May 27, 2010

I’ve had Modern Times as the car CD for the past week, and I’m very surprised.  I’ve never been a big Bob Dylan fan, but this is really hitting the spot.  In a way, it’s like listening to Ralph Stanley – the voice is wrecked, but a master knows how to use what he’s got and make you love it.  This album is pure pleasure all the way through; all the bits just fit together pretty much seamlessly – the fellows playing with Dylan are right together and don’t put a foot out of place even when they’re playing around.  It’s like listening to Little Feat when they’re completely synchronized.  I could just pick out a particular song and set it on loop and it would take me to wherever I was driving and I probably wouldn’t remember too much about the trip.

Well, then.  In other news, I finally got the weed-whacker back, serviced and ready to go.  The grass in the right-of-way got to waist-high over the six weeks I was waiting.  The first delay was my fault – somehow I left it there without putting down my deposit, but the second one was theirs – she wrote my telephone number down wrong, so kept calling a number one digit off to tell me it was ready.  Oh, well.  I’m not too pissed at Poulan; I’m sure other manufacturers ship products that don’t work properly out of the box, so the fact that I had to get the carbureter adjusted before it would finally run right is merely annoying.  I am a bit aggravated about the design, though.  Vines and even tough grass tend to wrap around the line spindle and lock the fishing line up so it can’t extend.  At best, I have to stop every 5 minutes or so and cut away the tightly-wrapped spool of vegetation to allow the fishing line to unwrap.  I suppose it’s not a bad idea to force me to take frequent breaks to ease the strain on my ears, but it’s a pain.  I never had a problem with my Poulan chainsaws, but that was 25 years ago, and a completely different product altogether.   Maybe it’s my poor technique, but I feel about this like I feel about lab equipment – if it can’t run properly when abused by numbnuts, it’s not good enough.  I’m no longer a Poulan fan.


Rolling, rolling, rolling..

May 24, 2010

Up to Utica to retrieve the older boy this weekend.  The trip was fairly nice, especially the waking up in the morning on Sunday, hearing Yellow Warblers and a single Yellowthroat out the hotel window, plus a Willow Flycatcher sneezing away in the back area.  Old, slightly run-down motels are my favorites.  Cheap, uncrowded, generally a single row of rooms or cabins, and often quiet and nice for birding by ear first thing in the morning.  A fair amount of birdlife this time, but no Ravens, Turkeys, Pileateds or other snazzy birds.  I did catch a glimpse of a hawk dropping down out of a tree into the brush at the side of the road, which appeared to have a lot of white on its back, but since I don’t know of any white-backed hawks, I’m going to put it down as an hallucination.  The best bird of the weekend was actually this morning, when I heard out the bathroom window either the same Swainson’s Thrush as we had last Tuesday, or another one singing in the backyard.  Back to the trip – we stopped on the way back at Gilligan’s Island off Rt 12, and for a minute there, I felt like I was in a remake of Wierd Al’s Albuquerque – I asked for several flavors of ice cream off the menu board, and each time, it turned out they were out.  I had a wild urge to ask for a bear claw, but restrained myself.  I doubt the girls there are Wierd Al fans.  Also, they might have given me a box of crazed weasels.

Back home a bit after 9:30 pm, a bit frazzled from the up and back, but 7 hours up and 7 1/2 hours back isn’t bad, considering.

Back to Spring!

May 18, 2010

I got home last night in an April shower and found that the house was surrounded by Cedar Waxwings; each tree had a cluster of 4-6 or so Waxwings in it, all “sheee”ing away like anything. They were very obliging, as well, and sat out in plain sight for the most part for clear observation.  Very trim and attractive little birds.  Well, this morning, the showers were still sprinkling, and the Waxwings were still up there, trilling back and forth, but while I was listening with half a mind, I gradually noticed something else was in the mix.  Turns out that we had a Swainson’s Thrush bouncing around the yard this morning as well.  I always have to refresh my memory of some thrush songs, because other than Wood Thrush, I don’t hear them very often any more.  Veery is easy – just a repeated, spirally descending Vee-eer, and Hermit Thrush is a very complicated (for a Thrush) song, so it’s actually easy to tell.  Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked are the ones I can never keep straight; I always have to look up and see who goes up and who goes down.  Swainson’s has the spiralling trill that ends on a sharp upward slide, while the Gray-cheeked does something similar, but goes downwards like the Veery.  I love Thrush songs, and it’s great to have such an overgrown backyard that I can hope to have them pass through in the spring.  That’s the second Swainson’s we’ve had here in the 17 years we’ve lived in the city.  Our weekend Yellowthroat has apparently moved on to more congenial habitat, however; no cheery morning song today.

News of the weekend

May 17, 2010

What a wonderful couple of days.  It was so nice that I bit the allergy bullet and just had the windows open most of the day, so that in between yardwork and household chores I could relax sneezily in a cool, breezy living room and listen to the birds outside.  A small flock of Cedar Waxwings and a couple of Flickers were the usual highlights I hear most years about this time.  We had a Yellowthroat take up temporary residence this weekend, singing away cheerfully and hopping around in plain sight in and out of the brush at the edge of my freshly-cut over backyard.  He seemed a little less enthusiastic on Sunday; perhaps it was starting to sink in that there were no female Yellowthroats within 20 miles or so.  Meanwhile, our local Mockingbird was showing off a few additions to his repertoire (unless this is a replacement since last week) – I’ve previously heard him do a very good cellphone ring-tone, but Saturday he began trying out his Herring Gull seaside routine and quite a nifty Red-shouldered Hawk.  It was easily as good as any Blue Jay imitation I’ve ever heard.  Cutting back the overgrown backyard opened it up nicely for our local Catbird and Robins to forage, which they did with great enthusiasm.  The Mockingbird prefers to do his hunting in the front yard, which is shorter and tidier.  It’s fun to watch him with his herky-jerk wing motions and his wing- and tail-bar flashing prancing around like a little theropod and nabbing insects.  I hope he didn’t get the small wolf spider w/ egg sac I saw while admiring the vegetable garden on Saturday.  I’ve only seen a Mockingbird attacking a snake (a Brown Snake) once, but it was quite striking to watch it dancing around the snake, flashing its white bars and then suddenly pecking, presumably when the snake was distracted and out of position.  It’s going to be interesting for birds when the Walnut seedling gets a bit bigger; I hope it survives longer than the Mimosa did.  I miss that tree – we had lots of butterflies and bees when it was alive.  Speaking of butterflies, a brush-footed butterfly of some sort flew around in the yard on Saturday.  I’m not very good with those, but it was probably a Comma or an Apostrophe or whatever those things are.

Going in to work this morning in the little rain shower, there was a Catbird singing in the walkway of trees, with an Ovenbird yelling in the shrubbery below.  Nice start to  a Monday.

Quiet day for birds

May 13, 2010

A nice overcast, cool morning; a big, prehistoric Great Blue Heron flew ponderously overhead on my way in to work, and a small (non-Mallard) duck sped by shortly afterward.  I realized that I don’t know which ducks nest around here, so I have no idea whether this was some late migrant or one of our residents.  It looked too big to be a Teal, but that leaves a lot of ground.  It seems that the piddling little warbler migration has fizzled out; we didn’t even get our usual handful of loud Blackpolls this year.

May birding

May 9, 2010

It was a nice day for a morning couple hours out in the field yesterday.   Sunny and blue skies alternating with threatening dark overcast from moment to moment made it seem like early April instead of early May, but the overall effect was very pleasant.  We toured a former farm/estate turned park, which for our purposes meant open lawn near the buildings, moving to a trail along a brushy and treed stream for a while, then into a youngish deciduous woods to finish up.  A number of bluebird boxes were set out, which mean plenty of good looks at Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, while the surrounding areas had a bunch of Baltimore and several Orchard Orioles.  Barn Swallows were also working the fields, and we had a handful of Warbling Vireos and Yellow Warblers along the stream as well, and several White-tailed Deer along the edges of the fields.  A nice Black Rat Snake and several Butterflies (Tiger Swllowtail, Mourning Cloak and some sort of Anglewing) rounded out the wildlife.  The full birdlist includes Green Herons, a single distant flying Duck (probably Mallard), Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-peewee, Acadian Flycatchers, Geat Crested Flycatcher, numerous Eastern Kingbirds, several Red-eyed Vireos, Warbling Vireos, Blue Jays, American Crows, Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Crolina Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, lots of Bluebirds and Robins, Catbird,  Mockingbirds,  a handful of Cedar Waxwings, Yellow Warblers, a possible (silent?) Blackpoll, and a Parula, Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Towhees, Chipping Spiders, Song Sparrow, Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles and Goldfinches.  That makes 40 species, including only a smattering of warblers on what should have still been near the peak of the migration.  Pretty sad.

Weekend Naturalist update

May 3, 2010

It was a nice trip up to Utica this weekend; about 16 hours driving for about 7 hours socializing with the older son.  It was worth it.  The rain held off pretty much the whole way, and the scenery was as nice as usual, especially up the Chenango valley.  Just the way I like it, farms and smallish towns with that great old-fashioned oddness to the houses that Charles Addams loved as well.  A good trip for natural history, too – scads of Trilliums, a few Trout Lilies, a host of newly-emerged Garter Snakes enjoying the ‘new normal’ hot weather in the traditional manner.  We flushed two large females and probably about a dozen smallish males who rushed off, deeply offended, surfacing above the dead grass layer and then diving again to evade our attention (I didn’t check them in hand, as I didn’t feel like being chewed and shat on, but I figure I’m about right).  Numerous Yellow Warblers and Goldfinches, and something I’m provisionally putting down as a Warbling Vireo until I can confirm my old memory of the song.  Two Wild Turkeys (one of which was a male roadkill, alas) and a single Raven on the way home after I had given up, soaring along majestically with a Crow playing around it for a good comparison for the family.  We had seen a largish Corvid flying over the car clutching a Garter Snake, on the way up, but the glimpse I got wasn’t enough to tell exactly what it was, and the traffic was too exciting at that point to make a thorough assessment.  The other Turkey was a female sauntering nervously through a cornfield; I didn’t realize how much the head goes back and forth when they walk.  I can’t believe they don’t get whiplash.  It was like watching a giraffe/bird hybrid.  Heard several Tree Frogs and a single frog or toad – it was similar to an American Toad, but much lower pitched and slower; less a screech and more a trill, but very different from a Tree Frog’s trill.  I need to see if I still have my old Droll Yankee recordings anywhere.  The roadkill was fewer deer, more woodchicks and a couple of possums and skunks and a single raccoon along with scattered cats in the more settled areas.  Not as many vultures as I would have expected, though; perhaps the nesting season and an embarrassment of riches had dispersed their interest some.

It’s good to be back (sort of); this morning a warbler wave of sorts was going through in the wet, drippy morning; several Redstarts, a single Black-and-white, a single Yellow, and a rather early Blackpoll.  Then a rather wet and molting female Sarpshin going over the road on my way in to work.