Thursday, March 29, 2007

Road Trip!

Just got back from California. Troy and I had originally planned to make a short trip to Costa Rica at the end of March, with the objective of seeing the Bare-necked Umbrellabird, a rare cotinga that I had searched for and missed on previous trips. This would be my last chance to look for the umbrellabird before the onset of babies and parental responsibility. Alas, because of Michelle's accident we had to scuttle our Costa Rica plans. Instead of flying to San Jose, Costa Rica, I ended up flying to San Jose, California. the purpose of the trip was to get my father's car (a white Mercury Sable that he no longer uses) and drive it back to Texas so Michelle would have a vehicle (the accident totaled her car).

I arrived in San Jose on Sunday morning. Troy was gonna join me for the drive back to Texas, but he wouldn't get in until the next day, so I had time for a little birding. My friend Jolene was off work so we went to Moss Landing on Sunday afternoon. I took these pictures of a Common Murre from the jetty at the mouth of the harbor.Monday morning I got up early and visited some sites around the Almaden Valley. Took this pretty picture on a hilltop along the Fortini Trail In Santa Teresa County Park. Rufous-crowned and Grasshopper Sparrows were singing, but try as I might I never did see either. A Horned Lark was singing as it hovered high overhead, and a White-tailed Kite flew by carrying nesting material.At Calero County Park I found a large flock of Wild Turkeys, with several males strutting and fanning their tail feathers to impress the females, I assume.New Almaden, Almaden Reservoir, and Almaden Lake Park were my final stops. Early returning migrants included Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Wilson's Warbler, and Bullock's Oriole.

Met Troy in Morgan Hill on Monday afternoon, and we drove as far as Needles that first night. Normally I would have taken I-10, but Troy wanted to make a detour to check out the new Grand Canyon Skywalk. Unfortunately when we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park we found out that the skywalk was outside the park on the west rim of the canyon. We were in the wrong place, and it was a case of "you can't get there from here." We still did some sightseeing along the south rim of the canyon, with only a few minor mishaps.The canyon was beautiful, but the beauty would have been more enyoyable were it not for the biting cold and 50mph winds. And then it actually started snowing. Only birds seen there were Common Ravens and Western Bluebirds, so even the birding was wintry crap. And no glass skywalk, dammit. Here's Troy taking a brief obligatory look at the natural splendor. From the Grand Canyon we drove south, fighting hurricane-force headwinds that blew tumbleweeds and anything else that wasn't nailed down across the highway. Late that night we rolled into El Paso.

We left El Paso before dawn on Wednesday. Then we made another major detour, this time to explore the Davis Mountains. I wouldn't call it birding, but we did stop occasionally for birds and other wildlife - Rock Wren, Javelina, etc. No Montezuma Quail, in case you were wondering. We did the longer-than-expected loop around the mountains, and even went up to McDonald Observatory and tagged along with an unsuspecting tour group to see one of the big telescopes...this consumed the whole morning and part of the afternoon. It takes a full day to drive from El Paso to Houston, so we didn't expect to make it back that night. But we reached San Antonio before dark and just kept going. Had to stop at Buc-ee's of course.Somehow, despite our big detour, we made it to Troy's house north of Houston by 11pm. No speeding tickets either. I crashed there for the night, and finally got home this morning, after three days on the road and a lot - and I mean a LOT - of fast food, fast driving, and fast punk and rockabilly (Troy brought his ipod with him). Got back just in time - tomorrow Michelle and I leave for Louisiana...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Michelle & Pipa's Wild Ride

First of all everyone is all right, Michelle and the babies are fine.

Thursday morning I was awakened by a frantic phone call telling me that my wife had been in a car accident and was being taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Beuamont. I jumped in the car and got there a few minutes ahead of her.

Michelle was on her way to work when the accident occurred. She was driving north on Highway 96 between Lumberton and Silsbee when a woman driving a blue sedan arrived at an intersection to her right. The sedan came to a stop, but then apparently the driver either didn't look to see if there was oncoming traffic or thought she had time to dart across the highway ahead of Michelle. Michelle collided with her head-on, T-boning the sedan.

Michelle was able to crawl out of her car through the passenger-side door. Pipa, our dog, was riding with her (he's a "therapy dog" at the convalescent center and usually goes to work with her - I sometimes call Pipa her business associate). Pipa jumped over her to get out of the car and ran off, probably terrified. Since they were in the middle of the highway it's a wonder that he wasn't hit by a passing car.

We don't know much about the condition of the other driver, except that she may have had broken legs, and had to be removed from the car with the jaws of life.

Michelle is pregnant with twins (a boy and girl) and when she was first taken into the ER she was hysterical with fear for our babies. She had bruises and burns from the seat belt, a bump on her head (probably from when the airbag deployed), cuts on her right arm, and a cut on her foot that required stitches. The babies appeared to be all right (normal heartbeats detected) and no internal injuries were found. She was in a world of hurt but they gave her pain killers. I stayed with for a few hours, then went to look for Pipa, who had disappeared after the wreck.

After the accident several people went out looking for the dog (an ill-tempered and utterly useless little Lhasa apso). In the commotion that followed the accident he had been a low priority, and was last seen crossing the railroad tracks to the east. The area of his disappearance has scattered houses amid large tracts of dense woods -typical rural neighborhood in the Big Thicket. I spent several hours that afternoon searching for him, walking, driving, and calling his name. A nice lady named Betty also spent most of the day trying to find him, and in the evening she saw him in a field about a quarter mile from the accident scene. When she tried to approach him he ran back into the woods (did I mention Pipa's not so bright?). I was out looking for him in that area until sundown, along with Betty, one of Michelle's coworkers (Natalie), and her boyfriend. A couple of times I thought I heard him barking from inside the woods, but he didn't respond to my calls.

Birds seen while looking for our stupid dog included Wilson's Snipe (had to walk some boggy bits), Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Barn and Cliff Swallows (both newly arrived migrants), and lots of White-throated Sparrows. Yes, even in the midst of calamity I still notice birds.

The next morning I drove back to the area of his disappearance and immediately found him waiting in the field where Betty had seen him the previous evening. This time he came in response to my voice. He was wet and filthy, and his tail was completely matted with a long thorny branch tangled in it. I took him straight to K-9 Quik Clips in Lumberton for an emergency grooming. Pipa had been there only a few days before the accident, and because of the circumstances they cleaned him up free of charge - very nice of them. Michelle has been contacted by the Silsbee Bee, a local paper, which would like to do a story on Pipa's loss and revovery (must be a slow news week).

Michelle was held at the hospital overnight for observation because of her high risk pregnancy, and was released yesterday afternoon. She's home now and resting. She'll probably be back at work next week.

Her car is a total wreck, with the front end completely crumpled. Must say Chrysler should be commended for building a car that can handle a high-speed front-end collision this well. I'm definitely impressed with it's passenger safety. So all we lost was a car. All in all we've been very lucky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Neotropical Migrants Returning

Looked out the bedroom window this morning in time to see a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird zoom up to our feeder. Previous to this year my earliest arrival date was March 14th (2006).

Later I walked outside and noticed a Northern Parula singing. Spotted the little guy (a small one even by warbler standards) up in the treetops, where he was enjoying the budding oak leaves and catkins along with a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and Chipping Sparrows. My earliest previous arrival date for Northern Parula was March 20th, judging by which this bird appears to be about a week early. It's easy to speculate that global warming might be involved, but these sightings are still within the range of expectation.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring Update

No, it's not officially spring yet, but there are signs and portents. For example, the clocks just sprung forward. And the azaleas are in bloom. And everyone seems to have sinus trouble. No new birds have arrived yet, but on the morning of the 8th I heard a White-eyed Vireo singing (probably wintered locally, it's still a bit early for migrants), and that evening I saw my first bat of the year flying over the pond.

The male Rufous Hummingbird continues to visit our feeders, last seen on the 10th (photograph below).Michelle and I went to Winnie today for "Trade Days," the monthly flea market. One of the vendors there sells martin houses, and I bought a new one for the backyard. Took down the old aluminum martin house which had survived Hurricane Rita, but only ever sheltered broods of starlings (a.k.a. K-Martins) and House Sparrows (a.k.a. Burger Kinglets). In past years I've seen martins checking it out, but they either didn't like the accomodations or were unable to compete with the more aggressive introduced species. This spring I plan on being more proactive, meaning I'll evict any unwanted tenants.

A few Purple Martins return to Texas as early as late January, but the earliest I've seen them here is March 18th. Their new house is up and ready, and they could be back any day now.Thought I'd share a little Southeast Texas culture with you. As far as the cuisine goes, this pretty much sums it up. Funny...I don't recall ever seeing chicken rings before...

Friday, March 02, 2007

He's Back...

Looks like I commented prematurely when I said that our wintering hummingbirds had departed. Yesterday (March 1st) I again saw the male Rufous Hummingbird at the feeder by the kitchen window. Hadn't seen him since Feb. 17th, and I just assumed he was gone. His gorget is still a bit splotchy, but his back is now entirely cinnamon.Carolina jessamine is in full bloom and flowers are starting to appear on the azaleas. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be returning by the end of the month...