Thursday, August 17, 2006

Take The Simpsons Personality Test...

...I did, and look at the results I got.

You Are Mr. Burns

Okay, so you're evil...

You have big plans to rule the world, and you'll destroy it in the process if necessary!

You will be remembered for: the exploitation of the masses

Life philosophy: "One dollar for eternal happiness? I'd be happier with the dollar."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Gotta Break a Few Eggs to Make an Omelet

I'm writing this drenched in sweat, dirt, and dirty sweat. I've been in the yard shoveling and pulling roots. It's almost noon and about 90 degrees outside.

We are in the process of turning a back storage room on our house into a master bathroom. Since our sewage line runs along the opposite side of the house it was necessary to put in another sewage pipe. That's what my friend Troy and I spent the last two days doing.

Troy operated the backhoe. We had to dig about a hundred feet of trench. Near the house the pipe would be buried under two feet of dirt, but at the other end, where it would connect with our original sewage line, it would be closer to six feet underground.

We lost some time because the backhoe delivery was delayed on Monday. It didn't arrive until close to noon, in the heat of the day. Fortunately it fit through the side gate into the front yard, so we didn't have to take any fence down. First thing Troy did was excavate a deep hole to locate the sewage pipe we would be connecting with. This is where we were really very lucky, because he exposed the pipe without breaking it. Once the sewage pipe was found we had to dig a long trench back to the house. While Troy tore up my front yard with the backhoe I struggled with shovel, pickaxe, trowel, and any other digging implement I could find. Digging went slowly because the backhoe was weak, we had to make the trough deep enough to provide an adequate rate of fall, and the soil was hard clay. Troy worked the backhoe until about 9pm, then stopped for the night.

We started again at dawn on Tuesday. Even working in the early morning we were quickly soaked in sweat. When Troy finished the trench the backhoe was straddling it, which made for some tense moments as he manuevered to bring the backhoe across the open ditch without getting tires stuck in it. The only obstacle at that point was the cement walkway in front of the house. At first we planned to tunnel under it, but when that proved impossible we rented a jackhammer and broke it up - more destruction in the name of progress. We finished putting the pipe in and Troy buried it. At about 4pm we called it quits. Both of us were exhausted and suffering from long exposure to the summer heat. Troy faced a two hour drive back to Houston and I had to be at work at 5pm.

And today I'm shoveling more dirt and pulling roots. Eventually the front yard will look nice again and we'll have a new bathroom. Troy has been a great friend, once again coming through to help us under less than pleasant conditions. Nasty conditions, really. And after two days of miserable work under the hot sun he still found time to take down a tall stump that Hurricane Rita inconsiderately left in our backyard. Thanks again, Troy!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Woodpecker Sighting

Friday I worked in Vidor. The less said about that the better. But as I was leaving work to get some dinner I was surprised to see a woodpecker hurtling toward me. The first thing I noticed, aside from its obvious woodpeckeriness, was that it had conspicuous white secondaries. Black wings with broad white trailing edges could only be...Ivory-billed Woodpecker! Well no, it was just a Red-headed Woodpecker. And it landed on a pole exactly the way Red-headed Woodpeckers do.

Red-headed Woodpeckers like open areas with scattered trees and utility poles. At least based upon my experience that would seem to be their preferred habitat. I most often see them while driving. Lewis's and Acorn Woodpeckers in California also have a fondness for roadside utility poles. Just an observation.

Last summer it was Mississippi Kites. This summer we've got Broad-winged Hawks in our neighorhood. I frequently hear their shrill whistling when I'm outside. Probably nested nearby. Also had an adult Red-shouldered Hawk in our yard a few days ago. With all the raptors around I haven't been seeing many squirrels lately.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Power Walking on the Wild Side

Got a late start at birding today because I slept in like a lazy bastard, and by the time I finally roused myself and got ready to go the rain had started. When the rain finally stopped it was mid-afternoon, and then I promised Michelle I'd be home by 5pm or somewhere thereabouts, so if I was gonna revisit the Jack Gore Baygall Unit of the Big Thicket Preserve I would have to make it quick. I don't like driving Timber Slough Road when it's wet, so I walked (more like slow jogged) from where the pavement ends down to where the piney uplands become swampy bottomlands.

Yes, I went birding in a Texas swamp in the middle of an August afternoon. No common sense at all. Birds were quiet most of the time, but the recent rain stimulated an amphibian symphony. I'm still learning the sounds of the swamp. After listening to recordings I'm sure one of the species I heard was the Bronze Frog, and I've tentatively identified another as the Eastern Narrowmouth Toad. I was hoping to actually see some herps today, but no luck.It was a better day for butterflies. I even got some decent photos. Species seen along the Timber Slough Road today included Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, Gulf Fritillary, and Silver-spotted Skipper.
Twice I encountered feral hogs. They took off running, but I don't know which of us was more startled.

Really the birding wasn't that bad. Down in the swamp I had Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Prothonotary and Black-and-white Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush (almost certainly a migrant here), and Indigo Bunting. I was ostensibly looking for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, with the usual results or lack thereof. Heard a couple of Pileateds and a few Downys. Noticed more bark scaling than on earlier trips, so it looks like the woodpeckers have been busy. With all the snags and downed timber from the hurricane they should enjoy a plentiful food supply for the next few years.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In Search of the Inflatable Hedgehog

I recently posted a commentary on BirdForum's Ivory-billed Woodpecker thread, and received this in response:

It would be interesting to know what makes you someone "looking for Ivory-bills" while others are "cryptozoology types who are as likely to spend their spare time hunting for bigfoot."

In answer to this astoundingly obtuse question, I'm a birder. I spend a wee part of my time (much less than I would like) looking for real actual existing birds, not mythological birds or hypothetical primates. But maybe my interest in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker does put me in the crypto camp. To get some idea of what cryptozoology is all about, check out this site.

Note that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker does have a place in the cryptid menagerie...right behind the elusive Inflatable Hedgehog.

Sightings have been reported and I'm off to the Gobi Desert to begin the search. A creature that can inflate to the size of a yurt shouldn't be that hard to find.