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View from Cavtat Harbor toward the Hills The owner of Villa Olav & Jo  say their goodbyes Today we left Dubrovnik, fly...

Friday, January 26, 2007


On the night of my Monday Smew adventure I was climbing out the shower when it occurred to me the sore muscle I’d been annoyed by all weekend might have turned into a lovely blue/black mark and that I might be entertained by looking at it. I’ve been a bit accident prone of late and I recently fell over backwards at the Curves gym, pulling a huge exerciser machine on top of me – you know it’s rude to laugh like that.
Anyway, when I peered over my back, into the bathroom mirrors for a look-see there was no black & blue mark, but there was a red patch, about the size of a lemon and dead center of it, there was, sucking merrily away, a tick.

I will pause here while you squeal out a suitable ‘Ewwwwww!’
Now, this attached tick was not the first I’ve ever picked up. I used to tramp around in forests/woods/over hill/over dale in my 20s and though I picked up many a tick, for years I thought their palates didn’t fully appreciate ‘Claire-on-the-hoof’ because I was never bitten. Typically I’d come home after a nice romp in the woods and I’d feel something crawling around on ‘the girls’ (if you catch my drift) and there I would find a live, unattached, crawling deer tick. I used to take great pleasure in attempting to squash the little buggers, which takes a lot more energy that you would imagine. I would always end my tick adventure by flushing them down the loo.
Texas Lone Star Tick, complete with
star on its back

I was only tick bit one time before, while enjoying the Texas Coast in beautiful Aransas – home of the Whooping Cranes. That time I was in my motel room taking a morning shower and when toweling off I felt what I thought was a thorn in my back. Later that morning a very kind woman Park Ranger and her very curious girl-aide climbed into a broom closet with me and removed that tick. They told me it was a genuine ‘Texas Lone Star Tick’. I kept that tick in a little baggie for the longest time – a unique souvenir.
At work on Tuesday morning, no rangers being at hand, I opted for a backpacking office mate to do the honors plucking my iddy bitty friend out of my back with tweezers.
Ok, get it over with… ‘EWWWWWWW!’

That brings me to this morning when my chagrined MD, Dr. Melnikow, called me toDeer Tickfind out why she had been handed a lab report, identifying a tick that had my name on it, i.e., what the heck was I up to this time?

I gave her the story (including the Texas one - that woman is patience). After a short consultation I nixed getting a shot since the odds of my getting Lyme Disease are small. However I was told to stay alert for the possible though unlikely developement of ‘erythema migrans', the characteristic Lyme Disease rash.

Here is what erythema migrans looks like.

OK – all together now…. ‘EWWWWWWW!’

Monday, January 22, 2007

Is That Brand New? Is That a Smew???

I hankered for adventureFor more birds? Oh yeah, you bet’ chaSo I looked for big old thrills
to Sonora in them golden hills

Did I drive there for the view? 
Did I look for something new? 
Can you guess where I went too?
 I was hunting for the Smew!

Is a Smew a kind of tree? 
Can Smews make honey like a bee?
 Are Smews a thing you find for luck?
 Hell no you silly, a Smew’s a DUCK

Ok, enough Dr Seuss for today. Monday morning I was too hyped from birding over the weekend to sit still and having heard there was something exciting in the little gold country town of Soulsbyville, I decided take the 2 hour drive out there.

The drive was both scenic and historic – I had to pass through Angel’s Camp in Calaveras County; famous for Mark Twain and the celebrated jumping frog.
The Smew Drake The bird I was after is a small European diving duck called a Smew. This particular duck, if wild in origin most likely blew our way after getting lost on its annual flight in or out of Siberia. Cute little things male Smews are – looking rather like a ducky version of a Panda - white, with black eyes like they lost the fight and black patches where a Panda’s ears would be, and like Pandas they are Eurasian.

When at last I made it to the little Soulsbyville reservoir, it was obvious the duck was still present as evidenced by a happy row of birders, their spotting scopes at the ready. All were happy chatting as the Smew enjoyed having a lovely spot to perform some fancy diving while among his new mates, a group of Hooded Mergansers.
Being a tad randy, the Smew was oblivious to his admirers. His little crest was up and he bobbed his head back and forth reminding me of Richard Prior doing that ‘That’s right – I’m bad!’ thing from the movie Silver Streak. The Merganser hens paid Mr Smew no mind, reacting as if he were only some dirty old man ruining the sanctity of their afternoon. Perhaps that is why Mr Smew was not lost in the gold Country – perhaps he was only evading charges of being a known duck molester in his home land.

Birding circles and the Internet are abuzz with speculation as to whether this particular
Smew is an escapee from someone’s exotic duck farm or if he had managed flapping his eensie wings all the way from Siberia; in short, is the bird a zoo escapee or the genuine article?

Hooded Merganser Drake
The final decision on the Smew is now with the California Bird Records Committee - after careful study and probably a few beers - to either declare the little guy a countable wild-arse bird or an escapee, i.e., a pretender to the throne, a genuine rare 'vagrant' bird for California.In short - the Bristle-thighed Curlew is gone, long live the Smew.
Feel free to genuflect now.
Believe me, if the Smew is declared to be the real deal I will have to join my fellow birders who are driving to Soulsbyville from all over California and do some bad-arse head bobbing with my bad self because we’ll all have a new addition to our ABA area life lists.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Headed Home

I woke in the wee hours of Sunday morning at Bishop's Ranch to the high pitched yip yip yipping of coyotes. It was a great way to start the last day of my mini-break. After another yummy breakfast and we were off; caravanning to Bodega Bay.

Bodega Bay was fruitful – we found dozens of Brants – beautiful and petite ocean dwelling geese with smart modern art on their necks.

There we also saw loads more Eared and Horned Grebes, and most interesting – a humongous mixed flock of shore birds; Willets, Marbled Godwits and Dunlin, who huddled together on the shore bank waiting for the tide to go out.

After that we three went to a local chowder shack for a bit of lunch, then it was time to go our separate ways; Don & Teresse headed back to Palo Alto, and I headed for home.

Along the route I decided not to pass up Fazio Wildlife Refuge hoping for something exotic, bit finding the usual cast of waterbirds; cinnamon teal, coots, Northern Shovelers and Pintail.

However, I did have a bit of fun photographing an American Bittern that raced along an irrigation berm as though late for a meeting of the Better Bitterns Bureau.

Shortly after that a beautiful little Wilson’s snipe walked with every bit as much a sense of pressing obligations, along the shore, quite close to my Honda. I took several photos of it and got one that is dead lovely; best Snipe photo I’ve ever managed.

'Hurrah!' I thought, 'finally a clear shot of a Snipe.' Feeling rather smug, I then headed for home.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bugger of a Friday

Sweet mother of butterfingers, what a day.

Woke at 5:30.

At 6AM I was at the gas station fumbling for my change purse – in which I carry enough ID to get me into an American Military unit in Iraq even if I wear a burqa and carry weaponry.

Decided on the fly that the purse was at home keeping my desk warm. Raced home, no flippin’ purse! Where was the damn thing? Now normally this would not be a problem. I’d have bought gas with the $5 in quarters I always keep in the car, and would have gone to work, no big whoop. But this was no ordinary Friday. There were plans on for me to drive spend the weekend on the Mendocino coast where I would meet up with birder buddy Don and a new friend of his from a Palo Alto Christmas Bird Count, Therese. But I feared I would have to cancel the plans for birding. I wanted to puke.

So I got on line and emailed Don that my plans were probably off for the weekend which might well mean his would be too. Then, it happened. The circumstances forced me to do something I am never comfortable with – I had to sit and think!

I get chills just recalling it. I rumbled around in that rat’s nest I call my brain and realized the last time I had the purse was at Petco the previous night, after which I had come straight home. No doubt the evil thieving hamsters in the ‘small pets section’ had absconded with my purse and plotting to buy loads of hamster treats on Ebay with MY MONEY!

At 9AM I was at Petco, railing at the cashier that my purse was gone and demanding a line up of the usual suspects – all their personnel and animals, from nerdy clerk, rats (you KNOW they are guilty of something), parakeets (who only LOOK innocent) to the Chinchillas (OK, we all know creatures that cute cannot be thieves).

An hour after getting thrown bodily out of Petco I hit the bank were I was informed that my third grade photo showing I was a trusted member of the Student Government Club at P.S. 47 was not enough ID to gain access to my bank accounts. I did get them to trust me enough to cancel my credit card. Still, I grew rather surley and I noticed the bank personnel looked somewhat upset; they flung $100 dollars at me, begged me to put down the dangerous looking mechanical pen and please-for-the-love-of-God, begged me to leave them in peace. Then, before heading to my downtown office, I stopped at the DMV office (don’t GET me started) and I ordered a new driver’s license.

Once at my office, I called Don, explaining that I had enough money to pull off the weekend if he’d front me the cash for Bishop’s Ranch, the sort-of-elder-hostel. I went on to explain to him how I normally am a calm and sane person and that normally, instead of panicking, I would have instead sat calmly while puzzling out the last place I recalled seeing my purse. I then added that once I had recalled what I wore the night after the visit to Petco happened to have a pocket containing the lost purse I would have concluded that on entering the car, most likely I would have tossed the purse down... and the purse would have… slid off the seat… landing to the far side of the passenger seat…

Yeah, sure, maybe you think it’s funny, but I tell you I was sort of pissed when I checked later on in the day and sure enough, on the car floor on the far side of the passenger seat was my purse; chock full of canceled credit and ATM cards.


The only thing remaining in the purse of any value was my Starbucks card and a Junior Ranger card personally signed by Ranger Rick Raccoon.

Alls well that ends well. After work I took the lovely drive to Healdsburg via the Napa Valley wine country and arrived in Healdsburg wherein I navigated my way over to Bishop’s Ranch after no more than 25 or 26 wrong turns and many simply horrendous shouts of oaths that probably ruined the grape crop of ‘ought seven’; the California winery industry may never recover.

Honestly, coming unglued in the face of emergency seems, I don’t know… kind of counter productive. I must remember in future to keep my cool. When I made it to the front office at Bishop’s Ranch I found a note saying ‘Welcome Don, go right on up to your room in the Webb building. I’d beat Don & Teressa there so I chose the room with the prettiest quilt and made myself at home. By the time they’d arrived I was maxing out relaxing with some reading. Overall it was a very happy ending to a very frustrating day.

[Management is appauled at the flagrant violation of truth with which Ms Miller exagerated certain points, i.e., her being thrown bodily out of a local Petco, for which we humbly offer regrets for your inconvinece and a our deeply felt appologies. Miss Miller was suitably informed of the need for honestly in her writings and while not sparing the rod, all effort was taken avoid marking her fragile skin. That is our story and we are sticking to it.]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff, Good Stuff

Hurrah! Had new windshield installed & now no longer need stare over a three foot horizontal crack to see the world wizzing by. Best thing is the replacement was about half what I was afraid it might cost.

Booo! I'm suddenly thrown decades back into the bad old days when I used to go to Weight Watchers and dispised my own body. The Curves 6 week class is more 'D' oriented than I thought it would be. I was horrified to discover they want to weigh me each week. Everyone else in our class had started the 'D' cold. Me? I've been watching what I wolf down for a couple of months now.

Still I gave in to the weighing. After voiding my pockets of; cell phone, iPod, purse, blue-tooth, spare change, lint, dust mites, I stepped onto the scale. Discovered that 7 agonizing days of rigid participation in the Curves 'D' program, I had managed to shed 1 whole pound. I was so pissed off, mentally I swore horrid oaths at my own fat arse and considered - ever so briefly - having my teeth and stomach removed.

Then our class of six sat down and the facilitator told us the morning class has lost a total of 19 lbs in the past week. Our collective hearts fell.

Then the facilitator gave us our group's weight loss for the past week - one and 1/4 lbs! I'd lost 66% of our class's total weight loss for the week! Suddenly I
was no longer the big fat loser! I was now the streamlined, sleek greyhound of success! Go ME!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

You Coax the Husk Right Off of the Corn...

Last night Cornetta and I went to the third play of our season's tickets to the Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC) - Mame. No, not maim as in my stitched up thumb you silly! Anyway, our breath was held a bit at the start of the performance because Mame is a tough musical to pull off if the lead isn’t up to Ethyl Merman standards of bombastic energy and singing capacity. Thankfully, shortly into the second act you could almost hear the audience release a collective sigh - the lady in the lead was smashing (Mary Young). So too were many of the other characters. Cornetta’s pick was the wildly repressed and later amusingly gravid Agnes Gooch (Monica Parisi).

A stand out for my tastes, the cute-as-a-button house keeper Ito (Andy Hyun); the guy had like maybe ten single utterance lines, but his posture, smile and gestures had me in stitches. Still, my favorite character was the adult Patrick; a tall bean-sprout of a blonde with chisled cheekbones and a graceful dancer named Robert Coverdell. There's something ethereal about the Coverdell; like he's only here on loan from another realm, some other planet - he's that fragile and unearthly. I remember him from last September’s DMTC production of West Side Story.

Anyway, it was nice seeing Cornetta again – tragic events kept her from the last DMTC performance. Tonight, as always we had a ball, both of us being a tad silly and eager to forget recent tragedies & even a few deaths of late among our friends & acquaintances. A night at the theater is always good for what ails you.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Colder Than a Titch's Wit

The temperature was below freezing last night, and currently it's 41 degrees on the patio. I checked the front flower bed and saw my very silly daffodils are in bloom. There are other spring bulbs popping out now too. It suddenly dawned on me, no great harm without some small good - I might get tulip blooms this year! They need a good freeze to bloom and its been ten years since I've seen my tulips in bloom; they come up, all leaf, no blooms. Oooo I can't wait to see if I'll have a little Holland scene in the front beds this year.

One of the daffodil/narcissus making an appearance in my front flower bed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Know what? Don't even ask.

Click on Photo to view details of stitches and skin overdue for a really good moisturizer.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Hedwig Drops in for a Visit

California miracle: a Snowy Owl
Nothing I love more than climbing on some boat and being taken out to stare at birds from a new perspective. Birds out on the water are a thing to marvel at. I mean, you see some 6 oz bit of fluff sitting happily in the middle of all that water, not a care in the world and unlike the humans staring at it – it isn’t freezing its adorable feathered arse off. 
Today I went on a new kind of pelagic trip and it was quite different from the usual; we sailed on a fresh water craft, and we were going after one specific bird that was not waterfowl – we went after - of all things - an owl . 
In crappy years when the pickings are tough in the Arctic, Snowy Owls, especially the youngsters, fly south in search of nice fat juicy rodents. How far south the arctic raptors fly depends on how desperate things get up north. Last year a Snowy Owl popped up in Northern California – the first Snowy seen in these parts in about 30 years. I went to see the owl and take a few photos. It was thought it would be another 30 years before we’d see another snowy. Nope! Another youngster showed up last week. This beauty of an Owl is hanging out on a fresh water lake in private and public lands. At noon I climbed aboard the good ship California Sunset for a pleasant 2.5 hour jaunt through relatively narrow waterways, south. A local, Captain Dan Thiemann was nice enough to ferry - at a cost to cover his gas and a bit of profit which he certainly deserves - a lot of about 40 oh-so-excited birders (which included ‘moi’). As in all birding trips there is no guarantee whatsoever that you are going to see what you are looking for, but today, for the third day in row, Captain Dan delivered. Birders well armed with binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras while standing practicing their sea... river legs.
Miss Hedwig, wide awake, swiveled her head like a scene out of the Exorcist. Most exciting,her talons and her fluffy, white leg feathers were stained with blood so it is safe to say that someone has been finding enough fat little rodents to keep body & soul together. As the late great Steve Irwin would say, 'Isn't she beautiful!'
UPDATE January 11, 2017: Lovely news, Snowy Owls that fly south are not doing so because of starvation & a lack of prey in the arctic. Recent study proves the snowy rascals are flying south. Here is a direct quote from a Cornell University publication:

 “We’ve been finding owls with significant fat stores, some so plump they can be classified as ‘morbidly obese,’ because they’re coming from a part of the Arctic that’s overrun with rodents and other prey,” says Scott Weidensaul, a Project SNOWstorm researcher. He says it appears that when these owls erupt and appear in large numbers in the U.S., it’s due to a bumper crop of young snowies during a very good breeding season—not a lack of food.

They're FAT and well fed! Young owls just venture south, more or less the equivalent of hitting the gym and finding a cool new place to hang out while waiting for spring to return. I have something in common with Hedwig. Now that is magic.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pissing Off the Dragons

My gut isn’t the only thing in want of being tidied up. I like the ideas of Feng Shui. No I don’t believe there are dragons out there willing to grant prosperity if I hang a mirror on my front door and a green plant in the northwest corner of my sitting room. I do believe clutter piled in corners and poor arrangement of furniture drags you down. I think change is wanted.

Normally my home is tidy enough that if guests dropped in unexpected, I could welcome them in and perhaps except for whichever of my projects-of-the-week is center stage in the living room, I would feel secure that my company could sit on the couch and enjoy the view or drink & eat on produce from my kitchen without fearing botulism or e-coli.

Uh… that is not quite the case these last few months. Mind, the clutter that has overcome my dining room is the end result of cleaning out the back two bedrooms without having made final decisions on what to toss/store/give-away. Still the clutter is destroying all ‘Chi’ and pissing off the dragons. And the kitchen is one rotting tangerine away from becoming the health department's case-of-the-month.

This must change. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 01, 2007

HAPPY 2007!

A Good Thing: I have not been in much of a writing mood but I intend to write more in 2007. Today’s good enough for a start.

A Bad Thing: Starting the year off with an unsocial move; turning down an invite to visit Barb and all, in Castroville (Monterey) for the New Year’s weekend. Instead I chose to hunker down, at home.

A Good Thing: 2/3 of the occupants at Barb's came down with the flu. Dang good thing I stayed home.

Jury's Out: For the second day in a row I have the fireplace going full blast. I love getting a good fire going. The log coals get so hot that each new log tossed on bursts into flames and it’s SNAP, CRACKLE, POP! Scads of glorious heat waves traversing the living room. I'm keeping the thermostat at 55 degrees again this winter. There is reason to believe I am likely the number one pollutant of the air quality in Fair Oaks. Tough ta-ta’s.

Just now I have three deer/elkskin drums lined up in front the fire. I’ve been told by Indian drummers that heating a drum changes its pitch. My drums all have poor pitch; sounding rather like they've been kicked in the nuts instead of sounding deep and sonorous as though well fortified with testosterone.

I made three of my four hand drums. They look lovely, but sound pitiful. So far, heating them and wetting down the surfaces did little to change their pitch. They still sound more like toy pianos than baby grands. Bugger.

New Year's Resolution - Get Fit: I was feeling rather proud of myself, exercising 30 minutes, three times a week. I decided to read the spread in Oprah's magazine on getting fit & discovered on a scale of zero to 5 on Bob Greene's 'Do You Move Your Arse?' scale, my 3 times a week only amounted to a paltry '2'.

How can so much pride and sweat only amount to a pissy little two points?

For getting into and maintaining one's shape, Greene (Op's fitness trainer) recommends exercising 6 days a week. That pissed me off, because that is what I had concluded for myself some months ago on my own, but now can't do without HIM getting all the credit. I know, I know, but you wouldn't understand why that annoys me. I haven't yet begun to exercise the additional three days per week. I have to pout and sulk for a bit more first. I have given myself a good deal of leeway before I expect myself to cave into fitness via actual movement - as opposed to fitness by imagining myself moving. I am shooting for a month of exercising 4 times a week for the month of January (3 days at Curves, one day jogging 30 minutes on my treadmill) , followed by exercising 5 times a week in February, and reaching full fitness exercising 6 days a week ( 180 minutes a week) in March.

I would like to find some excuse to progress at a much slower pace but honestly - I'm dragging this out as long as I can as it is. I'm not the least bit worried that I won't achieve my goal. I'm great at pattern forming; I took to my Curves exercise routine like an obese duck to water. I am going to actually achieve my fitness goals in 2007.

I have no idea why the very idea of achieving such a good goal is so dang scary - but it is. I mean, what's next? A sucessful & solvent household budget? EEEEEPPP!