Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pipa Meets The Babies

Here you see our dog, Pipa, taking an interest in the twins. Actually he ignores them most of the time. Occasionally he gives them a sniff, and seems to be most curious about what's going on in their pants (I think we all know what's in those pants, and it's not doggie treats). Tonight we theorized as to what Pipa might be called if he lived in other parts of the world. This is what you do when you spend all day and all night tending to babies...

Japanese - Mr. Pipagami
African - Pipshaka Zulu
Russian - Mr. Pipakov (or possibly Mr. Pipushkin)
Greek - Mr. Pipapolous
Polish - Mr. Pipachowsky or Piparewski
German - Herr Pipgenstein
English - Mr. Pippington
Irish - Mr. O'Pipa
Scotch - Angus McPipa
Swedish - Mr. Pipvensson
French - Monsieur Pipareau
Italian - Mr. Piparelli
Spanish - Senor Pipaguez
Aztec - Pipaxacoatl
Cuban - Fidel Pipstro (or perhaps the more trendy Che Guapipa)
Hawaiian - Pipa'auku'kahili
Native American - Pipa Rolls-in-Poo
Hindi - Piparani Patel
Arabian - Sheikh Ali Pipa... or maybe Osama bin Pipa
Tibetan - The Dalai Pipa

Here we see Pipa enduring the indignity of a bath. Note how little dog there actually is under all that hair.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Birding In The Twilight

Each evening I take the dog for a walk around the yard. It allows me get out of the house for a while and do a little birding. I watch the sky for birds flying to roost, and listen to the last sounds of day and first sounds of night.

Yesterday evening one of our neighbors told me she had killed a snake in her garage. I was curious to see what species it was, and she was nice enough to dig it out of the trash so I could have a look at it. Sadly the corpse was mashed and mangled beyond recognition. Looked like it had been killed more than once, just to be on the safe side. At least I was able to confirm that it wasn't venemous - probably just a harmless watersnake.

While I was talking with her a Barred Owl flew to an exposed perch across the road, where it was immediately beset by Northern Mockingbirds. The owl disappeared into the nearby trees, but sounds of the attack continued. Only other noteworthy sighting was a small flock of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons flying over at sundown.

I'll be going back to work soon, and between the demands of my job and my new responsibilities I don't think I'll be blogging (or birding, for that matter) much from now on.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fossils of Country Music, Sharing Nature With Children, Unreality TV, And Some Bird Sightings

Friday night my mom and I went to see Loretta Lynn and George Jones in concert at Ford Arena in Beaumont. My mom loves country music, and George Jones is one of her favorites. She came here to help with the babies, and her presence has been a great blessing to us. We tried to persuade her to stay a little longer, but she is ready to go home, and will be flying back to San Jose in the morning.

George Jones still has a great voice, and put on a good show. At least he made it to the stage and appeared to be sober, so I guess it was one of his better nights (over the years "The Possum" has earned the secondary nickname of "No Show Jones").

Loretta Lynn, on the other hand, sounded weak and looked tired. Through most of her performance she remained seated. I'm tempted to use cruel words such as ancient, cadaverous, embalmed, etc., but Loretta Lynn is a country music legend, so I'll cut her some slack. Really I find it rather impressive that she's still peforming at an age when most of her contemporaries are...well, dead. And the audience seemed appreciative of her longevity, if not of her diminished vocal abilities. My only real complaint about the show concerns a small portion of the audience...particularly one couple seated right behind us. For some reason they found it necessary to holler their approval over and over...and over and over. The woman kept screeching at the top of her lungs "we love you Loretta!" - punctuated by her male friend's bellowing "Hell Ya!" Not only were they deafeningly loud, but apparently very limited in vocabulary. Their asshole-ishness quickly became intolerable, prompting us to change seats.

Sunday was my first Father's Day. Now that I'm an actual dad I'm really looking forward to someday sharing the wonders of nature with my children. Can't wait to introduce Bryce and Lucy to the great outdoors and the amazing diversity of critters that live there! I envision us going on hiking and camping trips, visiting parks and wildlife refuges, and exploring the remotest corners of our own backyard with a renewed sense of awe. At least that’s how I hope it goes.Backyard wildlife may not be as glamorous as that of an Amazonian jungle or African savanna, but there are still discoveries to be made - like the many species of dragonflies that patrol the pond in summer, or a strange and hitherto unnoticed tree fungus (see photos above and below). Beauty and wonder are wherever you find them.I don't expect it to be an easy sell. Nature will have to compete for their attention with sports and more sedentary indoor distractions, such as television and video games. In preparation I've been reading "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv (subtitled "Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder"). I'm not convinced that the absence of nature in children's lives deserves to be labeled a "disorder," but the book does make a compelling case for the importance of exposing children to real outdoor experiences. Not simulated or televised nature, but the real deal.

Speaking of reality...I’ve been on family medical leave since the beginning of the month, and while watching the babies I’ve also watched far too much TV – mostly so called “reality shows.”. It would be hard to come up with a more oxymoronic term than "reality TV." The nature of the media is always to dramatize and entertain. Case in point: on Sunday I watched a program called "Man vs. Wild" on the Discovery Channel. The premise of the series is that "survival expert" Bear Grylls is left alone and without provisions in some remote wilderness area. He then has to demonstrate his survival skills and find his way back to civilization. Because it was on the Discovery Channel I assumed it would adhere to some standard of honesty.

Of course I understand that he's not really alone in the wilderness - there's a camera crew with him. In the episode I watched he parachuted into a lake somewhere high in the Sierra Nevada. I've done a lot of hiking and backpacking in the Sierras, so I was curious to see what survival techniques Bear would use in an environment I was familiar with.

My first criticism of the program was that events were either presented out of sequence or the basic premise (that he was stranded in the wilderness and had to find his way back to civilization) was fraudulent. The lake into which he parachuted appeared to be at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. The next scene finds Bear by a river at a much lower elevation - judging by the vegetation and absence of exposed granite it would have to be below 4,000 feet. He correctly reasons that his best bet is to go downhill, so he builds a raft and floats downstream...but in subsequent scenes he is clearly at a higher elevation! Along the way he sees "wild" horses in a meadow. Very odd...I think it highly unlikely that there are herds of feral horses on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, but even if there are, it's ridiculous to believe that Bear could simply walk up to one of them, put a lasso around its neck, and attempt to mount it - which he does.

In another scene he uses a "throwing stick" to kill a rabbit in a meadow. I find this scene implausible because a) hares are rarely - if ever - observed in Sierran meadows at that elevation, b) no hare or rabbit is likely to be so approachable, and c) we don't get a good look at it before it is killed, and the next time we see it the skin has conveniently been removed. The selective camera work makes identification of the species involved impossible. Personally I believe this entire sequence to have been faked.

But I’m more critical of the practical advise given by Bear Grylls. After parachuting into the lake he makes a dangerous climb down a steep granite slope. He could have taken a safer route, but wanted to make a quick descent because of the threat posed by an impending thunderstorm. I believe he made a poor choice. Better to seek shelter from the weather, and then take the longer safer route. Instead he risked serious injury, and advised others (who probably don’t have as much climbing experience) to do the same. Later he comes to a river and builds a makeshift raft of sticks to float downstream on. His reasoning was sound – if he followed the river downstream he would eventually reach a road or inhabited place. But riding a bunch of sticks down a wild river was not smart. He could have suffered hypothermia in the cold water, or been killed going over a waterfall. Of course he encounters dangerous obstacles (inevitable) and abandons the rafting idea. Why he doesn’t then continue to follow the course of the river on foot is never really explained.

Anyway, in case I haven’t been explicit enough I’m a bit disappointed in the Discovery Channel for airing crap like this.

Texas is considered flyover country by bicoastal America. I seldom see actual aircraft here (we apparently aren’t on any major flight paths), but we do get a lot of bird flyovers. This evening they included a Great Egret, a flock of 4 White Ibis, a group of 4 Little Blue Herons, a subadult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (the long legs were a dead giveaway), Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, and best of all, a few Great-tailed Grackles. There is a highway corridor directly east of us, separated from our house by other houses, yards, and tall trees. In the evening a few Great-tailed Grackles fly south along the highway on their way to wherever they go to roost, and I can sometimes catch brief glimpses of them flying between the trees. These commuter grackles are the only ones I ever see here.

A male Eastern Bluebird, a Brown-headed Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouses (or is that titmice?), and several Pine Warblers were in the tall trees around our backyard at sundown. In the fading light I also heard a Summer Tanager calling from across the street.

Earlier in the day I saw a Mississippi Kite fly over - could be nesting nearby. On Sunday I heard a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, and saw a Great Blue Heron prowling the edge of the pond.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Home Watching Babies & Birds

Would have posted this a bit sooner, but you know...babies. Just finished feeding Lucy and putting her to bed, again. Eat sleep eat sleep eat sleep. That's all they do, pretty much.

The above photo is of a Gulf Coast Toad that was sitting at our back door this evening. One was on the front porch too. Rained hard today, and that makes the little crawlies restless. Makes the frogs more vocal, and when the ground gets saturated the toads and snakes seek high ground. Sometimes they take refuge under our porch.

Since the beginning of June I've been home with Michelle and the twins, so I've had more opportunity than usual to observe birds around our yard. Yesterday I saw a pair of Broad-winged Hawks and a Mississippi Kite, both of which I suspect of nesting here in past years. Breeding activity isn't over yet - from our front windows I've watched Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds collecting nesting material. I recently discovered a Cliff Swallow colony where Highway 69 crosses Pine Island Bayou - less than a mile from home. I've never seen any around our yard in spring or summer. Considering the close proximity of this colony I find that a bit odd.

The babies are doing fine. Here's the obligatory photo.There they are, the two best babies ever.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

They're Here...

This is a belated announcement of the birth of our twins. Lucy and Bryce arrived in that order, only a minute or so apart, on the afternoon of Friday, June 1st (a bit earlier than anticipated, but it'll be an easy date to remember).

I went to work that day never suspecting that only a few hours later I would be a dad. I hadn't been at work very long when I got a call from our neighbor, Gwain, who had driven Michelle to the hospital. She told me that Michelle was in labor. I hurried to the hospital, where I found her being prepared for a C-section. It was all very sudden and unexpected. I figured the babies would be born ahead of schedule, but they were coming almost a month early.

Michelle was also unprepared - she had packed, but left her suitcase at home, thinking it was just another false alarm. Once I arrived we had a very short wait. Almost immediately they took Michelle to see the anesthesiologist. Meanwhile they dressed me in scrubs, and soon I'm standing next to Michelle in the delivery room. From my vantage point it was sort of surreal. There was a sheet between Michelle's head and where they were busy excavating her belly. On one side of the sheet she's smiling and chatting with us, on the other side I can see her exposed uterus and babies being pulled from the incision. Like rabbits out of a hat, but much messier.

It was sort of unreal, and I don't think the reality truly sank in until days later, when I was able to hold our babies for the first time. Michelle came home on Tuesday, but the babies were kept in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for a full week because of their prematurity. They were hooked up to machines with tubes and wires and we didn't get to bring them home until yesterday.

Babies are measured like fish, by weight and length. Bryce was six pounds, two ounces. Lucy was four pounds, fifteen ounces. She's small but we still consider her a keeper. Many people have asked for their length, but I honestly don't know. Shorter than a bread box.

Bryce and Lucy Unplugged...

Last night was our first with the babies at home and we didn't get much sleep. They seemed to enjoy keeping us awake. Tonight my mom is watching them so we can get some rest. Which is what I'm gonna do as soon as I'm done writing this. Suffice to say that our babies are healthy and happy and so are we. Our lives will never be the same again.

Which doesn't mean I've completely forgotten about birds. I saw Common Nighthawks and Great-tailed Grackles from Michelle's room on the third floor of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont. And was that an American Robin I heard singing in the park across the street? It wasn't exactly a birding hotspot, but you work with what you got.

Michelle has a baby website with more pictures and info.