Sunday, May 31, 2009

A New Life Bird??

Everyone knows I laugh easily (Susan calls me Tickle-Me-Elmo)...but this email had tears coming out of my eyes! It can be hard when none of your friends or family are birders. They don't understand the excitement of seeing a new bird or the satisfaction of stalking and identifying a bird. So my bird-habit is often the butt of family and friend jokes. It is all in good fun and I love a good belly laugh.

My uncle (who kindly invited me to spend a few days with him in West Virginia after the New River Festival), recently sent me an email:

"We were at the cabin for the long holiday weekend when we saw a bird that was smaller than a chicken. I said it could be a Cornish Hen, but I wanted to check with you and see if we were in their range".

A Cornish Hen? That would have been a lifer for me.

Hee, hee, hee....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Yard Sale-ing

The SUV, loaded to the toppy top with goodies acquired at one sale.

Warm sunny Saturdays in May are meant for two things - birding (natch!) and yard sale-ing. Last weekend, two friends and I planned our attack on area yard sales. Our strategy included meeting early (6:30am- which is not early if you are a birder!), scouring the local Penny Power for area sales and plotting our route in the GPS. Perhaps one in fifty yard sales turns out to be unbelievably rich with quality items at cheap prices. This Saturday, we hit one of those sales.

Another view of the inside of the car, loaded with stuff.

Advertised in our Penny Power as being in an "upscale neighborhood" it had us scoffing at the implied (or explicit) snobbery. We were one of the first ones there and could not believe our eyes. Held on the lawn of a McMansion, the goods spread out were top quality and with incredibly low prices. We started stocking up.

My job was to guard the ever growing pile of stuff we wanted to buy from the other shoppers. Sometimes things can get rough, you know!

I spent $24 and came away with an Italian wooden salad bowl set, a floor lamp, two framed prints, two picture frames, a silver wine bucket, an insulated wine bottle/ picnic tote and a margarita set with pitcher and 8 glasses. My friends bought similar treasures including solid oak breakfast bar swivel stool/chairs for $3 each (I was so swept up in the spirit of buying that I almost bought those myself - but I don't have a breakfast bar!).

This is my friend Jody checking out the hula hoop before buying it (for $1). The hoop is weighted heavier than usual hoops so that it can be used for aerobic exercise. Jody got bruises on her hips from it, but bought it anyway! My other friend, Kathy watches as does the house owner.

Packing all our goodies into the SUV was quite a feat. Here I am in the backseat wearing the lampshade from my lamp so it doesn't get crushed and getting pushed around by the hula hoop.

After unloading, we travelled to other sales, but none lived up to the McMansion sale and we returned in the afternoon to see if there were new goodies put out for sale. Then it was off to Doylestown for lunch and a stroll through the used book store.

All in all, a very, very good day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cat People vs Dog People

I have always been a cat person. My brothers tell me that if I adopt again, they will hold an intervention. I will be known in my old age as Crazy Cat Lady.

But this weekend, I met Dusty, a 10-week old golden lab who belongs to my friend Jody and her family.

This sweet face could turn me into a dog person.

All he wants is a stable home and leadership.

And in return, he will give years of loyalty, love and joy.

He almost made me a dog person. Almost.

There is no happy quite like puppeh happy...

My Life With Cows, Too

I moved to the "country" three years ago after growing up in the heart of Philadelphia. All of my friends and most of my family are city-people. They love the dynamics, the crowds, the buildings, the culture. But 10 years ago, I couldn't wait to leave the city. I hated the cement, the exhaust, the noise, the lack of nature and green and peace and wildlife. So when the company I work for offered me a position in upper Bucks County, PA, I jumped. I moved to a farming community about seven miles from work. Close enough to retail outlets to make life convenient, but no crowds, lots of open space, farms, no streetlights or traffic on my street......and cows out my bedroom window.

I live next door to a dairy farm (which by the way, produces delicious milk). During the winter the cows stay in the barns or close to the barns which are 1/2 mile away, so I only see them when I go to the tiny store on the farm to buy milk, eggs and ice cream. But once warm spring weather comes, they walk the length of the pasture each morning aroud 6am and end up outside my house. I love to watch them amble, udders full and swinging, arriving at the electric fence where they munch grass and lie in the shade. When the calves are born they start accompanying their mothers on this morning stroll. They lie together under the shade of a tree while moms keep close eyes on them.

So the inconvenience of having to drive 60 miles roundtrip to visit family and friends can be annoying, but on mornings like this, when the birds are singing and the cows are outside the window, 60 miles seems like a small price to pay.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ahhh - the Life of Winston

It's been a rough week. Getting sick, trips to the doctor and the hospital, family issues, craziness at work. Anyway, all will work out eventually and there are no serious aftereffects, but the stress can get to me, especially first thing in the morning when I have to drag myself out of bed at an ungodly hour to go to work in the dark.

Both of my cats sleep on the bed with me at some points throughout the night, but Winston is the one who usually stays through all my tossing and turning. Sophie gives up after a couple of hours and huffs off in a tizzy to sleep in the cat bed in the living room.

A little kitty background: Winston has always been more of a mama's boy. When he was 8 weeks old he must have missed his mother and liked to nurse on my earlobe, wrist, neck or anything else he could dig his tiny, needle-sharp teeth into. He eventually grew out of that (thank God!). His mother is a barn cat who lives across the street and wanders into my yard occasionally. Winston and Sophie are indoor cats (as a responsible birder, how could they be otherwise?), so they sit in the kitchen window, intently watching Winston's birth mother in the yard, but I don't think either Winston or his mother recognize each other. Sophie came to me the same week as Winston, but from another family. So while I consider them brother and sister, they are not related - just adopted into the Russell household.

Back to my jealousy over the Life of Winston. I woke up one morning last week and dragged myself into the shower. I usually don't make the bed until after I am dressed for work. So when I came out of the shower into the bedroom, this is what awaited me....

What? What's so funny? Why are you laughing?

Yes, I WAS sleeping. Please stop bothering me and turn out the light.

No, you can't make the bed. Can't you see I am using this comforter? Aren't you going to be late for work, Mama? Please bring kitty treats home tonite. You keep forgetting and I am tired of reminding you.

To head off the inevitable sibling rivalry, here are pictures of Sophie for equal emphasis:

Mommy, I want to talk to you about Winston. He is hogging the catnip and eating all the treats. I thought I was your favorite...

I want a kiss Mommy. Please put that silly black box with the annoying light flasher away.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Taking Bird Pictures is Hard...

Spring Babies

Canada geese can be loud, obnoxious and messy, especially if they inhabit your property. But their babies are soooooo cute. This proud family lives two doors down from my house and I drive by on the way to and from work. The property comes with a convenient pond making it a perfect habitat for them. I tried getting out of the car to get better pictures, but mom and dad would herd the three youngsters away from the fence and out of camera range. So I took these pictures out of the window of my car. It is fun watching these little guys (and gals?) grow up. Check out mom and dad giving me the stinkeye...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Things I Learned in West Virginia

I learned lots of useful things during my trip to New River Festival in Fayette county West Virginia and the following two days in Renick at my cousin's cabin. Here are just a few...

1.) Wildflowers are beautiful, interesting and as challenging as birds to id. This is a wakerobin trillium - one of the prettiest.

2.) Cows give a lot of attitude. Check out the mug on this cutie. I got the hairy eyeball when I called him "Hamburger".

3.) You can increase your hearing when you cup your hands around your ears and open your mouth. It also makes your birding buddies laugh at you. I don't know why....

4.) I don't like snakes. No paralyzing phobias, but I wouldn't want to touch one or have one touch me. This black rat snake is on my cousin's property in Renick.
5.) The Greenbriar Trail tunnel is pitch black even at the height of the day. But the birding just outside both sides of the tunnel is amazing.

6.) McCormick's Smokehouse pepper tastes good on everything!

7.) A warm puppeh feels good anytime.

8.) Nothing ruins a good day of birding more than having to stop and tie your shoes over and over again. Double knots that get wet and muddy in the rain are difficult to undo. Thanks for showing me a new way to tie my shoes and keep them tied, Uncle Barry.
But most important of all, I learned that friends make a good day better.

It Could Have Been Much, Much Worse

The recent flash flooding in West Virginia made me grateful that while we were at the New River Festival, we only had to deal with occasional rain. We may have complained about the inconvenience (if not out loud, we were complaining on the inside), but we didn't lose our homes, our loved ones or have to deal with the immense loss of property and/or livelihood that residents of six West Virginia counties are now dealing with.
The Washington Post said "Mingo County was hardest hit by flooding, after downpours dumped several inches of rain Friday and Saturday. It had about 300 structures destroyed, 1,000 with major damage and 2,000 with minor damage. Wyoming County had 150 structures with major damage. Boone, Logan, McDowell and Raleigh counties were also under the state of emergency."
The New River festival was held in adjacent Fayette county. I was lucky to have met such wonderful people, spent time with such beautiful birds and visited such a magnificent place. Now my thoughts and prayers are with the residents of West Virginia as they struggle to recover from this flood.
Map courtesy of

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We Interrupt New River Posting to say...

Happy Mother's Day to the best mom in the world!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Counting Birds and Friends

Wakerobin trillium (photo by Tim Ryan)

New River was amazing in so many ways. First and foremost, I attended the festival for the birds. It is my goal to get to 200 life birds this year (before attending the festival, my ABA life list was 178). Living in eastern PA, I already have a lot of warblers on my list, but there were a few that were target birds for me - cerulean and chestnut-sided. I actually need to concentrate more on shore birds to get those numbers up and New River was not really the place for shore birds!

Secondly, I was attending the festival for the Flock. I met some of the Flock at the Cape May, NJ Autumn Migration Festival last year. After "lurking" on their blogs for over a year, I finally met them in person and they welcomed me with open arms. Now I am a full-fledged Flock member. But a lot of the Flock were new to me:

Jeff from Jeff Gordon
Bill from Bill of the Birds and
Julie from Julie Zickefoose

Then there were friends that were not Flockers - Geoff Heeter, Dave Pollard, Keith Richardson, Connie Toops and my hotel next door neighbors and breakfast-at-Burnwood buddies, Dave and Kristi (thanks for pointing me in the direction of the good coffee!).

I don't know what was more exciting - the life birds or the life friends. Sharing a love of birds and nature brought us close online but being such caring and warm people made for easy laughter and true affection.

But back to the birds. I saw 12 life birds on this trip. Ten at the Festival and another two at the cabin in Renick.
Yellow-throated vireo, yello-throated warbler, Northern waterthrush, Louisiana waterthrush, black-throated green warbler, Canada warbler, bobolink, ruffed grouse and chestnut-sided warbler and Swainson's thrush were my Festival birds. American woodcock and yellow-bellied sapsucker were my Renick birds. On the Greenbriar River trail I also think I saw a Swainson's warbler and magnolia warbler, but without a positive ID, I can't count them.

My two days in Renick were restful and delightful. I love spending time with my uncle and his daughter (both from Maryland) who bought 80 acres on a mountain in WV ten years ago and built a beautiful vacation cabin. It is a misnomer to call it a simple cabin - it's a gorgeous log home with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a field stone chimney with a woodburning stove, wraparound deck with a porch swing, copper trimmed kitchen and homemade quilts on the homemade wood beds. The home is decorated with animal heads, antlers and skins from my uncle's successful hunting trips (he makes his own bows and arrows!). It's not as yucky as it sounds. I have gotten 10 life birds on their property alone (including these last two) and they humor me with long walks in the rain in the Monongahela Forest and Greenbriar River trail.

Handcarved wood bed with Christy's hand-stitched quilt.

Barry and Christy on the Greenbriar River Trail.
They are interested in wildflowers and trees the way I am interested in birds. They taught me much about the flowers we saw so now I can ID some of them myself. Marsh marigold, trillium (all kinds), star chickweed, serviceberry, squirrel corn (my favorite of all the flowers we saw), may apple, hobblebush, hemlock and red spruce, swamp buttercup, dwarf bearded iris, wild geranium, golden ragwort, yellow buckeye (my favorite tree), Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose and wild ramps. As a chef, the ramps and the morels on their property were more interesting to me than the flowers.
But the birds rule all! My life list is now up to 190. Ten more to go this year.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New River Festival - Sampler #2

After another two hours of sorting, editing and trying to make sense of the pictures from New River, I thought I would post a random bunch of some of my favorite moments from the trip. No cohesive subject to this post. Just fun.

One of our guides, Keith Richardson, listening intently for warblers. Probably for the

Susan giving the camera some model-like attitude in the bobolink field. Ain't she purty?

Checking out the wing wear and tear on a male goldfinch before banding him.

Beverly the Stone(d) Chicken (and Flock mascot) at the Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville. She had a bit too much to drink that night, but she has recovered.

The inimitable Jeff Gordon intently watching the banding of a chipping sparrow.

Connie Toops, another of our fabulous guides, putting a flat-topped coral fungus back where she gathered it. After we all had a good look and a learning experience, Connie released this fungus back into the wild as all good nature-nuturers would.

So long until next year. True friends (Susan and Mary in this picture) never say goodbye, only so long.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New River Festival - Picture Sampler

Although I posted twice while at the New River Festival, I spent the better part of today going through downloaded pictures, handwritten notes, smudgy from the deluge of biblical proportions all week long, and the postings of my Blog Family. Posts about birds and friends are stewing in my mind. I want to give posts the time and effort they deserve since the Festival gave so much to me. So in the meantime, here are some pictures- just a sampling of the 200+ photos I took in West Virginia.

After the Festival, I traveled to my uncle and cousin's vacation cabin in Renick, WV to spend another 2 days doing some hardcore birding (okay, a bit of relaxing, too!). I learned a lot about trees and wildflowers while I was there, so I will post those pictures soon.

Looking in vain for the f***ing Swainson's warbler. Damn bird. Good people.

Keith Richardson, tour guide extraordinaire, imitating Lynn's look of joy as she gets another lifer.

Susan and Dick watching a millipede crawl up Keith's hand. When the rain makes looking skywards tough, birders look to the ground for insects and flowers. We are an adaptable bunch.

Two members of the Flock, Susan and Lynn, posing in front of General Lee's tree. We were laughing so hard, I never read the sign to learn the historical significance of the tree. Oh well.

Listening for the bobolinks in the meadow. Amazing field trip and one of the best experiences of the entire festival.

Susan and Chet Baker. What a bundle of warm puppeh love (I'm talking about Chet, not Susan - she's a bundle of love of a totally different kind - but they both give great hugs!).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Friends and Birds

scenic overlook at Smokey's on the Gorge

New River Festival couldn't have been more perfect. Well, we could have done without the week of non-stop rain. But it was a great opportunity to meet friends (old and new) and see lots and lots of birds. I added nine life birds to my list:

Northern waterthrush

Louisiana waterthrush

Swainson's thrush

Yellow throated warbler

Chestnut sided warbler (this one made me cry - so beautiful and I had looked for it for three years - a special shout out to Keith who made it his mission to get me on this bird. Thanks, Keith! You are da' man.)

Bobolink (with a song like R2-D2 - unforgettable)

Yellow throated vireo

Black throated green warbler

Ruffed grouse

I did not see my target bird - Cerulean warbler. But I have a few more days visiting relatives in West Virginia, so I am hopeful.

We had lots of laughs - too many to post now. I will spread that out over the next few weeks.

Susan and Laura hamming it up for the camera.

I learned quite a bit thanks to our wonderful guides- Jeff Gordon, Julie Zickefoose, Keith Richardson, and Connie Toops. This was the first time I met Julie Z. in person although I have been reading her blog for a couple of years. On one field trip, she borrowed my bandana to dry the rain off her camera. I told her I would never wash it again. Yes, I am a starstruck bird groupie- Pete Dunne and Julie Zickefoose: my heroes.