Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bugs and More Barenakedness

This evening I spent a little time watching the sky over our backyard for flyovers. Under the new regime (parenthood) having time for birding is a rare luxury. Didn't see anything out of the ordinary - a single Great Egret, four Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, and a scattering of Chimney Swifts was the sum total. Our yard is hemmed in by tall trees - wish I had a bigger piece of sky to survey. Really what I need is a 50 foot observation tower. If anyone out there knows of a bird observatory or wealthy organization willing to pay for the construction of such a tower in my backyard please let me know.

Saw a little warblerish bird fly into one of the oaks by our back fence, but it only stayed long enough to frustrate. The real action was at our hummingbird feeders, where it was battle of the male Ruby-throateds. When will they learn to live together as brothers and share the sweet bounty of Mother Earth? That came out as hippie gibberish, but seriously, they expend too much energy fighting amongst themselves when they should all be drinking at the feeders. Just seems utterly maladaptive.I photographed this Long-tailed Skipper in our backyard. At least I think that's what it is - I'm too cheap to buy a field guide to butterflies, so I relied on the web to identify it.When I'm posting photos of bugs you know the birding must be slow. This is a Carolina Saddlebags I photographed down at the pond. Looks a lot like a Red Saddlebags, but note that S8-9 are mostly black. So you'd have to be an idiot to mistake them. Actually I'm not very good at odontates, but I try to sound like I know what I'm talking about.

And now more barenakedness...
"He's not the king of Bedside Manor.
He's not the Tom Jones that lives next door.
He's not the king of Bedside Manor.
He hardly even lives there anymore."

Hmmm...eerily like someone we know...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Unemployment Jitters and Better Days Ahead

It was after 11pm when I left the store tonight. End of a long stressful shift - mobs of back-to-school shoppers and 9 hours without a single break. Lightning was flashing and thunder rumbling as I drove home.

By the end of the week I'll be unemployed, which means I won't have to wear pants anymore. I'll spend my days lying in the recliner, remote in hand, eating honey-roasted peanuts off my chest. Can't wait. Maybe I should go stock up on beer before the money runs out.

Michelle doesn't like it when I say things like that. The lazy gene runs in my family, and she worries that it may lie dormant in me. She's afraid that joblessness could allow my inner deadbeat to emerge. Maybe I can start a drug addiction.

All kidding aside, I think I'll find work fairly quickly. I just hope I'm not wrong about that. Either way, I'll be keeping the pants.

I see a bright future ahead. As Bob Marley would say "don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right." And yes, I know he was smoking dope.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

God Made Man, But a Monkey Supplied the Glue

I quit my job.

I've put in my two weeks notice, and as of September 1st I'll be free. The time seemed right. Actually I'm amazed that I lasted six years with this company. Michelle and I have known for quite a while that I would have to change jobs. There has to be some balance between work and personal life, and that balance has been nonexistent. I don't think it'll take me long to find a job that's more "family friendly." I'd probably already have one lined up, but between caring for the twins and the excessive overtime my present job demands I haven't had much opportunity for job-hunting. That'll change soon.

I'm staying the final two weeks so I can leave on good terms. Not sure why I should, except that it just seems like the right thing to do. I really have nothing against my employer, it's my own damn fault for tolerating the intolerable and not leaving sooner.

I have no bird news to report.

Sometimes I put on music while I'm with the babies. Judging by her response this might be Lucy's favorite song. Got a big smile out of her anyway.

The question is, what would Jane Goodall do?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Here We Go Again...

Yep, another hurricane. It's still early but it looks like Hurricane Dean may be headed for Texas. The good news (for those of us in Southeast Texas) is that it isn't expected to come ashore here. Current projections have it slamming into the Yucatan before making landfall again in Taumalipas or South Texas. But from unhappy experience we know that storms can change paths, and we have to be prepared for the worst. People around here are already nervous and making plans. It's time to stock up on bottled water and fill gas tanks.

Hurricane Rita gave us a good primer on how to prepare for evacuation. First of all empty the contents of the refrigerator into ice chests - believe me, you don't want to come home to a kitchen oozing with melted and putrifying food. Then cut any tree limbs and foliage that could cause damage to walls and roof. Before leaving go around the yard and remove potential projectiles (hanging baskets, birdfeeders, and anything else that isn't firmly nailed down). Make sure drains are open and clear of debris. Fill bath tubs to provide water for flushing toilets when you get back. And remember to fill gas containers. You might be stuck in traffic for a very long time, and even if you do find an open gas station you won't want to wait in line.

We hope we won't have to do any of this. But if we don't you can be sure some other poor bastards somewhere else will.

Today's backyard bird sightings included a Belted Kingfisher at the pond and a fly-by Cattle Egret. Caught a baby Mediterranean Gecko on our bathroom floor this evening. They aren't bad house guests, but I still prefer they stay outside.

Took the kids on their first museum outing today. They're almost three months old, so we figured it's about time they got some culture. It was also our first visit to the Stark Museum in Orange. Not sure about Bryce and Lucy, but Michelle and I were quite impressed. The museum has a surprisingly large collection of western and wildlife art, including a stunning Albert Bierstadt painting of Yosemite Valley and a complete double elephant folio that we were told was once in the possession of John James Audubon himself. We arrived just before closing, and I wish we'd had more time to look around. If you are ever in Southeast Texas I definitely recommend that you check it out.

A close friend was in a car accident yesterday. The vehicle may be totalled, but at least he walked away unscathed. It's worth remembering that every time we get behind the wheel of a car we take our lives in our hands. There's nothing safe about this life...

...and I won't let go of the first clear moment I saw you...

Best song ever written. 'Cuz I say so.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Garden Monsters

This is one of the horrors that awaits us in our garden. It's called a Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper, and they grow to be almost 3 inches long. Reminds me of those 50s sci-fi movies where mankind is threatened by giant radioactive bugs (The Praying Mantis, Them, The Beginning of the End, etc.). Thank God they can't fly. I mean I hope they can't fly. Just learned that they are poisonous, and have been known to cause bird deaths and extreme vomitousness among mammals that try to eat them. So the bright colors are a form of warning. I've also seen some that are black with red spots.

Tropical Storm Erin made a feeble sweep through Texas on Thursday. I know there must have been some flooding, somewhere. Not here anyway. I was watching the Weather Channel during the height of the "storm", and they had one of their ace reporters down on the beach at Corpus Christi, wearing serious weather gear and looking slightly disappointed at the lack or rain and wind. In fact there were kids in swimsuits playing in the surf behind that did not appear to be particularly menacing. The next time I saw him report on the storm he had changed into a polo shirt. Maybe in the interim someone pointed out how silly he looked.

My dad came out to visit with us for a few days...first time he's ever been here. It was important to Michelle and I that he get to see his new grandchildren, and I also wanted him to see what we've done with the place. One day we took him to L'Auberge Du Lac, a posh hotel and casino in Lake Charles. Excellent buffet there (seems like most of the eateries in this part of the world are buffets, goes with the popularity of overconsumption). Michelle and I played the slots and succeeded in turning $100 into $70. My dad, on the other hand, parked himself by one of the crap tables and actually left with a few dollars more than he started with. He flew home on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I've Never Seen a Man Eat So Many Chicken Wings...

I’m on my own for a few days. My wife is away in Louisiana on a drinking trip. I’m kidding. I’m not really kidding. A situation suddenly arose requiring her immediate departure, babies and all, leaving me alone here with the dog. But I’m away at work all day and the dog became lonely and depressed. So I put him in the kennel. Must say I do miss my family, but having them all out of state or confined elsewhere does give me time to get caught up on sleep and other things I don’t normally get to do, like showering.

The “8 Random Facts Meme” got me to thinking about my early birding experiences - back when I didn’t know any other birders, and was so socially inept that it probably wouldn’t have done me any good if I had. In those days I was convinced that most of the birds in the field guides were hopelessly rare. Otherwise why hadn’t I seen them? That I wore glasses and hadn’t yet figured out how to fold back the eye cups on my bins might have had something to do with it. My field of view was microscopic, and it was years before I realized the handicap I'd imposed on myself. Best field guide of the day was the Golden Guide to the Birds of North America. So even if I'd been able to see anything I probably couldn’t identify it from the misleading illustrations. Example...if you have an old copy check out the Sprague’s Pipit. Don’t know what it is, but it isn’t a Sprague’s Pipit.

I really need to give credit to the people who mentored me. In the early 1980s I was living in Mt. Shasta City and attending College of the Siskiyous in nearby Weed (nice campus, lots of pretty scenery). I had a couple of teachers there, Neal Clark and Ken Beatty, who encouraged my interest in birds. In their classes we studied waterfowl and raptors, and went on field trips to places like Coos Bay and the Klamath Basin. Even if the focus of the class was on botanizing or marine biology I brought my binoculars, which I still didn’t know how to use properly.

It was also during my college years that I started travelling in search of birds, and started to meet other birders. I learned a lot from people like Stephen Laymon, David Gaines (sadly no longer with us), and Rich Stallcup. The thing about Rich that made a lasting impression on me, aside from his sense of humor, was that his enthusiasm was not limited to birds. As a naturalist he impressed me with his knowledge and appreciation of other wildlife – a more holistic approach that appealed to me then and now. Incidentally he wrote a very informative book about the deficiencies of the Golden Guide called Birds For Real.

And now for something completely different (PARENTAL ADVISORY).