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Baltimore by the Sea

Thursday, November 16, 2017


William against the Chicago skyline
♪Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold, but the piano's hot
It's just a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl
And all...that...jazz♪ 

What I'm trying to say with that probably inappropriate opening is we're in Chicago! The city, not the musical. We arrived yesterday, shortly before sundown. We reserved an Air BnB in a nice quiet neighborhood, an old fashioned 'walk up'. We have a flat for two nights. On arriving we trotted right back out to a nice dinner at The Handlebar, a  cute restaurant only a block from our flat.

But I'll back up a little. By coincidence (really, it was coincidence - of a sort) our first stop on arriving was the Chicago Field Museum. I wanted to go in, at least for a quick look. I adore natural history museums.

William stayed in the car and I jumped out for quick look in the Musuem
The tantalizing entrance to the museum - dead ahead!
I got a quick peek at the massive main hall but the museum was closed to the public in readying for a special event, a nighttime gala.
My speedy peek
The museum was closed for the evening, but seeing how forlorn that made me, the following day, William indulged me. We spent the day at the museum. Yet another item of my bucket list fulfilled!
William syncs with his new, powerful Spirit Animal
We toured the Egyptian exhibits

We had breakfast in the Museum's cafe, and there we noticed a few dino souvenirs - mugs, beer, etc.,  that started me telling William about the infamous T-Rex, Sue. A museum docent heard me and said, "Sue? Sue's here, just over there. I looked up and HOLY CRAP, - SUE!

Seeing the massive T-Rex Sue, right there in front of me was dumbfounding. I never had a bucket list wish to see Sue as I didn't even know it was possible that to see her! Yet, there she was, in all her magnificent massive bony-ness - the best preserved & most complete T-rex on earth.
SUE the T-Rex
The Field Museum was on my bucket as it is the final resting place of the man-eating Lions of the Tsavo.  I finally got to go eye to amber scary eye with the pair of murderous brothers. *shivers!*
The Ghost and the Darkness
The lions in the movie were named, 'Bongo and Caeser'. Not as mysterious or awe inspiring as 'Ghost and Darkness' huh?
Nice kitty, murderous kitty...

The Man-eaters were maneless but they can grow manes - it entirely depends on the temperatures where they live. I'm not lion, that's a-mane-zing!

The museum has .002 percent of it's b'zillion objects de interest on display and we saw perhaps .001% of those.
Ancient Chinese textiles

Chinese Masks & Puppets
and in artful forms such as these carved frogs made of African Anyolite

I love looking at clothing from Aboriginals of all nations - so pretty...
Oh, and the shoes
Whew! There were some long corridors to trek
There was an honest-to-gosh live Bigfoot in the Redwoods exhibit
You KNOW we had to hit the gift shop, though I didn't do much $$ damage.
There were several BIG WAYS to empty one's coffers there...

I regret passing over the T-Rex & Wild Cat Eyeball pops...
I am indulging in some back handed bragging when I say we so enjoyed ourselves, and were so reluctant to leave, that we ended up being gently escorted to the exit by a friendly museum guard. If we could have slipped the guard for a full night in a museum, we may well have done so - except...there are further plans for our last night in Chicago.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Baltimore to California or BUST!

After leaving Louisiana, I spent a pleasant week at the home of my nephew Kirk & his family. He, Nicole and the kids are in the midst of packing up to leave their home to move to a brand new townhouse not very far from their current home. That means it was doubly wonderful they consented to my very-nearly-unannounced visit.

My nephew William has, for ages, requested a coast to coast trip with me. Am flattered that he thinks I could be fun for days & days in a row. Thus, despite Fall not being an optimum time for a road trip & since I was on the east coast & needed transport to the west coast, now seems as good a time as any to make it happen. When William arrived at Kirk's house, we spent a whole ten or twelve minutes planning our coast to coast drive. We soon nabbed a rental SUV and we hit the road Jack!

I have long been interested in visiting Gettysburg National Historic Park so that was our first main visit on our trip.

The first stop was the Pennsylvania Monument. Read that the angel at the top of this ode to Pennsylvania union troops was cast from a melted civil war cannon.

The individual plaques lining the base, show the roster of each of PA's infantry & regiments.

View from the stairwell, over Lincoln's head
One of the pillars contains a stairwell that leads visitors to the top of the monument, at the base of the upper dome.
Cool spiral stairwell
At the top of the stairs, a mysterious, orb emitting spectre
 that answers to the name of 'Willikins'
Gettysburg seen from top of the Pennsylvania Monument
Ditto on the view
After touring the monument we gave equal time to the rest of the park. The entire time I could hear Ashokan Farewell playing in my noggin. Remember that tune from Ken Burn's 'The Civil War'?

Statues, monuments and war memorials are scattered around the grounds. Solid memoires meant to give meaning to the countless deaths of men & women on both sides during the civil war. 
tired & worn fencing give the field 

Drums & knapsacks to this ode to Pennsylvania's 106th infantry
After a long slow drive through the battlefield & its numerous monuments, we hit the visitor center.
A tiny view inside the spacious visitor center
 Once there, we looked at the displays of which there were a zillion.
A Civil War encampment under glass
Civil War era arms
Yay! Calvary gear like grandpappy had
We then got tickets to the Cylorama. Cycloramas were the Disneylands of the 1800s. Here's a description:

These massive, oil-on-canvas paintings were displayed in special auditoriums and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds sometimes featuring trees, grasses, fences and even life-sized figures. The result was a three-dimensional effect that surrounded viewers who stood on a central platform, literally placing them in the center of the great historic scene

So we got to experience the Cyclorama which in effect a visit to another century. Cool!

We heard a description of the battles, and a live talk about the artist that painted the massive circular cirular painting. Here are some close looks.

And sometime after dark, we finally approached Ohio.
For your viewing frustration enjoyment, here are a lot of incidental iPhone 'live picture' vids pieced together a super short vid. You're welcome!
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the visitor center's cafe, then we were off to Ohio. 
Interesting brickwork on a Pennsylvania barn.

After dark, we finally approached Ohio...

Where the local Highway patrol stopped us and gave William a $175 plus speeding ticket, although our rental car speedometer indicated we were NOT speeding. That wasn't very welcoming and put rather a damper on the end of our first day on the road.

Bummed, but hopeful for the rest of our journeys, we stayed overnight in Twinsburg, Ohio. Twinsburg is famous for its annual Twins Day Festival. In my book that falls short of a birding festival but interesting nevertheless.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

How Louisiana Kicked My $%#@

Who got deh prettiest eyes in deh swamp?
That's what it felt like out there in the southern piney woods. Felt like I was slogging along in the Long-needled piney woods of DEATH. That's how hot, how humid the air was. I could barely take in my breath, and my feet felt weighted down with see-ment overshoes.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker shot taken at whopping 1296 mm 

But enough with the bitchin' already. This was the Piney Woods segment of two days of touring I'd signed up & paid for months ago. We started in the Kisatchie National Forest. We watched a Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the tippy top of a pine.

Long-Needled Pines of DEATH
There were also nuthatches, a few warblers and the larger, less rare, Red-fronted Woodpeckers. Did I care? Not one wit. When I'm hot and frustrated by the humidity someone could trot out a live Madagascar Dodo and I wouldn't bother to lift my head and see it.
Tromping for Henslow's
The group was searching for sparrows here. By marching along in the tall grasses, the sparrows fly up and away, landing a few hundred feet along. A couple of Bachman's Sparrows were flushed and the group got a great look at one. I even managed to see it, but not photograph it amid the brambles.

Bachman's Sparrow - south Florida

My lifer Bachman's Sparrow was in south Florida piney woods in 2014. It wasn't humid when I saw the Bachman's Sparrow. There, the tall grasses gave me zero problems.

Henslow's Sparrow 

Today it could be argued there were Bachman's a plenty, but not a one Henslow's Sparrows to be seen. I was sooo... disappointed, though honestly, I was so exhausted from just attempting to walk in the piney woods, that had one showed itself, I'd likely not had the energy to walk over to see it. Stupid heat. Stupid humidity.

The tour's second stop of the day was a park with a large lake and a children's play area. The group tromped off to circumvent the lake. I had no energy for such. With great disappointment and a sour face to match, I opted to stay put, sitting on a shaded bench. Occasionally I could view the group through spaces in the trees. There was another tour participant, a tall man, who had the same heat/humidity issues as myself. Bearing equally sour faces, we chatted amiably and watched the others, our hearts bearing great goo-gobbers of disappointment. Stupid Louisiana. Stupid heat. Stupid, stupid humidity.
A view of the group, across the lake, trees reflected on the pond.
By the time the group returned from their hike around the little lake, I had given up. I had zero energy to expend in such - for me - inhospitable conditions. I drove back to Jennings and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. I was happy that I'd wisely opted to not share a ride with anyone because if I had done so, my day would have been spent coughing up feeble excuses at every birding stop. 'Oh, no, I'll just stay here by the cars and accumulate a fine layer of silt and try not to cry - much."

It got worse. Next morning, Sunday I woke, and the weather hadn't really changed much. I decided eff the Coastal Tour I'd also signed up & paid for. I would drive to Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. Had an exciting 'WHERE THE EFF IS THERE A BATHROOM IN THIS MOFFER FRAKKIN' STATE!' episode mid morning with a very-nearly-acceptable outcome we will not go into here. *harumph...*

I was pleased to see the wildlife drive allowed no getting out of one's vehicle, which meant I could be legally as lazy as a cooter on a log without feeling guilty about it.

Cooter lazin' without the benefit of a log
Saw oodles of swamp birds. Watched a Little Blue Heron hunting & wolfing down crayfish after crayfish.

Juvie Little Blue Herons look like a whole 'nuther species, with snowy white feathers.
Juvenile Little Blue Heron
And this 'snowy' bird is not a Juvie Little Blue Heron, it's a Snowy Egret
That is sort of confusing - more-so for us though. The birds 'get it'
The best birdie of the day for me was a Gull-billed Tern. Haven't seen one in decades.
Gull-billed Tern taking a froggie on a joy ride
There were loads and loads and loads of gaitors everywhere. I remember back to my childhood when gaitors were an endangered species. Too many back then, were being turned into shoes, belts and purses.
Sunbathing Alligator
Fell asleep half in, half out of swampy bed

After lolling about in my car, taking pics, I left the refuge, headed for New Orleans. Along the way I saw the birds which are would be boring if I weren't a birder. They're Neotropical Cormorants and I was excited to get to see them close at hand rather than the way I've normally seen them, always far off.
Neotropic Cormorants
Doesn't this bird have the most amazing head & turquoise eye?
When I was south, bordering the gulf coast, I skidded to a near haut on the highway to avoid hitting a 3 foot alligator tot, that decided to cross both lanes of the road. Wish there had been time for a photo, but there were speeding cars fast approaching my rear bumper so had to move along sharpish like.

I found, but passed by the Rockefeller National Wildlife Refuge, because it seemed all work buildings and no wildlife access.

It was quite dark by the time I made it to my hotel in New Orleans. Tomorrow I fly north to Baltimore.