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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another Time Out from Vacation Posts


Since Monday morning I have haunted the Vic Fazio Wildlife Refuge with hopes of viewing a Eurasian vagrant bird, the Curlew Sandpiper. So far I've had crap luck at finding the bird, but that is all a matter of poor timing. The bird disappears for hours, then shows up again, right up front where the viewing is good - as soon as it knows I've left the grounds. Ok, that's a bit pessimistic, but that is how it feels from my end. Will give it another go before & after work, every day this week if necessary until I see the bird. This morning I 'opened' the refuge, arriving there at dawn, only 3 minutes before the gate was opened. Saw loads of Dowitchers, Black-necked Stilts, Yellowlegs, Dunlin and one lone Phalarope.

The big event this morning was a parliament of Barn Owls - a half dozen or more. Tried for a few photos but the slightly-past-dawn lighting was too weak, and my owls-on-the-wing skills were not quite up to the task.

Late Breaking News of the Birdie Sort: Returned to Fazio in early evening and at last saw my quarry - the cute, fluffy, hyperactive quarry. I needed loads of assistance from other birders because I had a difficult time 'finding Waldo' as it were. But eventually I had the joy of my own scope set up to watch the patch bellied little exotic, feeding, poofing up his feathers, and for a while; standing on one leg, his head tucked under his wing napping. When his five minute nap was over he leapt up to join in on a flight of Dowitchers, and the lot of them headed into the southern skies. There seemed to be an air of 'I'm outta here' to that last flight so who knows if he'll be back again. Oh well. Thank heavens I got to see the little guy.

Here a couple of photos of Curlew Sandpiper (my lifer!), as photographed by Todd Easterla who not only took these beautiful photos of this amazing bird, but who is also the sharp-eyed birder extraordinaire that spotted the winged gem in the first place. Hail to thee Mr Easterla, you RAWK!

I got these photos are courtesy of the Central Valley Birds Forum. hope posting them here doesn't break any flippin' rules

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ok where the heck did I leave off? Right – I am still telling about the day we saw the wolves which was a very long day. We roved around the north woods near the Canadian Border; thick forests of birch trees dotted with vast open burned over areas – prime habitat for some species of woodpeckers. Pulling out the iPod we tried calling them in, playing the ratta-tat-tat drumming and calls of the Three-toed Woodpecker. Bugger! No birds. Then we played the calls of the Black-backed Woodpecker. Hurrah! Way the heck off in the distance we spotting a woodpecker landing on a dead tree.

Digging equipment out of the car trunk, Don and I fumbled, fussed and snarked at each other as we finagled my way-cool spotting scope onto the my annoying, piece-of-crap tripod. Our fussing wasn't as much about us or the equipment as it was about our hysteria over seeing the woodpecker properly before the birds could fly off.
When finally set up, the frustration continued because I have to tell you, sometimes one dead tree looks a lot like the next. It doesn't help if the woodpecker in question likes to keep the tree between itself and you while. And here's something you won't find in your average bird guide book - did you know some woodpeckers can raise their middle toe in an especially symbolic rude gesture?

So we stood bickered about the bird, both of us saying the same exact thing; Don saying it in 'Donnish' and I said the same damned thing, but in 'Claireish'.

Don: If you would listen to me for a minute you would understand if one looks at the bird’s head stripes, there is only one, not two; significant because the Three-toed Woodpecker has a significant stripe behind then eye whereas the Black-backed do not.

(translation: It’s a Black-backed Woodpecker!)

Claire: Its back is all black!

(translation: OH my gawd, it’s a Black-backed Woodpecker!)

Don: Claire you ignorant Schmuck, if you would stop shrieking and see reason you would know the bird’s back becomes irrelevant – that bird has only one stripe and look, a second bird is flying in.
(Translation: OMG, TWO Black-backed Woodpeckers!)

Claire: I SEE ‘EM! They’re backs are black! They're black!

(translation: Two Lifer Black-backed Woodpeckers! Woo hooo!)

You get the gist of our snarking match.

Here is the photo I got of my lifer poka dots… um, I mean, lifer birds.
Click on the photo to check out the smudge of yellow on the male’s head (the lower bird).

We decided we needed a closer look at the Woodpeckers so we hiked into, or rather over, a gnarled tangle of fallen trees but - alas - both Woodpeckers flew off.

No matter, there are always other birds. A delightful Vesper Sparrow popped up for us. Back at the car I played Vesper songs on the iPod and the photo op proved to be outstanding. The bird did his best to out-sing the iPod. I turned the iPod off, and the Vesper looked damned proud of himself – he had out-sung his ‘rival’.
You can just about make out his chestnut shoulder patch

showing off that handsome 'mutton chop mustache and his white bordered tail.

Later on, since I now had a Black-backed sighting, there remained no reason for Black-backed woodpeckers to continue avoiding me. Therefore every Black-backed Woodpecker in the North America flew in for a look at its lifer 'Claire', otherwise known as ‘North American Homo Sapiens Annoyicus’. Here is a photo of a Black-backed that landed a tree overhead about a half hour AFTER I had my lifer Black-back.

The woodpecker's version of Peek-a-boo

After that we drove off and I dropped Don off so he could walk along the road in search of birds and I took the car a few miles away in search of a porta-potty. Mission completed, I left the car and skipped off to photograph a little log cabin and quant fencing. When I returned to the car and fumbled with my pockets, it occured to me "well, where the EFF were the car keys?"

Gak! A memory flashed through my mind - I'd locked the keys in the trunk.

GAK! I recalled my own joking on the day we picked up the rental; “So the only way we can get locked out of the car is if we lock the keys in the trunk?”

Sweet mother of Sibley!
I was going to die of embarrassment which was an easy end when compared to Don - abandoned a few miles up the road - who was going to be chased down and eaten by a pack of Canadian wolves, eh? I thanked the gods I didn't also lock the car doors. I owed some indulgent forest sprite a sacrifice of burnt offerings, or maybe a nice Napa Valley Merlot.

But the fact remained I had to get back the car keys. Climbing into car I tried my darndest to get the rear seats tipped forward so I could access the trunk. Bugger!

The air was cool but I was sweating. It was at least a 2 mile hike to tell Don what I'd done which would do a fat lot of good because neither of our cell phones worked here in the blasted godforsaken outback. I was about to fling myself into the campground dirt of despair because bereft of handy grenades, I was locked out of the trunk – unless...

HURRAH! On the dashboard I spotted an eensie weensy button sporting a tiny illustration of a stick figure dancing around an open trunk. I pushed the button – there was a deeply satisfying 'POP' - the trunk opened. OH JOYOUS DAY!

I drove up the road to pick up Don, who was no longer fated to be wolf droppings! The Canadian wolves would just have to eat wolf kibble for their din-din. I decided Don did not need to know how close he had come to foraging for berries in the big piney woods.

Don: " I didn’t see too many birds. What about you? Anything interesting happen?"

Claire: "No."

That’s my story. I'm sticking to it.

Forest Fodder - Wild Morel Mushrooms

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hatred by Any Other Name Still Reeks.. or crawls

Cover of News & Review which has my letter-to-the-editor in it
Ok, you got a reprieve today from my vacation journaling and an example of why the subtitle of my blog is 'Claire's sit-com life'. This morning on my way into the office I saw this week's News & Review, Sacramento’s local alternative newspaper. One glance the cover and I hesitated to take one, even if thought it's free. Printed, all over the cover, were honkin' big, creepy disgusting... six leggedy insects (if they'd been real I'd have flippin' keeled over). I stared; utterly repulsed.

Finally, I gingerly picked up the damned News & Review (as if it could bite) and went on into the office. A quick perusal and yep, sure enough, this week's paper shows me that yes, the gods still have a sense of humor. Here. Take a look at this cover and see for yourself: the front page was slathered over with THE thing I hate most in the universe - 'the R word' - rhymes with 'coach'. See? SEE? I can't even type the damned word!

So, what is the significance of the six legged 'R' creatures on the cover and how does this particular issue of News & Review pertain to me? A couple of weeks ago the News & Review ran an article entitled, Fat Bastards by Jaime O’Neill. The article was heinous, nasty and blamed pretty much all of America’s problems on its fat citizens.
I don’t get to riled up by too much, but the sheer venom in that letter appalled me so much that I quickly whipped out a letter to the editor. Somehow I knew it’d get published and it was - in this week's 'R-word' encrusted edition. GAK!

While it lasts, here is the original article, Fat Bastard from June 28th.

And here are the numerous rantings the original article inspired: reader letters about the on-line version of the article. My letter to the editor is the first one listed.
All right, all right Earth Mother. I get the joke. You can stop laughing now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Land of R-E-A-L-L-Y big doggies...

We loved Ely but it was time to head west to Thief River Falls, a town named after the amazing theft of a river – or something like that. We were in the vicinity of several prime places to check out for Great Grey Owls and other northern species.

First up was Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, easy to visualize; think forests, ponds and lakes, all slopping over with Red-necked Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Canvasbacks, Pintails, Gadwalls, Ring-necked and Red-headed Ducks and yes, yes, birds, birds and more damned birds Claire. Didn’t you see anything but birds?

Glad you asked that question! One morning we were up and crack of the first sparrow’s fart, out the door and off to look for Great Grey Owls in Minneosta's Roseau (Row-sew) County, which borders Canada. I was driving that morning and Don was shotgun on wildlife watch.

‘In the field - a big dog,’ said Don.

I waited for the other shoe to drop. Believe me, neither Don nor I are capable of just saying ‘dog’. Nope. We have to say things like, ‘There’s a large dog, I’d say its 6 tenths Great Pyrenees, 2 tenths Labrador and I’d say that pup’s mother had more than a passing interest in the German Shepard down the street.’

Yes, that is what was missing from Don’s description, the acute analysis that makes us so marvelously annoying to some folk. Where was I? Yeah, Don’s ‘big dog’. I knew if Don wasn’t giving me a breed by breed account, the critter it wasn’t any ordinary ‘doggy’. I careened the car onto the nearly non-existent road shoulder and fumbled for my binoculars and camera. Don was silent – I felt excitement, wondering if there might be a UFO out there in the field too. I peered bare eyed into the distance – there stood a large, rangy looking, grizzled, rufous WOLF!

The moment the car stopped, the wolf turned tail and retreated, stopping only for one long tantalizing stare at us. I lifted up my camera – with its big lens – and the wolf began to move away in earnest. Maybe it thought my camera lens was a gun barrel, or maybe it was still pissed about its scene being cut from some Animal Planet expose on Minnesota’s wolves. HURRAH! Our first wolf! I didn’t get a photo but who cares, we had a wolf under our belts, tight fit but you know what I mean! Excitedly chattering we continued north to the Canadian Border, eh? And there from Checkpoint Ollie we drove slowly back down the freeway, our eyes glued to the tops of the tall pines and spruce of the thick forest on either side of the road. I must say, although I was driving, I was still droopy eyed and I stared at a blot down the road a ways and here is what I saw, and photographed through the windshield after deciding maybe I didn't want to get out of the car.

Lobo is watching a second wolf back in the woods.

This wolf is Mr. ALPHA Wolf, no doubt about it
His lordship is off to read the riot act to wolf #2

WOLVES! Two of the howling buggers. One animal was timid and as I slowed the car it slipped back into the forest. The second wolf was one tough fother mucker – it was grizzled, long-legged and it stared right at us, with a noticeable glint of disdain. ‘Hey Humans! >Ef you!

The wolf moved out of sight for a bit, then it crossed the roadway and the second wolf shot out of the woods on the right disappearing in the forest on the opposite side of the road. But MR. BIG BAD was in no hurry at all. He paused, shot us a glare and took a dump. Yes! I saw a genuine North American Wolf take a humongous wolfy dump on one of our beautiful American roadways. Please note: knowing not everyone appreciates scat the way I do, I tactfully omitted the offensive wolf poo via Photoshop, from the photos below.

Much clearer shot from an open window

Check out the delightful color coordination in that outfit

I know that wolf was saying ‘eat my furry shorts
hew-man!’ as he headed off to the woods

Needless to say, Don and I were jazzed. We spent our day alternately walking around looking for owls – which we never found – OK, and it was Don who did 99% of the walking, with me waiting for him to find things and call me over, and oh shut up, I am NOT lazy, and you shut up too Don! Since good things like to bunch up on you, we managed at one point to find ourselves only a few feet from a drumming Ruffed Grouse, which we thought was much further off. Here’s your second ‘find Waldo’ birdie shot. The grey Grouse cock is dead center – can you make him out?

To Find Waldo the Grouse, click here

Later that morning we saw this lovely Rockettes line-up of White-tailed does.

The girls all lined up

We were undoubtedly having one of our best ever field days, in fact, I'll need a second day to tell about all of it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Management Interupts the Seemingly Never-ending Vacation Raving for an Late Breaking Something-or-the-Other...

This afternoon, broad daylight mind you, I looked out my office window. A bird, which I assumed a White-throated Swift zipped by. It was... peculiar, so I had a second look. Yikes! That was no bird, it was a bat! A nice fat little fluttering bat.

That was a sad thing to see on a hot Sacramento afternoon. Poor little flutterbys - they get overheated and sometimes leave of their roosts. Don't know if they're after water or just a breath of fresh air really but I do know when it gets hot the poor bats sometimes fall, dehydrated, from their little daytime hidey holes.

Last year during a city heat spell I, and others with eyes open, found dead and dying bats on sidewalks. One of my coworkers, Allison, found a bat and turned it over to a wildlife rescue organization. We all hoped the little critter lived to be released back into wilds of downtown Sacramento; toughest of habitats I tell you!

We need our bats, each and every last one of them. I have a soft heart for native bats and snakes which are rather the underdogs out there. Takes one to know one.