Monday, May 31, 2010

The one in which we break down

After working a 6-day week, I was looking forward to a relaxing holiday weekend. Perhaps a visit to the winery, followed by some light gardening, and of course, traditional Memorial Day weekend food - burgers, macaroni salad, and frozen Margaritas.

I stopped at the grocery store after work, then picked up Panda, who had spent Saturday morning with her grandma. On the way home, I bought a flat of annual flowers, then filled the car with gas. Before I headed back to the country, I thought I might treat myself to a Frosty at Wendy's. While in the drive-thru line, I suddenly noticed clouds of steam rolling out from under the hood of the car.
That maroon red Saturn, the one with the hood up ... That's mine, dead in the Wendy's parking lot. It wasn't until after I saw the steam that the warning light on the control panel lit up. Yeah, I know the car's overheating. Thanks for the notice.

Although I was more than a little stressed about my car, I was freaking out about my puppy. She had already complained about the heat when we shopped for flowers, and I didn't think the car's a/c was functioning as well as it should be. (That makes sense now,
after the fact.)
Sitting for a few minutes in a hot car, even with all the windows wide open, Panda was panting excessively. I was slightly hysterical. I remembered this little factoid:

"A closed car, even with the windows partially opened, reaches 102 degrees in 10 minutes at air temperatures of 85 degrees or more. The temperature will reach 120 degrees in 30 minutes."

After calling AAA and getting a 30-45 minute wait time for a tow, I walked up to the drive-thru window and asked the Wendy's employees for a cup of ice water. I found the only patch of shade in their parking lot, under a bush. It was enough for Panda, if not for me.

We sat together, drinking water and cooling off as best we could, while waiting for help. Panda, thankfully, stopped panting and actually went to sleep.Finally, the tow truck came, I got my purse, my groceries, my flowers, my binoculars, and my puppy stuff out of the car. Panda slept in the cab of the tow truck (with its very powerful air conditioning) all the way to the repair shop, where my car is spending the weekend. We got a ride home (Thanks, Mom!) and I'm now hoping that the car repairs aren't too extreme.

The take-home lessons: Never leave a dog alone in a car when it is this hot outside (mid to upper 80's) and always carry water and a pet bowl with you if you travel with your dogs. You never know when you might be stranded.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Panda in Action

I tried to get some video of Panda running around the yard. She looks like a little rabbit. These short clips aren't the greatest, but they will have to do until I can make a better movie.

In them, you can hear my Purple Martins "chortling" in the background.

The second one is incredibly blurry, but you can get a sense of her speed and energy. (Please ignoring the peeing at the end.)

(I hope this works.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How does one get more blog hits?

Feature a Boston Terrier puppy!

Faithful readers will know that I have been waiting (im)patiently for 7 weeks for my new puppy, Panda. Yesterday, I finally got her. After a 4.5 hr trip east, I arrived at Indigo Hill to find that Jane was delayed in the mountains of West Virginia, when a short cut from PA went awry.

I filled in the time eating a lovely lunch, featuring Boston Terrier meatloaf (No, no! SHAPED like a BT, not MADE OF one!!) and a salad with homegrown lettuce, watching Zick garden, peeking in on baby Carolina wrens, and discussing Things We Believe In with Liam. (For the record, Bigfoot - Yes. Loch Ness monster - Yes. Ghosts - Yes. UFOs/aliens - We're not sure.)

I also supervised the play between Holly and Chet Baker, whose nose was a little bent out of shape that his buddy KatDoc actually had a dog of her own and did not need his constant attention.

But mostly, I sat under a tree, facing the driveway, pretending to bird when in fact I was listening for the sound of tires scrunching up the gravel drive.

Finally, finally, they arrived! Let the fun begin!

I know you're not here for words, you only want the pictures. Here you go!

Phoebe, Liam and Panda = love all around
Chet herding PandaPanda discovers Holly's tail
What a great toy!
Jane and Panda
Jane, Panda and ChetFor the record, I am not letting her chew my showstringWho, me? Chewing shoestrings?One very tired puppy
Buh-bye, for now

Friday, May 14, 2010

Magee Report, 2010

A quick report from the field: Magee Marsh, Ottawa NWR and Metzger Marsh, May 11-13. The weather conspired against me during my 2 1/2 days of birding the "Warbler Capital of the World" and the Biggest Week in American Birding. It was cold, gray, wet, and rather miserable. Let's just say, I have had better trips here. However, a bad day at Magee is better than a good day just about anywhere else in the world, so I'm still satisfied.

I ended up with a Trip List of 99 species, 19 of them warblers. I missed the Kirtland's Warbler by 1.5 days, the Mourning Warbler, the Golden-winged Warbler, and the Black-billed Cuckoo by hours, the Canada Warbler by minutes, and numerous other birds that should have been easy for numerous other reasons.

I missed getting my life Orange-crowned Warbler twice. A guy on the board walk told me he was "90% sure" that the tiny, backlit bird way, way high in the tree tops was an Orange-crowned. My own personal rule for Life Birds requires that I see the bird well enough to be able to ID it again in the future. I couldn't do it, so I didn't count it. Two days later, I saw a small, drab warbler working the edge of the parking lot, and thought I had an Orange-crowned. I studied it carefully, looking for every possible field mark. I narrowed it down to two species, and talked to Kim Kaufman in the BSBO office to help me confirm or deny my ID. I thought I had it, but on further review, I have decided I didn't seen the undertail coverts well enough to determine their color, and the rest of the field markings and behavior have made me conclude I had a female Tennessee instead.

I did pad my trip list a bit by counting two birds seen only "in-hand" at the banding demonstration put on by Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
The tent set up just outside the BSBO building was crowded with observers, and I only stayed a few minutes. I picked up photos of this Northern Waterthrush, held by Kim Kaufman
and this Black-capped Chickadee held by Mark Shieldcastle. I was trying to show its field marks, including the white frosting on the wings. Bill Thompson, III calls that mark a "hockey stick," and I can never see in the field. I prefer to use the smudgy edges of its bib, compared to the clean lines of a Carolina, but that photo was unusable.
I got a decent shot of a male Baltimore Oriole along the causeway at Metzger Marsh, but the female flew before I could bag her. I took very few pictures on this trip. It rained most of the time, and when it wasn't raining, the light was terrible.
My favorite photo was of these Barn Swallows, who were assessing the housing potential of the sign on the door at the Bird Center at Magee Marsh. This door opens and closes every couple of minutes all day long in spring, and I imagined the conversation went something like this:
male: "Honey? What about here? This looks like a good spot."
female: "No, I told you over and over again. There is too much traffic here."
male: (mutters under his breath)
female: "What? I heard that. What did you say?"
male: "I said, 'Yes, dear.'"
female: (flying off) "My mother was right about you."

My complete trip list:

Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Sora (HO=heard only)
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
American Woodcock (doing his "sky dance")
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Black Tern
Forster's Tern
Mourning DOve
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe (HO)
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark (HO)
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Bank Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Wood Thrush (HO)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Tennessee (female)
Northern Parula
Cape May
Black-throated Blue
Black-throated Green
Palm (female)
Blackpoll (female)
American Redstart
Prothonotary (pair at nest cavity)
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
[19 total warblers]
Eastern Towhee (HO)
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throaed Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (3 M/2 F at one feeder)
Indigo Bunting
Bobolink (!)
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird (female; 1st Ohio)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

total 99 species

I also saw lots of birders, including both old friends and new. I had a lot of fun meeting and birding with Alan Davies, a professional bird guide from Wales (they call birding "twitching" over there, you know) and hearing his stories. He and his wife took a year off work to travel and bird the world, in an attempt to break the record for the number of species seen in a calender year. The previous record was 3662; Alan and his wife, Ruth Miller, beat that on Oct. 31, 2008. Their final total was 4341! You can read about "The Biggest Twitch" here.

My 100th bird of the trip was a Life Bird, and it was well worth the two hour detour from NW Ohio to Columbia Station Reservation in Lorain County, just west of Cleveland. This was it, a Purple Gallinule, a tropical/subtropical bird that has no business being in northern Ohio. This one has been hanging around a Metropark for a couple of weeks, and it became my own personal "twitch" to chase down this vagrant.

Can you find the bird in this mess of spatterdock?
Well, I did, and it was great!

Those of you who read my blog for my (occasional) bird posts are going to be a bit disappointed. I get my new puppy tomorrow, a 10 week old female Boston Terrier named "Panda," and I predict the blog will be filled with puppy stories for quite a while.
I'll try not to gush too much or grouse too often, and I'll try to mix up puppy tales with pottery and nature, too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

But, did you see birds?

Right about now, I can hear my birding friends saying, "Enough, already, with the tram ride and the boat ride and even the river. Didn't you take any bird photos while you were in the New River Gorge area?"

Here you are - the best of my bird pictures from last week:
Don't laugh and say, "It's just a robin." Good birders look at all the birds, even the common backyard ones. Nascent photographers like me appreciate robins because they are big enough, close enough, and patient enough to allow one to fiddle with the camera settings. This is my first bird portrait after attending Wil's 2 hour photography class, in Manual mode. Imagine what I could accomplish if I took one of his weekend workshops!

Studies in black, white, and shades of gray:
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch

You all know whose hand this is.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

For my friend Lynne of Hasty Brook:
Turkey Vulture

an elusive singer, hiding in the bushes at Meadows House
Carolina Wren

How to photograph a flitty little bird:
Focus on the lichen-covered nest and wait.Set your camera on "continuous" mode and keep shooting.
Sooner or later, you get lucky.Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

At a bird banding, don't blink
or you'll miss the moment of release.
Good-bye to spring birding in the New River valley.
See you next year!

I'm already making plans for New River, 2011. Dates are May 2-7. Will you Flock with us?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Birding by Butt, 2010

Wednesday was the "Birding by Butt" day at Opossum Creek for the Elderhostel gang. (I will never get used to "Exploritas," a really stupid name change for this long-standing program, with a tradition that you are never too old to learn something new.) The schedule is pretty much the same as it is for the participants of the New River Birding and Nature Festival - breakfast and lunch by Wendy of Cathedral Cafe, casual bird and nature walks with Jim McCormac, and bird banding with Bill Hilton, Jr.

Because the early morning temperatures hovered around freezing, Bill didn't open his mist nets, but instead set feeder traps to catch some birds for his demo. He checked them before calling us out to see him work; any female bird with a brood patch was released immediately, so she could get back to her job of incubating or brooding her young.

The first bird Bill had was this chickadee, a Carolina, not a Black-capped, in case you weren't sure.
After working through the ID and demonstrating the technique of bird banding, our little guy was ready to go.
The next bird was a White-breasted Nuthatch. We knew he was a male because of his dark black cap (the female's is lighter in color), and also because Bill had already told us he let the females go.
Bill turned him over to show us the rusty-brown undertail coverts. Why a bird who spends his life with his belly plastered up against a tree would have color markings where no one (presumably) would ever see them is one of the many mysteries of birds.
But, this guy had another surprise up his sleeve, so to speak. When Bill began examining him closely, he found the bird was already banded. I have been to a number of bird banding events, and I had not witnessed a recapture until now.

This is what banders live for - a chance to catch a banded bird and track his band number, to find out who banded the bird and when and where. It tells us a lot about bird migration, life span, and so on.

If you have attended one of Bill's banding demos, you may have noticed the anomaly in the picture below. The bird is banded on his right leg, and Bill always bands males on the left. Why? "Because females are always right," of course! Not all banders follow this protocol, giving us our first clue that this was not a bird Bill had banded.

In searching his Opossum Creek records, Bill learned that he had held this bird before, at the New River Festival in 2008. At that time, he discovered and reported the band and received this certificate, telling him that this bird was originally banded in 2005, right on Opossum Creek property, by the guy who used to give the demos for the festival.
This makes three times the bird was been caught and handled, in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Given that he was an adult bird in 2005, at least one year old, we know that he was hatched in 2004 (or earlier), is at least 6 years old, and lives at Opossum Creek. I think that's pretty neat! It also shows that the "stress" of being caught and handled must not have bothered him too much, or that he is a pretty forgiving character, since he keeps coming back for more.

Despite the cold, we were there for the birds, so off we went to find them. A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were working on their nest, as they do every year. I wonder if Geoff pays them to build where we can watch.

Scott Shalaway and fellow birders watching the gnatcatchers.
It may not look like Jim is birding, but his bat-like ears are at work, picking out bird song.

We did get a few birds on our morning walks, including Northern Parula (too high in the tree tops for a photo) and Ovenbird (too skulky for pics,) so I settled for plant photographs.

Blue violets. If you want a specific ID, see Jim's informative and educational post on identifying violets. If I had to guess, I'd say Common Blue Violet, but don't quote me.

Fern fiddle heads.

And this gorgeous wild orchid, Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, growing in the ditch on the side of the gravel road, very nearly overlooked.

The only trouble with my morning at Opossum Creek Resort was that it had to come to an end.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

River front property

Back on the New River, riding a jet boat and NOT seeing any birds, I found myself photographing some fishing shacks, nestled comfortably between the railroad tracks and the river.

Privacy is guaranteed - no roads to attract annoying door-to-door salesmen or people passing out religious tracts. Since there is no electricity or running water, you won't be distracted by all the comforts of home. Nothing to do but fish and watch the river roll on by. (And, probably, drink a lot of beer.)

Can I interest you in one of these?
How about a fixer-upper, a handyman's special? No extra charge for the rock crushing the front porch or the weeds growing on top of the caved-up roof.
I thought that's what you would say.