Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goodbye to the Pervert Next Door

You know 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...

"The King of Bedside Manor"
Barenaked Ladies

On March 21st one of our neighbors, Tim Jones, a local pervert and former Tom Jones Impersonator, pleaded guilty to six charges of Indecency With A Child, and one charge of Indecency By Sexual Contact. He received a sentence of ten years, with possibility of parole in five. He had been awaiting trial in the Hardin County jail since before Christmas.

Michelle and I, along with the victims and two other neigbors, were there that day as witnesses for the prosecution. At the last minute a plea deal was made, and we were all spared from having to testify. It was the best possible outcome: justice had been served, and one less sexual predator would be roaming our neighborhood. Finally we could all breath a collective sigh of relief. David Sheffield, our County Prosecuter, deserves thanks and kudos for bringing this case to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Jones was first arrested on sexual indecency charges back in 2008. Since then he had been out on bond until new charges led to his re-arrest and revocation of his bond in 2010. We were to be witnesses at his trial because after his first arrest several of us had provided the sheriff with statements detailing our own experiences with Mr. Jones - disturbing incidents in which he had sexually propositioned us, exposed himself, and engaged in "peeping tom" behavior. Some of these incidents predated his arrest by several years.

So prior to his first arrest I had my suspicions about him, and had even gone so far as to check the Texas Sex Offender Registry to see if he was listed there. Until we learned of his arrest we had remained quiet about our own unsettling experiences with him in order to maintain peace in the neighborhood and out of fear of retaliation, but when we found out children were involved we knew we had to come forward and make a statement.

After that initial arrest he remained out on bond awaiting trial, and we tried to avoid contact with him and his wife, who was supportive of his claims of innocence at that time, while making sure that our other neighbors were aware of the danger. Quite often we could hear the sounds of children playing in his yard...

Unfortunately, while awaiting trial he was free to offend again, and had the opportunity to harm another child (I suspect there are probably other unknown victims who were afraid to come forward). Thank goodness there were a couple of kids brave enough to bring charges and testify against him in court. David Sheffield credited all of us with ultimately forcing Mr. Jones into a guilty plea. He said it was because we always showed up at every hearing. They had hoped we would all just go away. We didn't.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FOS Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the season from our kitchen window on the morning of March 16th. It was a male - these early arrivals always are. A moment later it was joined at the feeder by a second male, and they actually shared a peaceful moment, both sipping contentedly, without any violence erupting between them.

As I was leaving the house that morning I saw our wintering male Rufous Hummingbird at one of the front feeders. He seems to spend most of his time lurking in the middle of a big azalea (now in full bloom) along our driveway. As I approach the bush I almost always hear him buzzing somewhere deep in the vegetaton, and sometimes catch a glimpse of him as he disappears into the thicket. Like most of our winter birds, he probably won't be with us for much longer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

If It's Not Winter, and It's Not Spring, It Must Be March

As a birder, I've always found March to be a strange, awkward, in-between time, sort of like 8th grade. It's not quite winter anymore, and yet it's not quite spring. The winter birds are leaving or have already left, while most neotropical migrants are still down in the neotropics. Whatever birds I'm looking for, in March it always seems to be either too late or too early.

Case in point: today I did the Anahuac N.W.R./High Island/Bolivar Peninsula circuit. Searched for the Harris' Sparrows reported to be wintering near the refuge headquarters at Anahuac, but only found a flock of White-crowned Sparrows (and soon they'll be gone too). There were far fewer raptors than I had seen in January, and no geese. Barn Swallows and Purple Martins were back, but passerines were generally scarce. Shorebird migration, on the other hand, was definitely on the upswing, with lots of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs prowling the flooded fields.

Next stop was Rollover Pass, where the flats were crowded with waders, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Scanning the flocks I saw 3-4 Reddish Egrets, a couple of American Ostercatchers, and 5 species of plovers. By carefully sifting through the Forster's Terns I was able to find a lone Common Tern among them.

First bird I saw as I walked into the Boy Scout Woods at High Island was this Lousiana Waterthrush that was courteous enough to venture out into the sunlight and pose for pictures.
The rest of the birds there were standard winter fare. This Eastern Towhee was the best of the lot, and came out in the open to bathe near the drip.
Also saw this Snapping Turtle amble toward the drip. Check out the cool pattern of spots on its eyes!
On Saturday I took the kids to Claiborne West Park in Vidor. A Yellow-throated Warbler singing near the pond seemed early. While walking around the the pond looking for alligators (not that I've ever actually seen one there) we came upon a group of people that had stopped to watch a large Diamond-backed Watersnake struggling to devour a rather plump catfish. Awesome! Wish I'd had my camera with me (went back to get it, but by the time I returned the snake, catfish, and onlookers were all gone).

After leaving the park I took the kids to the Stark Museum in Orange, which has an outstanding collection of western and cowboy art. The bear sculpture in the background was Lucy's favorite piece. I wanted both kids together in the picture, but Bryce was too busy examining the contents of that giant ceramic vase.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Watercolors are Hard

I painted this Scarlet Tanager today from photos I had taken at High Island. It's the first watercolor I've done in a very long time. So long, in fact, that some of my paint tubes had completely dried up, and for my blue I had to resort to a tube of gouache, because my cobalt and ultramarine blue watercolor tubes had both solidified. This was an excercise in rendering the bird, so composition and background were given short shrift. Funny part was I had a harder time with the mulberry leaves than I did with the bird.

I find painting birds in acrylic to be much easier, or at least much more forgiving of error. For me, doing detailed work in watercolors is like walking tip-toe along the edge of a precipice - even if you don't slip up and go over the edge, you are constantly aware of just how close that edge is...


We are finally getting some substantial rain this morning, and thank goodness. Freezing weather followed by drought conditions is not good for the garden. I expect most of our tropical foliage will recover with adequate watering, but at the moment most of our less hardy plants are withered and leafless and not so pretty at all.

I don't have much bird news. A couple of Purple Martins seen from our yard on 2/20 and a Northern Parula at Claiborne West Park on 2/26 were a bit early, but probably not unusually so. Nowadays whenever birds return ahead of schedule you can expect some mention of global warming. Maybe. But before drawing conclusions I think it's important to remember that within populations of migratory birds there are (and have always been) a few that show up early, just as there are others that arrive fashionably late. This is normal, and while climate change could be involved in specific instances, I don't think we should assume it is.

Charlie Sheen has been in the news a lot lately, which brings to mind certain song lyrics...

"Albert Einstein was a ladies' man
While he was working on his universal plan
He was making out like Charlie Sheen
He was a genius"

Genius, Warren Zevon

So, from that verse can I infer that Warren also considered Charlie to be a genius?