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Thursday, May 19, 2016


Home Sweet Crap
Over the decades, my garage evolved from a lovely open space with function for laundry & work space into a pile of... uh... crap. You know how that happens. Nature abhors a vacuum, so under Nature's command, empty niches in the garage begin, inexplicably, to fill up. Things purchased with goodly projects in mind and trapped by innocent intentions entered the limbo, aka 'Out in the Garage'.
Where Feng Shui snuffed it
I've tried for a couple of years to cut back on 'stuff' and tidy up, but experienced zero success. I mean, things just refused to tidy themselves up, thus I had to give in and do something about it. Ergo, a couple of weeks ago I hired a living, breathing professional de-clutterer. Her name is Becky, and she agreed to help a sister out.

That brings me to this morning. Becky showed up bright and early at 9 AM, bearing empty lidded boxes, lots of giant garbage bags and her own lunch and drink. At, so help me, 9:06 sharp, she stood in the southeast corner of the garage. She picked up a 6 ft wooden stave and with great kindness, asked, "Would you like to keep this, donate or trash it?"

I was almost too happy to answer.

I mean, that was it for most of the day. I sat in comfort while Becky acted like the kindly extension of my will, magically zooming about, stacking, sorting, bagging... while what did I do? I answered questions and sat. You know, that's what Claire-Bears do best.

Soon the 'stuff' piled up, in their categories, in the garage center. It was like I was the homeowner in one of those popular DIY reality shows.
Stuff piled up in categories - 'keep', 'donate' and 'dispose'
Hard work is wonderful. I mean, I could watch it all day. Becky work was amazing. She did what I seem to be incapable of - sorting, organizing, etc. Unlike me, not once did she stop, wander away with a blank look on her face, forget what she was about. Go inside the house to watch that incredibly random episode of Big Bang Theory, or suddenly google a random thought of earth-shaking importance. In short, she was capable of sorting out the garage, a skill that is beyond my ken.

There was a break for lunch of course, and when I deemed to return, Becky was bagging, boxing and continuing to organization.

As pre-arranged by Becky, around 4 PM a junk hauler arrived. He & his little boy arrived with a truck which I took one look at and thought, "No way he's going to fit all my garbage in one truck load"

There was, after all, several junky cabinets of metal and rag-tag hungs of wood. There were not one, but two HUMONGOUS water bed bases that had served as a massive chest of drawers at the rear of the garage. With deft skill, the hauler neatly dropped the drawers on their edges, flattening them. Same for junky cabinets, same for all manner of wooden thingies. In the end, the 'stuff' did not even fill the vehicle to it's summit. Hogwarts couldn't have done a better feat of necromancy.
The driveway full of 'stuff'
The clean sweep did not just include the garage. It also included the Gulag Garden out back. It's been two summers at least, since I've watered anything back there. Anything green, maintains that color on it's own volition. Over the years I discovered that no matter how much any gardening company brags and boasts of its wood raised bed's long levity, I can assure you, they are lying. My pressure treated, linseed oil permeated, turpentine treated raised bed was no match for the hellish intensity of the California sun. And worse, the raised bed wasn't worth anything at all once the neighborhood cats decided it was the best litter box e-ver. I know. I feel vauguely ill when I think of that too.

Raised cedar bed in its happy, pre-kitty hay-day
of heritage melons, cukes and cutting flowers

Sad, sorry state of raised cedar a frighteningly short time later

Alas. Today the raised cedar bed is no more. *melancholy sigh*

Seeing the empty space, where for several years my fun, raised gardening bed sat, makes me want to cry. Stupid effing neighborhood cats. Ultimately the evil felines did it more damage than any ultraviolet rays. If only I'd had the forethought and good sense to own a pack of slightly underfed Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Enough pouting!  Note: there were lots of other things outside that went tossed, from the Great Trash Hauling of twenty-sixteen.

Farewell too, yee olde vestige of chicken husbandry
and other assorted bits of gardening gewgaw
Hello once again tidy patio with no evidence of former projects of various time periods

By the time the hauler disappeared on the horizon with the remnants of 'Claire's Follies', Becky had begun the final sorting of odds and ends, ending with an ultimate sweeping up all the dirt, and debris remaining on the garage floor and patio. Then it was over... my garage and the back patio were clean, sorted and looking like I didn't live here, and that, trust me, is a good thing.

How cleared and clean is the garage? OK, those who have visited me here, this is a shocking revelation: I no longer have to back out of the garage for people to get into the passenger side of my car. Yes. Let that shocking fact sink in and further, let me state: Best money I spent all year.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Final Day of Ultimate South Florida Tour

Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower
The Wildlife Center and Zachary Taylor Park were only the start of a last day in Florida. Following those morning wanderings, Larry drove us north, with a stop to peak at a historical folly, the Sugarloaf Key's Bat Tower (same bat time, same bat location of course). This weather gray tower was built in 1929 in hopes of providing a base for bats that would then do the tower's builder a favor by eating all the malaria carrying mosquitoes.  Bats, carefully installed in the tower, flew 'bye-bye' never to be seen again; silly, ungrateful, mosquito nabbers... Luckily, this tower, which is on the National Registry of Historic places, does make a tolerably good Osprey nest support.

Later on the drive north, Larry ducked off to a road that ran parallel to the shore line. We only had a hundred feet or so to view the beach.
An unknown - to me - Florida key  shore 
There were clouds of Great White Butterflies dancing about, and a great many shore birds long the beach. Larry brought us there as a Neotropic Cormorants are there occasionally, but not today.

just off shore... Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans
Of great interest to me were more Semipalmated Sandpipers than I had ever seen in one spot before. There were dozens of sandpiper digital shots for me to take and mull over in quiet appreciation.

Semipalmated Sandpiper 
A little jog on the beach
You can very-nearly-almost see semipalmation, i.e, webbing, on its toes
Beware of hitting Key Deer

There are two things one looks forward to when visiting the Florida Keys, the second being seeing Key Deer. The Key Deer are the scaled down version of White-tailed Deer, that are nearly always endangered, certainly because among other causes, they seem to get hit by cars a LOT.      

We had our eyes peeled for mini-deer, but it wasn't until our last day a few were located, lolling about on someone's lawn.
Key Deer are about the size of a German Shepard dog
Key Deer fawn
Fawn and buck, with antlers in velvet
 Always does my heart good to see deer, and seeing Key Deer is seeing the .

the Precious...

For lunch our group dropped in on a small diner, located kitty corner to the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge on Big Pine Key. While everyone else enjoyed a nice sit down lunch, I was off fumbling and fooling about in the Refuge Visitor Center. I got a stamps for my Blue Goose Passport book, a couple of t-shirts and, as I broke the bank, I was gifted with a free reusable Refuge satchel for toting my booty.
Best refuge toy section EVER!

Oh, and also had educational exhibits like the gator (top) and crock (bottom)

...got 'nuff meringue there Butch?
Now a bit ago I mentioned the second thing one looks forward to when visiting the Keys. The first one is, almost needless to say, Key Lime Pie.

In Key West I had a 'so-so' slice of pie at one of our Key West suppers, but it was mostly melange and though tasty, for me it just wasn't quite the real deal. One of us asked a waitress where we could get a really good slice of pie and she told us 'real deal' could be found in a different, but delightful form, on our drive north.

I was worried we might shoot past the pie location without seeing it, but as you can tell below, no way one zips past this confection of a building without noticing it.

Best Junk food E-vah! 
And there inside 'Key Largo Chocolates' were enough sweets to make your teeth spontaneously develop cavities...

Then HUZZAH! We found what we looked for - FROZEN, chocolate dipped key lime pie-on-a-stick! OHMYGAWD, OHMYGAWD, talk about delish. This frozen confection was totally worth the week long wait.


Additional view of the lusciousness that is frozen chocolate dipped key lime pie...
Following our frozen treats, we finally settled into the long drive back north to Miami, but there was one last treat to look forward to, that ran no risk of exceeding one's calorie limit for the day. Larry drove us over to a Miami area bridge where Caribbean Cave Swallows were keeping house... keeping nest. The Cave Swallows weren't lifers for any of us, but I was itching to get some kind of photos for the species. You can see below my shots are all a fuzzy, because I still haven't taken the time to learn in part, any of my 'fancy schmansy' camera's abilities, e.g., to increase the depth of field when shooting fast moving bullets on the wing. Ugh! Must learn to do so for my next pelagic trip, I mean having to learn this after a b'jillion years of field photography is, one must admit, a bit ridiculous.
Cave Swallow shoot past at speed of sound birdy
Note that lovely chestnut rump
My best-of-day Cave Swallow shot 
So mid-afternoon, my week long 'clean-up' trip for seeing the Florida birds I'd missed finding on my own via Larry Manfredi's Ultimate South Florida Tour ended. I totally recommend Larry's tours to any birder. All week long, under his care, I felt like Princess Claire. In the late afternoon, Larry dropped me off at a hotel I'd booked myself into during the afternoon, on line, on the fly.  While we drove there I mentally tallied up my trip lifers. I thought at first that I'd reached 650 on my ABA life list but after checking what birds are 'countable' the final tally was 648, But hey - make NO mistake about it, I am chuffed! Just for brag-ies, here's my list of lifer birds tallied up for me this past week - not to forget numerous non-lifer birds and other fauna I enjoyed all week. I'd celebrate a 'high-five' with you over any one of these feathery bits of awesomeness.

Common Myna                   Dusky Seaside Sparrow         Mangrove Cuckoo
Black-Whiskered Vireo       Monk Parakeet                      Spot-breasted Oriole
Egyptian Goose                   Nanday Parakeet                   Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Gray-headed Swamphen     Smooth-billed Ani                 Bachman's Sparrow
Short-tailed Hawk               Gray-cheeked Thrush            Antillean Nighthawk
Muscovy Duck

Key West Bird Fest

Trio of White-crowned Pigeons in Key West
Well nearly a blue sky!
Double fudge dagnabbit, today was the final day of the South Florida tour! To begin the day as we headed out to breakfast, Larry halted the van, allowing photography of  White-crowned pigeons against a spectacularly clear, blue sky.
Oh, there'd been other chances for pix of White-crowns but not so close or with such a good setting. White-crowns are so regal looking - for pigeons anyway.

We made a short stop at the Key West Wildlife Center where injured critters find health care and solace. We ran across far more convalescing critters than wild birds there. I did enjoy the chance to get up front and personal with a small flock of juvenile White Ibis.

We then returned to Fort Zachary Taylor Park for a long morning walk on the look-out for interesting birds and hopefully a few vagrant birds. The park held quite a number of warblers.

Cape May Warbler
Tennessee Warbler with caterpillar snack
Black and White Warbler
male Blackpoll Warbler
male Chestnut-sided Warbler

While roaming around in the shrubbery what we hoped was a Connecticut Warbler was heard. I was really praying for that one to pan out, but the energetic songster was a pretty little Northern Waterthrush.
Trilling Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush no longer pretending to be a Connecticut Warbler
Really, seeing so many different warblers in one morning is something I used to dream about when I was a kid, so I can't emphasis how happy those little feathered flutterbys make me. There were loads of other bird types about too.
Magnificent Frigatebird
Green Heron up a tree
I could post another dozen birds we saw at Zachary Taylor, but I'll cut you a break, and just show you some of the humans roaming the park.
Steve, Marian and Larry posing for me at Zachary Taylor
Oh, and before leaving Zachary Taylor, I ought to show at least a bit of the park that doesn't include birdies.  The park surrounds the actual Fort Zachary Taylor. Scrambling around my photographs it was hard to come up with a good view of the fort, but here's the best I've got. The first view below was taken through a screen of saplings, and across the greenish looking moat. I was slightly distracted by birds, can you tell?
A view of a Fort Zachary Taylor wall
Only slightly better view of Fort Zachary Taylor
The fort is just to the right of this photo (with cruise ship in distance)
This spot complete with canon balls is located inside the fort which I never went into
The Fort can be toured, but we were there for the birdies so that's what we stuck to. Just to show I'm not immune to other 'pretty things' however, here are two non-bird beings.
Cassius Blue Butterfly
Zebra Longwing Butterfly
Zachary Taylor State Park was by no means the end of my last day in Florida, but I'll save the rest for another post. You've seen enough winged beings for just now.