Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Unidentified Insects, Phippsburg, Maine

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Tomato Crazy" A Cult Classic Starring Robin Robinson

     Recently, I was asked, "Do you have too many tomatoes?" I didn't hesitate. "No! I could never have too many tomatoes!" But, that's not totally true. In years past, when I've had big vegetable gardens, I have had too many tomatoes. I've called people and asked the same question. I think a common trait amongst vegetable gardeners is frugality. Most vegetable gardeners don't throw produce out unless it goes onto their own compost heap where it will one day give again. They freeze, can,  cook and besiege friends and co-workers with bountiful gifts of harvest. That's a nice way of saying that they unload the end results of their compulsions and guilt on other people in the form of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, tomatillos, parsley or cucumbers (shall I go on?).
   One year, in the refrigerator, at the bottom of a plastic bag, I had one potato that had sprouted eyes like purple tentacles. I buried it in the vegetable garden for kicks and forgot about it. At the end of the season, after the first frost turned the greens to black slime, I decided to dig it up. I pushed the garden fork into the soil, pressing downward with my foot. I felt something underground - resistance. So as not to gouge the potatoes, I backed off the fork and moved out a little. I pushed again. More resistance. Moving outward, I pushed in again. I kept at this, moving further and further out each time. I was thinking, "What the hell is under there?!" It couldn't be a potato! It would have to be the size of a Volkswagen! Eventually, I dug up a lone potato that was, in fact, the size of a Volkswagen. Or, to be honest, maybe a SmartCar. I swear - it had a pulse or at least, its own zip code. It was enormous! It was so big, that I couldn't bring myself to chop it up. It was a country fair freak show vegetable, a side show. It could have been featured in a tent; to enter, only people over 18 could get a ticket. "Come one! Come all! Get a peek at the pulsing, colossus!" the hawker would chant to passers by. At the very least, it could have starred in a David Lynch cult movie. After all, there was weird asparagus in the 1977 classic, Eraserhead. I had a star on my hands! I decided to take it to work.
     At the time, I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield, or "Blue Cross Blue Cheese," as  I liked to call it. By any name, it was a white collar cubicle hell that would have put Dilbert in a psychiatric unit. It was a staid, dull work place. And, that was before Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) and before "organic" became a markettable concept. "Take A Vegetable To Work Day" had not yet been conceived, either.
     I wasn't the only one who brought produce to work. However, others generally brought things like fat and sugar laden zucchini bread, or maybe a daring jar of Bread And Butter pickles, certainly not a humungous, grotesque, single potato.  Well, there was that woman who brought the incessant dahlias. Her dahlias kept on giving until I wanted to scream. I like dahlias, but when a person insists on giving them to you over and over again because they can't stop them selves and neither can their dahlias, well that's another thing entirely. When no one would take them anymore, she showed up with mayonnaise jars full of them every day. The office looked like a dahlia funeral home. They were everywhere! The receptionist's head was not even visible when a person entered the building. When a visitor approached her desk, they talked to a big, pink or yellow or peach or white dahlia depending on the day. Sometimes it was deep red ones that looked like raw beef steak on a stick.  I can't even remember the dahlia woman's name. Dahlia? Maybe her name was actually Dahlia. Come to think of it, I can't remember her face either. I only have this image of a doughty, female form with a head like a giant, "Dinner Plate" dahlia. It's not an attractive image, either. The body is a mayonnaise jar with a voice speaking from a dahlia face. It's hideous, a nightmare to be sure. I know what you're thinking: I brought the giant potato to the same place of employment. But I only did that once.
      We had just recently been given e mail in the office. E mail was a brand new tool and it was only available in house. The Internet existed, but only the military had it. Can you imagine that? All of our information sharing was done on paper in the form of memos. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining about e mail. "What do we have to learn to do this for?" And there were people who refused to learn to do it. But, I embraced the whole idea. I was a quick study and learned to use it very quickly. One of the first things I did was tell the entire two hundred plus cubicles about my potato.
     I raffled it off. I didn't take money, much as I would have liked to. I understood the power of e mail and what I could gain from it, but I had limits. That's the only reason I wasn't the original founder of eBay. Even I realized I could lose my job by exploiting my potato and using company resources to do it. So, I had people guess the weight of the potato. The person who came closest could have the potato cooked to their specifications by me. I was a pretty decent cook, so this was an incentive. I made a whole 9x13 dish of au'gratin from that single potato which weighed...............2.8 pounds. It seemed like a anti-climactic end to the splendid spud, but after all - at it's heart it was just a potato.
     With the tomatoes bestowed upon me last week, I made cream of tomato soup. I had left over brown rice and used about a cup of lovage. I have lovage in my minuscule container garden. It was given to me by another crazed gardener, of course. Even my son the chef doesn't know what lovage is, never mind what to do with it, I asked. I used fresh thyme, basil and parsley. The cream base was fat free Greek yogurt and milk. I threw in a couple of generous glugs of white wine - the remaining quarter cup at the bottom of the bottle where the fruit flies had drowned. David loved the soup so much, he's been dreaming about it at night. He thrashes in his sleep and babbles about it during the day as if driven insane. "That tomato soup was so good! I drive around town and see everybody's tomatoes going to hell and I just want to take them. It's driving me crazy.........." he trailed off. He seemed confused, dazed, in a tomato haze. Maybe I'll ask him if he wants to star in a movie.............I'll call it "Tomato Crazy."    

This is another cooking drama from which bad dreams were born. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

"ASSASSIN!" Red-eyed Vireo With Assassin Bug

     A few days ago, while Weeding For Dollars and  minding my own business, I was suddenly surrounded by dozens of little birds. Going for my camera, there was a flurry of five or six Tufted Titmice slamming into the screen door as if trying to get into the house. With them were Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped warblers, Cedar waxwings and this Red-eyed vireo. The shrubs and trees were rich and alive with twittering, tweeting chittering passerines. It felt like an attack!
     Passerines are birds in the order Passeriformes. Nearly half of all birds fall into this group including the perching birds and songbirds. The little tweetie birds are Passerines. During migration in either spring or fall, the trees buzz and trill with them as they pass through, gleaning insects and picking seeds as fast as they can. Especially in fall, they congregate in mixed flocks like the one that overwhelmed me.
     The Red-eyed vireo jumped from the leaves in front of me carrying this insect. I think it's an Assassin Bug. Assassin bugs are predacious. They lie in wait to ambush their prey. Then, they stab the victim with their proboscis or beak and suck out the vital juices. There are 3,000 species of 'Conenose bugs,' also called 'Kissing bugs." About 100 of them suck blood. The blood sucking members of the family are abundant in warm climates.  In South America, there is one member of the family Reduviidae that bites humans around the eye lids and lips. It crawls onto the face while the person is sleeping inflicting a painful bite. They carry a potentially deadly protozoan causing potentially fatal Chagas Disease. Chagas Disease, called "mal de Chagas", in Paraguay is similar to Sleeping Sickness which occurs in Africa.
     During my tour in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, I was bitten by one of these monsters while I slept. When I woke up, my entire left eye was swelled shut. I was tested from Chagas Disease, but the results were inconclusive. Maybe I had it; maybe I didn't. The organism can remain dormant in the body for decades. To date, I have not developed symptoms. It's been over thirty years, but I'm still waiting. Assassin bugs here aren't a threat to anyone, so I wouldn't kill one. Still, I admit to a certain glee at seeing it about to be lunch for the Vireo. "Who's the assassin now, mister?"

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sandfire, Pickles & Mouse Nipples - Salicornia Or Sarcocornia

    A few days ago, while birding on Green Point in Phippsburg, I photographed this stunning plant. The top photo is the same plant, just not as mature as the one on the bottom. It was growing on a sandbar along the shore on what would be considered tidal marsh amongst eel grasses and Sea Lavender. I just thought it was pretty, but it turns out to be a complex and useful plant. Put it this way, if you ever wind up on the moon or a desert island with me, you'll thank your lucky stars. 
      Sarcocornia is a subfamily member of the genus Salicornia, a large family of salt-tolerant succulents. The taxonomy of this family is difficult and controversial because the morphology of the plants is very similar. You've really got to be a botanist to sort it out.  Though many authors disagree, the plants are generally separated based on the flower structure and whether they are perennial or shrubby, versus annual. The botanical name has changed several times because the the separation of Sarcocornia from Salicornia was not generally accepted until after the start of the 21st century. In 2001, it was called Salicornia perennis; in 2004 it was called Arthrocnemun perenne, and in 2006 it was called Sarcocornia perennis. Next year? Who knows! I for one, can hardly stand the drama. Don't you just hate it when botanists fight? It's like that show Jersey Shore for God's sake! I only bothered to tell you because all that made looking up about this pretty, red plant very difficult. I've saved you a load of work there. See? You're already glad you are on the desert island with me; I can tell. 
      The genus names come from the Greek, 'sarco,' meaning flesh, and the Latin, 'cornia,' meaning horn, and 'sal,' which is salt. That's easy enough to remember, no? Thankfully, the common names are delightful and memorable. Called Saltwort, Glasswort,  Samphire, Sandfire, Sea Beans, Chickenclaws and Mouse Nipples, it's edible. The name "Glasswort," comes from the soda-rich ashes left after burning the plant which were used in early glass and soap making. According to some references, it's also being considered as a biofuel as the seeds are high in oils. Salicornia not only grows on salt marshes, but grows in deserts and can be irrigated with salt water. It is also used as fodder for cattle, sheep and goats and in Sri Lanka, it is used to feed donkeys. What could be more useful than that?
     They are also edible and a common food stuff in Brittany where they pickle it. The vernacular name ‘samphire’ comes from ‘sampere,’ an early English name from the French ‘herbe de St.Pierre.’ I thought 'Sandfire' came from the flaming red that the aging plant turns in the fall, but it turns out that's an English mangling of the French. Go figure. On this continent, in the Maritime provences of Canada it is steamed or sauteed, then doused with butter. It's usually served with salmon, though I did find a pairing with lamb. I haven't tried it, but it's reported to be very salty, thus, the name "Saltwort." The Acadians named it after mouse nipples because of the little, dotlike balls that cluster on the stem. "Chickenclaws" also comes from the appearance, "Sea Beans" from what it looks like cooked - little, green beans. Salicornias are harvested when the plants are young and can be eaten fresh. Inside the flesh is a stringy center. It's cooked with the roots on, then pulled through the teeth leaving behind the core.
     I hope you have stayed awake and taken all of this in. Your life could one day depend on it. The next time you are out on a salt marsh, look for this beautiful, versatile plant. If you get stranded out there or on a desert island with me, you'll be able to feed, wash, warm and save your ass with one plant.

My Friend Flicka - Northern Flicker

This Northern Flicker is female. Males have a black moustache.
     My parents had some knowledge of birds, which they imparted to us as children. Though declared with conviction, their information was frequently inaccurate. Additionally, my mother had an intense Maine accent which gave her "facts" another interesting twist. She often dropped 'Rs' and added them into words where they were not.
     Listening to what my parents said, then parroting it back to them, was a necessary skill I developed early on. I revered them and all that they said, plus, it was imperative that they be pleased. Regardless of anyone's motivations, I did develop an above average interest in birds which has carried me on an ever growing wave into adulthood. To be completely accurate, I should say my interest has continued well into middle age. Though I'm that old, I can still hear my parents in my head like it was yesterday. I can clearly hear my mother in my mind every time I see a Northern Flicker.
     On seeing a Northern Flicker, my mother would shout enthusiastically, "Look! There's a Flick'a!" I have to confess that until I was well into my thirties, I thought that bird was a "Flick'a," not a Flick-er. Confident that I knew the bird, I never actually looked it up. Had I, I would have seen the 'r' at the end. Compounding my youthful confusion was a TV show. During the late fifties through the mid sixties, there was a popular TV series, "My Friend Flicka." It was based on a novel written in 1941 by Mary O'Hara about a boy and his horse. I'm sure you remember this, whether you want to admit it or not. Look in the mirror, you too are probably at least as old as I am. The horse's name was Flicka, which in Swedish means "little girl." Of course, in my house, the horse's name was "Flick-er" The mispronouciation of the bird's name and the horse's name was a confusing jumble of information delivered to me during my formative years. Worse yet, I have terrible survivor guilt, because I have repeated all of that misinformation many times over to many people, including my own children and did so with my mother's same imperious conviction. Please forgive me, I just didn't know. I hope I didn't drive anyone to psychotherapy or ruin any one's life.

     The Flick'a is a medium-sized woodpecker that's native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. The Caymans had a lovely postage stamp with an image of a Flick'a. Unlike most woodpeckers, Flick'as prefer to feed on the ground. Ants make up most of their diet. Their tongue extends two inches beyond the bill and has barbs for pulling ants out of their holes. They are often seen on lawns poking in the grass for insects. Flick'as are also one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. Because they migrate, there are more of them here now than all summer long. They have a loping flight, common amongst woodpeckers. When they fly, the yellow tail feathers and undersides of their wings that gives them the name "Yellow-Shafted Flicker" can be seen. The Yellow-shafted are common in the eastern U.S., but in the west, there are Red-shafted Flickers. It was once believed that the Yellow-shafted and Red -shafted were different species. They are, however, both Northern Flickers. Where their ranges overlap, they hybridize. There are over 100 common names for the Northern Flicker. Among them are: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, heigh-ho, harry-wicket, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls. I'll add that in Maine, we call it a Flick'a.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Food Flop - Great Blue Herons Feeding

"Ya know, Randy - you embarrass the whole birding community when you do that."
"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"
Recently, I posted about Great Blue Herons getting really touchy with each other while feeding. These are the same herons, one of them actually committing a feeding. I say 'committing,' because this looks like a crime of ungainliness, a felony of spasticity for sure. I had guessed that they were juveniles. Besides their feathering, this behavior is one of the things that made me think they were young. The one on the right, Randy was standing, then suddenly lurched forward falling on his face. Give the guy credit, at least he didn't just fall from the sky. I have never seen herons do this. They usually stand poised to strike and will remain in that fixed position for quite a while before striking the water with a deft, spearing move. There was nothing smooth about Randy's technique, he looked ridiculous! I guess everybody has to start somewhere when they are learning to do something new. Few beasts nor men are born as prodigies. Most of us have to do a thing over and over before we can dependably execute the move.
     I also have written recently, and more than a few times, about some of the not so patient nor benevolent folks in the birding world. To be honest and fair, though, I have too also say that there are some really great people in birding, too. I have had the pleasure and good fortune to meet numerous of them. And, I met them by way of the Internet. The Internet is an entity which also gets a bad rap, as if it has a soul and a face and is somehow evil. Like the birding 'community,' the Internet is what you make it, good, bad or otherwise. Had it not been for birding, the Internet and birders who use the Internet, I would not have met these very cool people, nor learned nearly as much as I have. All of these people know more about birding than I'll ever be lucky enough to forget. They are experts with a capital 'E.' They have, in fact, walked out on mudflats and mountain tops with me, to see what we could see and to teach me. They treated me with courtesy, positive regard and made me feel that I had something to bring to birding. They have been very giving and patient. In short, they've watched me thrash around like a juvenile heron learning to catch my first fish without laughing or giving up on me. Now, if only I had legs as long as a heron and would stop falling down on the birds while I work on my identifications, the world would be a just and better place.

Thank you, Mike and Paul, Mark and John, Jo and every one who has held my hand and helped me up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Everything But Snow - Snowy Egrets, Piermen And L.L. Bean

Migrating Snowy egrets
The weather has been very unsettled the past few days. It has changed from beaming sunshine to pouring rain several times during the course of each day. Last night, there was a rainbow to the east after a deluge of rain. It cleared up for a few minutes and then rained again. When the sun has come out, it's been beastly hot. The birds know the season is changing and are congregating to migrate. We are definitely in a fall weather pattern, though so far, it has done everything but snow.  
     The weather hasn't been the only thing unsettled around here. We've had a crew working on the pilings on our pier. That has involved men showing up around the tides, not necessarily times when I want people around. They've been hauling, pulling, yanking, yelling, and swearing over the racket of chainsaws, massive drills, Sawzalls and a bellowing generator. Twenty foot 8x8 timbers have been slung over the pier deck then hoisted by hand into place, a harrowing process to watch - one wrong move could easily kill someone. This would be enough to fray any reasonable person's nerves. But, if it wasn't enough, at the same time we have had a photography crew here doing a photo shoot for a future L.L. Bean catalogue.
     Obviously, we knew they were coming. We've had the timbers for the pier here for weeks, planned around the lowest tides predicted. For a month in advance of  L.L.Bean's arrival, we had been weeding, pruning, repairing, painting and cleaning. The L.L. Bean contact person had insisted that we not do a thing ahead, that they would take care of it. "We'll be bringing people to clean and move things around. We'll take your stuff out of the house and bring our products in. There'll be a dozen or so of us tracking in and out, so don't clean," he told us. I don't think any home owner would listen to that though. I didn't. I wanted everything to look just so and David and I had gone to great lengths to make that happen. We were feeling pretty good about all we had accomplished, too. But, let's not forget that I am a procrastinator.
    In spite of all the work we had done, I had left a couple of days worth of tasks to be jammed into the one day remaining before they came. I still had to pick up piles of papers, magazines and such, straighten slip covers and vacuum. Waiting until the last minute, I hadn't vacuumed in a couple of weeks. And, I'd have to pick up that dish left by the couch. Oh ya, clean the front of the refrigerator. Gross! "And the toilets, don't forget the toilets," I told myself. You know how that goes. The list is endless, but at some point you just have to let it go and figure good enough is good enough. And, I did have one more whole day. It was only Tuesday and they weren't going to be here until 7:30 A.M. on Thursday. 
     As expected, there was a crew of twelve people, fleets of cars and trucks, lighting and camera equipment, load of electronics, wires, cables, boxes, furniture and other home goods, a caterer and tons of equipment.  What I didn't expect was that instead of Thursday morning at 7:30, the whole circus showed up on Wednesday while David and I were still in bed. Oops!
    Mea culpa, the mistake was definitely mine. I had even written the correct days of the week that they were to be here on the calendar. But somehow, I had it in my head that Thursday and Friday were the days, not Wednesday and Thursday. David and I leaped out of bed faster than teenage lovers caught by their parents. You have never seen two people move so fast! And the L.L. Bean man was right: they could not have cared less about the dog hair or dust or crumbs on the couch. They also could not have been nicer people, which was a good thing, since they crawled around every aspect of the house and grounds like ants for two days.
    Oh, and did I mention that the guys were still working on the pier while this was going on? Tide and time wait for no man, nor does a photography crew when the light is good. With that in mind, when David told me that there were twenty Snowy egrets at Lobster Cove, I grabbed my gear and headed for the door. Over my shoulder I hollered to the L.L. Bean crew, "I'll be right back! I gotta go photograph something!" They never looked up from arranging their boat totes and cushions. I'm really glad I went, too. Nothing could have been better for my frayed nerves than this flock of birds. While shooting them, I completely forgot about the mayhem back at my house; all I could see was the fluttering whiteness of wings. The birds made it look as if a soothing snow had fallen after all. It's a good thing, too. I'm  really ready for this frantic summer to be over.
"Look out! I'm comin' in!"

There were twenty Snowies in this flock, though I could only get sixteen in a frame at one time. They were very busy fishing and quite irritable with each other.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Seamy Side Of Charlotte's Web - Hummingbird Caught In Spider's Web

A female, Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the care of my handsome husband. Some of you know me well enough to ask if the hummingbird is alive. Yes, it's very much alive, and so is my husband.

See the residual spider's web on the bird's wing? She is resting after her ordeal. 

Areneus gemma and her orb web gems.
This isn't merely to gross you out. She's eating a bundle of flies. If she could subdue it, she would bundle and eat a hummingbird the same way.
     The Ruby-throated hummingbird had become ensnared in a spider's web. I happened to find her on my deck. Fearing she was dead, I picked her up, then felt her quiver. Gingerly, I picked away the web. By weight, the web had the strength of steel. The bird could not have been worse off had she been bound up in duct tape. Hummingbirds can die of strokes and heart attacks when frightened badly enough, so I worked quickly. Then, I set her on the end of the stick where she sat long enough for a few photos, and the tender ministrations of my husband. Who's cuter, him or her? Hhhhhmmmm. He's adorable, but I did remind him that the size of his head from her point of view was probably comparable to a meteor barrelling down on him.
     Hummingbirds use spider's web for nest material to affix lichens and mosses to tree branches. They also steal insects from webs for food before the spider gets to them. That's probably what this bird was doing when she got snarled up. In case you feel sorry for the humming bird, remember that the poor spider was a mother to some little spider somewhere.  
     A common, late summer spider here is the orb-weaver Araneus gemma. This large spider is sometimes called the "cat-face", "monkey-face" or "humpback" spider since it has a pattern of dark markings and raised areas on its back that look like a face. I turned the spider upside down on the above left so you can make that out. Now, don't be squeamish. Look at it. It's the same spider that Charlotte's Web  was written about, so how bad can it be?
     Females of this spider are generally rounded with angular 'shoulders' and can reach a size exceeding a quarter. They make webs in undisturbed corners, often near porch lights, and are found in late August and September around the eaves of houses. The spider hangs upside down waiting for prey. She remains in contact with the web via a "trap-line" thread that signals when insects have been ensnared, or perhaps, a hummingbird. When an insect hits the web, the spider rushes to it, bites it, then wraps it up like a burrito. A spider would have to be able to subdue a hummingbird in order to eat it, though technically, it could. More hummingbirds are eaten by Praying Mantises than spiders.
     These spiders are abundant in our yard right now. I counted twelve before I wrote this even after last night's hurricane winds. The webs are round, thus the family name, "orb-weaver," and big - almost two feet across. I admit they are sort of annoying when I walk into them face first. Since they like doorways, this happens frequently. Some people use a broom to clear them away. If you are one of those people, you may now leave the room. Would you whack a Praying Mantis? It's praying, for God's sake! Would you go at Charlie Weaver (may he rest in peace) with a broom? Where do you think he got that name? Orb-weavers lay eggs in a sack that they then carry to someplace that looks good and stuff it where it will later hatch hundreds of baby spiders. Many of them overwinter as tiny spiderettes until spring. The little spiders get around by 'ballooning.' They spin a thread of web then leap into the air where they are carried away on their web tethers. Would you whack at Charlotte or her children? Huh? 
     When I lived in Paraguay, tarantulas were plentiful. Most mornings when I arose, they were sauntering across the floor of my dwelling. Sometimes my cat, employed to keep the rats under control, would be playing hockey with them. The tarantulas would not have killed me if I had been bitten, but they would have killed my cat. Nonetheless, I did not whack at them with a broom. I used a broom to scoop them up and toss them out, even though each morning they returned. They ate a lot of cockroaches, so it seemed fair that I tolerated them. I have put my money where my mouth has been when it's come to putting up with spiders. Now, I must go find my broom so that I can whack at my husband to keep him away from the humming birds.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"We're All Gonna Die!" Herring Gull's Eye On The Storm

"Just call me Earl."
    Beady eyed Herring Gull conducting storm watch.

 I'm sure all of you know that there is a big ole' storm barrelling toward the eastern coast of the United States. The storm's name is Earl. Wouldn't it be just like a guy named Earl to ruin your life? No offense to the perfectly decent guys out there with that moniker. However, there is a reason that The Dixie Chicks wrote a song about killing a guy named Earl. Most Earls turn out to be bad news.    

  I am a weather watcher. It's not an accident that, to my knowledge,  I'm the only person to photograph a tornado in progress in Maine. I was at the ready with the camera and glued to the events out the window when it erupted. The "Thanksgiving Twister", as we like to think of her, also imparted to me a tangible sense of how bad the weather can be and very suddenly. It marked me with a lasting impression of anxious urgency which is heightened immensely when they start squawking on the T.V. about the monster's advance across the ocean. As much as I hate the relentless chatter, I am drawn like a moth to a flame. I can't help but watch the computer tracts marching across the screen and the magnificent cloud photographs taken from space.  

    I have always been interested in the weather and what makes it. One of my favorite books is about identifying cloud formations as part of anticipating weather events. I'm a member of  The Cloud Appreciation Society and proud of it. It fascinates me that the huge, rotating clouds coming across the Atlantic start out in the African desert. Earl will be carrying dust from the sands of the Sahara.
    Of course, living on a rock sticking into the Atlantic ocean prompts me to be more than a passive observer. Not just a weather voyeur, watching from the comfort of my living room as events unfold and approach; I'm emotionally involved!. After all, there is nothing but ocean between my recliner and Morocco. When you look at a world globe with that in mind, it's sobering. I can almost feel the grit of those Saharan sands in my teeth as the storm gets closer. And closer, and closer.  But, I'll wait until the wind whips up and the rain is slashing before I get serious about putting away any patio furniture. Though I'm a nervous wreck, I'm also a procrastinator. I work best under a ridiculous deadline.
     With that in mind, I'm still printing and matting photographs for the Boothbay Regional Arts show on Saturday. Yep, art on the waterfront under a lovely, white tent. It ought to be interesting when Earl gets his teeth into that tent and our photographs ragging it all like a dog with a bone! We're Mainers in our camera club, so we are waiting it out to see what develops - no cancelling too early for us! Wish us luck (we do have a rain date of Sunday the 5th). Now, I must get back to finding the remote control and the weather channel - background music for my photo matting.  
"Duck! Take cover! We're all gonna die!"

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Rickie, Go Home!" Great Blue Heron Battle

"Go home, Rickie!"
"I'm tellin' Mom you were hangin' out on the railroad tracks!"
     Birders use lots of abbreviations for bird names, especially when posting lists of birds to the Internet. It's just too much typing to spell them all out completely. Somewhere, there is a list of 'approved,' or acceptable abbreviations. Medicine has this, too. That way, even when those in the know are using slang, everyone will know what is being referred to. After all, when your state of affairs is being documented in a hospital record, you may one day want your lawyer to be able to interpret the content. And, if your nurse or physician came from some other state besides delirium,  apathy or the one you live in, it's good that all your health care providers are on the same page. Your life could depend on it.
     Some birders use obscure abbreviations when flaunting their egos. They like to use abbreviations and slang because it sets them apart from other, less experienced birders. It's a way of establishing and maintaining a pecking order, if you will. There can be quite a bit of snobbery and competitiveness in birding. Birding brings even some of the weakest egos bubbling to the surface of the identification soup. One would think in a scientific hobby as organic as watching birds that everybody would be nice and want to bring the new kids, the "Rickies," up and along. Sadly, not so. There are plenty of birders out there who seem to live to prove someone else wrong or even out to be a liar! Many of them would not be seen on a mudflat with the likes of me. I'm a real "Rickie."
     If you think you've seen something rare, you had better be prepared to back up your sighting with a few hundred photos and it wouldn't hurt to throw in some DNA evidence, either. Your integrity as a birder could depend on it. I know a birder who was basically called a liar for saying he saw a rare bird here. He's an extremely knowledgeable birder and very decent guy. I have no reason to question his integrity, either. Sadly, he no longer participates in Maine's list serve because of this event. It's pretty tawdry when a gang of tweed and bow tie wearing pedants with binoculars can't all get along. Thank you, Rodney King.
     In fairness though, more often than not birders use abbreviations and slang simply because it's easier. After all, most of us are old enough - geezers in fact, that we've got some palsy setting in. Our typing just ain't what it used to be. So, a Black-capped chickadee would be a BCchick, a Common golden-eye, a ComGoldey, an American robin, an Amrob, etc. Great Blue herons are GBHs. In the case of these photos though, that could mean "Go back home, Rickie!"
     I stopped by the Magnificent Acre at Winnegance. These GBHs were on the mud flats at low tide. I don't know enough to say whether they were juveniles or adults. I can say they were Great Blue herons, but that's about it. To me, they looked like squabbling brothers beginning a long migration to Florida. Several times while they were feeding, one would get too close to the other, then these semi-aerial battles broke out. The wing spans were magnificent, but there was a lot of gracelss floundering of those long legs. Sometimes they actually kicked up mud slop.  I could just imagine two boys, an older and younger brother, "Go home Rickie! I'm telling mom you've been hanging out on the railroad tracks again!" The big brother and the little brother are stuck with each other, each begrudging the company of the other. But survival of the species depends on them being together. They learn effective predation defences and better fishing techinques from one another's examples. If only they would learn to play nice, like the humans who are infatuated with watching them.
"Get outta here, Rickie! I'm gonna knock your block off!"

Wordless Wednesday