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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

They Come in Threes

Afterwork last night I saw the final performance of Oklahoma! at the high school, which featured 18 year old Diego's last performance before graduating. He'll be going to San Francisco University in the fall. Diego knocked everyone's socks off with his surly, slightly mental portrayal of the loner, love struck field hand, Jud. Diego's Aunt Julie is a professional actress in Monterey so perhaps that is where this font of acting talent comes from, or more likely the kid just has 'it'. I am sure the next time I see him on stage the cost will be more than $6 and I'll have to travel farther than to a local Sacramento high school.

Now speaking of plays, I totally freaked today. My friend Cornetta and I hold season tickets to the Davis Musical Theater Company. The first two plays we saw & had a ball. When the third play, Oliver, came around, Cornetta did not attend because of the untimely death of a very dear friend of hers. The following play was Camelot, and then it was my turn lose a friend when Irmgard passed away.

So tonight is the next to the next-to-the-last play of the Davis series, Annie Get Your Gun. This afternoon I got a phone call because tonight's performance of Annie Get Your Gun and tomorrow night's performance are canceled. Why? The lead actress of Annie Oakley herself is unavailable; her mother died.

Yikes!

I'm always saying how deaths come in threes and though my science loving, intelligent design rejecting, heathen heart loves to say there ARE no patterns to death, only coincidences, this 3-in-a-row thing really freaks me out.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Birding the Big Briny


Ok, you can level with me. Are headers like the one above corny enough to make you puke? Really? Well - if you're so easily nauseated then you would not have survived where I've been the past week. I'm just back from a jaunt on The Searcher; at sea between the Santa Catalina Islands off Santa Barbara County and the deep waters off Baja California. It was many a strange critter I saw and here are the highlights of the five day, four night Pelagic cruise.


We boarded the Searcher on Saturday and though the weather seemed nice enough, that evening the it turned hellish. How bad was the storm? I never get sea-sick but if I ever came close, it was Saturday night. All through the wee hours I lay bracing myself in my little cabin, least I get tossed from my bunk. A big storm was blowing in and we all discovered the truth of the phrase 'any port in a storm'. Our captain took us skurrying to duck the maelstom at Oxnard Harbor. All day Sunday we sat moored at the cusp of Ventura County, waiting for the storm to blow over. It was strange to sit in the calm, sunny harbor and know that just outside of the harbor the ocean was kicking up waves that could trip a whale.


The following morning we headed out of the harbor. There on the ocean all was dead calm and we could hardly believe it was the same ocean that only the night before had tossed us around like a sock in the grip of a playful terrier.

This trip there were no whales like when last boarded the Searcher in September 2005, but there were plenty of dolphins to enjoy; Dalls Porpoise, Bottlenose, Risso’s, Common Long-beaked, Pacific White-sided Dolphins and playful Northern Right Whale Dolphins. We even saw a Thresher Shark with its dorsal fin out of the water in true Jaw’s style. Don't forget to click on the photos to see them full size.




No whales, loads of dolphins but even more birds.



I know some of the photos above seem much ado about nothing, but honestly, if you could have seen how humongous the ocean was, and how eensie some of the birds, such as the Cassin's were, you'd be impressed by the stalwart little buggers too.





The trip paid birdy dividens, I got three new lifers: the Laysan Albatross, Short-tailed Shearwater and Ashy Storm Petrel. That puts my life list at 559. Keep in mind that I was birding on that boat with birders whose life lists were in the 700 range. GAK! Oh well. I'll get there eventually, if my purse holds up.


Oh! Before I forget, remember my whining about the camera zoom lens that would not focus? Uh... turns out it does focus... UNLESS you put a polarizer lens on it, which interfers with the ultrasonic focusing do-hickie.

*DUH*

Friday, April 13, 2007

Yippy Skippy!

Delivery slip for my package was on the front door. Sat in DHL air express delivery for over an hour because, no suprise, the driver whose truck had my package was new and running late, late, late. I sat for the hour but finally driver arrived and package was in my arms!

Got home - are you excited? - opened package, removed bitchn' new lens and... and... THIS ONE WORKS! Wooot! Tomorrow I give the lens its first outing photographing albatross, tropic birds and whales!

Honestly, am I a happy girl or what?

Must shower, feed grumpy old kitty and get to bed. *happy sigh*

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Vindication!

On Monday I went on a photo trek with co-worker Terry, whose passion is wildlife photography. He has the same lens I just returned and his lens worked just dandy with my camera. It was not my imagination/ineptitude/stupidity or malfunctioning camera that were the cause of the new canon lens screwing up. Hurrah!

Here are a few shots I took with my camera and Terry’s lens a few days ago.

See? See! Perfectly perfect operation of my camera with Terry’s lens.

Enough gloating. Terry gave me some great photography pointers and now once again, I am capable of shooting pics on manual in the manner of "stand back, a very nearly professional photographer working here!" as opposed to shooting on automatic, in the manner of “help me I’m so inept I can’t read a meter or bracket to save my life." geeze, that was the longest sentence I've written in quite a while.
Aside from putting my camera/lens fears in the toilet, Terry had great advice finding critters, for example how to locate coyote dens and such. His motto is 'if you can find and photograph animals and leave them doing what you found them doing, that is the goal.' In other words, don't scare the crap out of the critters.

It is my belief that some day Terry’s going to wake up and discover he’s been channeling Steve Irwin. Honestly, he’s that good.

Anyway, we had fun hiking up hill over dale, photographing deer, birds and of course, two families of Great Horned Owls. I learned a ton of good useful information. I told Terry he really ought to hire himself out as an experienced wildlife photography guide. Hope he gives it a go because I mean, he managed to teach an old bat new tricks (me = old bat) and he might as well get paid and finance his hobby/photography addiction. The end of a great outing was a twilight view of a River Otter floating downstream. No photos of the otter, it was too far off and the light was spent - bugger! Oh well, maybe next time.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Bunny-Day

Easter Sunday I bunny-hopped over to Napa for Sunday brunch with the whole of the Smolinski/Wilson family at Tante (Aunt) Judy’s. Almost everyone was there, including Hans & his caretaker, Barbara, her sister Suzi and her boyfriend Bob O., their cousin Sharon, her husband Randy (the Daddy), big sister Sarah and little sister Anna. That pretty pair call each other ‘sister’ which always charms me to bits.

When we arrived, the kids had already passed a busy morning searching for like a zillion hidden Easter Eggs. Sad to report, one egg is remains MIA – thank heavens they are plastic eggs and not the hard boiled potentially smelly sort.

Hans has looked tired lately but he was up for the challenge of a large crowd and there was no 'prune face' today! Judy is her family’s gourmet quality chief. The mimosa flowed & the French toast with maple syrup vanished as did any other food that dared to show its yummy self at Judy’s wisteria draped holiday table.


Besides loads of chit chat there was sport. Sarah challenged me to a Peeps War. Peeps are those fluffy marshmallow concoctions that annually haunt Easter baskets. We each chose a Peep to carry our colors into battle and then armed our Peeps with a deadly spear (toothpick). Then our confectionary warriors were put into the battle arena (microwave), set on STUN (100% nuke power). Resulting chick-type carnage in photo at below. I warn those of a sensitive nature, beware; the end result of a Peeps War is not pretty - ok, I'll grant you it's colorful, but it's not for the weak hearted.

Poofy Peep protagonists, post joust - it was glorious battle but it ended with a draw.

Big treat, Sharon showed me around a website where I can do some genealogy work. Sharon told me that what birding is to me, that is what Geneology is for her, i.e., her one true love. I when someone speaks my language. A quick search yielding a military record of an unmarried man of 31, an alien living in Manhattan who was born in the West Indies, and who went by the name of Charles Lomax Carter. Hurrah! Dat my Grandpa we found in that database!

I think it is interesting how just when I’m about to do a deep genetic roots search through the Genographic project, an ancestor should jump out at me like that. Oooo, can hardly wait to search for my paternal ancestors without even having to resort to a shovel. Thanks Sharon!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Feeling Better, thankyouverymuch

I have no idea if I have had a cold or if it is only seasonal allergies kicking my butt. Probably doesn't matter. Two days of sleep and the miracle of DayQuil has allowed me to once again to walk among the living. My nostrils were dried out which resulted in a nose bleed that made my bed look like a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacure. Honestly - haven't seen so much O+ since the last blood drive at work.

While off work I relearned maybe a dozen string figures. I hate forgetting things I have learned and anyway, I want to be ready for events at the museum. When you're feeling about as strong as milk soup, string figures are a peaceful & diverting activity.

Binary Stars, my very favorite string figure

Monday, April 02, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen Sie dumme Kameraobjektiv!

I waved bye-bye to the fancy Canon Lens that broke my heart on Saturday. Cost a small mint to ship via UPS and I've no idea if I'll be reimbursed by the company I bought it from. They said they'd ship a replacement ASAP and I wonder if I fell for a false promise. *sigh*

I'm hoping to recieve a lens that actually works, in time for my next birding trip which is a pelagic out of San Diego, a couple of weeks from now. My fingers are crossed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Sunday's Birding

Tiny King of the Grasslands - Savannah Sparrow


Vernal Pool at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Despite that I couldn’t get to sleep last night without an ├╝ber load of Ibuprofen (Yes, here dwells self pity in action) we were up early for a tortilla breakfast and a fast getaway to Brewer Road. Our quick departure to the Placer County birding haven yielded, appropriately enough – nada. It was a dry winter so hoards of shorebirds and waterfowl did not line the pastures and dry waterways. Poop.

For no good reason, I decided we might as well drive north to the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge. There we did an ensie walk-about which yielded this little froggie on the right. Then we drove the auto tour which was far more fruitful.

There we found Vernal Pools in full golden bloom, bunches of bunnies and more male Ring-necked Pheasants than I’ve ever seen in one place. Don said they were released by some hunting club, as evidenced by our sighting only two hen pheasants, which are not released because only the male birds are fair game for hunters. If you are a pheasant it definitely pays to be a girly. 
Ring-neck Pheasant on the go
Bunny Collage
We found three, count ‘em, three Snow Geese. Don thinks the geese had local family issues so decided not to head north just yet. The highlight of the refuge though was a beautiful Peregrine Falcon. Our view of the bird was spectacular and I must say I never saw anything like it before. The legs on the bird, as Don pointed out, resembled scales, such as you might see on a sculpture or other work of art; amazing creature. 

Branch Hopping Peregrin
Looking like Horus
Our next spot was the Fazio Wildlife Refuge where we saw White-faced Ibis by the sky load. Must have been migrating or loitering, can’t say for sure. Overall it was a pleasant enough day and Don was pleased to have added a good dozen or more birds to his annual bird list for 2007. We celebrated with dinner in Downtown Sacramento at a Chinese buffet that is so authentic in its cuisine that the shrimp and fish dishes still have their eyeballs. I have been there a couple of times for lunch but always wanted to visit the place for dinner. What a treat! I ate like the waterfowl we saw during the day. I had crab, clams, frog legs and loads of other stuff I dished out of dim sum pots and at one point had no more idea what I was eating than had the Ibis I had viewed digging in the mud at the wildlife refuge. Ibis are luckier than me, when they dine it's always 'on the house'. Last thing up, we stopped at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery for a look around. Saw a nice Belted Kingfisher, a Red-shouldered Hawk, numerous Common Mergansers and the usual lot of Double-crested Cormorants. Then Don spotted the crowning touch to the day; a River Otter, lazily making its way downstream. The otter surfaced, chewing with animation before diving much like a whale would - the last thing visable was its tail lashing the air as it submerged. Great ending to a good day of birding.