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Friday, January 27, 2012

Baby Fix!

Drove over to the Bay Area today for a baby fix. Here's the deal, the fraternal twin boys are the sons of my buddy Barbara's foster son James. His adorable widdle 10 day old boys are named Wyatt and Virgil. Names sound familiar? Anyway, I got to cuddle and play with the boys who are so young that playing with them amounts to holding them and gawking at their teeny fingers and toes. Cool! Hey, how come babies don't have puppy breath?

Virgil (l), with brown hair looks like his Dad,
Wyatt (r) has black hair and looks like Mommy

Thank heavens Angie's Mom came to stay and help with the boys for their first few weeks. I thought they were pretty kind to let me visit while the boys are so ensie. Talk about hectic! The babies need to be fed every two hours, day and night.

Grandmother, Mom, other Grandma Barbara w/Wyatt, Uncle Eric w/Virgil

Uncle Eric and Daddy James holding Wyatt
who, despite photo is not eating an apple

I had fun visit. Barbara with Eric, drove up from Monterey. It's been ages since I got to play with a v. young baby. I got to cuddle Adan when he was a newborn and he's away at college now - told you it was a long time!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Birdies in My Neighborhood

Exchanging stares with a Red-shouldered Hawk

Bleck! Despite it being a gray, drippy and dreary sort of day, I ran a few errands then visited a few local parks to see what was hanging around - uh... not much. Still, I always enjoy checking out the chickens in Old Fair Oaks Village. I probably drive through the village park at least once a week to admire the feral chickens.

A few of the usual roosters, taking it easy

I blew a perfectly good photo op when I spotted a full size rooster and a bantam strolling side by side, but I was too slow. Two minutes sooner I'd of had a shot of them side by side - identical in every feather but a HUGE size difference between them. I've seen such rooster 'twins' in Fair Oaks Village on several occasions.

Full size rooster left, ensie identical Bantam, right

Speaking of bantams, a few days ago I noticed a new comer that stuck out because of his exotic looks. This little cockerel has the longest tail feathers in the park as well as a strange white ear skin and a fancy rose comb. I did a little on line research and I think he's a black Rosecomb Bantam. What a pretty little fellow! How did he ever end up at the park? Why would someone buy such a nice looking bantam then dump it in the park? I doubt anyone would accidently lose such a nice little bird. I keep having to shake off my urge to scoop him up and bring him home.

V. Handsome & abandoned little fellow: a Rosecomb Bantam

Check out Pretty Boy's fancy rose comb

I stopped by Sailor Bar and Rossmar Bar on the American River and was amazed how common Lark Sparrows actually are. I used to think of them as being rare and exotic - I guess I just wasn't getting out much. I found some Gold-crowned Sparrows, first of the year and Cedar Waxwings. I was stunned earlier this week to find Western Bluebirds which I didn't think would show up until at least late March. They seem - at least to me - to be back early, and I can say the same for American Robins, which I saw today for the first time this year.

A couple of Acorn Woodpeckers

At Rossmar Bar I spent a fair amount of time watching Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers fishing in the river but then it started to drizzle again. I gave up and returned home to to a nice hot cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Back to the Kitchen!

My last bagel baking attempt a year or so ago was dreadful. The recipe was complex and taking my best guess, I overshot the amount of yeast needed by about a quarter cup. Yes, you read that right - a quarter cup. Despite the excess yeast the bagels were flatter than Ma and Pa Kettle's tires and they tasted yeasty. Thought I'd NE-VER attempt bagels again.

Flash forward, or back, to today and I decided to give it another shot using a different and far easier bagel recipe. .

This recipe was a cinch. I dumped 2 cups of rye flour (my innovation), 2 cups of white flour, 2 scanty little teaspoons of yeast, sugar, salt and water into my food processor which did the mixing and initial kneading for me. A little razzle (more kneading), a little dazzle (time for the dough to rise) I had raw poofy bagels. Actual recipe HERE.

A couple of my raw, misshapen bagels

The thing that makes bagels bagels is boiling them before baking. You ever wait for a dutch oven's worth of water to boil? Takes forever.

The bagels boiling 1 minute on each side

The boiled bagels were out of the hot water and onto poppyseeds or sesame seeds, then onto the baking sheet. Ten minutes on each side and I had freakn' bagels! Didn't have to go fetch them from Noah's Bagels or anything!

Boiled and baked Claire-type bagels

Whooo hooo! Wonderfully chewy and as I suspected, not quite as pumpernickely as I would like. No surprises there because I didn't add malt syrup or use brown sugar - so as to make real pumpernickel bagels. Maybe next time, if I'm feeling brave, I'll give pumpernickel bagels, using all rye flour, a go. You hear that Pumpernickle bagels? You are my density!

Tada! Home made breakfast sandwich;
delicious, nutritious & ug-ly

Friday, January 13, 2012

What the Winds Blew In

Every now and again the winds blow some poor bird out of Asia or Russia and into California; December 2011 was such a time. A Eurasian teal of the species know as 'Falcated Duck', found itself in the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

What's the big deal? Well imagine for a minute if mammals could get blown off course, ending up in California's central valley. You might be driving along Highway 50, look out the window and see a bewildered looking Prezwalski's wild horse, or perhaps a forlorn Panda or lost Snow Leopard. Is finding a lost bird blown so far off course is really less worthy of comment than finding a lost Eurasian mammal? Of course not, and that's why birders are driving & flying from all over North America to see one little lost duck.

Here below is a license plate I spotted in the Colusa NWR parking lot. If I've ruined some Montanin's "...Gee boss, I've *cough, cough* got the flu. I'm staying home this week..." excuse, I hereby offer my sincere apologies.

A license seen in Colusa NWR car lot

I first went up to see the Falcated Duck by myself on December 15, 2011. The duck was there, and I marveled at how convenient it made itself. Parked in the refuge car lot, it was only a 3 minute walk to the wooden viewing platform where a dozen birders happily peered through binoculars and spotting scopes.

The Colusa wooden viewing platform; 1/13/2012

The birders present were mesmerized by the little male duck, and everyone was impressed with it's brilliant feathering and cheeky attitude as it tried to court nearby female American Wigeon ducks. I'll bet it had a thick Slavic accent. "Here you wee-dle girl ducks, I am for buying you many it pretty things eef you come leetle closer."

Don on the right, chatting up some birders

Just in front of the Colusa viewing platform

Three Northern Shovelers just to right of platform

Leap ahead to January, and I again headed up to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, this time with my birder buddy Don, who avidly anticipated seeing the duck. I was fretful when we left Sacramento as it was Friday. The duck had a habit of being scarse between Fridays and Sundays, due to increased visitation on those days. So, when we arrived at the refuge and walked up the ramp on the viewing platform, my heart sunk when we heard the duck was not present.

Flights of Greater White-fronted Geese
overhead, but no Falcated Duck

We hung around and Don chatted with other birders for a bit, then we drove the Colusa Refuge's auto tour loop.

Our drive was barely underway when Don spotted a Bald Eagle perched in a distant tree. With my usual alert nature, I totally missed seeing the bird. Drat! The Colusa Refuge is huge, and full of overwintering Snow, Greater White-fronted Geese and the less common and smaller Ross's and Cackling Geese.

I'm always fascinated by Ross's Geese, as they look like mini-Snow Geese with snub bills and short necks. Here below are some Snow geese.

Snow Geese with big, fat long bills

Now here for contrast are several little Ross's Geese, with their snub bills and petite stature. See the difference? No? Well, join the club! I'm kidding, if you study them, the difference begins to stuck out after a bit. The little Ross Geese look like they're Snow Geese that underwent nose (bill) reduction surgeries.

Petite, Ross's Geese with dainty bills

We didn't see anything to unusual at the Colusa Refuge, but as we rounded the last bit of the circular auto route, we spotted a bank full of little white poofy blotches.

The magical wall of Black-crowned Night Herons

The poofy blotches were Black-crowned Night Herons. I can't remember ever seeing so many Night Herons in one spot.

Close up of the scarlet-eyed Night Herons

When our short tour was over, the disappointment remained; the Falcated drake was nowhere to be seen. So, we headed further north for the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge.

These days the refuges all seem to have auto tour routes, that forbid getting out of vehicles, least the wildlife get spooked. That's a plus for a lazy birder like myself. I can sit immobile and yet appear adventurous, instead of lazy. Winters are the time of year the central valley refuges are chock full of activity as waterfowl fly in to spend their winter in R&R before flying back to the arctic in the spring for a vigorous season of nesting & rearing chicks.

Along the Sacramento Wildlife refuge tour we spotted a grounded, annoyed looking Cooper's Hawk, just off road. Mind - all Cooper's Hawks look annoyed.

Cooper's Hawk

I was rather taken by a magical view of an ordinary doe, grazing mid day in a patch of teasel. The scene looked all silvery and rather enchanting.
Little Doe among the Teasels

A closer look at the doe

We got out of the car and had a nice look around at the Sacramento Refuge's wooden platform, which unlike the Colusa platform, didn't host any lost vagrant waterfowl, just the usual motley crew. When lunch was over we drove back down to the Colusa Refuge and nearly held our breath as we approached the platform - duck or no duck? DUCK!

I was flabberghasted - the Falcated Duck flew in only a few minutes before we arrived at the viewing platform. There was back patting and high five-ing galore - the Duck of the day was in! There is no joy like that of a mob of birders, who driving in from near and far, get their lifer duck, as did myself a month ago, and Don today.

Here below I give you my crap shots of the Falcated that I took back on 12/15/11. I used my big SLR camera, but actually got better photos - shown below - shooting the duck through my Kowa scope with my iPhone.

Not nearly as brilliant on an overcast day Photo: digiPhoned

The curved feathers on his rear give the name Falcated or sword shaped

The overcast day meant no metallic glint off this boy's head

Full frontal Falcated - showing his white nose spot.

For a finale, I recommend watching this well edited, music enhanced video, of the Falcated Drake. This video is so beautiful I get all sentimental edging on weepiness, watching it. This shows off the Falcated Duck's lovely green metallic head as he swims circles, but more impressively you can see the scimitar-like 'falcated' feathers and how they are located on the drake's wing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is it December 21st yet?

It occurred to me I haven't yet posted for 2012, so we may all assume the year is off to a slow and steady pace. I barfed in the New Year & am only just feeling back to normal post-flu. The weather has been v. cold, particularly nights & my hens whom for unknown reasons, chose this frigid weather as their opportunity to molt. The back yard looks like a pit-bull pulled off a fight with a feather bed.

The two-legged Hens have all individually begun pushing for a Hen Party. I think everyone just woke up one morning and were agog that our last Hen Party was in September of 2010. Dates are being trounced about and late March will most probably fit the bill for our get together. We're particularly antsy to get things rolling as Hen Ingrid will be going into the Peace Corps this August. Ooooo we are all so proud of our adventurous hen!

I'm participating in a free on line program called Codeacademy, sworn to teach a b'jillion people
computer programing in 2012. So... started the program this week and already feel like a moron. Problems is, as with most programing types, the person who wrote the lessons seems to think people reading the lessons already know programming. Why aren't these things either tested on computer know-nothings, or why aren't they tested on people with I.Q.s under Sheldon levels? HA! See what I did there? If you don't watch Big Bang Theory you can read that last sentence and have barely a clue what the hell I'm talking about. If you're comfortable with that, you might as well take the Codeacademy class with me, that way we can both be frustrated and pissy.