Saturday, February 14, 2015

Scooting for Scoter

♪'One of these things is not like the others...'♪

Another 'little black duck'
Yes, yes. When an exotic flies into my home state or near abouts, I must pursue. That said, in late January a birder photographed a 'different' looking Scoter and being sharpish, he realized he had something extraordinary, a Common Scoter. If it's common, what's the uproar? An American birding adage, is 'common' birds are the least common', and how true for this particular little black sea duck, something found A Common Scoter was only seen one time before - just once - in North America, in Greenland. And this visit to the U.S. is its first appearance here. 'Whoo hooo!' screams the birder in my soul.

As incredibly good luck would have it, Don decided to take off a day early, so we headed north on Thursday. Early Friday morning found us enjoying a delish breakfast of Crab eggs Benedict at the Chart Room restaurant, located on next to the Crescent City Harbor. Have always loved having breakfast in the Chart Room, binoculars at the ready so I can watch the Sea Lions & waterfowl at play, over my coffee.

Right after breakfast we moved further along the same jetty, where literally b'jillions of Surf Scoters - an American species of Scoter - flocked. There were the occasional surprise among them, such as the little female Long-tailed duck (photo up top), and a White-winged Scoter (below).

Left to right, White-winged Scoter (jumbo sized species), Long-tailed Duck & Surf Scoter
It was somewhat daunting to look for one little black duck amid scads of other little black ducks.

GAK! We're looking for which one again...?
After an hour of scanning the hundreds of Surf Scoters and company, we headed over to the main harbor up the road, I parked, looked out the window and Voila!

TADA! The much sought, miraculous to behold,
Common Scoter, in all its majesty
Ah, and behold, there was much celebrating among the birders on the pier, as duck swam and dove, granting us all, lovely views. It was quite a wonderfully lucky Friday the 13th, for the following day, opened to a spectacularly heart breaking Valentine's Day for many, for on the day of hearts, the duck was no where to be found. I thank the birding saints for Don deciding to drive up a day early. Hum... that duck does rather resemble Daffy, does it not?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rambling for a Brambling

Staring doesn't necessarily bring in the bird
Twenty fifteen seems a good year for bringing in the Eurasian vagrants. Hearing there is one in Arcata, got myself and birding buddy Don on the road. We joined loads of other birders in a sweet little neighborhood, in hope of seeing a rare vagrant bird, a Brambling. We searched all Friday afternoon. We stared at shrubbery hopefully most of Saturday. We gave up, shrugged and came home on Sunday. Hey, we gave it the ole' birder's try. Of course the bird popped up again after we left. Stupid birds. Really ought to give them up - but they're so flippin' cool.


While we waited, many other birds were far more sociable. The best one was a little hunting Merlin; a small falcon that perched high up in a pine and sat bobbing its head for a long time. I managed some digiscoped photos of it using my iPhone and my Kowa spotting scope.

I got a big surprise when a White-throated Sparrow popped up. They aren't exactly rare on the west coast, being common in the eastern states. I actually thought I must be seeing things when I noticed a 'weird' looking sparrow in a white bib. Great bird to see here in California.

White-throated Sparrow

A second 'surprise' was a beautifully dark & sooty Fox Sparrow. They too aren't rare but I don't see one every year.

Fox Sparrow looking all perky & handsome
On the drive home we stopped for some sight seeing in rainy Patrick's Point State Park. Don hiked out to view the ocean at Rocky Point for a closer view of ocean ducks and such. I refused to go out in the rain but did see a solitary dolphin passing the point. The whole of the park was alive with Varied Thrush which seem to be having a bumper crop year - these birds are being seen all over.

Varied Thrush

When not staring at shubbery in hopes of the Brambling, Don & I treked around the area in search of other feathered treats. We saw an imature Bald Eagle. I have seen more Bald Eagles in California over the past 2 years than I saw in the previous 2 decades. We also enjoyed fields and fields of Aleutian Geese, aka Cackling Geese.These once rare mini-geese grazed like sheep. There are always a few of them with heads up, keeping an eye on things.

So we did not see our target bird, the Brambling but we sure saw some splendid bits of California and its wildlife. Here are close ups of some lovely soaking wet, soggy elk we saw over the weekend.

Broke, busted, disgusted, tourists can't be trusted - Oy - Name that reference!
Damn rain. Damn tourists. Damn in general.
Never a curry comb when you need one
Real elk. Not Santa's throw rug.
 So it was a lovely weekend, even with rain and no sighting of a Brambling. The highlight turned out to be visiting Sunday evening with Don's daughter Rose & son-in-law Nate. That pair are awesome and they entertained us with their well trained pets. First there was little 'George', whom I swear is the only trained Chihuahua I have ever met. That pup sits, lies down on command, gives high fives and is cuter than any doggie has a right to be. Oh, and Nate & Rose have chinchillas - adorable, sweet, chinchillas that like to be held and will hold up an ear for you to scratch behind. *heaven!* Rose made us a wonderful home made soup & salad for dinner. A young couple that not only know where the kitchen is, but how to use it! Screw the Brambling, it was a wonderful weekend.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Wild Goose Chase

What is the point of retirement, if you can't occasionally skitter off on the odd wild goose chase? In this instance I heard about a specific wild goose. It abandoned its Eurasian habitat, flying into Oregon, where it made itself all comfy at the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This 'rarity' bird is a Tundra Bean-Goose. As the bird has stayed put since early November, I decided it would likely to stay put long enough for me to see it.

The trek up to northern Oregon took half of forever - or so it felt. When I drove through the winding back roads onto the refuge, I looked over my shoulder, out the car window, through the trees, thinking 'the only silly goose here is me'. Then I saw the goose... there it was, grazing grass with its new buddies, a flock of Cackling Geese. Hurrah! I quickly ditched the car and hurried to take some opening shots of the goose with my camera. The bird was so far off, and getting a decent photo was a challenge.
The goose in the midst of Cackling Geese
I had to bring out the 'big gun', my spotting scope, and try for a digiscoped shot with my iPhone and Kowa spotting scope. Took me a while to get my iPhone rigged to the scope and even then I only managed two decent still shots.
Spot-billed, orange-legged and rare in these parts
Two decent shots beats the ole poke in the eye, right? It was late in the afternoon and when some other birders arrived. They introduced themselves; Ken & Barbie - sounded familiar somehow. They just flew in from the east coast to see this goose and get in some other Oregon birding. I was quite happy to share my scope with them. We also shared tales of birding around the country. By the time we were done chatting, it was approaching dark. I used the last bits of daylight to shoot some video of the goose. The honk near the end is not the goose, but Ken & Barbie bidding farewell to all friends, feathered and unfeathered.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Days of Comets and Bobcats

The very-nearly-a-miracle of the double Rainbow

Have practically been living in Watsonville for since mid-November. I am in the hills, below which berry farms and apple orchards dwell. I am here because my buddy Barbara had back surgery and I am her nurse, bandage changer, and dog care professional. Miraculously, we find ourselves co-existed for longer than any time since we were housemates back in the '70s, when hippies ruled the earth.

Now, add to the above, Barbara's son Eric, his girlfriend Alicia & Alicia's twee daughter have also been in temporary residence since Thanksgiving week. Miraculously we are all thriving in a 800 square foot, one room house like it is the 1800s and Pa is out plowing the back forty. Barbara sleeps on her modern & newfangled Murphy bed, I sleep on a comfy, cushioned massage table that imagines itself a twin bed, and the rest of the gang sleep on pillows and comforters on the floor.

Oh, and I must point out during Thanksgiving week, we had no toilet. On the bright side, Eric's girlfriend Alicia became my night time 'Pee-Buddy' as we trekked together on star lit nights, into the wilderness, learning anew to acquaint ourselves with the beauty of Orion.

Oh! On our way back from a a shopping expedition for plumbing tools one night, Eric and I saw a HUMONGOUS green meteorite, crash through the atmosphere. The meteor was amazing! It gave one the feeling that some delightful deity was watching over us all, giving us a sly wink as if to say, "My stars, but you guys and your under-functioning toilet are keeping all of  us, up here, in stitches." 

*HARUMPH*. I reckon it was all fun & games for some.

The toilet, or lack thereof, wasn't our only miracle. In November we had also survived 'the miracle of the torrential rains'. Post-deluge we viewed a miraculous double rainbow just outside Barb's front door.

But there was another miracle that kept me enthralled. Again, Barb's current home is on a tiny plateau, quite in the boondocks, and just opposite her house is a hillside with donkeys, cows, and the odd flock of wild turkeys or deer and a prowling bobcat. Now, if your breath didn't catch in your throat at the thought of seeing a Bobcat from a window, of the place you slept in the previous night, you are taking life too much for granted. Me? I've been as overly excited about this wild cat, as is Alicia's little daughter at cookie time. A Bobcat - *awe*

The first time the cat showed up was a month or so ago. Barbara was tending her garden, and looking up, the cat was only a hundred feet away. They stared at each other until one or the other of the pair grew bored and left. Not sure if that was Barb or the cat. Anyway, since then, the Bobcat has not come that close to the house anymore, but it still roams the nearby hillside. The cat was out yesterday, but I was too slow to get a photo. Today it lurked closer, just on the opposite slope where I sat, camera at the ready.

It seems to me to be an older kitty, no spring chicken so to speak. It was pensive, standing and watching things that seemed edible in the grass. It often just sat in the shade, enjoying the scenery like the rest of us.

I wish the kitty would bring over a friend or two with it - perhaps a Mountain Lion, or am I being too ambitious or greedy?

Here's a photo taken at 100mm (other photos are at 400mm) to show how far away the cat was. It's in the photo, as ratted out by the yellow arrow.

I hope at some point to have my spotting scope and iPhone ready for some really good photos and hopefully some video of the big kitty.

Eventually the cat left and while hopefully awaiting its return, I got this lovely shot below. It is one of a pair of Lincoln's Sparrows that Barb has one of her 30 something yard-bird species. Lincoln Sparrows! Too exciting for me. When I think of them nesting nearby in the spring I go positively giddy with happiness. 

The duller in color of Barb's two Lincoln Sparrow neighbors

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Full Karenina

Haven't posted much on theater lately, but there has been some theater going on my part. A new friend of mine, Melanie, got a part in a new production of Anna Karenina. To encourage her, last month, some friends and I got together last night to watch her toy with Tolstoy.

Melanie on the Marquee

Now everyone knows, Anna Karenina is a total tome, which I haven't read, but I've seen the movie... you shut up! You haven't read every great novel either. Where was I? Oh, yes, I've been told Karenina's devilishly difficult to put into production because it has more characters than your comrade Russian mutt has fleas. So the production challenge is to cull characters without killing the story. This production managed that Volga boatman heavy task, getting all the right stuff on stage, and in a v. clever fashion. Example; I remember, from a recent movie production, Anna's forbidden lover rode in a fateful horse race, essential to the story line. Now really; no one expects a horse race in a stage play and neigh-ther did I. Yet, surprisingly, there was a horse race in this production. No horses, and surely no pantomime horses, yet, I swear to you, unless some audience members wore blinders, I swear, we all saw the full field of horses foaming as they raced around the track in our brains. I kid you not - talk about your clever production values. In all, it was a great little play; surprising, touching bits of emotion and yes, for me it also had that oh-so-necessary ingredient: humor.

After the play we hit the Spanish restaurant, Tapa the World for some midnight dining with Melanie. She filled us in on the horrors and joys of producing such a sterling stage production. Bravo y'all. Bravo!

That brings me to this yesterday. Mommy Nancy and I trekked down to her sister's house in Monterey. I haven't seen Nancy's sister Julie in ages, and it's been quite a while longer since I saw her now grown up daughter Claire, but that's another story for another day. We were delightfully HQ'd at Julies' Christmas packed home, and Saturday night we attended The Full Monty at the Golden Bough Playhouse.

Early on, both Nancy and I were only medium-enthralled with the musical. That was, until the bit where the bashful men auditioned - within the play - for roles in a male stripper act. When the character Noah tried out for a spot on the strip-team he really totally pumped up the energy levels on stage. The entire play was viagra'd (is that too rude a metaphor?) the production up to a b'jillion degrees of fun and happily the remainder of musical remained at that level for the rest of the night. My word, where is my desk fan? 

The Full Monty; show stopper Noah (played by uh... a nice man) is second from the left).
Oh, and least I forget, my other favorite in the show was Jeannette (played by uh... a lady), who played piano for the guy's rehearsals. She had a bag-full-of-gravel voice, and lungs full of smoke & sass, but fun ruled whenever she was on stage. I found this bit of her kickn' up her ancient stage aged heels on youTube. Yeah, she has a point; things could be better round here.