Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

"Look, what I brought you!" A gift of summer from the girl across the street.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

As a girl growing up in the flatland, I went with my family to the cemetery where we decorated the graves of departed relatives. My sister and I would go to the nearby spigot to get the water while my mother and aunts would plant the flowers. There were many families in the cemetery doing the same thing. As a college student I went with my aunt to find the grave of a several greats grandmother. I planted daisies so they would come up every year, knowing I would not be back to keep it up. Some of the graves of my relatives are on private land that no longer belongs to us in towns that no longer exist. Whenever I pass small cemeteries along the side of the road or in abandoned fields, I think of all of those lives forgotten. Many graves will go undecorated this day. Living far from the flatland, I have no graves to decorate.

Wondering if I would find anyone, I went to a very large cemetery on the other side of the mountain. At first glance, I saw no one as I drove through the peaceful shady lanes. The folks from the American Legion had been out and many graves sported fluttering flags. As I walked among the flags, I saw they were on stones whose occupants fought in all of the wars from revolutionary through Korea. I did not walk through the new section.

I found many people watering their plantings in the blazing heat of the sunny newer section. But, all of the folks I saw today were elderly. No children, no young people. That is a shame. Memorial Day is more than a 3-day weekend and the beginning of summer.

I was intrigued by some of the decorations. In addition to flowers, there were balloons, figurines, wind chimes and whirligigs. This birthday balloon, I found particularly sad.

In keeping with the spirit of the founding of Memorial Day, I give you a gravestone of a fallen Civil War soldier-21 years old.

While Memorial Day is for fallen soldiers, I think it is also for all of those lost to us.

A Lawn Mowing Decision

I decided this year I would mow my own lawn. Never mind that I do not own a lawnmower and I haven’t mowed a lawn in well over 10 years. Heck, I think I have only mowed for 2 out of the last 20 years. But, never mind. I CAN do this. I called and cancelled the lawn service.

I own an old-fashioned rotary wheel push mower. No engine. It is better for the environment and will be good exercise. I would use that. But on the off-hand chance that pushing the mower up the hill (you know I live on a mountain, right?) may be too much for me, I checked out the Consumer Reports.

It so happened that lawnmowers were in the May issue, see, it is in the stars. I read all about torque (I still don’t get it.) and big rear wheels versus small ones. Then I got to the part about the type of lawnmower you need depends on the type of lawn you have. Hmmmmm. According to CR, my non-power rotary push mower is only good for small flat lawns. Not good news, mine is neither of those. So I moved on to electric mowers, a better option in my mind than gas. But, it is only good for small lawns of about 100 ft max. Rats.

Ok. So I would have to get gas. I went to my local Sears Hardware to browse the options. They were all gas. CR must be right. STOP.

Then I left for Alaska.

Without the lawn service, the grass was literally knee high when I returned. I still didn’t have a mower. Then Bill Up the Hill, my neighbor, offered to bring down his tractor to mow it on Saturday. My Hero. In the meantime, Jonathon my next-door neighbor on the uphill side showed up with his self-propelled gas mower and did the first cut. Bill started to tidy the front, then the tractor started to careen out of control down the steep part of the front lawn. Thank heavens there are rocks (who knew I would ever say that?) The tractor’s front tire got stuck between some rocks and stopped. Whew. Scary. Bill had to get his bigger lawn tractor to pull the little one out of the mess it was in. Even so, 2 of the neighbors had to help push.

After watching all of the struggle and looking at the red sweaty faces, I decided to rely on their advice. “Bev, hire the man”.

Know any good lawn guys?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

A belly-up stuffed crocodile in interior of Alaska. What's up with that?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Do we need boots? I asked the guide. He nodded. Ok. I shrugged, so it was going to be a little soggy hike. It was only a mile. I was thinking positive thoughts; after having spent a whole exhausted day hiking in the soggy, muddy, Alaska wilderness last week; I knew what was coming, but, hoped for the best. (This should be a warning… all Alaskan have knee-high rubber boots called Xtra Tuf for a reason—even the little kids have them.)

I hopped out of the van and pulled on my Neos. I strode confidently after the guide. We were after Great Gray Owls, a target bird for me. There was a stand of aspen trees and an old nest site—maybe there were some owls around this year. We were no more than around the bend in the path before it got wet, squishy even.

Hmmmmmm. Not good. I slogged along. Maybe I should mention that I am short. Lifting my leg over each hummock of grass and hoping for solid footing and sinking mid-calf in water was disheartening. What am I talking about…it was hard work. Lift, step, squish, lift, step, sink, lift step, yank. There was moss, and reindeer lichen, and other sorts of water loving plants; beautiful, but when you step on the grass/moss/stuff you sink. As you pull your foot up, the vegetable matter tries to keep your boot.

Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. This had better be worth. We hiked for 20 miles—OK it was only 3 miles in all but it felt like 100. After several turns and the shedding of multiple layers, we arrived at the stand of trees. Whew. We crept into the stand. (Well, maybe not crept. There were 5 of us and we were cracking branches when we stepped and splashing in the water. Any respectable owl would have fled.) We stood in the grove of trees and listened and watched for about an hour. Nothing. There was a single white (maybe gray) feather attached to the tree where the nest was/had been. We heard lots of birds. We saw Wilson’s Warbler, Pine Grosbeaks, Boreal Chickadees. No owls. But that is what birding is sometimes.

We slogged back the way we had come. I fell behind. I was tired. I was disgusted. I am more of a distance hiker, not a sprinter. The others were younger, spryer, and I admit it, more fit. I was just putting one foot before the other, like a mule at Bryce canyon.

While there were neither Great Grays nor Hawk Owls on this Owls of the North trip; we did see Saw-whets, and Boreals. As a bonus, we also saw a Short-ear, and a Great Horned. So of the 4 targets for the trip, we missed 2 but gained 2 others.

Overall, the Owls of the North weekend with Wilderness Birding Adventures was terrific. Aaron, our guide is an incredible birder, knows where the birds are and is nice guy. I would totally bird with him again. I got 7 new lifers. If you are thinking of going on a birding trip to Alaska, hook up with them. But, I hear Nome is the place to go for birds of Alaska. You might have me on the trip. If so, hope there is less hiking in the muck.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Stop the Car!


I have been to many birding festivals. Some of them are large, well established affairs; while others are small or new or both. They are all so different. The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer Alaska is in its 15th year. It is well organized with field events, workshops, boat tours and fun-filled (can I say zany?) evening doings. There are lots of people yet it is small enough that I keep running into the same folks over and over again. It is sorta like having friends in town.

One of the joys of birding in a new location is knowing that many of the birds will be new. For some of them, it is simply a matter of going to where they are and bingo—like the Red-faced Cormorant. Others, I have searched high and low for, to no avail—like those irruptive Crossbills. But when there is a surprise, it is an unexpected bonus. The surprise for me was an immature Yellow-billed Loon. They are around, but not common. There had been talk about one being found, but then it disappeared. No one at seen it recently. I asked the captain on our boat trip if there was any chance that it was still around. He didn’t sound hopeful. Oh, well. We all shrugged. He offered the possibility of an Aleutian Tern. We all happily abandoned the loon for the tern.

Coming back into the harbor after seeing Tufted Puffins, Red-faced Cormorants, thousands of Common Murres and one Aleutian Tern; what should appear next to the boat, but the oddest, palest loon I have ever seen. It just popped up beside the boat and then disappeared. Surprise!

Gosh, I love surprises. You just never know.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On the Spit

Here I am in Alaska. I flew into Anchorage and rented a car to drive down to the Kenai peninsula. It was a 4 hour drive from Anchorage. The days are incredibly long up here, so I rolled in with daylight to spare. The first day in town, I tootled around to get my bearings and did a little birding on my own. The weather was spitting rain and cold. (Those leopard print silk long johns really came in handy). I wore 5 layers of clothing. Brrr. But, hey, it's Alaska. I rented an apartment over the Sealion gallery on the Homer Spit. (The spit is that sliver of land that sticks out into the bay.)

The scenery up here is unbelievably beautiful. This is the view from my balcony. I am able to watch the mountains change with the different weather patterns and light. The storm clouds roll in and are magnificant. Look at that sky!

But the next day the sunset is a pale cotton candy pink.

I couldn’t figure out why everybody who has been to Homer ends up taking so many pictures of scenery. But being here, I now get it. So, I am going to show you the view first to get it over with. If you still want more, go to my Flickr page in a few days. I'll post more there. I promise no more shots of my view.

It is so beautiful is it almost painful. I can't image living with this everyday.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Northern Exposure

I am heading off to Anchorage for a business trip tomorrow morning at 5am. I will be taking some vacation as well. As luck would have it, the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is the 4 days preceding my business trip. I do not know if I will be able to blog from Homer, Alaska; if I can I will let you know what is happening. I will be driving back to Anchorage on Sunday. Then after the conference, I will be spending some time with the good folks at Wilderness Birding Adventures on a Northern Owl weekend.

Packing for something like this is always a struggle for me. Since I often squeeze in some birding time on business trips, you would think I would have a system after all of this time. The crux of the matter is the outdoor clothes are often bulkier than business wear. This trip was particularly hard to pack for, since the forecast says mid 40s and rain the entire time I am gone. So, I had to pack, not only the rain poncho, but rain pants, Neos, and cold weather gear, like long underwear, wooley hat and gloves. Yikes, I hope I don’t need all of this.

So I will be out of touch for about 2 weeks. Hang in there. I will have cool stuff to tell you when I get back.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Walk in the Woods

I spent some time in the woods this weekend in 2 different state parks. I saw some great birds, came home loaded with ticks, took some nice photos, chatted with several out-of-state visitors, gave directions twice, saw some sort of water snake, petted a few dogs, and generally had a great time. This is one of the photos I took. This wild columbine was growing out of a crevice of a rock. Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Birding with your Ears

Birding by ear is so important and one of the key elements to a good birding day as opposed to a not so good birding day (there are no bad birding days) and to be brutally honest about it, I suck. I have no audio memory. I actually retain maybe 1 new birdcall every year, which means by the time I am about 400, I may have all of them down pat. My memory path is visual. I can literally see the pages of the bird guide in my head, so all I have to do is close my eyes read it. While this is a good thing and a trick I have relied on for years and years in the field, (and in life) it does not help to locate the bird. To add insult to injury, I am deaf in one ear. I sort of hear in mono. So I end up turning around and around on the path like a broken wind-up toy trying to figure out where the sound is coming from. As result, you would think I try to bird a lot with other people. Nooooo. Of course not, that would make too much sense. (I also live up here on the mountain. Not a lot of birders up here.) My friend Diane (who does not live on the mountain) has an excellent ear. I try to finagle birding with her as often as she will tolerate it.

I have a lot of respect for all of you birders that can hear the difference between a Robin, a Scarlet Tanager (except for chick-burrr) , or for that matter a Redstart. On one of my ListServs there is talk about how hard it is to hear the difference between a Pine Warbler and a Junco. I don't even think I have ever heard a Pine Warbler, but who knows, maybe I have and just assumed it was a Junco, or for that matter, a Chipping Sparrow.

Sigh. I can’t do it. For me it needs to be short, sweet and onomatopoetic like Bee-buzzzzzzz, whippoorwill, Ol’ Sam Peabody, or murmuringtrees.

I have Birding by Ear on my ipod and a very long flight coming up. Maybe this year will be different. I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Be careful!

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I have never seen a tree weep from an injury quite like this. Usually trees are stoic. We do not see the pain and suffering our actions and those of the birds and insects cause. I saw this tree on my morning walk. I have probably walked by it hundreds of times without noticing it. The wound is what drew me to it. I touched it in sympathy. The wetness was like tears, not sticky like sap. It has not stopped weeping.

Living on a mountain, I take trees for granted. I love them but they are everywhere in the thousands. How jaded I have become. What does it take to be noticed in this world? Only pain and suffering? The same is true for each of us. What does it take for us to notice each other? Or a tree in pain.