Actually its only new to me, a 150-500mm F/5-6.3 Sigma zoom, and frankly I don't know how to drive it yet. So far it has become obvious that I can't stand too close to the subject, and I have to hold the camera steady. The squirrel was the first shot taken through the Growlery window. Got a bit of depth of field issue. ;-)
Yesterday we made our first trip to our Laneboro cottage to turn the heat up and water back on. It was drizzly, but we picked up fallen branches on the front lawn and I took photos of the flowers popping up through the grass and the daffodils budding out in what was at one time Stella's perennial garden. The perennials are long gone, except for peonies and the flowering bulbs.
Pictures taken through the window before I went out to attack the snow. A foot, give or take. My foray was suspect. The snowplow had earlier made two passes up and down the alley, leaving a two foot pile the length of the driveway. The snow was deep enough, heavy enough, that the snowblower bogged down. As did my shovel.
Getting more and more tired, beaten to my knees by the damned snow, I considered my childhood next door neighbor, P. C. Sorenson - Grandpa Pete to me. When I was about 12 years old he died at the operating end of a snow shovel. It was the first time I had confronted death firsthand. I have made it nearly 71 years. I quit shoveling.
We can get the truck out, get to the mailbox, receive company and take deliveries. Good enough for now.
The following were taken at noon from the high deck after a morning of playing in the snow with shovels and snowblowers. Sun's out.
The snow is completely gone (again), but they are predicting possibly a foot more today. It is a big storm front, but monitoring the NOAA radar it looks as if it may slide us by about an 1/8th of a mile to the north. That is cutting it a bit close and may simply be wishful thinking, but hope springs eternal in the human breast.
Yesterday I took a stroll about the estate and grabbed some images:
The mild winter bodes well for the Tree Peonies. These plants have marvelous blossoms and foliage, but they are woody shrubs rather than herbaceous perennials and sometimes they show their displeasure with our Zone 4 winters by dying back or withholding some of their blossoms. Most years there are a few dead branches and shriveled buds in Spring; not this year, but a late hard frost may still set them back.
The pathway bricks are from the Interstate Power chimney. It was built 300 feet tall in 1922 at a time when dealing with air pollution meant putting it up into the sky as high as possible to send it to their downwind neighbors. The chimney was razed in '79 and eventually over time some of the bricks migrated to my garden paths. 1922? That means that the man who made my bricks was likely born well before 1900. I think about that every time I notice the brick on the lower left. At one time dirt and moss collected in the fingerdips (not a proper word, so I made one). I carefully considered whether he would want moss growing in his little signature mistakes. I cleaned them out. Neatly.
I love the emerald lushness of moss and the wabi-sabi look of mossy mortared brickway walks. I have a neighbor who bemoans her moss and fights it to the death with chemical poisons. For me if the pH and sunlight are right, the moss is right. I never use any weed killer (except for Canada Thistles) nor do anything to encourage grass to grow. The resulting "lawn" may look rough, but various creatures seem to appreciate it and they make my life fuller, something that a trimmed grass mono-culture never could. Anyway, back to my moss - I will "harvest" some of the moss from the wasteland edges of the property, put it in a blender with buttermilk, and pour the resulting green bryophytic soup over some of the newer paths where moss has been slow to take hold. The resulting brickways will make you want to walk barefoot, just so that sensation is not completely wasted on children.
When we pulled into Oakwood there was no snow on the ground. I cleaned out the Woodduck box and filled the bird feeders. It took about 15 minutes before the birds knew and they were back as if we had never been gone. Our birdseed is a convenience, but not a necessity, particularly in a winter as mild as the past one.
The ice was out of the lake for the second earliest date since the late 1800s. There are rumors that the woodducks have already arrived, although personally I have not seen them. I am afraid with the early ice-out we may have missed the loons and northern ducks migrating through.
Then it snowed, not a lot; not enough to stick on the streets and sidewalks - but enough to remind us that we were back home. The Rio Grande Valley was nice, but it could never be home. Oakwood is home.
We are having a "Name the Flamingo" contest. Big prize.
Back home in Minnesota; relatively mild with fresh snow this afternoon and more tomorrow - likely melt within a day. Before the snow covered them up I was admiring some subtly beautiful Cream Beauty snow crocuses peeking through the grass on the Butterfly Garden slope. I planted them over 20 years ago and some years they come and go without anyone seeing them. I am older and wiser now, I sought them out.
No bird pictures here, so this is a set I took two years ago of a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, a nondescript bird, a rare bird, that is famous for being shorter than its name. And also for eluding Brian Plath. I have faith, he will get to see it, though possibly not this year - one of those birds that bring us back for more.
(Just an observation - spellcheck only knows words you already know how to spell. He or she doesn't like "Tyrannulet", but doesn't give me any spelling options. I think I'm close so I'm going with it rather than looking it up.)
Getting the feathers just right for the photo op:
I'd be in front of the fire if I could afford a fireplace - Gunnar
The Red Lake Reservation is 250 miles from Minneapolis. It is a closed reservation, 1,200 square miles, all land owned in common by the Red Lake Chippewa Band - land won by conquest not designated by Europeans. There are about 5,000 residents on the Rez, with three times that many living in Minneapolis.
All over the Upper Midwest kids growing up on the Rez play basketball. This year the Red Lake Warriors made it to the state basketball tournament, but lost on Friday in the semi-finials. It was a very young tean and one of their teammates, the coach's son, died of cancer at the beginning of the season. If they had made it to the finals it would have been a real Cinderella story, but sometimes emotion can only carry you so far.
The finals of the 1997 State Tournament, Red Lake vs Wabasso, was the most exciting basketball game I have ever seen. There were an estimated 7000 American Indians from tribes from all over the Midwest and even Oklahoma in the bleachers. Both teams were not tall, so the played with speed; they were runners, but Red Lake was down by 18 points with less than 5 minutes left. Gerald Kingbird who was a sophmore simply took over. He scored 19 points, mostly three pointers, in the final quarter and took the game into overtime. Final score of the game was 117 to 114!
Even if you are not a basketball fan, and I am not, watch the pregame and the last few minutes. It was electric.
Gerald Kingbird was a graceful athlete, possibly the best pure shooter I have even seen at any level. After college he returned to teach high school and coach at Red Lake. He died in 2014 at he age of 40. Far too young.
The Alamo Inn Apartments are in a relatively gritty neighborhood - to the north a busy highway, railroad and a car wash with ongoing Tejano music. On the other side of the alley to the east is a small sheet metal manufacturer. To the east is a large city park. To the south on the other side of the innkeepers large private yard is a rather sketchy blue-collar residential neighborhood with a full complement of barking dogs. Certainly not plush housing, but all the people seem friendly and over the years I have adjusted to the noises except for the train whistle once or twice a day.
The inner courtyard that we overlook is another story. I think it is quite pleasant with a mixture of butterfly-centric flowers.
Yesterday evening Lorna and I met with Brian and Jutta, and Erik Brunhke at the Blue Onion. The food was fine, the company wonderful. Erik is a professional bird guide and the only person I know that maintains a beer life list on his cell - 292 (?) before we added to it last night. At the end of the evening Erik had a waitress take this photo, then posted it on Facebook. I don't know how I feel about this - not the posting, I don't care about that. But it is a bit of a wake-up. I like Hawaiian shits, loose comfortable clothes in general, but I am an old guy and like most, my appearance is really not on my radar.
Late start, early finish - in between mostly talking to the pleasant people on the path as we wandered about looking for birds, then helping them get eyes on the special birds. At some point on the continuum it is more satisfying helping someone get their first look than getting our 8th or 9th look.
Without things to photograph what do I do? I took a picture of Lorna walking down the path through a natural arching bower.
There are always Chachalacas. They are easy to find - big and noisy, and they relatively slow moving and tame.
I walked the paths and ended up over at the estate's long abandoned orchard, hoping to get a look, and pray tell, even a photograph(?), of the Crimson-collared Grosbeak. Right. It was sunny and 72F, so I sat. There were no birds except weeds. There were lizards scurrying all over, so I took pictures of an Anole at my feet.
After we both bored of that game I noticed the metallic Green Hoverflies. The challenge: take a picture of a 3/8" long fly, ten feet away. Only marginal successful, but it killed a little time in the sun.
Meanwhile, back home in the apartment, Lorna spotted this Cooper's Hawk in our backyard.
No new birds today, but still a very good day. This evening we are meeting old friends and new friends for dinner at the Blue Onion in Weslaco.
Upright, still moving forward in the sunshine - Gunnar
Last Friday afternoon as we were gathering up our equipment in the parking lot to leave Estero Llano Grande we were approached by smiling gentleman from across the lot. He looked vaguely familiar, like some wispy vision from a far distant past. As he came closer it was obvious it was no gentleman - it was Brian! my buddy Brian Plath from back home in Minnesota! The last I had heard from him, he and Jutta had left Florida, were birding their way across Louisiana and were considering coming down to The Valley.
Often serious birders with time and resources try for a Big Year, attempting to see how many species they can see in a single year. There are at least two serious contenders this year for the North American year record, which would be 750 or more species. Though I am not privy to Brian's finances I suspect he does have the time and resources, but he thinks it's silly. The Big Year people have strict rules set down by the American Birding Association. Instead, Brian is trying for what he calls a Little Year, which he defines as seeing as many bird species as he can see in one year in the U.S. (less Alaska and pelagic species) without getting on airplanes and chasing individual birds. It is his Little Year and he can make up any rules he chooses, and change them at will.
We have had some good luck since he arrived; he got good looks at the Blue Bunting at Frontera the first day, and shot photos and even videos of the Northern Jacana at Santa Ana the next. Then on Tuesday we found a Black-throated Gray Warbler and a Black Phoebe at Bentsen State Park - and a few more more common birds I don't recall. The Brain and his spread sheet do.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle after I found the Northern Jacana for Brian. I was of the impression that if I found both the Blue Bunting and Northern Jacana for him it entitled me to a lifetime of free beer, or at a minimum at least Brian picking up the bar tabs. Brian said I was badly mistaken; that each bird was worth one beer. And he was buying Bud Lite. *sigh*
This is a penny post card, a computer image of a photo of a print of a photo - actually its a $1.08 + postage post card. Brian spotted them on a rack in the Frontera gift shop and said, "Hey, I took that one four years ago!" Of course I had to buy one. Later in the evening at the Blue Onion pub we bumped into three women birders we had met on the trail. They had one of the post cards which they wanted autographed. Though a little embarrassed, Brian signed the back of the card.