after dawn. I started at the south swimming beach, home to dozens of resident Ring-billed Gulls.

click to enlarge

They were the first birds I saw, after some crows that is, and were followed shortly after by a Great Blue Heron. (Far right of the above photo.)

While working on getting a decent photo of the gulls, I was distracted by a chipping call from a sapling. Following the sound, I found a small songbird. Its pointy bill and quick movements proclaimed it to be a warbler, and I was prepared with my "Confusing Fall Warbler" excuses - too small, too quick, back-lit, hidden by leaves - when the bird obligingly bobbed its tail repeatedly. Bingo! Palm Warbler, confirmed by good looks at its field marks through my spotting scope. The tail bob behavior is classic for Palms, and it is the way I identified my Life Palm Warbler, a fall bird at Crooked Run Nature Preserve five years ago.

While keeping my eyes on the warbler, I tried to put a face to the new sound over my head. It might be --- could it be? --- Yes, I think it is ---

click photo to hear an osprey

An Osprey! This photo doesn't do it justice, but it was the only image I could salvage. The digiscoped shots, taken when he teed up on the tree in the lower right, were out of focus, thanks to the slow shutter speeds necessary in the dim light. Cool bird!

After the Osprey, the beach seemed slow, so I headed out to a grassland area that is being managed for turkeys. No turkeys today, but I did have a good walk around.

Most of the birds were LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) that refused to sit still for good IDs. I did have a number of Field Sparrows and a couple of Song Sparrows, as well as a fair number of (non) Indigo Buntings. The males have discarded their brilliant summer blues, exchanging them for plain brown fall attire, but one or two still felt randy enough to sing for me.

New England Asters were in bloom, but my photos were no good. I picked up a new goldenrod, and am still working on the ID.

I think this white flower may be Pearly Everlasting. Anybody have a better idea?

There is one part of this trail which is the birdiest place of the whole prairie. It is in a low depression which is often underwater in the spring, in a spot where the grassland meets the woods. This spot was jumping this morning.

There were cardinals, towhees, goldfinches galore, and yes, I got to use my CFW excuses. (Too small, too far away for my binoculars, too quick for the scope, too many big leaves in the way.)

I stood in the middle of this treasure and took a series of photos nearly 360 degrees, to try to share with you the feeling of being there.

After all the work, it turned out to be too small to convey the sensation I wanted you to feel, so here are a few of the stills.

And yes, I know, the colors are crap. That's the fault of the light, not me and my camera.

One other stop on the way out of the park, at a parking lot commonly referred to as the "two ponds" area, since there are two ponds here. This one is a reliable source for Wood Ducks, and there were two here again today. If you click to enlarge this picture, and if you have a good imagination, you might see them in the distance.

These pitiful photos are why I devote most of my birding time to looking and very little to photography. Maybe some day, a good camera might be in my future.

Trip list:

Wood Duck 2
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 4
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 2
Carolina Wren 1
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Palm Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
American Goldfinch

Saturday, September 27, 2008


As if the chill in the early morning air wasn't enough, here is a sure sign that fall has arrived in southwestern Ohio. The leaves on my red maple tree, Acer rubrum "Red Sunset," have started to change.

I'm really proud of this tree that I planted. It has grown so much in just a few short years, and is a great native tree. Lots of birds can be found here, including hummingbirds who wait in its branches for their turn at the feeders.

At first glance, you might think this tree is green, but look closely. Hints of red are appearing as the green of summer's chlorophyll fades, revealing the tree's true, bright red self.

No sky is as beautifully blue as an autumn one.

An undecided leaf holds on to a hint of summer.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple Friday Sky

No dramatic weather, no exciting travel, just a simple look outside my window 7:10am, EDT.

Have a nice day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Poor little butterfly

I found this at the end of my driveway this evening. I think it was a Red-spotted Purple. Am I right?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

300, Baby!

A while back, I announced that my Life List stood at 298 species, and that I was eagerly anticipating my trip to Cape May in order to break 300. I even foolishly announced a contest to guess my 300th Life Bird.

No one guessed correctly because I reached 300 today, in the Oxbow nature preserve along the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, IN, with trip leader Charlie Saunders, 5 other birders, and my birder-blogger-buddy, Susan. (Susan hit a magic number herself, but I will let her tell that story.)

Once again, I have no photographs documenting the event. Susan chided me: "Why don't you carry your camera?" Once again, I have a laundry list of excuses: I am already carrying a spotting scope and tripod, a pair of binoculars, and a birding bag with two field guides, pen and notepad for listing, and my lens cleaning kit; my camera has a pitiful zoom and a lame macro function, so that the only photos I get are of the scenery; I am too busy looking at birds to photograph them; you are taking pictures, I will just steal from you - you get the idea. Anyway, this post will be all words, no pictures.

Our primary goals for this trip were migrant passerines (songbirds) and shorebirds, but really, anything with feathers would have suited me. Double-crested cormorants put on a good show. We got to compare and contrast adult and juvenile plumage, watch three clustered together put on a demonstration of synchronized swimming, observe one perched to dry out its water-soaked feathers, and eventually see a flock of 15 or so flying in formation across the sky. We had numerous Great Blue Herons and about a half dozen Great Egrets (or else it was the same bird flying overhead 6 times.)
We got some nice looks at molting male Red-winged Blackbirds. These guys had lost their tail feathers, and so had a distinctively stubby-tailed look that confused me until I saw the classic red epaulets on their "shoulders." We had a few (very few) warblers and some resident songbirds, and we had shorebirds.

My identification skill level when it comes to shorebirds is pretty much "Killdeer" and "Not-Killdeer," but I am working on it. At the first likely spot, we began scoping out long-legged brown birds. "Killdeer, killdeer, killdeer," I muttered to myself as I scanned the distant shore. "Wait! Not-Killdeer!" Time for closer study.

The Not-Killdeer was obligingly standing close to a Killdeer, so I could get a good judge of size. Significantly smaller. I looked at its underside. Plain off-white in color, no obvious streaks or spots. I couldn't really get a good look at its leg color or bill type, both important indicators when working shorebird ID, so I turned to behavior. What was my mystery bird doing? Within a few seconds, it demonstrated pronounced bobbing of its back end. "Spotted Sandpiper," I concluded. Then, I had a momentary doubt - Spotted Sandpipers have spotted bellies. A quick flip through my Peterson's showed that winter plumaged Spotties have plain bellies. I got a shorebird, all by myself! I paused and mentally patted myself on the back when Charlie said, "Kathi is calling that bird a Spotted Sandpiper because it is bobbing its tail." Hah! I can do this.

While I was reveling in my shorebirding skills, someone else found a group of 4 shorebirds feeding together, and I heard "Stilt Sandpipers." I spun my scope around, focused on the group and gaped as Charlie explained the key field marks. (Yellowish-green legs; long, slightly downcurved bill; white rump patch {but not wedge-shaped, which dowitchers show} and a "sewing-machine" motion of feeding. I decided it was a stabbing motion, as in "stilettos stab," to help me remember.) The birds flushed and returned several times, giving us ample opportunity to study them both in flight and feeding. Life Bird #299 - Whoo-Hoo!

In that same pond, we found a Yellowlegs, which we determined was a Lesser, based on the length of the bill. Lesser Yellowlegs are smaller than Greater, but that field mark doesn't help if the two species are not standing next to each other. Instead, look at bill length to distinguish them. In Greater Yellowlegs, the bill is significantly longer than the bird's head, from the base of the bill to the back of the head. Lessers have a bill the same length, or only slightly longer, than their head length. Three "Not-Killdeers," and all identified as to species. It was turning out to be a good day.

A good day was about to become a great day. Susan spotted a duck, which gave everyone fits. I was looking in a completely different direction, and couldn't understand why no one could ID the Mallards, even though the males were in eclipse phase (not their bright breeding colors.) Once I got on the right bird, I agreed with the group consensus. It was a duck.

What could we tell about this duck? It was small, much smaller than the mallards, and only slightly larger than the nearby Killdeer. (Always look for something whose size you know to use as your "yardstick" in the field, unless you happen to have a 12 inch ruler nailed up next to your birdfeeder.) It was plain brown. Ugh. That always means female duck to me, and the way I recognize a female duck is to see what drake she is associating with. Step two: Look for male ducks. None. Double ugh. Step three: Start ruling out ducks I know.

OK, it is a dabbling duck, not a diver (dabbling ducks up-end themselves when feeding, like mallards; diving ducks submerge completely underwater, like grebes. And yes, I know grebes aren't ducks, but they dive.) It is too small and too plain for Mallards, Black Ducks, even Wood Ducks. By process of elimination, I was down to Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal. And, that's where I bogged down. I felt there was a buffy patch near the tail end of the bird, but Charlie wasn't so certain, and was keeping his options open. I fidgeted. Susan decided it HAD to be a Green-winged Teal, because I wanted it to be one so badly.

Why was this ID so important to me? Because, while I have seen plenty of Blue-winged, I had never seen a Green-winged Teal. Susan was appalled. "You have never seen a Green-winged Teal?" You would think I admitted to being a secret puppy-kicker. Yeah, yeah - I don't have a GWTE on my Life List. It has evaded me for three years now. So, sue me.

Eventually, we gave up on the Mystery Duck and walked on down the road. At another viewing spot, complete with benches, we found 4 more MYDUs (MYstery DUcks) in better lighting and with better angles. After some contemplation, Charlie announced his findings: Green-winged Teal, probably two females and two eclipse-phase males. The critical field mark turned out to be that elusive yellowish-buff patch on the rear, as well as a lack of blue on the wings and the size of the bill, smaller than a BWTE's would be. Number 300. I was pumped! In fact, I did the Life Bird Wiggle, as popularized by Bill of the Birds, aka BT3: "Put your hands in the air, Wiggle like you just don't care." (Susan took an embarrassing photo. I expect to be thoroughly humilated by it.) Dancing didn't seem to be enough. There should be some sort of ceremony when you hit a century mark in your birding list. I am going to invent one.

If that wasn't enough, on the drive home, I saw a flock of turkeys along the freeway, a Red-tailed Hawk on a light post, and several large spirals of Turkey Vultures. Plus, I rescued another Box Turtle from a state highway in Clermont County. All in all, a Very Good Day.

Birding list for today:

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Wild Turkey
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird

Thirty-one species, plus a couple that others saw and I missed (Northern Flicker, Magnolia Warbler), and one CFW (Confusing Fall Warbler.) It was yellowish and with wing bars. That puts it firmly in the Pine/Bay-breasted/Blackpoll camp. Visit the blogs of Bill Thompson, III and Jeff Gordon for great discussions of this difficult fall ID. I can't help you with that one.
I'm a shorebirder. (wink)

KatDoc's got a new name

It's WineBabe! (Not to be confused with Wine Girl, who blogs about wines from her home in Cincinnati.)

Now, when I'm not saving dogs and cats, I'm moonlighting as a member of the hospitality team at Harmony Hill Winery. Basically, I pour you a glass of wine or uncork your bottle, take your money, wipe up the counter, restock the supplies, and try not to screw up when I do a tasting.

the tasting room at Harmony Hill

I get a T-shirt, discounts on wine, and - oh, yeah - they're gonna PAY me. Can you believe it? And it is such a totally fun job - no trying to convince people to spend money they don't want to spend on medicines they are going to forget to give, no trying to convince people that good nutrition and wellness care are cheaper in the long run than treating disease, no saying, "I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Owner, your pet has an incurable illness." No, the wine business is all about drinking nice wines while relaxing in a pleasant environment and listening to music.

my "uniform" -
a Harmony Hill T-shirt

So far, customers, staff members and owners have all been very helpful and forgiving when I screw up the register or mispronounce the names of the grapes. I have learned to uncork and recork a bottle, to pour a taste or a glass, to pronounce words like traminette and chambourcin, and that Ohio liquor laws require you to pay for all alcohol - no free tastings. (Sorry!)

Saturday, I finally got to meet the Harmony Hill dogs - they moved around so much, I only got pictures of two of the four of them.

and Belle (Bubba and Sadie were MIA.)

After working two 4 hour shifts, I'm officially done for this season. Next weekend is the last that Harmony Hill will be opened to the general public - 5-9pm on Friday and 12-6pm on Saturday, with live music both days. Next year, the season starts Memorial Day weekend. I hope I will remember what I have learned so far. I'll let you know when I'm working, in case you are nearby and want WineBabe to serve you.

three Harmony Hill babes:
Donna on the left, owner Patti on the right,
and your blogger in the middle

The grapes are nearly ready - harvest starts soon. If you live in the area (Clermont, Brown, or Hamilton County) and want to help pick grapes, Bill is looking for volunteer labor. Contact him through the Harmony Hill website.

grapevines netted to protect the crop from greedy birds


Friday, September 19, 2008

I like Ike?

While we may not have enjoyed the aftermath, the skies during Sunday's "big wind" were dramatic. [Over 100,000 in the Cincinnati area still without power, 6 days later.]

click below to see more skies

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sun-Moon Mug

I have been experimenting with glazing techniques lately. I am trying different colors, glazes which have built-in speckles, which are fired at different temperatures, and with underglazes.

Since I cannot draw or paint, I thought I would try using stencils for additional detail and interest in my pieces. Here is my first attempt:

I used a pencil to trace the designs onto the bisque-fired mug. (The stencil was plastic, and the curve of the mug was too great for me to just hold the stencil on the mug and paint it directly. On a platter or other flat surface, that might work.) Then, I filled in the design with a fine brush, handglazing two layers of black. After that dried, I covered the entire mug in three layers of the yellow glaze. When it was done, you could just barely make out the stencil, and I didn't think it would work. I picked it up from the studio this evening (one of the few things that got fired before the power went out. The studio is still dark tonight.) and was pleased with the results. I am trying to think of a way to make a more flexible stencil - maybe trace it onto contact paper - to make it a little easier to do the transfer.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thank you, Duke employees!

More storm images.

Just one of dozens of trees down or damaged along my daily route.

The sign at Speedway is broken, but the light at the intersection with the 4 lane highway is fixed. Hurrah!!

As I listened to AM radio last night, to learn more about the area-wide power outages, I heard the DJ talking with a call-in guest. The driver was headed southbound on I-75, and he was remarking on the wave after wave of electric company trucks driving north toward Cincy. Seems the linemen from Duke Energy Carolina were on their way to help local crews get our lights on just a little bit quicker. They arrived last night and were on the job at 7am today.

This happened at least once before in my memory, after a disastrous snow storm in December 2004 shut down the area for days. As before, energy workers banded together for the good of the community. It made me mist up to hear the caller say, "And there's another one!" as a convoy of trucks passed him, coming to our aide. Thanks, guys! You're the best!

Soon, we should be seeing a lot less of this:

and more images like this one:

And for the best news of all, my mom's power came on today, a little bit before 3 o'clock, while I was on the phone with her. We both heard a strange whining noise, and just as I said, "What was that?" she exclaimed, "My fan is spinning! And, my clock is flashing!" She couldn't decide which was her first priority: Hot coffee, hot food, or a hot shower.

Now, I have to think good thoughts for my sister in Columbus, who is still in the dark. Of course, this is a normal condition for her, so she should be used to it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's an ill wind

... and it blew through Cincinnati yesterday. They tell me it was the "remnants" of Hurricane Ike, but I have to tell you - it scared the pants off me. It was the weirdest storm I have ever seen. Sustained winds in the 50 and 60 mph range (Wind that blows at the same speed as I drive?) with gusts in the 70's. One unofficial spotter reported a gust of 84mph. This is big wind for the midwest. Yet, despite the winds and the storm-tossed skies, not a drop of rain fell. I have never experienced anything like it. And this was after Ike spent its wrath on Galveston, after it dumped 7 inches of rain on Chicago, when it was supposed to be exhausted. I have to tell you; people who choose to stay and ride out a hurricane are certifiable in my opinion.

The aftermath has been challenging, to say the least. Trees and power lines are down everywhere. Electricity is out all over the area. At the height of the blackout, 700,000 Duke Energy customers were affected. Two million homes and business from Columbus to Cincinnati to Louisville are without power, according to the latest radio reports. Some areas are under a "boil water" advisory or are requesting residents conserve water use. The hum of chain saws can be heard around every corner.

The effects are spotty, though. I have seen some areas with only small limbs down

or minor building damage,

and other places with trees on buildings or electric lines. One of my clients today said the transformer blew off the pole by her house. The latest predictions are that some people may not have their power restored until the weekend.

We have electricity on at our office, but the food mart across the road is still dark. I lost my electricity Sunday afternoon and it came back that night, but my mother, in an area with a much larger population, is still blacked out. Food is going to waste in refrigerators and freezers in homes and businesses. People are having a hard time finding gasoline. Those stations with gas have no electricity to pump it; stations with power are running low on fuel.

The biggest hassle, from my point of view, has been the number of traffic signals that are not working. This, too has been hit or miss. The Speedway station has electricity, but the light at the crossroad of a major 4-lane state highway is dark. Then, the next light, at some minor intersection, will be functioning fine. It is rare to find a police officer directing traffic; most of the time the old "4-way stop" rule applies. The majority of drivers are being pretty good about it, but I see one blow through an intersection here and there, and it is the worry that I might meet one of these rude folks that has me on edge.

my view during most of my commute today

I know our troubles are nothing compared to the real tragedies of the world. It is these relatively minor inconveniences that make you appreciate all we have in our lives. Still, the adventure is getting old now, and we would all like to return to normal, please.

If nothing else, God, please turn the power on at my mother's condo. Thank you very much.