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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Best Laid Plans

[Management: *sigh*]

Our week was up at our Denver Inn. So, after a final breakfast we headed northeast, up, up, up to Estes Park - which is not a park, but is a sleepy little town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. We found our motel easily enough and then went exploring. There were loads of beautiful elk, the males were only just beginning to grow this year's antlers.

Ready for his close-up

The littlest Rocky Mountainaires

Rocky Mountain Pastoral Scene

On day one we mostly drove around enjoying the sights. On day two, we were off find White-tailed Ptarmigan, one of the critter that I wanted to visit Colorado to see. Ptarmigan live above the timber line Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans - there was NO WAY we were getting that high up onto the mountain.

For the Rocky Mountains, winter is only just bundling up and moving along to make way for spring. All the wildlife looks a bit haggard; the elk need brushing and the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer - well it has to be said, they're just a mess.

For mercy's sake, anyone got a brush handy???"

More 'grooming challenged' wildlife

We toured Rocky Mountain N.P. for two days before deciding 'It's beautiful but it sure isn't any Yellowstone'. Ok now, that's SPOILED for you. Really - it is beautiful, though. I'm happy to have seen it. Anyway, on our way out of the park we spotted cars piled up, which means there was wildlife a'foot! We checked out the slopes by the road and could just barely make out a critter on the cliffs above.

A Rocky Mountain Bighorn Arse -dead center in photo

Yes! Through an ennsie space in the pines we could just about almost spot a stray member or two of a herd of Bighorn Sheep. I got out the 'big guns' (my camera w/telephoto) and waited for the sheep to move through the open space. Mind; none of this required me to do more than turn off the car engine and sit (in the car). Yes, Big Game Hunter Claire, the laziest camera hunter on the planet, was ready to very-nearly-almost stalk her quarry.

Barbara was patient. We sat for maybe twenty minutes and the sheep butt above was the best shot of the series.

Then Barbara did the UNTHINKABLE. She got OUT OF THE CAR! She walked maybe 25 feet behind the car and looked up the slope. What was sprawled all over the blasted hillside? Yes. SHEEP!

Rocky Mountain Time Out

Who knew moving your own arse could amount to a better photo opportunity???? yeah, yeah, shut up about it already

Bighorn Sheep

We decided to skip a third day at Rocky Mountain N.P. so we could head to Southeastern Colorado where I could search for lifer birds. However, again, the Earth Mother had other plans. Barbara got a very sad phone call. Her boyfriend's little step granddaughter had passed away in the early morning. The child hadn't been sick, she died of accidental poisoning by one of her medications. Devistating news. We decided to cut our vacation short and head back to California immediately.

Saturday, May 24, 2008



Praise Earth Mother! Yesterday I woke HEALTHY! (that is if you ignore the lingering cough and persistant wheeze)! Ok, maybe not healthy, but feeling much better.

Yesterday I drove to eastern Colorado to have a go Bonnie Lake State Park. The drive was long, but there were wild Pronghorn to be seen along the freeway. I didn't see any new birds, but I had a wonderful time chasing Warbling Vireos that refused to hold still for their portrature (&#%! vireos). But Red-headed Woodpeckers were far more cooperative.

pretty boy (or girl?)

There were several death defying serpent adventures with harmless gopher snakes.

I molested loads of snakes at Bonnie Lake - BAD Claire!

Snakey was not amused

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, found EVERYWHERE in Colorado

A nice thing about the Inn we're staying at, is they let me have a student's rate,which included all my meals. Add to that, the restaurant is British themed so you know I enjoyed me grub.

A bit o' Brit

All week our meals were buffet style, but tonight we were given Brit menus which included Bangers and Mash, Potato and Leek Soup, Fish & Chips. The waiter said everything on the menu was delicious. I told him if it was, then it wasn't really British. He was not amused. I had a Scottish chicken dish with mushrooms - again - too tasty for true Scot authenticity. During our last dinner at the Inn, Barb's many classmates recommended a drive out to Boulder Falls. So, after dinner tonight we drove out there.

It was a hecka long walk to the falls, considering how cranky my lungs were

Watching our steps

Boulder Falls

The big draw was there is a tendency for photos at the falls to show 'orbs', which are unseen by the naked eye, but show up as balls of light in photos. Back at the Inn, the consensus was the orbs are beings that are attracted to happy beings, and on the doubting Thomas side, the orbs are only reflection of light by dust particles. We didn't get any orbs in our photos at the falls - probably due to my unhappy wheezing? I'll post some orb photos later this summer. Here's the BONUS of staying at the Inn - all week I chatted with many of Barb's classmates, one of whom had very pretty locks. I was too chicken to ask questions, but Barbara was not (it is good to have friends who will question on your behalf). Anyway, we were told, what she wears are Sister Locks, a new type of hair 'locking', invented by a Californian lady. The locks are not quite braids, and what I like best is there are no extentions, just your own hair. Sooo... guess what I'm going to have done the second I get back to California?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pawnee Grasslands

[Management regrets, despite all efforts to prevent, yet another time warping travesty, Ms Miller is again 'back posting', pretending it is still May. Bear with us, the woman is stubborn.]

Hurrah! I'm in Colorado. Barbara's here for a week of classes in Denver. I tagged along to keep her company (she hates flying), and because I’ve got a wish list of birdies I’m hoping to see.

I must say, I’m enjoying myself, which is bizarre. In Sacramento, as our jet headed up into the atmosphere, I was in good health, excited and anxious to see Colorado. Our jet touched down in Denver and as I walked up the gangplank into the terminal, my lungs shriveled down to the size of pea pods and vast rivers of foul snot began running from my nose – and me without a hanky.

Oh well. Screw being sick! On my second day of vacation I slept and wheezed. The next day Barbara told me that during the night she lay in her bed listening to me go quiet after a bout of labored wheezing and decided I had died (made me laugh - I had thought the same thing about her on our last vacation). Barbara is trying to get me to go to an emergency room, but I don’t think my first ever case of altitude sickness or a nasty bit of seasonal allergies will kill me. Didn't come to Denver to ruin a vacation by heading toward the bright light – my ancestors will just have to wait. On Day three I birded again, while day four I slept to recoup. On Day five, things got interesting.
I was headed north on Hwy 5 for another shot at birding Pawnee National Grasslands. The skies weren’t sunny as they had been all week, but were overcast. In the distance I admired how black and dismal it looked on the horizon. But what did I care? After more than an hour’s drive, when I finally hit the grasslands, all the birds were hunkered down or else what with the winds, they appeared to be flying backwards.

Later, after a nearly bird-free tour, I retraced my path back to the freeway. The little town I traveled through was buried under a blanket of white hail! I thought, how very strange and quaint these prairies are. What I ought have thought was HOLY MOTHER OF TOTO! A WHOPPER OF A TWISTER JUST TORE THROUGH HERE!

Pronghorns I saw while the Tornado raged -
obviously those critters knew what to do during an emergency

The black clouds I’d seen on the horizon was a major tornado that ripped a new one for northeastern Colorado. It chewed up homes and cars and spit 'em out. It had missed me by that much. Since I was mercifully left alive to snort snot and wheeze another day, let me show you what I saw at the Pawnee Grasslands this week.

McCown's Longspur (a lifer for me), ignoring
the noisy, coughing human with the camera

My second Colorado lifer - a skittish Brewer's Sparrow, who to be coaxed within shooting range of my camera.

A Brewer's Sparrow that sung a little song

Earlier in the week I spotted my first Pronghorn Antelope for this trip. Something – which I’m reasonably sure wasn’t me, spooked it. He took off running on a path that took him racing past my car. I flipped up my camera and by a miracle, got shots of him imitating Secretariat at the Belmont - Beautiful animal! He was the first of many Pronghorn I’ve been spotted.

This photo below is the uncropped shot from which the one just overhead was cut. It shows how far away I was from the beastie. I chose this one to show how the last 1/3 of my photos of him were crappier - the green swath is the car's windshield I was shooting over. Really, it's a miracle these shots came out as well as they did - I was stunned. Also gives a good idea how much cropping is sometimes necessary to even see the little buggers I shoot. GAK! It also shows how badly I need to develop the habit of CLEANING MY LENS! talk about spot dot n' grit city...
An uncropped view - See that fleet dot in the center?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Silently We Stalked...

We moved silently, eyes wide, stalking our innocent prey.

'Over there! A doe... three of them! Shoot Gene, shoot them!'

Gene took aim... *FLASH*

Another innocent 'Bambi' shot in the prime of its life.

"Dang," Gene muttered, 'all you can see is the doe's eye shine!"

What's behind that bright eye-shine? Click the photo below.

A slightly better look at the doe behind the gleaming eye

But no problem! That's the fun of digital wildlife shooting; you can digitally correct your shots later, no critter gets hurt, there's nothing to butcher, no mopping up blood on the truck bed and afterwards at home there's ice cream for all.

One night we were out at dusk and discovered, much to all of our amazement, that turkeys roost! We spotted a good half dozen, big-arse turkey cocks gingerly leaping and flapping their way to the tippy-top of a 60 foot tall oak tree. I had always assumed turkeys just huddled down in grass/bushes at night. Nope, apparently turkeys fly up into the tree at night so they can rest and get some shut-eye without worrying about coyotes, racoons and the lot, just as chickens do.

Out Struttin'

Deer stalking at Sunrise, Sailor Bar and Goethe park was only one of the weekend's highlights. Yesterday we drove up to Grass Valley where Philip, Gene & Jo's son, married Krista a couple of years ago. On the way back we very briefly stopped off near the site Sutter discovered gold.

Gene and Joann in Gold Country

Gene and Joann had fun. One of the days we drove up to Grass Valley to visit where their son Philip married Krista a couple of years ago; nice trip down memory lane. On the return we drove through the Gold Country where Sutter discovered California's gold.

It was lovely having the pair of them all to myself.

Making a wish - Visit Claire again soon?

[Management wishes to award credit for all, save the last two digitals, to Mr & Mrs Gene Bertsch, whose sweet & lively spirits brightened the heck out of an otherwise dreary Clairey Weekend.]

Thursday, May 01, 2008


My lillies are going to spring open any day now - v. pretty. My new rose opened it's first flower. The pansies look like pandas and the columbines are beautiful. I found out there is a new columbine called 'Magpye' - it is so dark it is nearly black, but the corolla is half white. Needless to say, MUST order the seed.

Magpie Columbine

Speaking of ordering seed, yesterday I happened across Slow Food (opposite of fast food), an organization dedicated to saving old varieties of veggies and livestock. They even work to save production methods that produce old style Tupelo honey, traditional Hawaiian sea salt and birch tree syrup. I admire the organization's work.

Anyway, my point is I couldn't help myself; I ordered seeds for Moon & Stars Watermelon seeds (Hey, hey, you, watch those watermelon jokes!). A black melon (didn't I tell you to watch the jokes?) covered over in round yellow moons and splatters of stars. Who could resist magical fruit that lets you grow your own map to the stars? I also ordered seeds of Black from Tula Tomato and Sunberries. Now, whether or not I actually get these wonderful heirlooms into the soil will be another thing entirely, said the woman with year old hollyhock bulbs in the bottom of her fridge, alongside octogenarian daffodil bulbs.

If I could have ordered seeds for growing Mulefoot Hogs, I'd have ordered some of those too. Come to think on it, I guess I could order Hog seeds, but that'd be a bit messy, and anyway, I haven't any sows.