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Damn, but this is a big planet...

Fresh out of Seattle near twilight, flying north past Mount Rainier A few months ago, a friend asked if I'd be interested in touring...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Birdy Bait and Switch

Honestly, one has to wonder if there's ever been a better start to the personal New Year for a casual birder. Yes, I said casual and I'm sticking to it. One's posterior was seated on the center console, a nice hot cup of java on the dashboard, poising itself to tip over and scent the car with the rich aroma of  'cafe de cheap motel'. Redwood forest nectar - known in other regions as 'gadamned, heavy as crap deluge' - making pitty pat noises on the car roof. Off in the distance, the far off distance, a hungry Great Gray Owl, unknowningly under surveillance by five souls, sat on a limb. Honestly, the humans were better off than the poor hungry raptor.
Off in the distance, a hungry Great Gray Owl
The thing is, I was spending Christmas with a buddy in Monterey County, with thoughts of the Common Pochard , i.e., rare duck, haunting my birder's noggin. Finally, when the holidays were nearly over and the duck seemed to be staying put, an early 'adieu' was bid, and my tattered old Honda began the trek north on Highway 101. The duck search was afoot! When the hours of northward driving concluded late on December 31st, this was the view where the duck was said to be visible.
View of Oxbow from opposite shoulder on Hwy 101
Did you not the blue splotch on the left of the photo? It's the bigger bit of the oxbow curve that continues beyond the right side of the pic. Eve with ten power binoculars you could just make out the blue of the oxbow river curve and tiny black dots one knew to be ducks. And me bereft of my missing - possibly stolen - spotting scope. Realizing futility was knocking, a motel room was procured, a Chinese Buffet eaten and it was off to bed.

Next morning, about five minutes in on the 30 minute drive back to the duck site, I turned around and headed south. It was drizzly & gray when even with the best weather and lighting seeing the duck was probably not going to happen. Why not go for the owl species I turned my nose up last winter?

cutout from distant shot
Thanks to eBird and GPS, my Honda was soon parked on the lonely back country road. Two lady birders, from Winters were there, and spying me, they motioned 'hurry up, come on over' as they had
the bird. They'd spotted it the previous evening and it hadn't moved far. The skies opened up and that's how my butt found it's way onto the console for some slightly comfortable Owl viewing. A lovely couple of birders joined and eagerly stood in the rain watching the anxious owl.

The bird was classic - the round Great Gray Owl face with it's white bow tie (neck feathers) and long tail. It frequently scanned the grass around it, and a time or two took off, then returned to its perch. Then the sun came out, in more ways than one.

The Great Gray flew, landing where it was tough making out the bird from the Spanish moss it sat in. Keep in mind this photo was lightened via photoshoping.

Let's play 'can you see the bird, dead center in this shot?'
One of the ladies from Winters said wistfully, 'I wish it would land in this tree, and she pointed to the tree closest to us'. Yeah, right. And the bird flew to a closer tree, up in the dark.

Here... birdy, birdy, birdy...
Hey, it's almost in the tree... we all thought. Then suddenly, it WAS.  SOMEONE's New Year's dream had come true - for ALL of us.

Owl face

and notably, its best side.
The photos above are full photos and frankly - I was so excited I hadn't even noticed my lens wasn't on it's highest setting. DUH. 

Now talk about excited birders, we were birder drunk on a great bird that was obviously showing off its stuff. Ok, maybe at best it totally ignored the gawking humans but that's just as exciting for us. I got maybe five minutes of the prize bird on video, when it swooped down for a stab at a rodent which it presumably missed. I hope it got breakfast sometime in the morning. As god is my witness, I wanted to go to a pet store, get some mice and hold an owl buffet. Not even sure if that would be legal without permits. Ages ago I got to feed a white mouse to wild Spotted Owl - one of my top birding memories. 
Now we're talkin'!
The last photo just above is the entire photo taken at 400mm showing how close that fluffy, massive, golden-eyed beauty was. *heavy, happy sigh*
Thumbs up
And that my friends is how you get 'baited' with a lifer duck, and 'switched' to a lifer owl.

Here is a victory shot I took of my fellow happy birders.

And below is nearly a minute of Great Gray Game.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hug-a-Sheep Day

Hug a Sheep!
I missed Spinzilla this year and was sad. I took heart when I read that Robin was celebrating Hug-a-Sheep Day at Meridian Ranch. Woooo hoooo! I was all set to go, but felt a tad run down. Then it dawned on me... what if I only brought me, to Hug-a-Sheep Day, leaving my spinning wheel and such at home? Yes! I was off to Vacaville with bells on my toes (see photo on right).

The day began looking like a storm, was nigh, but at noon, the sky was blue and the spinners, knitters, felters and 'sitter-outers' such as me, were all were sunny.

All the spinners were there with their facinating wheels, working on various cool yarns - cottons, silks, alpaca, Merino and Jacobs' wools. It. Was. Awesome.

pointy bobbin of fairy tale sort
One of the ladies had the coolest mini 'Great Wheel' - see below. Said she won it at a sheep festival. The mini-Great Wheel is plastic and its base is PVC pipes. It spins very fine (thin diameter) yarn, so she is currently using it to spin up some cashmere yarn. She turned the wheel using a little crank handle at it's spoke. This wheel's bobbin is the same as that of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It's near sharp enough to prick one's finger, then take a long nap while waiting for your prince's smooch.

The coolest spinning wheel there today was this tiny wonder
Something else that caught my eye was spinnner Alison's wool vest. She knit it of Jacob Sheep wool. Jacobs are white with spots so yield black, white, and all shades of grey wool. Wish I'd taken a close up photo of her lovely vest. By the by, this is one of the two ladies who gave my chickens new homes a few years ago.

Allison in her cool vest, at her rad spinning wheel 
I took time to meander over to the barn to visit with the huggable Jacob ewes. Stephany, not a ewe, but one of Robin's Farm Club members was on hand to answer questions. Up front, we all know what a Miss Know-it-all I can be - don't you just want to slap me? I thought 'not much anyone can tell me about Jacobs'. Right... inside of 5 minutes Stephanie had given me loads of new information on Jacob sheep. I knew Jacobs are an old breed, but hadn't realized as an 'un-improved' breed, Jacobs being close to their primitive origins means their useful behaviors were never bred out of them. For example, they are still fantastic mothers. In contrast, a highly messed-with-breed, the Merino sheep - are notoriously bad Mothers. A Merino ewe might birth her newborn lamb, then wander off to see how the clover tastes on the other side of the pasture (Lamb? What lamb?).  But a Jacob ewe will birth offspring, but stay put, licking, fussing over and protecting her lamb. She might even be licking her twins or triplets as Jacobs may have more than one lamb. That reminds me, oh, I can't wait for spring and the new lambs!
One, two, three... HUG A SHEEP! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Anyone Up for Wandering about in Sacramento's Bowels?

Old Sac's history museum on a sunny day
 For decades I've wanted to take a Sacramento Underground tour. Perhaps I should explain. Back when Sacramento was HQ for the 1849 Gold Rush, the city was raucous, lively and prone to massive flooding. In response, the city fathers (and some Moms) opted to 'raise' the level of the city streets to a level above, rather than below the river levees. The 'raising' took a whopping 16 years to complete. The end result was many buildings had their first floors became basements, and many second floors became first floors. 

Flash forward to 2016. The streets of Old Sacramento, along the Sacramento River, a bustling tourist trap (uh... I meant, place of immense curiosity and shopping opportunity) and much of it remains underground. Annually, in Autumn, various tours of the underground bits of Old Sac are offered to the general public. This was my time to take the tour with friends. 

Pre-tour pic of Jeri & Rick at museum
The original plan was for my friends Jeri, Rick and Nancy to take the night-time underground tour. Unfortunately Nancy had a health issue so had to forgo the treat. The rest of us sashayed down to the waterfront at the History Museum, arriving early and waiting about with a dozen or so other tour participants. As I said, this was a night tour, on a v. rare, ergo rainy night on which I used my sad old iPhone 5 for photos, so many photos are not up to even my normal crap standards, as per picture to left. 

A museum docent let us into the museum briefly prior to the tour so we could be outfitted with receivers and earphones (so we could all clear hear our guide). There was time for a few peeks at the museum's goodies. 
A little Dias de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - display
California Indian artifacts
Once outfitted we went back outside where we met up with our muleskinner/tour guide. He told us the night tours were earmarked for adults who wanted to hear 'adult' tales of the raucous Gold Rush era. I had thought the night tales were for ghost stories. Alas! That, it seems, is another tour for another time. After introductions, instructions and motley deductions we were off to our first stop: Eagle Theater. The theater was the first ever in California. It was built with lumber and canvas sails from boats abandoned by sailors turned gold prospectors.  Yes, it was raining heavily, & yep, this is drought stricken California.
The welcoming lady at the door is the museum docent that greeted us.
We tripped though the theater's bar to the wooden benches in the auditorium. There our boisterous guide told us the tale of the first hanging in Sacramento. Nice story for a dark and dreary evening. As the story progressed he picked tour members to play various roles in his tale. Note the prone guy in the photo below. No one asked him to act out murder of his character, but nonetheless he put on a grand performance, interspersed with his 'deceased' character shouting out comments at humorously opportune moments. 
Prone corpse, not as dead as one might imagine...
To the delight of Jeri and meself , Rick was called up on stage to play a part. He put in a great performance.
Rick, in his staring role as Sacramento townsmen
After the telling of the hanging tale, we returned to the bar in the back where the docent treated us to tiny tumblers of some good old fashioned sarsaparilla - I helped my greedy self to two. 

Our guide now took us to an underground system of tunnels and pillars. I loved how the air was heavy with the scent of soil. Guess this must be what it would feel like to be a mole or a gopher. Oh, except those varmints don't have nice wooden boardwalks to trod on.
Imagine soil scented air and wooden planks beneath one's feet
Entering a gambling den to learn to Gold Rush gambling ways, first hand
A 'Shut the Box' game set just like the ones we got to try out
Now came a fun bit - our guide led us to a room - which as pointed out earlier, was once the first floor of a brick building. There he told us how gamblers would - at prices exorbitant at either yesterday's or today's value - rent spots in saloons where they would entice pigeons - that is 'suckers' - to gamble. The game was 'Shut the Box'. The mark would throw die, then would lower numbered wood tiles to that same total (i.e., if you threw the die and got a 5, you could then flip over a 'five'. Perhaps turning down a
'5', or the '4 and a 1' or just the '2 and the 3'. You continued to throw the dice & lower tiles ALL of the tiles are lowered. Get all the tiles down and you win. That task is far more difficult than you may think. I couldn't stop snickering to myself over the similarity of 'Shut the Box' to 'Shut the Front Door'. Heck, I'm snickering as I type. Oh, and if they'd had the game on sale, the safest bet would be that I'd have bought one! I'm so very happy there were none to buy.

Next, we marched out of those tunnels and over to a different building. 

This underground area was strewn with items that were found in the underground soil were on display, or items from the 1860s were displayed. Other items were put on display to give the 'flavor' of the late 1800s.

Used to be restaurants, barber shops & such when this was street level
A few women started businesses that did quite well. One was an African American lady who not only owned her own building and ran her own business, and invested in insuring her holdings. So when a fire hit and burning her holdings to the ground, her building - unlike many others whose sites were charred - was quickly re-built. Uninsured sites has a much longer wait.
Site of where a women ran her own business - yes, where 'soiled doves' plied their goods

Rick and Jeri examining some choice remnants, goblets,  

bottles, pipes and plates from the gold rush era.

After the tour members enjoyed wandering around the deep diggings, our guide regaled us with several tales - some romantic - others of wealth gained &/or lost.

A view across the 'diggings'
Shoe shine stand
underground archaeological dig set up with grids 

Our tour group was walked down to second street. There, at tour's end, all participants were given a souvenir shot glass. Hum... 'Finest Soiled Doves in Sacramento City'.

How sweet! They prized dirty birdies in old Sacramento.  *wink*

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Confessions of a Lax Blogger...

I am so far behind on my blogging, I still haven't posted September - which, between you and me, that was one  highly memorable month. To make things easier - not to mention to make this blog current again -  as each Sept. post is finished, it will appear above the current posts as a title - as was this one. I hope that makes it easier for anyone who strays here to remain current with Kerfluffle-to-Go posts.  Keep your peepers open for the first September post on the trip to Central Europe, entitled 'Buddah and Pesht'. Ciao!