Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Dangerous Out There ...


So in addition to the 100+ °F temps, tarantulas, scorpions, gila monsters, rattle snakes, and mountain lions, I gotta worry about killer bees now.

Not the sign you want to see as you begin the hike up the mountain.

Especially when the ranger tells you the only defense is to run away. You ever try to run down a mountain path? Be sure to avoid the cacti!

(And the bees don't need to trouble with the switchbacks.)

It was fun!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bird ID Help

Readers of this blog know that I've recently traveled out to the desert southwestern USA. While there I saw a number of birds I was unfamiliar with and have had trouble identifying. Here are two I could use some help with. Please leave your ID's in the comments. Thanks.

This appears to be some type of large duck or goose. But the bill is throwing me off. Any ideas?

A shorebird of some type, but I can't find it in any of my shorebird guides. Again, any clues?

Of course, the desert sun can play tricks on a man, so maybe I was just seeing things, all a mirage?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bad Bird Photo of the Week

So out of focus it's hard to tell that it is a bird, much less what species.

But feel free to guess in the comments!

Drama in the Desert!

(aka Bad Bird Photos of the Week)

Snowy egret ...

... on the prowl ...

... got it! ...

... don't got it! ...

... where'd it go? ...

... nobody saw that ...

Not all the ponds were like this one.


You were expecting coyotes or mountain lions or such?

Not wading birds and metamorphosing frogs?

Maybe later ...

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Visit To Cape May

Labor day weekend a friend and I visited Cape May. Here's some of what we saw.

There were skimmers skimming.

And ospreys watching.

Always elegant pond pigs.

Visiting buffies.

Ever present geese.

Ridiculously billed skimmers, young ...

... and old.

Terns napping.

And awake.

Serious looking gulls.

It wasn't all birds. There were bugs ...

... bunnies ...

... and deer.

And tiny fish nibbling at some tasty toes.

I can't wait to go back.
Garton Family Reunion

We had our family reunion a couple of weekends ago at the farm where my cousins Susan and Tom live. It is a very cool place, with the main farmhouse originally built in the 1700's.

The Farmhouse

Across the street is a large Natural Lands Trust preserve.

My cousins each live in one of the out buildings of the farm. I'm quite envious.

The farm was guarded by beasts of stone ...

... and flesh. (Although the greyhound was rather friendly!)

And served as home for a variety of other creatures including frogs, chickens, snakes (more later) and birds, such as this great blue heron (no doubt here for the frogs):

Heron in a Tree Overlooking the Pond

We did the normal family reunion stuff, mostly. A modern touch was Skyping far away family members.

Away at College

But the favorite activity wasn't the badminton, nor the horseback riding, ...

Katie on Horse Ride Duty

Where's My Cowboy Hat?

...  nor even the eating (although the food was very good, thanks Linda!).

Nope the favorite had to be snake hunting. And we found plenty, on multiple expeditions.

Kelly Embarking on a Snake Hunt

My 15 year old cousin (second cousin one removed I think) Kelly started us off by finding the first few snakes. Including this one:

Kelly caught it, and I'm holding it.

On our second expedition, I turned over one big rock and there were at least six (!) snakes under it. Alas, by the time I was able to lower the rock, careful not to crush any snakes, and grab my camera they had all slithered away. (They are fast!)


I did get a couple of images, including this one. And this:

Here's a video Kelly took last year while snake hunting:

Pretty cool, huh?

What does your family do at reunions?


Eventually the fun ended and it was time to go home. Even the heron left.

And the moon hung gorgeous in the twilight sky.

It was over all too soon and  I said goodbye to people I see way too infrequently.


Us (the obligatory group picture):

A fairly small subset of the Garton Clan

Additional images from the day can be found here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maxwell's Demon

∆S = ∆Q/T
∆S ≥ 0

My cousin, attempting the impossible.

Here she is trying to put the seed ...

... back into the feeder.

Alas, despite her best efforts, entropy increased.

(And most of the seed wound up on the ground.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harley Davidson Heartbeat

"Vroooom" continuously is what the bird's heartbeat sounded like, described rather accurately as the sound of a motorcycle humming [pun!] along by one of my fellow listeners.

I was at the San Pedro House, a visitor center at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, in southeastern Arizona.

The conservation area is along the San Pedro river and is a haven for hummingbirds, both resident and migrants. And I was visiting on a evening when the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) was conducting their weekly (April through September) hummingbird banding session.

Birds are captured when the soft netting is dropped around the feeder. The hunters (all men*) wait until one or more birds are engaged with the feeder at which time the trap is triggered by remote control.

Birds are then captured by hand and transferred to little holding cells. Most sit, seemingly relaxed, in the cell. But some, like this one, buzz about looking for an exit.

They are then transported to the information gatherers (all women*).

Here the birds are weighed, inspected, cleaned if need be, and banded. Each weekly two hour session bands approximately forty birds.

Up to this point only SABO personnel are involved. But the public is allowed (encouraged even) to hold the birds for release. So I did. Here I am, palm open, holding a very active hatch year male black-chinned hummingbird while the SABO volunteer attempts to settle him ...

... but he was having none of it and quickly continued on his way.

The volunteer tried to get me another, but that bird flew as soon as it was finished drinking. Oh well, I'll just have to go back ...

Most birds were quite calm, sitting in one's palm for several minutes. The SABO volunteer noted that the bird had not been harmed and had just prior to release a very nice drink, which might explain the serenity. (I can't help wonder though if the bird might not be in shock from the experience and need a moment to recover.)


This was my first bird banding of any kind. Holding such a tiny bird, ever briefly, is a curious experience. A wild creature, clearly with some intelligence, yet seemingly so fragile. An experience hard to put into words. Something you must try for yourself.

* I remarked about the hunter/gatherer division of labor to the women at the table and they all laughed. "They're at least more helpful than the male black-chinned" one remarked, "who essentially migrate north for a one night stand, and then head right back south again."