Thursday, April 30, 2009

New River - Finally!

Arrived at New River Birding and Nature Festival yesterday afternoon after an 8-hour drive through pouring rain. Spent the dinner hour(s) with members of The Flock - catching up, eating, listening to a birdsong presentation by Wil Hershberger, taking pictures and laughing. I haven't laughed so hard in months. I met lots of new Flock members to add to ny Bloggy Life List. I will talk more about that in later posts.

This morning at 6am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a good night's sleep, I headed over to Opossum Creek Retreat for my first "field trip" - Birding by Butt. Now that's my kind of birding. Sitting on the porch, sipping coffee and watching the birds fly in. There was a nice long walk through the woods once the rain let up. And we watched Bill Hilton, Jr. of Operation Rubythroat (headquartered in South Carolina) trap and band hummingbirds. He put teeny, tiny bands on teeny, tiny hummingbird legs. Quite impressive.

In the mist nets he caught goldfinches, indigo bunting, chipping sparrow and most impressively, a palm warbler. Here are male (left) and female (right) goldfinches caught at the same time and ready for banding.

After banding them all, he released them and I got to hold and release a female goldfinch. That's a first for me - holding a live, wild bird in my hand. She was so tiny, so intense, so beautiful. It was a special, special moment that I will never forget. Bill says we shouldn't get emotionally attached to wild birds - too late! I'm attached.

Me and the female goldfinch sharing a moment before her release. Look at the goofy grin on my face!

Birding was good for my first day and in the rain - 38 species and 3 life birds (in bold):

Blue gray gnatcatchers (on the nest)
Northern cardinal
Eastern phoebe
Rubythroated hummingbird
Hooded warbler
Black and white warbler
Black throated blue warbler
Scarlet tanager
Eastern towhee
Brown-headed cowbird
American robin
Northern mockingbird
Eastern bluebird
Pileated woodpecker
American goldfinch
Northern parula
Chipping sparrow
White breasted nuthatch
Yellow throated vireo
Wood thrush
Pine siskin
Tufted titmouse
Hermit thrush
American crow
Red eyed vireo
Mourning dove
Palm warbler
Blue jay
Red shouldered hawk
Indigo bunting
Downy woodpecker
Yellow rumped warbler
Carolina wren
Turkey vulture
Black vulture
Swainson's thrush
Yellow throated warbler

More tomorrow - plus more pictures!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Letting Go

When I am gone, release me, let me go.
I have so many things to see and do,

You mustn't tie yourself to me with too many tears,
But be thankful we had so many good years.

I gave you my love, and you can only guess
How much you've given me in happiness.

I thank you for the love that you have shown,
But now it is time I traveled on alone.

So grieve for me a while, if grieve you must
Then let your grief be comforted by trust
That it is only for a while that we must part,
So treasure the memories within your heart.

I won't be far away for life goes on.
And if you need me, call and I will come.

Though you can't see or touch me, I will be near
And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear
My love all around you soft and clear.
Author Unknown

I'll miss you, dear friend. I'm glad your passing was quick and peaceful, but I was not ready to lose you.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Countdown to New River Festival

Now I'm getting nervous. New River Birding and Nature Festival is a few short days away! As Susan says, "Is anybody ready to pee their pants yet?". I have been incredibly busy with work (budget season with a cantankerous CFO) and family obligations (hosting Easter weekend for 20 people) that I didn't see New River sneaking up on me.

Suddenly I have a to-do list a mile long to get ready for my 8-hour drive and my week with the Flock in West Virginia. Get the oil in the car changed; buy bug spray and sunscreen; assemble electronics (GPS, laptop, cell phone and camera) along with all their assorted chargers; buy a West Virginia road atlas in case the GPS fails me; decide which bird books to bring; pack the Teaching Company CDs (European History and European Lives from 1715 to 1914 is my latest purchase) to make the car trip entertaining and informative (I hate long distance car travel); put bottles of water and the Freez-Pak in the freezer for the cooler in the car; buy snacks for the drive; check that the hotel has wi-fi; stock the house with frozen pizza, Gatorade and Mountain Dew for the housesitter who has a particularly monotonous diet; buy enough cat food, litter, suet and bird seed so the housesitter can take care of my animals; remember to buckle the stone chicken in the passenger seat so she can be the New River flock mascot (thanks Susan) and pray that I don't get stopped by a trooper on the way down. Explaining a cement chicken riding shotgun may be hard to do.

I have the 1/2 week package at New River, so I don't arrive until Wednesday evening and my first field trip, Birding by Butt (gotta love it!) is on Thursday morning. Then it is Cranberry Glades on Friday and High Country on Saturday. After checking out of the hotel on Sunday, I will be driving an hour or so to Renick, West Virginia, to spend two days with my uncle and cousin who built a vacation cabin there. I have done some pretty sweet birding on their property (7 life birds on my last visit), so I anticipate another two days of birding after my three days at the festival.

Mostly, I am nervous about meeting the rest of the Flock. I met Lynne, Kathi, Susan, Laura and Delia last fall in Cape May, NJ at the Autumn Migration Festival. I was a lurker on their blogs for almost two years and never had the nerve to comment or introduce myself. Now they have opened their arms and their huge, wonderful hearts to me and I feel like a freshman at a new high school, worried about fitting in. There will be other members of the Flock that I will be meeting for the first time, like Mary. Sweet, wonderful Mary who moves me to tears with her blog posts and gorgeous pictures.

So the tension builds as the trip approaches. Part of me is nervous but most of me is so damn excited I can hardly stand it! Lots to do, lots to look forward to...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Morning Birding

Carpenter's Woods in the heart of Philadelphia is a hidden treasure of warblers, songbirds, thrushes, meadow, deciduous forest and even a babbling brook. I spent three hours there this morning with my bestest friend, Kathy, showing her the joys of early morning birding. I think she sometimes humors my hobby, but she got excited about her first Northern flicker, red bellied and hairy woodpeckers. It was a woodpecker kind of day. In the woods, I got sunburn on my face and my arms. My Irish heritage is showing. I will have to pack lots of sunscreen for West Virginia.

Today's sightings:

Turkey vulture (this one's for you, Lynne)
Northern flicker
hairy woodpecker
pine siskin (what are they still doing around here? They left my feeders weeks ago)
palm warbler (male and female)
yellow-rumped warbler (or as the birder we ran into on the trail said, "sharpie chow")
pine warbler (male and female)
American crow
hermit thrush
wood duck (perched in a tree. I have never seen them in trees before. This drake was gorgeous and kept his eye on us while whistling - a picture is below, but I couldn't zoom my pitiful camera any closer)
Northern cardinal
European starling
brown-headed cowbird
tufted titmouse
American robin
Carolina wren (also for you Lynne!)
red bellied woodpecker
broad-winged hawk
mourning dove

Birding was followed by a stop at a garage sale and then off to a neighborhood cafe for chai tea and blueberry almond coffeecake. All in all, not a bad day (except for the sunburn).

Wood duck drake perched in a tree.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stone Chicken

A few weeks ago I went to the Gap, PA Mud Sale - a huge auction in Lancaster County to benefit volunteer fire departments in the area. It is held once a year in early spring (hence the name - Mud Sale - trust me, it's muddy). Lots of Amish crafts, quilts, woodworking, furniture, tools, household goods, yard ornaments, horse drawn buggies (popular with the Amish. For me, not so much). And the food is amazing. Thick milkshakes, homemade cream filled donuts, buttered soft pretzels, hand cut french fries, homemade root beer and barbecue chicken that is the best chicken I have ever tasted.

This year, as I stood with my brothers, watching the lawn ornaments, birdhouses and other crafts go up for auction, I saw a chicken made of stone coming up for bid. I felt the urge and raised my auction number. What the heck was I going to do with a stone chicken? It was tense as one other woman was vying for the same chicken. But my final bid of $17.50 won. I was the proud owner of a 35 pound cement hen. I collected my prize and the lady next to me whispered that the three stone eggs still sitting on the bench behind the auctioneer should have gone with the chicken. I turned to my brothers and said I thought the eggs would be too tacky. They looked at me incredulously. The eggs? Tacky? What about the damn chicken I just bought?!

Oh well, tacky or not, she is part of my yard, sitting proudly under my oak tree where I can see her out the kitchen window or while sitting on the deck. The ruby red lilies I planted last year are coming up all around her. She will look quite pretty surrounded in red. I haven't named her yet. Still waiting to see what her personality is.

I think she's wondering where her eggs went.....

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Kitties

Happy Easter to all of you and your loved ones.
I will be at a Saturday family reunion at my brother's restaurant, cooking 20 pounds of roast lamb for 18 people on Sunday (we like leftovers!) and making brunch for family on Monday. A crazy busy weekend.
So I thought I would include some cleansing kitty pictures. These are my babies, Winston and Sophie. They are getting tiny Easter baskets with catnip toys (yes, they ARE spoiled!) on Sunday morning. Have a great holiday everyone!

Mom, Sophie's touching me! Make her stop.

No, I wasn't going to grab his tail, honest!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Birding Gear - It's What Makes Us Nerds

Everyone I know looks at me quizzically when I say that I am a birder. Birding is supposed to be the fastest growing hobby in the United States. A 2001 study by the United States Fish and Wildlife Association showed that there are more than 46 million birders in the U.S., more than the combined total of people who fish and hunt. Fifty-four percent of birders are female; 83% are over the age of 35; 93% are white; 60% are college-educated and more than 1/3 have annual incomes of $50,000 or more. Birders are responsible for $32 billion in retail sales of equipment (binoculars, scopes and cameras), clothing, journals, magazines, books, etc. So you'd think that we would get a little more respect, right?

Maybe it's because we often look like this:Here I am on my very first birding trip (see the smile? That's before the car sickness and the deer flies made me miserable!). Uncle Jim is teaching me how to use binoculars. He was worried about sunburn, so he lent me this hat. It worked like a charm. Kept me sunburn free, even though I looked quite silly. But you know what I remember about that hat? I saw my spark bird while wearing it. I saw a Prothonotary warbler and a painted bunting (two of my favorite birds) while wearing it. So it was a damn lucky hat.

Now, as I start assembling clothes and gear for my trip to New River, West Virginia, I realize that I will miss that hat. I wear baseball caps on birding trips all the time, but there was something special about that darn hat. :)

I just purchased a travel vest with lots of pockets
to keep all my birding supplies. I usually keep my field guide, notebook, pen, lens cleaner, cell phone (important when you are birding alone!), car keys, water bottle and insect repellent in a hunting satchel (Bob Allen rifle shell pouch that I got on sale in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart)that hangs from a strap around my waist. But I wanted to be a little more fashion-forward and not embarrass my bloggy friends! New hiking boots (I have been breaking them in for a month now), wool socks and a new rain/ windbreaker are all ready to go. Still need a rainhat (maybe it will be a lucky hat!). It's going to be a marvelous trip!

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Pennsylvania First

About 40 miles away from home last week, I was stopped at a traffic light near a gravel quarry. I like to scan the skies near quarries and see what's happening - birdwise.
Turkey vultures were soaring everywhere - as usual - but my eye lit on one in particular. Lo and behold - my first black vulture in Pennsylvania! I've seen them in North Carolina, Maryland and West Virginia, but not in my home state. Of course, I thought of Lynne right away. How jealous will she be that I was watching a dozen TVs and a BV right outside my car window?
I never understood the appeal of vultures, but they do look majestic - soaring and gliding effortlessly. Well, it got added to the PA list as soon as I got home. With no effort, just looking out a window, you never know what you will find. I guess one birder's "trash bird" is another birder's "treasure bird".
How to tell a black from a turkey vulture? The BVs have silver on wing tips only, while the TVs have silver extending from wingtip to the body. The BVs are smaller with stubbier tails. Seeing a BV flying with TVs made the size difference apparent. Up close, the BV has a black or grayish featherless head (ewwwww!), while the TV has a red featherless head (ewwwww!). Both eat carrion (the TVs exclusively, while the BVs are not as picky) and are necessary to keeping the natural order - acting as vacuum cleaners.

Black Vulture

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Back in Touch - For Better or Worse

I finally got my computer repaired. Yay! It is amazing how reliant we have become on technology - computers, iPods, PDAs, cell phones... I felt so out of touch in the past week without my computer.

I taught a food safety class last week and the entire 16-hour course was developed on PowerPoint. When I got to the class location, I hooked up the laptop, projector and thumb drive. First the USB port failed and I had to change laptops. Once I got the presentation downloaded from the thumbdrive, the projector failed. After 45 minutes of fumbling, I gave up and taught the entire two-day class without the crutch of PowerPoint. As nervous as I was, it worked out fine. Of course, the "Jeopardy" style game before the final exam could not be used (the PowerPoint presentation included great graphics, music and automatic scorekeeping!), but since I already had the prizes purchased and since the game is fun and a good review of the material, I went to Staples and bought foamboard, colored index cards, double-sided tape and Sharpie markers and spent two hours making an old-fashioned version of the Jeopardy game. The students loved it and I realized that technology is not the only way to get information across. Of course, without my computer, I couldn't blog and I can't believe it, but I missed it.