Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ducky Day - Another Wood Duck!

Next to Mallards, Wood ducks are the most shot ducks in this country. Can you imagine shooting this thing?
Wood ducks' red eyes make them look kind of hung over.
 It has been raining for two days without interuption. Even my electronic rain gauge has drowned and isn't keeping score anymore. I'm guessing we've had between four and five inches. At five P.M., the local evening news said that it was about to break the record for the most precipitation in any March. When I left the house to do some errands today, I almost didn't take my camera with me. That's right. You heard me. That's how bad it has been. I thought there wasn't much point as it would be impossible to get good shots of anything. But, I stuck with my personal rule to never leave home without it. And wow, was I glad I did! In Bath, I stopped by the cemetery pond where I had previously taken photos of Wood ducks. There was nothing there except a couple of plastic bags snagged and floating. I continued north to a turn around then headed home. I was discouraged. I also knew that in the middle of the day it was unlikely that I would have seen anything anyway. Most birds and beasts do their feeding early and late in the day. In the middle, they stay at home and catch up on their soap operas. On the north end of the pond is a puddle. As I drove by, through the trees I could see some ducks. I pulled the car off the road and scanned the group of Mallards. Suddenly, I saw not one but three Wood ducks! There were two drakes and one hen. There might have been more, but at least two of them took off into the air. One drake stayed behind. He called and called to his friends "Hey, you guys! Wait for me!" You can see in the photos that there is rain falling and drops on his back. You can see his bill open, too. Wood ducks don't quack like most ducks. The make an adorable little sqealing noise. This guy was probably really ticked off with his pals for dumping him. Maybe they all took off for a sports bar and he was worried that they'd guzzle all the martinis before he got there. I can hardly wait for the sun to come out so I can check out the puddle again. Maybe next time, there will be an alligator.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Dangerous Season - Deadly Spring Fever

I don't know this man, but I can tell you that he's an idiot, self-absorbed and without regard for at least one of his fellow beings - his dog. I know this about him already because on March 1st, he was in a canoe on the open Atlantic ocean without a life jacket. The water temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Had he gone into the water, he and his dog would have been dead of hypothermia in under ten minutes. We saw him paddle from the cove and out into the harbor. He struggled to return against the wind and then the outgoing tide. David and I paced by the windows watching him drift further and further out to sea. I felt sick and wondered for a second if he was deliberately trying to kill himself, unlikely since he had his dog. In the summer, there would be loads of boat traffic. Someone already on the water would help him. But, before Memorial Day weekend, there is hardly a soul here. The fishermen who work the water all year don't exactly have an office one could call for an appeal for help; they work from thier boats. If we had a radio we could have made a general distress broadcast. The Coast Guard is an hour away if they are available at all. So, we watched helplessly, praying he didn't go into the water. We watched him dig hard into the chop trying to get to the "Red Nun," a navigational buoy midway between Hermit Island and the Newberry Point shores. He rose on swells and dissapeared into the troughs repeatedly. We could imagine his breathlessness, the burning pain in his arms are he worked, not being able to rest for a second for going backward if he did. We frantically called some guys working on a construction crew down the road who would have been able to see him after we lost site. There was nothing they could do either, just watch him helplessly and mumble "Dumb bastard! What a freakin' idiot" and hope for the best. The dog had no choice in the matter and would have died just as quickly in a flailing panic in the water. I took this photo when the man passed back by our house. He waived to me, quickly, not losing a paddle stroke. Squinting into binoculars, I grimaced, not waiving back. I wondered what he said when he got back to where he came from. Did he have any idea what a stupid, selfish thing he had done? Probably not. This is a dangerous time of year. It's the time when hopes are high that winter is over, finally. The sun is shining brightly and some days it's warm. The songs of birds are everywhere and they have changed to songs of love and desire in the trees. Gardeners and weekend yard warriors go outside for the first time in months and get really carried away. This is the time of year when back injuries are made and raw, oozing blisters appear where skin has ground off under the rake's handle. We'll all be lured by the sun into biting off more than we can chew. In January, seed catalogs with their shimmering flowers beckoned with the sirens calls of addiction, "Buy me, order me, lust for me, you want me!" And I did. Boxes are arriving in overnight mail from southern growers.  The boxes are stamped with red, screaming instructions,"PERISHABLE," "DO NOT CRUSH," "PLANT NOW," "REFRIGERATE!" I was so quick to jump in with my credit cards, but now I ask myself  "What have I done? How will I ever get all of this into the ground? Where will I put it?!" On the kitchen counter the little plants having rushed to get here, now languish, stranded. Shriveled tendrils of young plants wind their way through tangles of packing, yellowing in despair with every day that they aren't planted. Bare root stock, pathetic and hopeless looking sticks, begins to crack open to pinks, thin greens and creamy yellow begging to go into the ground. There doesn't seem to be enough daylight to get it all done fast enough. And yet,they seemed like such a good idea at the time. And then, it will snow. Deep, wet and heavy snow will crush my budding joy. Last night the temperatures plummeted and it will be colder still tonight. The pinging of hail and ice striking the greenhouse glass woke me. I imagined the primrose blossoms freezing and cracking apart. I thought of that man in the canoe, and his dog.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Singing "Happy Birthday!" Song sparrow

Yesterday, March 22nd I photographed this Song sparrow nearly singing its head off. I think I heard it singing "Happy Birthday." It was David's birthday, so that would make sense. Our good friend, Ted was also celebrating his birthday. I happened to speak to Ted on the phone, otherwise, I would not have realized it was his birthday as well. When it came to light that the guys  shared a birthday, I was dumbfounded that I didn't already know this. After all, we are good friends with Ted and his wife and have been for years. The second I finished the phone conversation with our friend, I reached for a notebook in which I make note of birthdays, anniversaries and the like. I also keep the paper handouts distributed at funerals we attend.  Sometimes, I have it in my head that people are still alive when they are not, which can be socially a little dicey. This way, I can check. It's the kind of information that, once upon a time, people kept  in a family bible. I knew if I waited to enter this significant data that I would forget, so I did it immediately. And low and behold, I was stunned to find that I had put Ted's birthday in there some time before and even made note with a jolly exclamation point that the boy's shared the day! It unnerved me that, nonetheless, when I talked to Ted, I had no recollection of this at all. As if this wasn't bad enough, I discovered on the same day that for a year, I've been lying about my age. David is nine years, eleven months and two weeks older than I am. For the two weeks between our birthdays, I lord it over him that he is ten years, an entire decade, older than I am. This year, I couldn't make sense of this mathematically. The numbers didn't come out right when I subtracted 53 from 64 (which is eleven, in case you are looking for a pencil). I thought, "Oh my god! All this time he's really been eleven years older than I am for that two weeks!" How could it be that we've thought all along that he was nine years older than I am? I had this queasy feeling like I was experiencing a tear in the universe. Now, this had my full attention; I had to figure it out right then and there. I mumbled to myself, "If he was born in '46 and I was born in '55, then.........." And that's when the truth came crashing inward, like a meteor busting through the atmosphere and slamming into the earth's crust - in two weeks, I will be fifty five! For a year, I've been telling everyone that I'm fifty-three! It's not that I have been deliberately lying about my age. If I had been going to do that, I would have picked a good old block of time, at least five years, not one. How stupid is that? I have actually had it in my head somehow that I didn't age 365 days last year. Last night, I confessed this to David. It seemed only right since every year, I've given him a ration of crap, albeit good natured, about his being a decade older than I am. He told me he had known for quite some time that I was telling people I was fifty-three, not fifty-four. Shocked, I asked, "Why didn't you tell me?" He said he didn't think it was important. "What difference does it make? I didn't want to embarrass you. I love you no matter how old you are," he said.  I wondered, "Is this what happens to people when they are fifty-five?" The mind begins to go, one lapse at a time, and no one tells you. You keep records to remind yourself of things, but don't remember to look at the records. You make grocery lists, but forget to take them with you, lists of lists which you then can't find. You watch the same T.V. show several times because you don't remember that you've seen it until you're into the third commercial break. You spill food on your clothes and people let it go. And so it goes - you slip down the rope, one knot at a time, spelunking into the abyss of blankness. This scares the snot right out of me, I'm telling you. I've watched this happen to people I've known and loved. In fact, almost everyone I know has a family member that's struggling with this. My ninety-nine year old grandmother started out like that until today there's nothing left of her mind at all. She has to be fed because she can't cognitively connect the dots between hunger and getting  food to her mouth anymore. I'm not sure I really want to know if this is what's happening to my brain. Or, I'll just keep getting younger every year, as I've been claiming, so I won't be effected. I've read that there is virtually no dementia in Liechtenstein or Macau, so maybe I'll just move, if only I can find my keys.......

"Happy birthday to you,"
"Happy birthday to you!"
"You look like a monkey,
"And you smell like one, toooooooo!"

Dementia Darling
"Where are my keys,"
You asked of me
Once, twice, three.
Weary, I repeated
"Wherever you left,"
What happened to you?
Trying to get home,
You lost your way.
Button your shirt,
Zip your fly,
On your chin- breakfast dirt.
You've become
Someone unknown.
I saw your look,
When you lost my name,
I hoped it was a game.
You're not pretending
As you're slipping
Each day toward the ending.
We are both so angry
You with disconnected rages,
The doctors say
just one of the phases.

                                                                                      Robin Riley Robinson

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Et tu, Wood Duck?

Wood ducks are perching ducks that nest in trees over water. They reportedly nest readily in nesting boxes provided for them over water, though I've never seen a Wood duck in residence. They are usually set up when ponds are frozen over as it's easy to get out onto the pond surface on the ice. A box was placed on Center Pond this winter. I think it looks really stupid. It's tilted for one thing, and constructed of new wood, it's a conspicuous man-made element stuck into the middle of the pond. I suppose I'll get used to it, eventually. When the boxes are placed too closely together, multiple hens will lay as many as 40 eggs all in one nest. They do not incubate. It's a phenomenon called "nest dumping." There are lots of Wood duck boxes scattered around Phippsburg. The day the baby ducks hatch they leap from the mouth of the nest to the water below unaided by the mother that does no more than call encouragement. The ducklings can fall as far as 290 feet without injury. Now that's a leap of faith! That's why they usually nest over water; it makes a softer landing. In Maine, Wood ducks are migratory. They pair bond in January before they get here. By the time we see them, they are already hooked up.

I took these photographs on March 15th on Oak Grove Avenue in Bath. The ducks were perched over the same cemetery pond where I took the recent Mallard butt shots. The 'pond' is just a wet scrap of swampy land, not really a pond at all. A toddler could wade it without incident. For little more than a mosquito breeding hole, it hosts an amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife. I went by it when I was on my way to meet with my tax preparer. It was raining. That made it difficult to photograph the ducks as it was very dark and dismal, a good day for taxes but not a good day to photograph birds. I had never seen Wood ducks before and so I was nearly trembling. Or, my trembling may have had to do with the taxes. Either way, the photographs are not good, which was very dissapointing to me. I so wanted to share really good Wood duck photographs. I went back five times in two days trying for them again, but for not. To have seen them and only be able to get crumby photos was almost worse than never having seen them at all. I love photography beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but sometimes that thing I love betrays me. I am haunted by Wood duck dreams and will not be quite content ever again until they day I can get some good shots of them. You just wait.
March 15th is "The Ides Of March," the day that Marcus Junius Brutus supposedly killed Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.  "Et tu, Brute?" may be one of the most famous three words in the English language and epitomizes the concept of betrayal. As the story goes (historians contest this), and as William Shakespear's play went, that's what Caesar exclaimed to Brutus when he realized Brutus had betrayed him. Caesar was regarded as a mentor by Brutus and they were good buddies - Rome's own "homies." When Caesar came into power in Rome, he got a little carried away with himself and his power. Rather than wanting the Roman senate to rule, he thought he should be the boss all by himself. He even compared himself to the gods, for gods' sake! He thought of himself as an emperor with a big 'E',and had the ego to match.  Though Brutus loved him, he loved Rome and freedom more. The day came when the senate attacked old Julius and when they did, Brutus gave him up in an act of betrayal to save Rome. "Even you, Brutus," were The Big J.'s dying words.
When my camera and my skills as a photographer fail me in a moment like when I saw these Wood ducks, I feel betrayed, too. It's my own little Shakespearean tragedy.  

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Skunk Heads - Surf Scoters- One Funky Duck!

I spent some 'pier time' today as it is about fifty-five degrees and sunny. There is a brisk, off shore breeze, so I admit to donning more than my bathrobe. There were plenty of sea birds around, but few of them were close enough to photograph well. Exceptions were these Surf scoters. This chunky diving duck is called "Skunk-Head Coot," or "Skunk Head" because of the white patch on the back of the head. I don't usually see them in this close to the shore, but rather, out at sea in groups of a dozen or so. They are easy to identify from a distance as the white patch is very noticeable against the dark of the sea. Like the skunk mammal they get their name from, you don't have to see them up close to know it's them! These birds nest on freshwater lakes in Canada. The males circle around the females while on the water protecting a moving territory. When the chicks hatch, they hit the water really quickly. The mothers don't do much for them other than to protect them. Frequently, the little Skunk Heads get mixed up from one mother to another, so they may be raised by a mother other than their own. None of them seem to mind this. Surf scoters spend the winter on shallow marine shores like Maine, New Jersey and California where they can dive for crustaceans and mollusks. Spring has also brought out the other kind of skunk. The unmistakable smell of burning tires is riding heavily on the night air of late. Perhaps it's a good thing there was a stiff breeze down on the pier, in case those Skunk Heads sprayed me. Now that would be a bad birding adventure! Get out the tomato juice!

This Herring Gull stole the crab from the Skunk Head, then tore it limb from limb, breaking it down to a consumable morsel.Can you imagine the conversation between them?

And here we have a little "happy dance!"
Sick, really sick.

Thanks to David Allen Sibley -The Sibley Guide To Birds, Wikipedia and allaboutbirds.com for the information. Another terrific birding site I've discovered is 10000birds.com. It was very informative and I shall be referring to it again in the future.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hair In Your Bra & Dabbling Ducks

The Davenport Building, Bath City Hall
I took this last night at about 10:30pm. The building is awash in green light celebrating Bath's Blarney Days. Erin go Bra'gh, or 'Hair In Your Bra,' as I like to say.

I always laugh when I see ducks in this posture. Do you suppose ducks laugh when they see humans in this position? Mallards are dabbling ducks. They pull vegetative growth from the bottom for food and seem to be dabbling around as they do it. The ducks were in the Oak Grove Cemetery pond in Bath, yesterday. Do you suppose they were looking for bodies? Maybe they are actually CSIs or crime scene investigators! Maybe, they should be taken more seriously.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Outdoor Shower Season - Day Light Savings, Red-Winged Blackbird & More

This Canada goose has a mate and they have been coming to the shore right in front of the house every day. I think they may be scouting out a nesting site. They make a tremendous honking racket. When I've been on the phone I've been asked if there were geese in the yard as the caller could hear them.  I'm assuming they are a mated pair as I've heard her call him "Honey" and he calls her "Babe."
It's official! This morning, I lurched awake and immediately, looked at the clock. It said it was quarter to eight; I had grossly overslept! Nonetheless, I felt, as my father would have said, shot out of a canon. What was going on here? What was going on was that for my brain and body, it was actually quarter to seven. David, in his state of glee over Day Light Savings, had leaped from bed before daylight and made busy changing all of the clocks. He has drained the anti-freeze from his outdoor shower and had his first of the season outdoor eye opener. It's thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing thirty-five miles per hour. He is prancing around, whooping and hollering that I should try it, "It's exillarating!" He shouts. "No thank you," is my polite subdued response. There are primroses and crocuses blooming in my gardens, but they don't look enthusiastic to me. They are healthy enough, but they don't look like they really mean it. They don't look like they want to be out of bed this early either. It is official, though. Spring is here even if we get a foot of snow, which we could. The lists of projects are being compiled, the lawnmowers are being tuned, blades sharpened and the migratory birds are arriving. There will be no peace in the Robinson house until November.

                                                                  Northern Cardinal in all of his glory. He has a girl friend here, too. Even pigeons are pretty if seen in the right light.

This Cedar Waxwing was one of twenty feasting on rose hips on the Popham Road yesterday. I looked, there were no Bohemian Waxwings in the bunch. A reader told me that I had erred in my previous post about the Black Guillemot. I had said that they turn white in the summer, which is not true; they turn black. The good news is that meant the one I photographed had molted to its summer plumage about 75%, a sure sign of spring.
This is a Red-winged blackbird. Its epaulets are concealed. It does have bright red under the scapulars, the median coverts. They show the red in flight and when they are flexing the pipes for girls and to impress other guys. They are very migratory, so it's a sure sign of warm days to come.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Meadowlark - Thunderbird Not A Lark


I took this photograph in New Jersey in February, so don't any of you birders have palpitations about there being a Meadowlark here this early.We do have them in Maine, though I've never seen one here. They feed on the ground in fields and are sometimes flushed if one is walking out in a meadow. When the snow comes, they head south for open fields to feed, though on rare occasion, they have been spotted in south western Maine in the winter. The bird in this photograph is an Eastern meadowlark. The white malar or jaw area is what differentiates it from a Western meadowlark. Oddly, Meadowlarks aren't larks at all, but rather Icterids. Sometimes called Meadow starlings, they are in the same family as, you guessed it: starlings, cowbirds and Red-winged blackbirds.
    When I identified the pink Thunderbird as a 1963 model, that wasn't a lark either. I research subjects before I post about them. But this time, I assumed that model year based on the registration tag. I know that the number could be the birth date of the owner or one of his family members, or a random DMV pick or just plain a mistake. However, those possibilities seem less likely than that it's the year the car was made. Surprisingly, it wasn't as easy to verify the model year of that vehicle as I would have thought. In this case, as it's a car, I don't really care enough to spend more time on that, either. If the bird were feathered, I'd go to the ends of the earth, even risk humiliation by revealing my ignorance to get at the truth. Apparently, on identification, car buffs are quicker to shoot from their hips than birders are. The VIN has a code for the year (see this link for breaking that code). If I were willing to risk arrest for trespassing, I could pull the tarp off and look for that and other identifying features, but I'm not in the mood for jail time just now. I have provided an additional photograph showing the registration tag and a few more features of the car. As a photographer, not a car person, I took shots of what was interesting to me, but not necessarily what will clarify the matter for an automobile aficionado. I also blurred out the letters for the privacy of the owner. Had the Tbird been avian, I would have photographed it from every angle - lights, chrome trim, coverts, vents, seats, tail and all, arrest and privacy be damned. 

     A few years ago, a friend I'll call 'Marge' asked me to go with her on a walk. A sedentary person, Marge rarely went for walks and yet more rarely, asked me to go with her. I was immediately suspicious that the walk was a ruse. As we strolled along, Marge babbled endless small talk. Her tedious minutiae bored me to death, but I resisted the urge to ask her if she wanted to talk to me about something in particular. I waited for her as she struggled up a little incline. Huffing and puffing, she stopped then put both hands on her knees to catch her breath. Straightening up, she suddenly covered her face with her hands and burst into tears. Between great heaving sobs she gasped for air. I did not reach out to her; she would come to it by herself if I left her alone. "Oh, good God! Please forgive me!" Marge wailed. "I've done something just terrible! I'm in so much trouble, oh god," she moaned. I was about to ask what she had done, but I didn't need to. "You know the computer that my son gave to me for Christmas? The one for e mailing the kids?" I nodded. "Well, I've ruined it! Totally ruined it!" I asked how on earth she could have ruined it, "did you spill coffee on it or something?" "No, no, I....... I didn't spill anything," she looked away and took a few steps. Marge had been quite proud of herself for mastering certain elements of the computer. She had learned to do e mail and even do a little internet surfing. Beaming like a teenager learning to drive, she regularly called to boast about some new thing she had learned to do. "So, what happened to it," I asked her. Thinking that now, she didn't want to tell me what had happened, I listened as she started rambling about her daughter's upcoming wedding. Giving her the space she seemed to want, I asked what she was planning to wear. She told me the details of a pink dress. She sniffled. "And that's what's got me into all this trouble!" "The pink dress?" I asked. "No, no, the lipstick. It was the lipstick." While I imagined a tube of lipstick melted onto a computer keyboard and the trouble that would cause, Marge told me about a particular lipstick which she wanted to go with her dress. "I just haven't been able to find that exact same shade anywhere. I've looked and I've looked hard, too! I've looked every where, at all the department stores, but nobody's got it!" She went on, "It's the perfect shade for me, too. Everybody says I look great when I'm wearing that, so it's got to be that and I really want it!" Her petulant side steamed out. When I asked the name of the manufacturer, she explained that it was a custom blend from a kiosk in a Florida mall. That made her search difficult. Marge said "So, I thought, hey! I'll look on the internet! I know how to do that! I went on line and typed in the color, 'Fantasy Pink,' then that's when all the trouble started!" She started to cry again, covering her face. I groaned, immediately imaging what 'the trouble' may have been. "Oh, god, you didn't. What happened," I asked her. "Well, I hit enter and suddenly there was a giant penis on the screen! It was huge! And then little blocks started filling in around it with all different penises until the whole screen was filled with penises! Then, the big one started gushing silver glitter!" She was looking at me now, and in her watery eyes I could see an excited twinkle. "I didn't know what to do; I kept hitting keys to make it stop, but it wouldn't. Delete, delete, delete but I couldn't get it to close! So, I panicked and pulled the plug out of the wall! That was three days ago and I haven't touched the computer since. My son is just going to kill me," she trailed off. Laughing, I told her "Oh, Marge! Don't worry about that; the computer isn't broken. It may take a little clean-up so you don't keep getting porn sites every time you go on the internet, but it's not broken. Everybody does that at least once!" This wasn't totally honest, but it was one of those reflexive equalizing remarks a person makes when listening to another's troubles. As I said it, I realized I had never actually done anything like that myself. Shyly, and looking away, Marge continued. "Uh, well, I might not have shut it off fast enough." "What do you mean" I asked her. Now talking into her coat sleeve, Marge said "I watched it for longer than what I said. I didn't shut it off that fast; I kind of liked it." Then, I just howled with laughter until I had tears in my eyes, too.
    Yesterday, when I commenced with research to identify the model year of the Thunderbird, I found out that what I called 'pink,' Ford calls 'Samoan Coral.' I found it surprisingly harder than expected to get information on vintage Tbirds and their manufacture years. I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, either and became quite frustrated. In my haste, I typed in the Google search "Thunderbird dating." I'm not going to even tell you what came up on my computer screen! It's true what they say, "To each, his day will come."

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rare, Pink Thunderbird, Black Guillemot And Turkey Vultures

There has been so very little for bird action around here that I'm getting desperate. So, I'm driven to show this grill from a pink Thunderbird for lack of the avian kind. Can you guess what year?  I had hoped that after the Big Storm on February 25th that something would blow in, but no such luck. I went birding for five hours in Phippsburg a few days ago and came up with nothing, mysteriously, not even the usual suspects (another birding term for the birds that are always around)! Luckily, the tarp covering the Thunderbird had blown back revealing my only lucky bird.

The closest I came to the avian kind was this Black Guillemot. It's molting into its summer plumage, which will be mostly white. We don't usually see them in this close as they are ocean birds or what birders call "Pelagics." The pelagic zone of the ocean is anything further out than the low tide line but not on the bottom. Black Guillemots have bright red feet matched by the inside of their mouths. I sent these photos to the Maine Audubon List Serve with a query about its identification since I have only seen one or two of them in my life. If it had only opened its mouth, I would nonetheless, have known immediately what it was as the red mouth is a striking feature. Oh, if only, if only! That's a common birder's lament. Black Guillemots aren't rare here, but I had to make do with that. Birders are reporting that the Turkey Vultures have returned for the season. I haven't seen any here in Totman Cove, yet. They are criss-crossing Route 295 just south of here, so they will be here shortly. In spite of having the most hideous heads, they are beautiful birds. They are magnificent, graceful fliers that rival the majesty and power of Bald eagles. Do you suppose they are jealous of eagles and think that they put on airs?

Look at the muscle in those shoulders! Were Thunderbirds considered muscle cars? Probably not, and this one is pink! By the way, it is a 1963 TBird. 


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Maine Photography Show

Burnt Coat Island

Gold Dragonfly Blue Water
For three years running, I have entered the Maine Photography Show. These are the images I submitted this year. None of them were chosen by the juror, John Paul Caponegro. What do you think?
All of them were shot in Phippsburg. The first one is of Burnt Coat Island. It was shot very early on a summer morning. Our dog had run off in the middle of the night and we were out searching for him. He wasn't there. I'll never forget the anxiety of not finding him, nor will I forget the delicious morning light in that cove.  The second one, submitted in the black and white category, was also shot on a summer day, but in the afternoon. It was hot and I had been working in a garden 'Weeding For Dollars.' To cool down, I walked to the edge of the lake for the bits of breeze and shade that there were to be had. The view of the lake seemed perfectly framed by this huge ash tree. Coincidentally, the dragonfly photo was taken on the same lake. It was the middle of the day when everything seems to shimmer and the cicadas whine is almost intolerable.
Entering photography contests can be most disheartening, especially when I've got no idea where these images failed. So, it would truly be helpful if some of you would wade in to tell me what you think of them, because there's always next year. Unless I can learn from this I'll just make the same mistakes, whatever they may have been, over again. I'm funny that way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Please Turn Out The Lights - More Mute Swans

In response to my post about New Jersey and the Mute swans, I received some e mails in defense of The Garden State and a suggestion of mass slaughter as a reasonable control measure for that aggressive bird species. Since photographing them, I have spoken to several people who told me about being attacked by swans while kayaking and canoeing. This lead me to some internet research which confirmed that this is a serious problem where the big birds have established nesting colonies. One such population of swans in Purdy, New York is visible while whizzing at 45,670 mph along the Saw Mill Parkway. Zooming in on a  Google map I could actually make out the geese on the water as they are so large. Knowing how much poo Canada geese produce in a day; it's reasonable to speculate that Mute swans produce even more. A flapping, hissing, crapping machine with a bad attitude could definitely render a summer outing in Purdy not so 'purdy.' That being said, it seems extreme to be willing to fall on a grenade in martyrdom to commit mass swan-ecide as one reader stated willingness to do. Several states employ lethal and non-lethal population control measures. As a serious birder, I was slightly embarrassed to have been so gushingly and openly smitten with them. It was a lady birder's version of coming out of a restroom with my  slip tucked into the back of my pantie-hose hauling my dress up for all the world to see my arse. It's been years since I last did that. It's a mistake a woman only makes once, but the humiliation of it when it's pointed out (always publicly, it seems) stays with a girl. I do wonder if in Europe, Asia and Russia where they are 'native,' if the swans are regarded differently and if means are used to control their populations. Popular thinking amongst birders is that they were introduced to this country for aesthetic reasons (There is argument about this; see links below). However, the consequences were not known.  Surely, no one thought anything bad could come of the graceful birds. Like the swans, people - the human inhabitants, have been drawn to New Jersey for good reasons, too - so many, in fact, that much of the natural beauty of the state has been irrevocably altered if not destroyed. The consequences of their numbers was not understood fully until it was too late, either. The cars and concrete and malls are there to stay.
        I recently discovered that astrophotographers, those who photograph the stars hate the full moon. It had never occurred to me that anyone besides insomniacs and employees of psychiatric units would hate the beauty of a full moon any more than someone might hate swans, but they do. The light of the moon makes it nearly impossible to photograph the stars, comets, the Aurora Borealis and many other naturally occurring events. Man made light pollution is an ever increasing problem resulting in ever fewer nights suitable for documenting the night sky. Every new house creates more lights. It seems innocent enough to turn on a light, even necessary. But, a little bit at a time, as we populate  earth, the lights go on and stay on. To be able to visualize the glory of the night sky gets harder and harder, well - every night. Here, on Totman Cove, we have always savored that part of winter. It's when our pristine night sky blooms. In the summer, our cove is rimmed with cottages and twinkling lights. We sometimes can hear music and laughter from people happy and having fun during their seaside vacation. We don't begrudge that and even enjoy it, though we do cherish when the lights go out. But this winter, across the cove there has been a security light on an unoccupied summer home which has been lit twenty-four hours a day since Labor Day. It's especially urksome when the power goes out because they have a  battery back up with an even brighter bulb. In the winter, no one lives on the road rimming the cove with cottages like beads on a string. The security light secures nothing from no one. Yet, there it is, piercing through the darkness, bouncing across the water to my darkened windows, eroding the beauty of the night sky. The people who own the cottage are from Massachusetts. I'm sure they mean no harm nor even realize their light has marred something precious. Probably, they've just done something familiar out of habit brought from an urban environment. Where they come from, what's one more light? What's one pretty swan brought to these shores from far away? All those people and cars and concrete in New Jersey didn't get there suddenly overnight. It happened one light at a time.

Some research suggests that Mute swans may have come here of their own accord without being introduced by man in the mid 1800's, as is generally thought.    If you want to read about that idea, click on this green stuff. Uh, text. It will connect you to a link on the subject. Wikipedia also sites a reference to this effect.

Perhaps if they weren't Mute swans, they would say "Please turn out the lights." They get their English name from being less vocal than other swans, though not actually mute.

Mute swans, as do most swans, mate for life. They sometimes get divorced when a nesting failure occurs. I wonder if they call lawyers, if not for divorce actions, perhaps for slander and libel suits. In French, their name is Cygne tuberculé from the nob on the honker. Naaaaaice! In German they are Höckerschwan which sounds like the noise one would make when hawking a lunger. In Spanish they are known as Cisne Vulgar. Vulgar or not, in many cultures, swans symbolize love, purity and elegance.

Atlantic City, N.J., as seen from the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Oceanville, New Jersey

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