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Preview: Susan Gets Native

Susan Gets Native

"Spanking the Birder stereotype until it calls me Mama"

Updated: 2018-01-15T11:29:04.186-05:00


A tiny voice


I haven't posted anything here for nearly three years.

This blog used to be my daily journal, my far-reaching arms to hold close to my friends.  Facebook happened and stole my attention and my time.

A lot has happened.  Here's the list:

1.  I got a job and separated from my husband in the beginning of 2012.  I moved into the new RAPTOR facility.

2.  I got a divorce at the end of 2012.

3.  In between those events, I met someone.  His name is Mark.

4.  I struggled.  I tried.  I failed.  I tried again.  I always got up after being knocked down.

5.  I hated many aspects of my job.  I just kept at it.

6.  In 2014, I moved to Indiana, presumably to give myself a break.  That move just made everything more difficult.

7.  I struggled.  I tried.

8.  I started applying for jobs in Louisville.  Because that's where Mark is.

9.  In October 2015, I was offered a job with the Louisville Fire Department.

10.  I moved to Kentucky.

11.  I fell in love with my job.

12.  In December of 2015, we bought a house.

And here we are, 2016.

I lost something of myself in these years.  It's a part I could have used to great effect during the hard times.  That part that people love me for, that part that burns hot when I need protection from the storm that is life.

But as I look back and see that I never quit, even when it seemed that I was screwing up every day or making the wrong turns at every turn, I see something.  Maybe that part of me that I thought I lost isn't really lost.

Maybe the fire sometimes chooses to be a small voice saying,

"It's okay.  Stand up, dammit. You've got this."

Maybe that tiny voice is what got me through it.

This Last Year


On Father's Day, 2011, Geoff and I came to the conclusion that we didn't want to be married anymore.

We cried, we talked.  We asked ourselves, "What happens now?"

To make a very long story short, it came down to this.... I would move out and the girls would live with Geoff. (More on that in a minute).   RAPTOR was building a caretaker cabin at our new facility and I was offered the position of caretaker.  Unfortunately, the position of education director was taken from me at the same time.
Great.  Now what?  I needed a job.
After pestering the owner of our local Wild Birds Unlimited, I was hired.
The cabin was completed in February of 2012.  Eight months after we decided to divorce.  I thought at the time those eight months be the most stressful time of my life.
I was wrong.

The euphoric cloud of freedom I was initially floating on quickly plummeted to earth and I found myself thinking, "What have I done??"

The divorce became final in December, 2012.  It was anti-climactic, after all the drama of getting there.

This has been nothing like I thought it would be.  Sure, I'm now a free-wheeling single woman.  But that doesn't even begin to cover what I am.  I'm not really free.  I'm more trapped now than I was when I was married.  Pressures and stress and outright fear.  I never

Would I do it again?   Absolutely.
Would I do things differently?  Probably.
Have I learned from my experience?  Yes.  And no.

They say what does not kill you, makes you stronger.  I'm not dead yet, but am I stronger?  In some ways, I am.  I can look back at This Last Year and say, "I survived that.  I can do this."   But I feel a hardness in me...a sharp edge I didn't have before.  I'm jaded and it's hard or me to trust.  I've dated, and there's one man who stands above the rest.  But how good can I be for someone if I feel the way I do?    I don't know what will come of it, and I guess for now, that's okay.  I hate the thought of ever getting married again or even living with someone, and my body is prematurely shutting down the baby-making equipment, so what's left for someone who loves me?  I don't know yet.

Moving away from my children..... Hardest thing I've ever done.  I'm only two exits away and I see them everyday.  But I feel that some of the connections I had with them are gone.  Forever.  All I can do is hang tight to the ones we still have and do my damnedest to forge new ones.

This Last Year.  I've been ground under the heels of things I can't control and I still stagger to my feet.  I keep saying to myself, "This is going to get better.  I'm going to improve my life and when I get smacked down, I'm going to get up again.  And again.  And again."

And again.
Alis volat propriis.  She flies with her own wings.


Something awesome this way comes!


Spring migration.

Those words make me giddy. 
(Photo by Charley Eiseman)

Next week, I'm attending the Biggest Week in American Birding.  It's been too long since I got to experience the absolute wonder of Lake Erie's marshes and shore in May. 

I'll be blogging live from the festival,  (I'm an "Official Blogger", woohoo!) so stay tuned to this blog for all the news!

Harriers against the sunset


This past weekend I enjoyed my first OOS Winter Raptor Extravaganza at The Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio. History of the Wilds:(From The Wilds website)Around the world, habitats are being severely degraded and overexploited-forests are being clear-cut, wetlands are being drained, and land-use patterns are changing to accommodate suburban sprawl, agriculture, and mineral extraction. Nowhere is this more evident than in southeastern Ohio where forests were destroyed to accommodate agriculture, and agricultural areas were subsequently destroyed by extensive surface-mining for coal. While subsequent efforts at reclamation were largely successful at restoring ground cover, controlling erosion, and providing areas for recreational activity, questions remain as to the biological functionality of these areas. What appears to be “green and lush” to the casual observer, may instead be an area of decreased biological diversity, with assortments of invasive species, and may not be returning to a functional ecosystem. The landscape of the Wilds has undergone a series of major transformations, from the open surface mining to the reclaimed grasslands and now areas are being converted to healthy, high diversity meadows. The Wilds is home to a diverse list of raptors in the winter, and I had heard about this event for years and decided it was time to bundle up and subject myself to Arctic temperatures and howling wind for the sake of seeing so many birds of prey.Raptors seen this day:Northern HarrierAmerican KestrelMerlinRed-tailed HawkDark and light morph Rough-legged HawkGreat Horned OwlShort-eared Owl(And there were a bunch of songbirds around, too.  I was more interested in the birds of prey.)With very little narrative, here are some photos from the day.It was cold.Meeting point, in lower parking lot:It was around 20 degrees as we all convened, with a wind chill of "Holy crap it's cold!"Erik Bruder and other cold birders.Tricia West!  I was so happy to have her in our group.  For all of our Facebook banter, we have never birded together.Kathi!!!The view at Jeffrey PointSomeone left me a hood ornament while I was out pacing through a pine stand looking for Long-eared Owls.  The lower mandible of a six month old deer.  Thanks a bunch, guys!One of the highlights of the day was this:The Rhino Barn.  OMG.Tricia acted like she pets baby rhinos all the time.This was the Asian rhino...the ones with the prehensile lip.  And this one kissed me.  I loved it immensely.This mama rhino enjoyed having her ears scratched, and leaned against the rail to get closer. This was one of those moments in my life that I will never forget....and the back of a rhino's ear is softer than you would imagine.Ack!  Baby rhino!!I took very few bird photos.  The cold and wind and shivering on my part did  not lend itself to good photography conditions. This Short-eared owl was good enough to sit still for a minute or two.The setting sun made a vista out of a field of hay bales. Tricia got her life Merlin, spotted by Phoebe Thompson.We welcomed the sight of the sun finally coming through the clouds, and said goodbye to it in nearly the same breath.As harriers coursed over the fields in front of the setting sun, I was thankful for the heat in my car, the love and laughter of my friends, the dinner waiting for me, and the fact that I am a birder and can experience days like this one.[...]

There aren't too many poems about Red-tailed Hawks. But this is a pretty good one. I mean, it's Yeats. Can't go wrong there.



'Call down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild.'


'I will not be clapped in a hood,
Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist,
Now I have learnt to be proud
Hovering over the wood
In the broken mist
Or tumbling cloud.'


'What tumbling cloud did you cleave,
Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind,
Last evening? that I, who had sat
Dumbfounded before a knave,
Should give to my friend
A pretence of wit.'

Williams Butler Yeats

What does a birder look like?


There's been a recurring theme lately in the birding world, and this post has been slowly and steadily building in me.  It's about birders and how the world sees us, if we even care about their opinion, and where we are going as a group.It's been a mission of mine, at least informally, to wipe out the classic stereotype of "birder" or "birdwatcher".  Just look at the header of my blog. I've never ever been considered "uncool" or a "nerd".  And frankly, I hate labels anyway.  But to make things easier for all of us, we do tend to lump people together.So for the sake of argument, let's just accept the fact that there are labels.A non-birder, or anyone who has seen a movie or TV show depicting birders, knows the stereotype.Nerdy, nooby, contemptible and socially awkward people who wear silly pants and/or hats, wear binoculars around their necks and spout the Latin names of birds.  That sounds familiar, right?What part of that description is accurate for EVERY birder you know? "wears binoculars around their necks"I won't get into the psycho-social aspect of labeling and stereotyping, but I've learned that even if a stereotype is a positive one, it can still be harmful in the fact that it lessens the individual it pertains to.  It limits your ability to see the whole person.The Big Year came out yesterday, and it kind of felt like birders came out, too.  I enjoyed it immensely and didn't care that they got a few things wrong.  It's a work of fiction.  But I liked the story pulse behind each main character.  Crazy about birds?  They sure were.  Prissy, Latin-spouting noobs? They sure weren't.Lots of birders were in a froth about using it as a springboard to bring in more birders, and I think that's valid. But I stayed out of the discussions that quickly degenerated into nit picking about bird IDs.  It's a MOVIE.What about the ABA?  An organization that is supposed to be for us, by us?  Have they represented us well in the past?  It seems not.  I was ignorant of the ABA until Jeff Gordon took the helm, and most of what I have heard has been the same...."I feel that it isn't an organization for ME.  I don't do hardcore listing or get into fights about wear on a gull's tertials."  I hope that birders will see the ABA in a different light, to forget about the stereotype that seems to be following the organization.  I'm a member of the ABA.  Does that make me a hardcore lister or rude know-it-all?There was a little kerfuffle on Facebook a few weeks ago...I was talking about a certain bird we all saw at Ottawa NWR, and someone wanted to see photos.  I chose not to post them, because they did not capture what we SAW through our binoculars.  It rapidly spiraled into a war of doctrine and flat-out rudeness, from someone I don't know personally.  When I said that this kind of thread was what was wrong with birding, all Hell broke loose.  There was even a threat made by this pompous birder to use the thread in an article.  This seems to be a facet of the ABA that lots of people recognize.  The snooty, uptight and belligerent tone that some "old school" birders affect just rubs me the wrong way.  Isn't this supposed to be fun?  Sure, there needs to be record committees and people who keep track of stuff.  But what about the joy of it all?(This next part has to do with race.  Please spare me any gripes about my verbage or labels.  I'm the most non-racist person in the world and I am using typical terms for people of colors and creeds different than me, so just don't go there.)Another aspect of this theme is diversity.  Okay, birders.  Count on your hands ten birders you know.  Now, put down a finger for each non-Caucasian birder you named.  How many fingers went down? I know lots of different people[...]

People photos from the Midwest Birding Symposium


I'm going to spare you my excuses for not updating my blog more.So September brought the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio.  My arm got twisted (Thanks, Jeff!) and I am so glad I gave in.  Not only was it a birding event, it was full of faces I wanted to see, people I love to spend time with, and lots of new and wonderful people to meet.There are a bazillion photos to are about, oh, forty of them.First, Palito:Palito got to meet lots of new people and see new places...The Black Swamp Bird Observatory!!!Ottawaa National Wildlife Refuge!!!He got to meet (and be blown on by) the President of the ABA!And Liz!!Palito doesn't like cole slaw.  He's an owl.The Birder's Gang Sign:He got to meet Kim Kaufman!  He was so nervous.....And Barb!And beer!And Gentleman Jack!Here, Corey taunts him with a knife. And now the people:Okay, I was totally innocent this time.  I was INNOCENTLY taking photos of Lynne and Kathi, and what happens?  Up goes the FINGER.And look at the hairy eyeball she is giving me too!Okay, funny story.  Al Batt told a hilarious story the last night of the symposium, and here's a short synopsis:When he was a teenager,  he and a friend let some Muscovy ducks loose in their high school.  They put tags on the wings of FOUR ducks:  Duck #1, Duck #2, Duck #3 and Duck #5.  And the next day, the school was in an uproar because they "couldn't find the last duck". Well, we found Duck #4!The Rain Crows!Ann Oliver's KICK ASS shoes:Bacon!!!!  Yes, he's a people!I went birding with the guys, and it was so great....(Corey Finger, Christopher Ciccone and Greg Miller....yeah, THAT Greg Miller!)Corey liked the back of my car.Here's Kathi being all volunteery at her post at the information/registration booth:Ah, the boat ride on Thursday night.  Lynne and Ruthie had JUST gotten there as the boat was leaving. It was a fun, albeit rocky trip.  And it was GREAT to finally meet Ruthie...we actually got her to Ohio!Oh, and here's a random bird photo:Do yourself a favor and mark your calendars for the next Midwest Birding Symposium....In 2013![...]

Introducing my new mascot


A few of my birding friends have mascots.  Little stuffed animals or toys that accompany them on their travels, who are the subject of photo shoots at ever-changing locales.Well, I wanted one too.  I'm special enough to have a freakin' mascot.  I was going to get the BEST mascot.  A PROPER mascot.I laid out the idea on my Facebook page, and among the more racy suggestions, a friend reminded me about my Mom's owl collection. Mom gave me lots of her old owl knick-knacks and sit-abouts when I started at RAPTOR, and one in particular came to mind.(Little owl figure...sounds perfect for me, right?  Wait.  It gets better.)Back story:About 30 years ago, Mom got a present from a friend, and when she opened it, it looked for all the world like a small ceramic penis.  As it turned out, it was upside down and it was really a terra cotta owl from Mexico.But the back of it....yes, it resembles a penis.So I had a little owl with an  (albeit unintentionally) obscene  body part.(Sounds perfect, right? Wait. It gets better.)Now this little thing needed a name.  Not just any old name like George or Stavros or Boris.  It needed a Latino name.  Preferably one that captured the true essence of this singular item. (Yes, I wanted it to give a nod to the phallic nature of the thing.)Doug, one of our newest members of the Flock, came through for me.  I described it to him, and his suggestion was "Palito".  Which means in Spanish.....wait for it....Little Stick.(Sounds perfect, right?  Wait.  It gets better.)So. Obscene yet cute owl, named Palito.  I took him to Starbucks with me this morning for his first photo shoot with one of the baristas. Rachell, a favorite of mine. And as dirty-minded as I am.She looked him over, and said, "It's a whistle?"  I laughed and said, "No...of course not.".  Then I looked at the holes in the back.  And put the obscene part of the owl in my mouth.  And blew.Well, I'll be dipped.  He IS a whistle.So I have a mascot in the shape of an owl, with a backside shaped like a penis, named Palito, and you can blow him.  Perfection.  It made my day.(What cracks me up to no end is the....look of utter terror on his face.  Makes the locales seem so sinister)Palito's first day out consisted of:Sitting on a fallen sycamore tree by the Little Miami River...Wondering if he was brave enough to go for a swim...Meeting a tiny toad.....And also meeting Hooper....He went with me to pick up dinner.....We kicked back in the hammock for a bit....He climbed a tree.....and immediately thought, "Holy crap!".....He was terrified by the young milkweed bugs.....And the lone milkweed tussock moth caterpillar.....The monarch caterpillar made him feel faint....The purple martin house (vacant) perplexed him............He wants to know what kind of gall this is...........And he thought he could be brave enough to explore on his own, but he's just too terrified....So that's Palito.  Look for him at birding festivals near you! And let's see how many famous birders I can get photos of while they are playing his whistle.[...]

Go find a KITE!


For the second year in a row, a small community in rural Eastern Ohio has hosted "Kite Day", a special opportunity to view confirmed nesting Mississippi Kites.  Now, if you aren't a birder...1.  I feel so bad for you.  The wonders you are missing out on...2.  Come hang out with me.  I'll turn you onto birds....3.  You might be thinking, "Pfft.  Whatever.  What's so special about some birds making babies in rural Eastern Ohio?"Here's why it's so special.  As the name implies, this is a bird that is found in the southern U.S. Its breeding range  is roughly from Oklahoma east to South Carolina, into the southern states.  They winter in interior South America.  The birds we saw today are in OHIO.Okay, so it's a big deal.When Kite Day was advertised, Kathi got our names on the list (the nest is inside a gated community and they were gracious enough to allow a small number of birders in today).  She was good enough to drive us out to the site and it just added a fun element to what was a stellar day.  When we drive anywhere together, we are blah blah blah for hours.  Helps the time go faster.Should we just get to the photos?  Yes, let's.We drove in, parked, and followed the other birders.  And there was the chick, teed up in a tree, pretty as you please.LIFE BIRD # 244.  And LIFE RAPTOR# 18 (not including vultures)WHOOT.The recently fledged chick just sat in the tree, and as one of the adults came into its line of sight, it would start to call....which made my heart melt.Here's a recording of their call: frameborder="0" height="160" scrolling="no" src="" width="340">Here's Kathi, with her "I'm a serious birder, so it's important that I turn my ballcap backwards.  'Cause that's how I roll" pose:We also got to see Heather of the Hills!!And Jim McCormac (he's behind the scope):We watched over and over as the adults would bolt into view and hand over a fresh cicada to the calling chick....and then got to watch the chick nom nom nom on the thing:The adults were busy, even with just one chick to feed.  Constantly hunting for cicadas and other little critters to bring in.....And then I was finally looking at the right moment with my camera raised when an adult came in with food.Check out the rufous shine in the adult's wing.  They aren't just black and gray birds....A lot of color hidden in there:I'm a happy girl.  It's been a LONG time since I got a new raptor on my list.  And this was extra special, being able to sit and watch for so long, actually getting to "know" the birds. Thank you, small gated community in rural Eastern Ohio, for hosting this day for us!![...]

Duck nuggets and pellets


I was at the Midwest Native Plant Conference today with some of our birds.

Invariably, someone asks, "Why have raptors at a native plant conference?"  I don't answer the question for them, I let them answer it themselves.
Put native plants in your yard.
This attracts lots of great insects and other animals who depend on the native plants.
Raptors and other predators come and eat the prey that is attracted to the insects, etc, that are attracted to the native plants.  And the balance is achieved.  Easy.

So enough about native plants for now. Let's get to the gravy of my day.  I'm going to keep the words short because frankly, the photos and video stand well on their own.

I set up by some doors that led to a courtyard.  Well, there were ducks.  A mama duck and BABY DUCKS.
Baby ducks are my Kryptonite.  This loud and obnoxious gal turns into sugary goo when baby ducks are involved.

Here they are:





And after all the squealing and melting was done, I went back inside, where Sylvester was trying to cast a pellet.
Check out the laughing in the background...this woman seems to be a little bit off-balance.
But anyway....pellet time:

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The Voice


I could have put a million images into this movie, but the song is only so long....

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And I can never adequately express what this festival means to me.  Or what these people mean to me.

We interrupt these posts about New River, to bring you a dumb.


The other day, I was sitting in the park around the corner from RAPTOR.  Not a great day weather-wise, but a nice place to get my paperwork done before picking up the birds for a program.
There were plenty of birds to listen to....towhees, cardinals, a parula, and the high thin whistle of broad-winged hawks.  If you think you've never heard a BWHA, think again.  You might have just thought, "Oh, that's some songbird".  Their call is very un-hawk-like:

Have a listen.

So I'm enjoying the avian ambiance when I notice something on the roof of the shelter at the end of the parking lot.
Huh.  Too big to be a leaf.  Looks....sort of bird shaped.
Aw, hell.  Is that a hawk???
(For the record, it really and truly did look like a headless hawk)


I squinted hard.  And then my mind turned it into an injured broad-winged hawk.  A hawk that needed my help, by Gawd!

I took a few photos of it, then got out of the car to plan my next move, namely how to get on the roof.  
I was just about to try and drag a picnic table across the lawn when I stopped. didn't have feathers. It had a .....husk.


Oh snap.  It's corn.
I was about to risk life and limb to climb onto a roof to rescue corn.

You Verklempt me.


More from the New River Birding and Nature Festival!!!Remember the last scene in Jerry McGuire?""If you don't remember it, just think back to before Tom Cruise went bat-shit crazy permanently.Well, it's a good segue into my post tonight.Muddlety Magic:So, Saturday of the festival was Muddlety, my absolute favorite trip of all.  For a refresher on my first day at Muddlety back in 2009, go here.  Seriously.  Go read that post.  You'll understand the title of this post better.This time around, we got Julie as our guide (plus Rudy, who comes up in a later post) and Geoff Heeter. Click here for an interview with Geoff.The weather was fantastic.  The group was fantastic.  The guides were fantastic.  The birds were fantastic.I guess you can see a theme here, right?Blah blah blah.It's hard sometimes to really convey the wonderment of this place.  It's not only birdy, it's also full of butterflies and very cool flora, and if you're lucky you might get a bear.  Bear.  BEar.  BEAr.  BEAR!!:)I was yet again verklempt.  Choked with emotion, holding back tears all day.  This special place just rips me apart on the inside, and as it goes through me, sews me up again into something new.I warned Beth R. that I would be a mess, and she warned me that she would be a mess.And she gave the quote of the day:  "YOU VERKLEMPT ME."Let's run through some photos.  And you may notice a lack of bird photos.  Well, I'm still working on my new camera.  There are too many settings.  And the camera has a higher IQ than I do.We couldn't have asked for a better day.Geoff Heeter, our host with the most.(This is his Serious Birder face.  I was so shocked to see him actually being serious, I had to get a photo of it)Rudy, who is nearly 7 feet tall, avoids Warbler Neck all together by just laying down....Nina, down alongside the road, as usual.  :)Beth G., with a big bus and a big lens. I like lichen.Can't remember which Azure this is....Beth Russell has spent five years trying to get a look at a Cerulean Warbler.  Here, Julie is trying to call one in....And finally, down the road.....we got it. When we got back on the bus, I made Beth do the Life Bird Wiggle, which she did...with some extra "White Girl From Philly" Flare: We flushed a turkey from her nest along a hill side, so Doug and Julie hopped up the rocks to take photos of the thirteen eggs, well hidden in the brush.Where lunch is served.British Soldier Lichen (and a bit of deer fur stuck to it)Everyone jumped out of the bus to take photos of this...a pile of coyote scat covered in butterflies.If you don't know about why butterflies do this...the males need certain minerals to complete their reproduction cycles, and this is why you will find hordes of them at puddles of mud and piles of poop.Slow motion video of the butterflies getting their tasty on: The largest Tulip Popular tree in West Virginia:Geoff loves this tree.Laura loves this tree.I love this tree.We all love this tree.I love this place.[...]

Some birders should not botanize.


I'm starting my posts sort of in the middle.  I have to go with what moves me, and I've tried to write a post about ten times.  It's just ridiculous.So I'm jumping in right on Thursday morning.  It was a good day, because all of the Flock had finally arrived. Oh, I never did a list of the Flock this year, did I?Here you go:Dawn and Jeff NinaHeatherKathiLynneMoiLauraJayDougVickiDiana Beth G.Beth R.DonnaMary AnnDebraSEVENTEEN of us.  Scattered between the Farmhouse, the hotel, a  motor home and two separate cabin rental places.Most of us were there all week, but we had some stragglers.Beth R. and Doug came in Wednesday night, so Thursday morning found us Birding by Butt on the Opossum Creek property.  After getting my lifer Black-Billed Cuckoo:(thank you, Julie!).....the three of us decided to go see this cool flower that Nina had found earlier in the day.We hadn't even gotten to the top of the driveway before the shenanigans had started. For the record, I wasn't really sure that Doug knew what he was getting into.  He's a friend of Mary's and has heard all about this festival for years, and while he's a grown man and can take care of himself, I still worried. I mean, the Flock can be pretty raunchy and off-color, if you know what I mean.Turns out, I didn't have to worry at ALL.  He fits right in.  Beth was slinging jabs at him and he was batting them back at her like a pro.They actually made me blush a few times, and we all know how impossible that is.Oh, yeah.  The flower.So there we are, trudging up the hill to find this tiny yellow flower.  A yellow lady's slipper, to be exact, a small, pretty, native orchid.I've seen lady's slippers before, but I wasn't sure if Beth or Doug had.  So I tried to describe it.  And unfortunately, I compared it to a scrotum.  Well, you'd have thought the two of them were gonna die.Now, look at this does look, well, sack-like, right?So yeah.  The fact that I said the word "scrotum" was enough to keep them going until we actually found the thing. A very small, but gorgeous flower.Then.One of them (not sure who) said that the curly thingies on the sides looked like peyos (also peyot, payos, payess, peyess) on a Hasidic Jew.And then it began again.  They lumped it all together and came up with a combination that I am frankly afraid to type.During the commotion, Beth decided to toss her camera down the hillside.  When we had all wiped our eyes and took some deep breaths, Doug did the chivalrous thing and went in after it.I really don't remember what he was doing as I took this photo, but I remember laughing hysterically about it. Remember, this was mid-week already.  I was hung over and running on about 3 hours of sleep a night.And as her camera was being retrieved, Beth got to hold Doug's big huge long lens.Is it really necessary to add that this sent us around the bend once again?Ooooh, two-handed hold there, Beth?  Wowsa.[...]

New River 2011 People pix


So it's begun...the New River Bird and Nature Festival.  It's only day one, so we don't have a bounty of hilarious stories and photos yet.

It's been a long day, so for tonight I'm going to just show some people photos, so you all can see who's here:
(I don't have photos of everyone yet....and some of the ones I do will get me in trouble)





Nina and Lynne:
(I don't remember what was going on. But I bet it was hilarious)

Sigh....Mary Ann and Debra.

First night together....a toast to the Flock and to nature blogs!

More to come....much, much more.  We haven't even STARTED.......

A new toy


After taping my camera together since the last time it was broken, I really thought I could get by with it.  It still took photos. The camera was just ugly.  Then, the last straw:  The shutter button fell off.  I tried to repair it with rubber cement, but the mojo was gone.So goodbye Dear Sony, who got me through 2 NRBNF, and 2 trips to New Jersey, countless bird walks around here, and some good years with the girls. But I shall not mourn.  Because I got a new one.A Nikon P500.  This is a point and shoot camera that thinks its a DSLR. I still have to figure out all the settings, the bells, the whistles.  But I'm very happy with it. 36x zoom. Crazy macro.  It's just overwhelming.Here are some preliminary shots:(We haven't had any sun for about 2 weeks, so the light has been BLAH.)The beginning of a serviceberryBlue Jay (from about 30 feet away)Peek-a-boo carpenter bee on the mailboxJake, my favorite Starbucks baristaThe girls at the end of the driveway (they were about 100 feet away)KermitSpring-BeautiesGarter snake, I think....he didn't want to be photographedHoney bee on grape hyacinthAnd a Prothonotary Warbler, singing his bright yellow butt off at Lake Isabella.SWEET SWEET SWEET SWEET!!![...]

Bird. Drink. Eat. Laugh. Drink. Repeat


This is my third attempt at a post.  The first two times, I was trying too hard and it came out stiff and unnatural.  And boring.

Spring is here.  Time to talk about the New River Bird and Nature Festival, and all that comes with it.  I could write in a professional and solemn style, but who are we kidding here?

Sure, it's about the birds.  Glorious warblers and thrushes and sparrows and some raptors thrown in and so many others.  Lots of birds.  LOTS.

Sure, it's about the guides.  World-class guides.  Both "big" names and local experts.

Sure, it's about the food.  Hot breakfasts packed with protein (BACON!), spectacular dinners, cold but yummy lunches perched on a rock in the middle of nowhere.  All of it is good.

But what's the real reason I go to this festival every year?  What's the cherry on this fantastic sundae?

The Flock.  (Click HERE to read about The Flock)

Though the beginning of The Flock was on the shores of New Jersey back in 2007, the ball really started rolling in 2009 when we all signed up for our first New River festival.  Stayed at the Farmhouse, keeping late hours and peeing in raspberry canes.  Gossiping into the cold night air on the front porch swing with Laura.

And this year, the group grows more.  It's going to be insane fun, even more laughter, even more people to love.  Hear that fizzing sound?  That's the promoters taking lots of Alka-Seltzer.

There's so much that I have written about this festival.   So if you want the real dope, go to this list of NRBNF posts.  And if you want to join us this year, it's not too late.  There are, as of right NOW, five spots left for each trip.  And lodging options are still open....a few, anyway.

I am packing Poise this time.

A new Me. (Or an old Me, revisited)


I'm not one for maudlin and weary posts about what I did or did not accomplish in the previous year.  I usually just list what I did and move on to the next circuit around the sun.As I celebrated my 38th birthday at the beginning of the year, I found myself frankly shaken by the number.  Thirty eight? WTF?  When did this happen?  I feel like a 20 year old.  This is wrong.  Someone made a mistake.But  there it is.  If you're born in 1973, it stands to reason that in 2011, you would be seeing forty not too far down the road.  My fellow Flock members and anyone else reading this blog are free to roll your eyes, and call me a baby and tell me to put on my big girl panties.But. You were here once, weren't you?  Approaching forty and wondering how it could have happened?  Feeling a bit like time was running out to do something crazy, maybe?That's how I feel.  Now, I certainly don't want to "revisit my high school days" or even think about them very much.  I think I would rather have too few hormones, like now, instead of having too many like back then.  Remember what that was like??My thirties have been really good.  I got two great kids out of it.  I discovered birding and RAPTOR.  I have made the closest friends I have had since high school.  Closer, even.  (We know how fickle teenagers are)So no whining there.Even though forty is lurking over the next rise in the road, am I sad?  Bitter? As I reflect, my gut instinct is to say NO.  For the reasons I stated above, and for so much more. So I'm 38.  Big deal.  It's how you feel, right?  And since I border on grossly immature, I'm ahead of the curve.  I'm already cantankerous, so I don't have to learn as I go.Yeah, my knees aren't as quiet as they once were.  My ability to stay up all night, while not completely gone, is a bit diminished.  I fell asleep sitting up the other day, a la Grandma.  My boobs don't look anyone in the eye anymore.I find myself saying things like, "Just because your best friend has a phone doesn't mean YOU get one" and "Because I'm your mother!" and "Geoff, pass me the Geritol". (Geoff, to give the man some street cred, still calls me his trophy wife.  He's a big fat liar, but it's the thought that counts.)I'm not letting all this stop me, though.  In fact, I'm better than I've ever been.  I'm still fun enough to be enjoyable, but I have all this responsibleness that will keep me out of jail, most of the time.  I still make friends easily, but the friends I am choosing now are stellar, steadfast and true. So this was less of a bitch-fest and more of a thinking out loud post.  Thanks for reading through it. Next post:  Preparing for this year's New River Bird and Nature Festival, which fits neatly behind this post, because the Flock makes me feel young and free and giggly and sloshy.  Paco!  More vino, por favor!![...]

Five minutes of observation from an observant observationist*


*I totally stole that line from a favorite blog. I backed up the driveway today, and opened the door to unload the groceries.In front of me was a tableau of bird behavior that was fascinating...not just because it was happening, but because I could recognize the players.We have Pink Spot, who is a male Northern Cardinal who I've watched for two years.  He has a small leucistic spot on his right wing that makes him distinctive.  We also have Orange, who is a newcomer here, and low and behold, he's orange. PINK:"The ladies dig this freaky little spot I got.  Chicka chicka wow wow....."And ORANGE:"I'm horny and no one likes me because I'm different."So there was a bit of male fluffery going on.  In between these two very different males, there was a female. A normal female cardinal who had a choice to make.  Or maybe she didn't.  The reddest fellow seemed to have the upper hand.  I will be very interested to see if Orange gets a mate this year.  He is NOT a typical, bright red, healthy-looking cardinal, and with many bird species, that matters if you are going to get any nookie.Orange got close to her.......but after a few swipes from Pink, Orange had to back off.And Orange was gradually scooted off the driveway....and up into the mulberry tree, where his very posture showed how much he really wanted that female:Meanwhile, a lone turkey vulture zoomed down so low I could hear the creak if its wings:The Lord God Almighty Mockingbird even pushed Orange around and then sat on the cheery tree and glared at me:Oh.  And then a stray dog showed up.A cute little chi-chi mix, who was confident enough to eat the food I put out, but was too skittish to let me look at his collar. Hooper was watching the whole affair and starting yodeling at the top of his lungs:Eventually, the stray bolted into another yard, Hooper shut up, the turkey vulture moved onto another thermal, the chip-chip-chip of the cardinals faded.   All this was only five minutes of my day, but it was a good five minutes.[...]

It's time to play everyone's favorite game...."Where'd THAT Bone Come From??"


Two posts in a month?  Can you keep up?  Can ya?

I went on a trip recently to southern Kentucky, and I surprised myself by getting up before dawn and going on a bird hike.  Those of you who have birded with me can vouch for the incredulity of that statement.

Bird action was quietly promising....some circling red-tailed hawks, a phoebe, sparrows out the wazoo.

As a Junior Science Chimp, I felt that it was my duty to entertain with my scat-chimping and poking around in the weeds for fun and gross secrets.

Okay, fellow Learning Lemurs.  Let's play "Where'd THAT Bone Come From??"



A few shots of a removed tooth (Yes, I yanked one out of the socket)


So.  What do you think, my Chimps?

Owls and Poetry


Oh, if you still come to my poor blog, thank you.  I think there have been a shortage of really good or funny stories lately, and with it being February now, not much going on in the bird department.The good thing about winter is the start of nesting season for Great Horned Owls.  I have been checking my local nest every day, but thus far, no eggs.  This got me thinking of a poem by Charles Baudelaire.  Les Hiboux.  A somewhat haunting poem, yet straining to find light.Here it is in French (which is the best way to read it of course) and below, with a selection of delicious owl photos, one of many English translations.  Enjoy.  And go out and look for owls!Les HibouxCharles BaudelaireSous les ifs noirs qui les abritentLes hiboux se tiennent rangésAinsi que des dieux étrangersDardant leur oeil rouge. Ils méditent.Sans remuer ils se tiendrontJusqu'à l'heure mélancoliqueOù, poussant le soleil oblique,Les ténèbres s'établiront.Leur attitude au sage enseigneQu'il faut en ce monde qu'il craigneLe tumulte et le mouvement;L'homme ivre d'une ombre qui passePorte toujours le châtimentD'avoir voulu changer de place.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The Owlsby Charles BaudelaireUnder the overhanging yews, The dark owls sit in solemn state, Like stranger gods; by twos and twos Their red eyes gleam. They meditate. photo by Jim AndersonMotionless thus they sit and dream Until that melancholy hour When, with the sun's last fading gleam, The nightly shades assume their power. photo by Doug SanchezFrom their still attitude the wise Will learn with terror to despise All tumult, movement, and unrest; For he who follows every shade, Carries the memory in his breast,Of each unhappy journey by Doug Sanchez.[...]

My poor neglected blog (a.k.a. What I've been doing)


My poor blog.  It used to be like a friend I would visit every day, and I would trip lightly to my computer, switch it on and pour out my rants and share my photos.  I connected with people in far-flung locales, I made friends, I made enemies thanks to the fact that I have opinions....And now. Seems like I can barely squeeze out three posts a month.  I blame Facebook. I think Facebook was made for me.  I can sling my diatribes and share my goofier moments, and I get instant gratification.  The blog, well, it's different.   I'm not going to make a promise that I will post every day, but I think it's safe to say I can try harder.  I can't try any less, can I?What I've been up to:I recently went to North Carolina for a family wedding.  I was hoping to see dear Mary, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.  She was out of town that weekend, so I missed her.  A lot.  Though I only spent two days in North Carolina, I fell for the state immediately.  The mountains, the rivers.  I wish I had had more time to really know it, to plumb the depth of its valleys and climb its peaks, to learn its heart.  I hope I can go back soon.  I'm going to try...the Carolina Raptor Center is there!Big news at the house:  After months of being forced to be Amish, we finally bought a new washer and dryer. I spent a week just catching up to all the towels, blankets, random socks and sweaters that I had been just shoving into the bottom of the laundry baskets all summer.I got to meet some famous bird people last month....Kenn and Kim Kaufman.  I was invited to bring some raptors to the Ohio Young Birder's Club annual conference.  And I was thrilled to be there.  Even got to hang out a little with Les, which is always a fun time.(Photo by Tim Daniel)We had to deal with the eradication of a family of voles who somehow blundered into our house.  Seven of them, all caught and killed by either Hooper, who is an excellent rodent hunter, or one of the five cats.  I hated it, and blocked every conceivable route into the house at ground level.  They need to stay out in the prairie and feed the owls and hawks, not die slowly because one of our cats is "just doing what comes naturally".Isabelle has a new pet.  A small, adorable little leopard gecko named Griffin (I sure hope he's a boy):I found very fat chickens and a donkey who needs extreme dental care:We had a marvelous and fattening Thanksgiving dinner, which was capped off by my four pies:I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Lake Isabella's resident Great Horned Owls, and their sweet fuzzy babies:We watched Isabelle's basketball team lose their first game (Boo!):A massive flight of Sandhill Cranes invaded Ohio the other day, and a few flocks coursed through the sky over our house:And just yesterday, I got up close and personal with a Bald Eagle.  This bird (we assume it's the same one) comes into town every year around this time and even sits in the same tree every day.  A very cooperative and calm bird, it doesn't mind humans being nearby (and the tree in which it sits is right next to a busy, noisy road). So I might not get back to my every-day, every-moment-of-my-life sharing. But I can occasionally give out these long, rambling posts that encapsulate a month and a half.[...]

You're good for me


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Cape May Post #3: Three Little Birds


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Cape May 2010 Post #2: A Jeff sandwich on Flock bread. With a Liz pickle (and a hell of a lot of name-dropping)


Let's go back to Thursday.  I had gotten into town late (12 hours in the car and punchy as hell).  Delia and I were in our jammies when a text came from Jeff asking if we were staying up late.  We were invited to Mark Garland's house where Jeff, Liz, Bill and a few others were happily imbibing some Scotch. There were introductions all around...I don't remember a few of them, but one stuck in my head.  But not until later when Delia started hollering about it.  The one that had us cussing and squealing was Richard Crossley.  Yeah ,the Richard Crossley who writes field guides.  Well, we geeked out totally and for the rest of the weekend, we called him "Richard Freakin' Crossley!".I didn't really want to drink, having come off a twelve hour drive, but as the Scotch was poured and re-poured, I thought I might like to try it.  I didn't like it.  So I sipped a little more.It was so, so, so very cool to be sitting in a living room with all of these massively talented birders and authors. (Delia told me later that I looked like a kid at Christmas, sitting on the floor just smiling at everyone.)A call came in.  The words "massive flight" were used.  Everyone got up.Into the cars and down to the boardwalk on Beach Ave.  We looked up, and there were hundreds of birds overhead.  Now, remember...this is 11 o'clock at night.  The birds were lit up from underneath by the street lights and they resembled fireflies...blowing leaves....embers from a camp fire.  Hundreds and hundreds of them.  Some were falling into the street, exhausted.  I got my lifer Savannah's Sparrow right there on Beach Ave.  In the dark. Robins.  Chipping sparrows.  Yellow-rumped warblers.  Woodcocks.  And many others that were not identified. The biggest bird spectacle I have ever seen.I have never birded at night, unless there were owls involved.  This was something completely different.Wow.  I don't know who has the better legs, Jeff or Delia.We were right outside Morrow's Nut House. Seemed fitting.The lights were getting in the way...We moved behind the convention center to get out of the light.There in the dark, it was much easier to see the birds.  They were lit up but the lights were no longer in our line of sight. My neck was getting sore, so I had the brilliant idea to lay down on the boardwalk to enjoy the birds in comfort.  And everyone else eventually joined me.Somehow Delia and I were lucky enough to snuggle up to Jeff for warmth, and Liz completed the dish.A Jeff Gordon sandwich on Flock bread.  With a Liz pickle on top.[...]