Thursday, January 29, 2009


Nope, it's not a Spanish "hello." It's banding code for HOrned LArk. A group of 5 visited me during my second day of confinement due to inclement weather. I was only able to grab this quick snap, through a window at maximum zoom, but I think you can see the Horned Lark behind the cardinal.
This is the second time in 11 years that I have seen Horned Larks in my backyard, and both times it was in the worst weather, with the top layer of snow frozen into a solid sheet of ice. If you want proof, see this photo below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snowy Day Update

Well, I survived the first power outage of the day. Only lasted about 30 minutes, from 11 o'clock to 11:30am. This was right after the heavy snowfall that dumped about 2 more inches on top of the ice field that is my yard.

The birds are staying busy. I have broken the ice off most of the feeders, but not all yet. It is hard to keep the snow off the platform and ground feeders.

Not doing too badly so far, but I'll bet there is more to come.

Iced in!

After I pounded on the back door to break free of the ice that encases my house, here is the scene that greeted me this morning:

Six inches of snow yesterday has been covered by freezing rain, leaving an ice layer between 1/2" to 1" thick. Walking on the sidewalk is impossible; walking in the yard requires breaking through the crust to the ground below. It is snowing now, on top of the ice. Whee!!

My bird feeders have turned into cages of icicles.

Look how thick the ice is!

In fact, the snow surface is so glassy that ... well, just watch what happened when I put my Magnum feeder down before filling it with black oil sunflower seeds.

Needless to say, I won't be going to work today. This is only the second time in my career that I have called off work because of weather. I'm pretty proud of that record.

As long as the power holds out, I plan on posting updates throughout the day.

Hope you are safe and warm, wherever you are!

Wordless Wednesday: Bored Dogs


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Experiments in Pottery

I've been doing some experimenting in the studio lately, in forms, in glazes, and even in my use of clay.

This is something I have been wanting to do for a while, ever since I saw some examples that Peggy did
- mixing both white and brown clay. I have been waiting until my skills improved before attempting it.

It looks complicated, but it's not. All you do is form two balls of clay of different colors, then cut them into quarters. Remove two opposite wedges of white and replace with two wedges of brown. Pat together and make your piece as usual. When you are finished, you have to skim off the slip (liquid clay), which is a light tan color, to reveal the pattern underneath.

dipped in clear glaze so as not to hide the swirly effect
Every piece is unique.

I made pump dispensers, too. I accidentally smooshed one of them and liked the effect, so I smooshed it even further to give it a different shape.

When you look at the bottom of the pumps, you can easily see the quartering.

I had it in my head to made tumblers (drinking glasses) one day. Unfortunately, the shape and size didn't turn out right. I am learning that form and function must work together. No one will use your coffee mug, no matter how attractively you glaze it, if it doesn't feel right to the hand and mouth.

So, what to do with my non-drinking glasses? I decided to make lids for them.

left, light blue shino
right, light green shino

Now, they are lidded vessels for storing - something. Maybe cotton balls or rubber bands.

I didn't know what to do with the dab of clay I had left after turning the knobs for the lids shown above. I messed with it until it became this little shallow bowl - for cat food, perhaps?

goldenrod shino on white clay
The stencil was done with jet black underglaze,
yet it came out brown.
I like it.

I got a tip from the ceramics art web site that I subscribe to. It suggested ways to increase your glazing repertoire by making test tiles and overlapping your colors to see what effects you get. This is one, made of brown clay

and here is another, made of white clay.

You glaze the horizontal rows with one coat of each color, in order, top to bottom. Then, you glaze down each column vertically left to right, in the same order. After firing, you can see what each glaze will look like if you apply it either under (horizontal) or over (vertical) every other color.

The diagonal, starting with first square in the upper left hand corner and proceeding to the bottom right hand corner, is two coats of the pure color.

(Is anyone following my convoluted explanation?)

This might explain what I was trying to accomplish.

Another one of my failed tumblers became an exercise in glazing techniques. After making my test tile, I decided I liked the color which resulted from applying chun plum over sunrise shino. (Square # 15)

I glazed the top two thirds of the piece in sunrise shino, then glazed the bottom two thirds with chun plum. Where they overlap, a third color is created. My only issue with this piece is that I didn't get the bottom one third covered like I should, so I am missing the full effect of that lovely chun plum color. I am trying to decide if I should make a lid for this one.

Finally, what happens when you least expect it may be a disaster or a happy accident. My best friend in the whole world happens to have been born 5 days after me. I wanted to make her something extra special for her birthday this year. I tried for a casserole dish, and failed miserably, so I went to bowls, because I can do those.

I made two, so as to have a choice, but one developed a fatal crack in the bottom. I planned to glaze the remaining bowl in my old favorite, blue rutile, since I could count on how it would look.

Since the bowl was large, I decided to dip it rather than trying to paint on the glaze, hoping for uniform coverage. I knew blue rutile would run if I applied it too thickly, so I gave it one quick dip, first one half of the bowl then the other half, overlapping in the middle.

What did I get? Not blue, but this:

One of the qualities of blue rutile is how the blue breaks to brown over an irregular surface or when thinly applied. What I didn't know is that if it is applied very thinly, you get browns and greens, instead of blues and browns.

After the first shock wore off, I decided I liked this surprise color, and especially the variations it created. I actually think Joyce will like this better than blue. I always think of her in earthy tones. Truth be told, blue is my favorite color, not hers.

Oh, I hope she likes it!

She liked it, she really liked it!

Best of all, the accidental greeny-brown shade just matches the wheat pattern on her dishes, and she was actually glad the bowl wasn't blue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"It happens to every vet once."

And today, it happened to me.

Flash back to the summer of 1982, nearly 27 years ago. I had just been accepted into vet school and I was on the moon, giddy with excitement. I met an old veterinarian at a festival in Iowa, and shared my good news with him. I will never forget his reaction.

"Congratulations!" he beamed, "and welcome! You will never regret it. You will have a wonderful life."

I was moved. I felt like I was joining a secret club, and the greatest profession in the world. (I still feel that way.)

Then, the old man gave me a sly smile and said, "Wait until you spay your first tomcat."

Now, I hadn't been to vet school yet, and I didn't know a lot, but I knew that you didn't spay male animals. Females are spayed, males are neutered. I thought I must have misheard.

"Umm, I'm sorry, I must not have heard you right. I didn't think you spayed male cats."

He grinned even wider and said:

"Every vet does it once."

At that moment, I swore it wouldn't happen to me. I checked the gender of every kitten presented to me. I checked every cat who was under anesthesia for a "spay" operation. I caught many mistakes in exam rooms over the years ("Sorry ma'am, but this isn't Simba, it's Nala") and a couple of cats who were being prepped for a spay. I even got a little cocky - "It will never happen to me."

A couple of years ago, with 20 years' worth of experience under my belt, I somehow got out of the habit of checking my "spays" before surgery. After all, it had never happened to me.

Flash foward to today, in the surgery room. I have just opened up the abdomen of a 5 month old kitten and I can't find her uterus. After a couple of minutes of looking, I asked the technician, "This is a female cat, right?"

She checked the chart. "Yes, that's what it says here."

"Look under the drape, will you?" I requested.

"Um, Doc - there are two testicles here."

Oh, no. It has just happened to me.

Thankfully, the owners had a wonderful sense of humor about the whole thing. Both of them thought it was hysterical. I am still embarrassed. And, I foresee at least a week of ribbing from my staff, who love any opportunity to give me a hard time.

The cat has not yet expressed an opinion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fifth of Five

I picked this meme up from Carolyn at Mountain Musings. What you do is go into your photo files, open up the fifth folder, select the fifth photograph and post it. I liked the complete randomness of this selection process, and so I offer you the fifth picture of file #5, a goldenrod from Sept. 28 of last year.

It makes me feel a bit warmer looking at this photo now, in the dead of winter. The sad thing is, I still don't have a label on it. Typing out goldenrods as to genus and species is beyond my botanical skills.

Following Carolyn's lead, i don't tag anybody, but if you want to join in and play along, feel free.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crazy, page two

Well, I'm back from The Wilds of southeastern Ohio. I survived the fourth annual "Winter Birding at The Wilds" trip, cosponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society. If I were asked to describe this adventure in five words, they would be:

Very cold.
Crazy fun.

To elaborate:

Very cold: The morning started out bitterly cold and it didn't warm much throughout the day. According to those with car thermometers, it was -12 degrees F at 9am when 115 or so intrepid souls gathered for a full day of birding. The wind chill factor must have made it feel at least 20 degrees colder. Our high was a balmy 18 degrees, "real feel" still around zero.

Nearly 200 were registered for this trip. The smartest ones bowed out. As for the rest, well, you have heard Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, right? The (fool)hardy ones who made the trip were bundled up to the eyeballs in all varieties of foul weather gear, from Carharts to Columbia to a mish-mash of every warm thing in the closet.

brave birders huddle for warmth

your blogger, looking her best

All the rest save one, that is. Jim McCormac spent most of the day sans hat, scarf, or gloves, with his coat unzipped. He was wearing blue jeans and regular shoes. I can't believe he didn't freeze solid before the day was out.

"A hat interferes with my hearing."
What about boots, gloves, and a scarf, Jim?

Birding group one, lined up along Zion Ridge Rd., working the terrain for a Golden Eagle.

What are they all looking at?

This barren landscape, which looks empty, held native White-tailed Deer as well as The Wilds exotic cervine residents, Sika and Pere David's deer.

The skies were filled with raptors, including Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and American Kestrels, not that you can see any here.

To get these birds required work, and a lot of it. This is not a birding trip for the faint of heart.
A few intrepid and energetic folks hiked this hill for a better view.

birders scouting along a ridge

Coming back down, Troy did a face-plant in the snow, and came up birding. Now, that's dedication!

His vision was temporarily obscured in the aftermath.

This was an IBA (Important Bird Area)

so off we went down the hill to find out why.

This wetland was more like an Iceland, but held the only Swamp Sparrow of the day.

Crazy fun: The most fun was sharing the day with a collection of lunatic birders. The craziest one of the bunch was OOS President Jim McCormac, here seen optimistically trying to pod in a Common Yellowthroat.

(for the record, he didn't get it)

Best of all was meeting and birding with the owners of this vehicle:

The famous and funny Rondeau Ric and his wife,the lovely Lady Anne.

my chauffeur for the day
"Thanks for the lift, Ric!"

Anne waves while Ric obligingly does the stereotypical "birder point" pose.

Other OOS'ers I saw were Ethan Kistler, Brad Wilkinson, Ann Oliver (no photo) and Hugh and Judy-Kolo Rose (below.) A brief "hello" at the lunch break was all I could manage.

Jimmy Mac eats his lunch while conducting the morning's count.

"Anybody get a Prairie Falcon?
No? How about a Barnacle Goose?"

Cheryl Harner tunes Jim out while scanning for raptors.

The other extra special part of the day was when Troy, an educator/naturalist at The Wilds, took us on a little detour. We were permitted a rare look at one of the park's resident carnivore species.

African Wild Dogs

They have a family group of 8; 2 parents and their 6 children, nearly two years old and ready to strike out on their own.

It wasn't clear who was watching whom.

Disappointment: No birds. I never drove so far or worked so hard for such a short Trip List. I had such high hopes for this trip, including my first Ohio Golden Eagle and my Life Northern Shrike. I was aiming to up my January totals by adding
Eastern Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, or maybe even Lapland Longspurs, but no joy. While others saw the Golden Eagle (not our group) or a Merlin or waterfowl or passerine species, I missed all of those.

There was very little open water, and the one lake which held a collection of waterfowl was only visible through two windows looking out of the visitor center. With the number of bundled up people crowding around, and their tripods spraddled about, I could never get a decent view. I was afforded one quick scan with my binoculars, enough to see the Trumpeter Swans, but was not able to see, let alone study, the rest of the birds.

I did see many
Red-tailed Hawks, including a lovely leucistic bird, with a snowy-white body and white wings marked by dark brown bars, bearing the classic reddish tail. I saw some gorgeous Northern Harriers and a couple American Kestrels. I got an all-day clinic on identifying Rough-legged Hawks, which I had previously recorded in my Life List as an "unconfirmed bird." There were Rough-leggeds everywhere, and I got many terrific looks at them flying, perching, soaring, and even kiting (hanging in the air, like a kite on a string.) Beautiful!

But, no eagle and no owls, despite trying really hard for both.

This is one of three evergreen groves we tromped through, looking for Long-eared Owls.

One of the many trees where I did not see Long-eared Owls.

This is the Birding Station at Jeffery Point, where I didn't see Short-eared Owls.

My total trip list was a measly 12* species.

Trumpeter Swan*
American Kestrel
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Crow
Downy Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

*The swans are technically "not countable" since they are part of the breeding program here and considered captive birds.

One final photo, for Susan Who Loves Dead Things. This Mourning Dove body dump.
My guess? A dove hunter who bagged more than his limit and discarded the bodies to avoid a fine. Such a waste!

Edit, Jan. 19: It has been pointed out to me by someone who knows that dove hunting season is over. Has been for a long time, thus the above work is that of a poacher, not a hunter. This is a very important distinction to responsible hunters who follow the rules regarding hunting seasons, bag limits, legal species/gender/size, etc. I apologize to him and other responsible hunters, and wish infestations of chiggers on the bad guys (and gals) who break the rules.