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Mostar, across the Neretva River Enjoyed a hearty breakfast this morning while listening to Lulu belting out 'To Sir with Love' ...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallow-daze!

Never let it be said that I'm never available for the big holidays! After spending most the day with my sister, I joined Nephew Kirk for some Trick or Treating with my nephew/niecelette and their even tiny buddy Patrick. Here they are at the start of the festivities.

Left to Right, Patrick is Batman, James is a Ninja
Knight and Sidney is Minny Mouse

There were loads of Halloween characters out. I was amused to see Winnie the Pooh, who apparently had nothing to do with a tiny honey bee that was working the other side of the street with Daddy.

Character assault on the candy bag; Sydney's on the far right

Yumm... someone left out a bag of candy
on the honor system

And on to the next conquest

A kindly Hot Dog dishes out the treats

I had fun Trick or Treating with the niece/nephew tonight! I also enjoyed seeing all the costumes, as always an intriguing mix of store-bought & home made costumes. My favorite for the night? This costume below:

This guy said he is a 'Classic Nerd'

He is the classic Nerd all right; I particularly like his pen/pencil jammed pocket, complete with plastic ruler because we all know how difficult it is to drum up a slide rule these days.

Bwah ha ha ha! Nice haul o' Treats for one night's work

Birdin' Baltimore

Time out for some birding this week, hosted by my Nephew Kirk. He did his birding homework and found some hopeful places to take me around the Baltimore area. We started out at North Point State Park. Although the shoreline was depressingly bereft of birds. The autumn color filled woods were full of hyper Hermit Thrushes, flashy Northern Cardinals, and loads of Dark-eyed (Slaty) Juncos and still-exotic-to-me White-throated Sparrows.

I thought I was done for the morning when surprise, an adult Bald Eagle hoovered over the trees, as I stared from the parking lot. By the time I called Kirk over to see it, the bird had floated out of view. Happily, a short walk toward the eagle's position revealed a juvenile eagle. Kirk got a nice look at the Baldie baby, probably hatched out earlier this year. Kirk told me he chose the park because he'd heard a pair of eagles nested at North Point.


I managed a few shots of the soaring adult Baldie

There was a remaining treat in store for me though. As we walked back from the baby Baldie viewing I spotted something skulking along in low lying shrubbery. At first, lost glance I assumed it might be a House Wren - then the bird popped into view - a WINTER WREN! I got my lifer Winter Wren! I'd hoped for one when I visited Baltimore last year but gave up on the idea. Figures - when you quit fretting, things happen. I'm at 3 lifers for 2011.


Winter Wren photo by Christian Artuso

Our second stop was a year overdue. Last year we couldn't find the park entrance but this year it just popped up: Robert E. Lee Park. As it turns out, even had we found the park last year it was closed. Recently it reopened, and as we drove in, the first thing we saw was a waterfall.


Jones Falls, your first sight in Robert E. Lee Park  

Lovely birding spot. Birds were everywhere; Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebirds, Chipping Sparrows, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker that disappeared into a hole in a huge snag and a Red-tailed Hawk, overseeing everyone else's activities.

We had fun following the peregrinations of this little guy. You find the bird in this photo I took with my mini-digital?


It's just to the left of center... see it?


He's here but he's tiny.

It was fun watching this chuffy little Golden-crowned Kinglet.

One fun little sighting at Robert E. Lee was what I at first quick glimpse in flight, thought was a chickadee. The bird landed quite close and was an as yet undetermined species of Sparrow with a snowy white head, and pale-ish belly; a partial albino. Kirk and I were agog at the weird little flutterby. I was chagrined that what ought to have been a great shot of the bird was thrown by the reflectiveness of its white head. The bird managed to hold on to most of the coloring of its crown. What species? I'm guessing a White-throated Sparrow, but here's its photo, you tell me!

Partially albino sparrow

Hum... maybe the Leyba family has been infected with the birding bug?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spooky Time!


Jack o' Lanterns at Colorado's Stanley Hotel

Now I ask you to put down your Halloween nog and ask yourself, what's October week without me carrying on, & posting any spooky shite of the past year? Yeah, that's what I'm saying.

The only truly, very nearly spooky shite I've personally experienced this past year took place in my home. I was crawling into bed one night and suddenly I could detect the strong aroma of a flower. Now, there were no flowers in my bedroom, the windows were closed, and even if there were windows, there were no flowers outside. I have a spray bottle of lavender by my bed, but that wasn't it... What I smelled was super fresh, not lavender. I couldn't quite recall the fragrance. What the...? I dismissed the incidence from my mind.

Some weeks later, I was again in bed, and I suddenly got a strong whiff of a fresh flower. This time the scent rang the right bell in my noggin; plumeria, my mother's favorite fragrance. Where did it come from? It was so fresh, like a bouquet at my nose and it completely disappeared after about 30 seconds or so. Ma? I swear, I wonder if that scent was just my mother saying hello. Yeah, you're right. I'm nuts.

In other spooky shite this year I visited loads of spooky places the most renowned of which was the Stanley Hotel.

Come on, nothing spooky looking about the Stanley, right?

The Stanley Hotel is mostly famous for spooking the king of the horror genre, Stephan King and inspiring him to write his horror classic; The Shining. Without admitting their hotel contains any spooks, the Stanley hotel tips its hat to its spirits by playing The Shining on its televisions, all day, every day.


The telly in our room, played The Shining, 24/7 - really!

Can't say we didn't stay there solely because it is reportedly haunted. The place is also a beautiful facility that is steeped in local and American history. Who wouldn't want to stay at a hotel that once hosted the Unsinkable Molly Brown, the Emperor of Japan and the fore mentioned Stephan King?


Room 217, was Stephan King's room, where he
ultimately wrote about Jack, the mad boy


The elegant Georgian style hotel has an elegant set of stairs.


This beautiful lobby piano is said to surreptitiously play itself


One of Freelan O. Stanley's Steamers

What's spooky about the Stanley Hotel? The forth floor, which has elegant gables, was where servants, nannies and their little charges stayed. People staying on the forth floor are said to sometimes report that children are running up & down the 4th floor halls - and of course, there are never any kids up there at the time.


The gables of the 4th floor haunted by
the sound of romping ghostly children

There are other haunts about, including a maid that is said to approve or disapprove of people in a certain room. If she likes you she might unload your suitcase for you, but meet her disapproval and she will cast your things to the floor.

Barbara and I were booked in the Mansion House, next door to the main hotel. Haunted? We weren't certain, but I hoped we would find out. I could have taken part in an overnight Ghost Hunt at the Stanley but frankly... I didn't have the energy.


The Manor House, where we stayed

Shortly after checking in a did a quick tour of the Manor House, which looks like it'd be a fantastic place to film a horror movie.


A gloomy-ish room in the rejuvenated Manor House

So is the Manor house haunted? I sure didn't think so. I was in a tiny roll away bed and was sleepy enough to not care. Well into the wee hours of the night I woke to an eerie sound.... a long whiney call, that echoed through the halls and into our room. WHAT THE...! I mean, I was prepared for something unusual, but this was so loud, so haunting so... stupid. It was a fire alarm! The damned thing whined on and flashed lights for about an hour before the local fire fighters showed up to turn off the annoying thing. Ghostly? Uh... no.


Me scared? Heck no. I was just admiring the view

Well, someone seems to have
enjoyed her stay at the Stanley...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Follow up on yesterday's Chicken Chat


Bed time... I mean, time to roost!

Hurrah! Barbara sent these photos; the new Black Copper Maran pullets on the coop perch with Babette and Adele. Awww... I can't wait to get them back up here. Adele, on the far right, has her feathers so puffed up you can't even see her eyes.

Sleep tight my little feathered girlies.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Change of Pullets Plan

So... my poor girlies have been in Monterey at their Auntie Barbara's house since mid August. All alone, they have to be separated from Barbara's flock whose hobby it is to beat the $%*# out of my girls, Babette & Adele. Oh well, I guess even chickens are entitled to hobbies, right?

My poor girls think they got 20-life in Sing-sing



Anyway, mid August Barbara and I got new chicks, of which I was going to take 2 'Easter Eggers', which Barbara was raising for me. Easter Eggers lay either blue or green eggs and I do like a lovely palette with my morning egg.












You might remember that Ms. Pink, Barbara's buff (in all senses) hen, the dozen new chicks, and my 2 girls were all in a pen together. Ms. Pink's hobby was beating the daylights out of Babette & Adele.




So, Ms. Pink had to be kept out of the pen where my girls were boarded, and of course, Ms. Pink took her foster chicks with her. End results: Ms. Pink and her chicks ran free range and that means Ms. Pink's babies grew to be tough, buff and pugilistic pullets.

In other words, both Barbara and I feared - quite literally - for the lives of my 2 Faverolle hens if they had to live together with the 2 young Easter Egger pullets at my home. Ever heard of pecked to death by ducks? Well, pecked to death by chickens is a real deal.

Well, HAPPY DAY! Barbara got an idea. She found a local chicken person who is raising a type of chicken I have had my eye on breed wise, the breed being Black Copper Marans. Now, Marans lay deep chocolate brown eggs, as such...



Cool, heh? So, long story short - and you know I could make this post, a zillion pages longer if I felt like it , so count your lucky stars - here are my new little Black Copper Maran girlies, Barbara picked up this afternoon for me. They're now penned up with Babette and Adele, and as they are smaller than my Faverolle hens, the idea is they'll all get used to each other, thus avoiding a chicken blood bath of Friday the 13th intensity.

Now I'm even more excited about bringing my girlies home. And what am I going to name my new Black Copper Maran pullets? Penny and Onyx? Oh well. No worries. Probably won't be able to tell them apart anyway.


So, where's the wall-to-wall
carpeting we were promised?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Big Year

So, bright and early today I raced off to the early bird showing of The Big Year. I'm mentioning it here because anyone who wonders whattheeff is up with birders, this flick offers just the tinest glimpse of what makes birders tick. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and even found myself a little weepy at some of the sites - I was all sort of 'awww... yeah, Attu was awesome' and 'yeah, the Brownsville landfill sure reeked', and '$#%@!, I have got to get to High Island '.

Anybirder will love the movie just for the joy of bitchn' over movie errors. For example, on Attu a blizzard is a good thing; and I mean freakn' spectacular good. There was a blizzard when I was there that blew wonderful vagrant birds to the island (yes!) AND it bought me several extra days on the island because Reeves airline couldn't fly in to get us. GO BLIZZARDS! Awesome. I'm tellin' you. Freakn' feathered awesomeness.

So, go see the movie. And remember, you don't have to sink a b'jillion dollars into seeing all the North American species in one year. You can see them all over your lifetime, like I'm doing. Just look out your window at some birdie passing by and think about it... it can FLY for free, and chances are, you can't.



Honestly... I can't believe they got Martin, Black & Owen to do this movie, AND not a fart joke to be heard.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Icy cold, wet, salty and still a FANTASTIC Pelagic voyage day

Whimbrel on the rocks

I love pelagic birding. Nothing like that fresh air, salt scented breeze and a shite load of gulls squealing at the back of a boat. In August I had 3 pelagics Hatteras North Carolina canceled because of Hurricane Irene. So tagging along with my birder buddy Don for some pelagic birding off Half Moon Bay will be my soul pelagic adventure for 2011. Pathetic, neh?

That's trip organizer/leader/birdie_guru Alvero 2nd from left

Birder Bud Don who tossed out popcorn to gulls like a trooper

The short shut out of Half Moon Bay was heartening - loads of cormorants, shore bird types and pretty good photo opts. I got numerous shots of Black Oystercatchers.

Black Oystercatcher calling on the wing

Little Black Turnstones sat on the jetty and on top of the jetty were all three species of cormorants; Double-crested, Brants and Pelagic. My favorite jetty bird was a nice Surfbird and I was tickled to get a fairly nice photo of it.

Surfbird - yes, the bird is smiling!

Once the boat made it past the harbor opening, we spotted the 'little ones' that always amaze me. They're often barely up to a robin in size, yet there they are, out on the frigid ocean, their little bills not even chattering with the cold. How do they do it?

Common Murre, late afternoon, on cold, choppy waters

One of the crew said he's heard people who see Common Murres from the shore, think the little birds are penguins. Well, at least the little birds are in the right color palette; black & white.

North American Penguin or another Common Murre?

The nice sharpish photo above makes it seem the photos are as easy as point and shoot. Nope. Try standing on a teeter totter while trying to photograph a ping pong ball balanced on another teeter totter, that someone keeps throwing a blanket over; that's what ocean photography is like. I'm lucky all my photos aren't as shaky as this little Rhinoceros Auklet below.

Rhinoceros Auklet

I must have taken 30 shots of the preceding, adorable Auklet and that was the best shot I managed.

I took maybe 50 shots of this Tufted Puffin, and most of them were shots of empty waves, which kept churning up and blocking my view of the little bright billed mite.

Tufted Puffin

After a couple of hours, we made it out to where the deep sea bird life hang out. Suddenly there were Black-footed Albatross and several species of Shearwaters. Shearwaters are like fast cruising fighter jets, shooting just above the waves. Get it? They shear the waters. They beat Nascar any day of the week.

Flock of Buller's Shearwaters and a
Pink-footed Shearwater on the far right

Arguably the prettiest Shearwater is the Buller's. By the way, their mantles (back of the wings) are designed by the same people who design the Nascar race cars. Snazzy birds.

Buller's Shearwater

Marin County Weather Bouy was
accompanied by a herd of California Sea Lions

Some birds you see on almost all pelagic trips, but that doesn't mean you don't love seeing them again. The Northern Fulmars are one of my favorites. I think I enjoy them because they have really fancy noses that drip salt instead of snot, and I guess I appreciate that. Can you drink salt water instead of fresh, and dribble salt from your nostrils? Don't you admire a bird that can do that? Sure you do!

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

Pink-footed Shearwater

Pink-footed Shearwater on take off

There were nice views of 2 of the 3 local species of the Jaeger species; Pomerine and Parasitic Jaegers. The name Jaeger means 'hunter' and these birds are playground bullies, as they still rip off the lunch money (caught fish) from other pelagic birds. Yes, I know that's not cool, but at least they don't torment the other birdies to suicide so they're still better than real school yard bullies. Today we didn't see any Jaegers tormenting other birds. I think the weather was doing such a good job of that, the Jaegers didn't have to.

Parasitic Jaeger

Pomerine Jaeger

And while I'm on the topic of bullies, there is another bully that came to the boat and did its thing; the South Polar Skua. They're the gulls on steroids you see picking up and eating baby penguins on National Geographic specials. They're hard core but I really like them anyway, after all, I'm not a penguin.

South Polar Skua

I'd high hopes we'd see lots of whales on this trip, but I knew the chances were slim. Whales are usually plentiful when there is cold waters, which is like saying 'when the dinner plate is full'. Unfortunately, the dinner plate was kind of skimpy (waters were warm) so I was lucky to get a quick glimpse of 3 passing Pacific White-sided Dolphins and one long lovely look at the back of a Humpback. That was it! Early in the day a few Harbor Porpoise were seen but I didn't see them.

The ride back to Half Moon pier was so rough, it rained salt water. I was so cold my teeth chattered and my core temperature must have been 3 degrees. Happily, post trip, Don cooked up some nice New England Clam Chowder from scratch. Yum, nothing like hot food to warm the cockles or whatever else you have in your heart region.

Next morning Don gave me directions to Sunnyvale Baylands Park, where I checked out half the park for the mini warbler fall out that happened a day or two ago. No luck, the only warblers I found were an Orange-crowned and some Yellow-rumped (AKA butter-butts). I did manage to get a fairly nice pic of a Bewick's Wren. So it was a fun weeekend, even if wet and cold. Honestly, any cold, wet salty birdy weekend, beats a warm, sunny birdless weekend.

Bewick's Wren showing of its good side

Orange-crowned Warbler staring at me