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 home, flying into Oregon, where it made itself at home in the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The rarity, is a Tundra Bean-Goose. As the bird has sat put since early November, I decided it would likely to stay put long enough for me to see it.

The trek up to the refuge 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 a decent photo was going to be 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 scope. Took me a while to get my iPhone rigged to the scope and even then I only got 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 rarity 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. The 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 far too 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 even closer, just on the opposite slope and I was 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. While I was waiting for the Bobcat to hopefully return, I got this lovely shot of 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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Rustic Birding for Rustic Bunting

Birders before beholding Bunting birdie
Not long after I got back from my Peruvian vacation, I headed down to Watsonville. There I spent two weeks with my bud Barbara, who is recovering from recent back surgery. Meanwhile, a 'code 3' - e.g. 'holy crap!' - rarity, vagrant bird, a Rustic Bunting, settled into San Francisco. Rustic Buntings are yet another Eurasian bird that flew right when it ought to have flown left, ending up in California. Now I happened to have gone home to tend to a few things and I decided to bring Barb & her boxer dog Chori, home with me. Hey, that was easier than leaving in a helpless pile in Watsonville. So abandonging the pair in the comfort of my house, I raced off on a day trip to the Bay Area, where I met up with birder buddy Don. We headed for Golden Gate Park, where the little sparrow-like bird was holed up in the company of juncos (juncos are tiny birds, not derelicts). 

Seconds after arriving I found a parking spot across the street from Bunting land - praise the saints of parking spots. We no sooner crossed the street when the bird in question flew up out of the shrubbery, giving us a quick but memorable view. HURRAH! We high fived and congratulated ourselves for at the very least, having had our binoculars at the ready. We spent the next hour or so chatting with other birders who like us, had traveled from the four directions to see the treat of a bird. There was also a lot of explaining WTF to passersby, who wanted to know why there were so many people with binoculars, scopes and cameras loitering about the meadow.

Later we got a second longer look at the bird, as it scampered about a brush pile, giving everyone present long satisfying looks. Ugh! If only I hadn't accidentally left my camera down in Watsonville. Again, Hurrah for a lifer bird for both Don and myself .

The juvenile Rustic Bunting: Photo by Aaron Maizlich

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Clay for the Birdies & Adios Peru

Dawn on the Rio Madre Dios
Yesterday morning, Ingrid and I got up at the comatose hour of 3:15 AM. At such a dark hour, even the jungle birds weren't yet awake, and for that matter, neither were we. We met up with our guide and the other participants at 4AM (which means we were there at 4AM and the others got there in Peru time, which I guess was around 4:30).  Soon we were sailing along the Rio Madre Dios, to find and watch wild parrots. The parrots eat clay on the river shores to get their vitamins and minerals.
The two species of parrot, crawling on the bank, wolfing down bits of clay
While the birds busied themselves eating clay, those of us on the boat - OK, that would be me - were busy using charts to identify the parrots.

The parrots get all their sodium from the clay lick
I took lots of photos, but when I tried to view the pictures on my camera, I went into shock - the LCD lens was internally cracked! It looked fine, but turned on you could see inner layer of it was shattered. I hadn't dropped it or exposed it to extreme temperatures so how or why it was broken is a mystery I'll never solve. Oh well, at least it was still taking photos.

Now. Why do parrots lick clay for heaven's sakes? Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Where else are they to find their necessary sodium? There aren't any salt shakers in the jungle.
  • The clay is believed to act as a filter, removing toxins from the jungle plants the parrots eat.
  • The clay banks may also act as a singles bar for lonely parrots to meet up with likely mates (Hum... so do ugly parrots stay in their Madre's nest playing video games?)
Here are a couple of close up shots.

Blue-headed Parrots
Dusky-headed Parrots
The parrots were only a bit of the birds we saw. When we first approached the river shore, I was happy to see a hawk. I heard a guide refer to it as an eagle, but post-vacation I ID'd the bird as a Roadside Hawk, which is a strange name for a species. The species is found in South Texas but only by super lucky birders. I wonder if I'll ever be add this species to my ABA birding list?

Serious looking Roadside Hawk
I also saw a Spotted Sandpiper, which though thrilling to see in such an exotic spot, is a bird I can see on the American River not far from my house. There were also some tanagers and Kisskadees to be seen.

Exchanging heartfelt goodbyes with Lucy, the best piggy since Wilbur

After our early morning river cruise, we returned to the camp for breakfast. Later in the day we took a boat ride back to Puerto Maldonadas, which allowed me to repeat the 'how to cross tiny boat bows and not fall into the possibly pirahna infested river' adventures. Happily I made it back up to the shore, without any of my wild fears coming true.

We made our way back to the airport and boarded a small jet - together this time - flying to Cusco, and then on to Lima. We spent our last night in Lima at the now familiar, Friend's Hotel. My last night in Peru was spent shopping for a few things downtown and enjoying a lovely dinner at a  modern restaurant, i.e., no Cuy was on the menu. Then in this morning I flew the 8 hour flight north to Los Angeles where I missed my flight to Sacramento and had to fly home the following morning after a night in a dreadful hotel near the airport. Hum... did I tell you at the onset of this entire trip, I had completely missed my flight from Sacramento to Peru on October 6th, and had to do some last second arrangements to get to Peru on October 7th? No? Ha! Not surprised, as that would be all too embarrassing to reveal to anyone, much less you. I mean, one must keep some things private.

Adios Peru!