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Rodents Anonymous, Please…

I may need to get my priorities in order…

I finally decided to wade through my vacation photos from this summer.  As I was in the Southwest exploring seven different National Parks, I expected lots of amazing scenery photos.  I saw condors and Desert Bighorn and all sorts of mind bogglingly amazing sights.  Did I record these visions of awesomeness? Mmm, no, hardly…or at least, not to the degree one would expect.  Nor, in fact, did I include many photos of what most normal people would on vacation: actual human beings I care about.  There are one or two of my parents thrown in, but that is it.  Me? I’m not in a single frame.

What do most of my photos focus on? Why, rodents, of course!  I have no idea why, but I love photographing these adorable little fur fiends.  Sights such as cooing human children and puppies, which make many people turn into baby-talk spewing crazies really don’t do much for me.  However, present me with a sweet little squirrel or whiskery mouse? I melt.  I turn into a shutter clicking nut job, taking endless photos of every little movement.  I mean, seriously.  Wading through my photos revealed hundreds and hundreds of photos of rodents…

My poor family is often stuck waiting on me to move on from my latest cuddly find (and stuck explaining to passersby that no, I’m not having a seizure, I’m just trying to get the perfect shot of a chipmunk).  I’m quick with my camera and rarely pause overly long to capture this or that. However, give me a photogenic squirrel, and its game on!  And, I’m rather certain that ridiculous little squeals of OMG how cute! Have at one time or another escaped my lips…but shh, I’ll deny it!

Some day, something awesome is going to step out of the woods, like Bigfoot riding an elk, and I won’t even notice because I’ll be too busy giving my fingers arthritis by clicking madly at the nearest fur covered bundle of cuteness.

At least, being in the Southwest, I did mix it up a little and go for some local favorites…namely, lizards.  So basically, on said trip, if I wasn’t cooing over some absurd squirrel, I was lying in the desert sand, contorting myself into weird positions, trying to get as many candid reptile shots as possible.

Amazingly enough, I was occasionally able to tear myself away from the fur and the scales for a photo or two…

I wish I could say that this is the first time I’ve sorted photos and found predominately fuzzy animal photos, but alas, this is not the case.  I like to make photo books of trips as Christmas gifts, and usually, I have a really hard time finding actual pictures of the people I’m gifting to.

I think I’m doomed to turn into one of those crazy old people who delight in torturing others with endless candid photos of Mr. Fuffles, their insanely spoiled dog, for hours on end.  Only, it’ll be mountains of squirrels and chipmunks from every corner of the country….add that to the scads of bird pictures and caterpillars shots I have, makings of some truly epic slideshows…

 

 

 

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Happy (Almost!) Labor Day!

Fall is almost here, I feel like jumping for joy.  The weather has shifted from murderously humid to pleasantly brisk.  Whenever I step outside, the chippy chatter of congregating warblers meets my ears.  I heard the distinct sharp notes of American Redstarts this morning, and possibly the muted sounds of a Black-throated Blue (Egads! I’m rusty!).  I cannot believe migration is here and I haven’t laid a finger on my binoculars in weeks.  Soon…!

I really wanted to dig out my camera (I cannot recall the last time I used anything but my phone, for shame!) and go for a nice long hike today since I’m off until 5, but alas! I looked outside and was met with the dreary vision of a grey, rainy day.

A bit frustrated, I seriously contemplated turning myself into a blanket caterpillar and snuggling up with a good book for the morning,  but then I thought, eh, screw it.  I’m going anyways.

Ignoring the “what in the name of all that is holy is wrong with you??” looks from my family (these are not rare, after a few years you cease to be overly concerned by said looks) I suited up, popped in the car, and went to my favorite streamside trail.

Ok, ok.  Maybe the fully sane would not think that it would be a stellar idea to go hiking in a downpour but why the heck not? As soon as I hit the path, I was in a state of sheer bliss. I don’t fully understand why, but walking around, feeling the rain drops sliding down my face, privy to the symphony of a million droplets pattering on the leaves all around me …..there is not a worry in the world that can survive it.  It is the most peaceful, yet insanely exhilarating feeling.  Colors seem brighter, burdens seem lighter.  For a moment, nothing exists except me, the rain, and a deep sense of contentment.  As I walked, a fellow convert to the joys of being the rain jogged by and we grinned at each other, cohorts in bliss for a brief moment.

Even in the rain, nature abounded, and I was able to sneak a few pictures with my phone.  I found one of my favorite plants, Jewelweed:

jewelweed yellow

Beyond being pretty to observe, it is purported to possess skin healing abilities, including being helpful to poison ivy rash, but I haven’t personally tried it.  The best part about Jewelweed, though? The seed pods! They plump up over the summer until they resemble little green dumplings.  At that point, all you have to do is brush your finger over the pod, and pop! It bursts open, releasing the seeds.  When I was a kid, I’d hunt Jewelweed mercilessly and pop pods for what felt like hours.

On the left is an intact pod, on the right, one that has burst.  I have to confess, even now, I still get a little thrill each time one explodes…!

Some fungi, a species of cutworm caterpillar, and a drowned rat also made an appearance:

I’m actually kind of hoping the rain sticks around for a few days.  I’m gunning to go again…!

Happy Labor Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello hello!

I have been meaning to pen an update about my squishy future-moths for awhile now, but alas, a busy few weeks has had me preoccupied!

I can finally rejoice!  Almost all of my freeloading miscreant children have performed their unique magic and turned into silky brown pupae.  Finally, I can stop making daily treks out to my sassafras tree, which is wonderful because I’m rather short…and at this point I’ve removed all of the easy to reach branches.  My most recent trips for worm fodder have involved attempting ridiculously high jumps and perching precariously on buckets, praying I don’t go crashing to the ground.  I mean, maybe I should have told the neighbors to set up a camera, probably a million dollar Funniest Home Videos win somewhere in a leaf gathering mishap…

 

cocoon

The transformation pod!

 

Although!  Like a preschooler bringing home a turtle that mom gets stuck taking care of, somehow my caterpillars enticed a friend into their lair, probably a stowaway on their leafy lunch.  I haven’t had a chance to ID it yet, but a random caterpillar showed up with the rest one day, looks like some sort of butterfly to me.  Sooo….just when I thought I was done with cage cleaning and leaf stealing, nope! A few more weeks added on to my sentence……kids!!!

 

Interloper

The new adoptee!

 

In other news,  I’ve been walking like a fiend, and it is such a nice break from my busy life.  Even if I have time to just sneak in a quick stroll, I usually see something interesting, it keeps me grounded and connected to what I am passionate about.  Recent walk sightings include:

 

varigated fritillary

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

 

 

Garter Snake

Snake!

 

Here in Pennsylvania, weather is slowly improving! Each day I can feel summer slowly releasing it’s grip on the land, breezy days and warm colors of fall are just around the corner.  I so enjoy fall, it is such a temperate time of the year…!

 

The Saga Continues…!

Hello from the House of Moth!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been raising a gaggle of leaf gobbling Promethea Moth caterpillars.  I was so excited when my clutch of eggs hatched and out popped dozens of wriggling future-moths.  The first few days were a breeze, all I had to do was chuck a couple of sassafras leaves into their containers, and voila! They were happy, I was happy.

Well, now? The honeymoon is over! Like any parent with freeloading children, I’m ready for these excrement flinging, eternally hungry worms of doom to win their wings and move on out! Ok, ok, not really.  They are pretty fascinating….but still:  Some days, I feel like all I do is clean up leafy excrement and procure more food for their voracious appetites.

They are growing quickly, though! No longer are they the diminutive striped wormlets that once graced my kitchen counter…

In other related news, the yearly Battle for the Parsley has begun! My parents always put in a garden, and they always have some variety of parsley planted.  However, they are not the only ones to enjoy this particular herb…! Every year, without fail, their plants end up covered by Black Swallowtail caterpillars…and every year, I must crusade for my butterfly friends and coerce my mother into once again donating her herbs to the local fauna.  She’s a good sport about it, I have to admit.  They’ve had many a successful brood of Swallowtails!  I personally think Black Swallowtail caterpillars are rather stunning…

swallowtail

That’s it, for now! My moth-er duties call, I have leaves to gather…!

 

 

Hey, look! I’m posting and less than 10 years have passed since my last foray in to blogging….progress!

So, a couple of weeks ago, whilst hiking a local trail I’ve been visiting since I was a kid, I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye.  Lo and behold, it was….a Promethea moth cocoon!

cocoon

Nature Nerd me decided, naturally, to take it home and wait for the moth to emerge.  I was pretty excited, I’ve raised Promethea moths before from eggs but I’ve never found a cocoon in the wild.  It was like a big, papery jumping bean: when I touched the surface of the cocoon, the moth inside would wiggle.

Alas, I unfortunately missed hatching day while at work (they tend to frown upon me calling off to hang out with my cocoon, goodness knows why!).  I got a frantic text mid-shift that my dusty winged child had emerged! What’s more, it was a female and she was barely out and dry when poof! Over 15 males emerged, drawn to the pheromone she was emitting (even in the moth world, if you’re hot, you’re hot!).  It was wild! My long suffering parents kindly allowed one male in with her and, cue the Barry White!, some moth magic was made.  The other males, defeated, quickly left once the canoodling began.

When I got home later that night, I let male go on his merry way.  I had hoped that the female would lay a few eggs before I released her.  Well, she laid alright: there were over 60 in the sleeve I had her in.  I watched her fly off into the night and collected the eggs in a container.

The eggs hatched about a week later, and I’ve realized that I’m totally insane: I now have over sixty incredibly hungry caterpillars chillaxing on my kitchen counter in Tupperware.  When they are newly hatched, they have to be kept in an enclosed compartment, otherwise they dry out.  They are content to eat Sassafras, which fortunately grows in my back yard, so at least I don’t have to make some ridiculous daily trek to rustle up some obscure food plant, but good grief: I’ve raised about 20 at the same time before, and that was nuts.  This many? I’m going to become a full time caterpillar nanny, I just know it!

I don’t have the heart to just toss them out in the wild, though.  There is quite a bit of speculation that many of our native Saturniidae are having some trouble, they are often hit hard by both native and non-native parasites like Tachinid flies.  Let alone the fact that critters both feathered and furred alike love a good caterpillar smoothie for breakfast….life is tough when you are a squishy, slow moving, rather defenseless creature that everything finds to be utterly delicious.  I suppose it would be like being turned into a glazed donut and thrown into a pit of desperate dieters.

critter hoard

The kids are now about four days old and already growing like bad weeds.  Oh, I just cannot wait until they grow to their full size and become gobbling, frass flinging worms of doom!  Sigh.

I must accept it.  I’m a nature dork to my very core.

 

 

 

 

Sooo…I’ve been getting bugged to once again start blogging about what I actually do in the field by the relatives and friends who wonder what the heck I do when I’m out and about, stalking birds.  Justified, probably, since my introvert self rarely shares anything beyond, “Peace, Out! I’m off to (insert random place)…!”

I made it back to field work (let the peasants rejoice!!!).  Hard to believe, but my fourth season working with endangered species in central Texas is fast drawing to a close.  After a two year break from any and all biology work, which withered my soul, being back in the field was sheer bliss!  I’m kind of dreading heading home: It’s hard giving up the birds again!  However, fingers crossed, I’ll be back a-snugglin’ my feathery friends come spring!

It was difficult getting back into the swing of things: My body liked to inform me daily that, uh, hello McFly! We don’t do this anymore!!!  We prefer to sit around watching movies, snuggling with cats, and having date night with Ben & Jerry! After a couple of weeks, though, it felt like I’d never left.  I forgot how utterly free I feel when I’m in the field, it is indescribable.  I am somewhat grateful for my long hiatus: Field work became exciting again, gone was the exhaustion I once felt after endless months of pushing myself to the limit.  Getting the chance to work on my old study site this season was amazing: Every rock, trail, and canyon I saw was like greeting an old friend.  Once again getting to hold birds, who are a crazy combination of intensely hardy and yet insanely fragile, was intensely blissful…even chickadees, masters of net tangling!

It has been unusually temperate in central Texas this season, I’m spoiled! The heat has made an appearance from time to time, but in general it has been unusually comfortable.  I missed the wild beauty of the hill country! Wildflowers and butterflies abound, and there is always something exciting to draw my attention.  Fossils, coyotes, scenery…and yes…even the absurdly over-sized bugs that give me an epic case of the willies….all draw my attention.  I’ll miss the solitude of the field once I return home.  I am already counting down the days until I can return.  I am fortunate, indeed, to have the opportunity to do something I’m so wildly passionate about.  I feel more like myself than I have in an insanely long time!

 

 

 

How in the heck is it 2015???  Thanksgiving was a blur. Christmas is just around the corner.  And…it has been over a year since I last even looked at my lonely little blog.

The circumstances that brought me back here once again are surprising, in a way, considering the life I was leading when I started this blog oh-so-long-ago, as an optimistic, dewy-eyed field biologist.

For the past two years, I’ve been working as a substitute teacher (Oh, the pity I now feel for the substitutes I met as a  child!) at a vo-tech school.  I’ve been fitting fieldwork in occasionally (this summer I was cuddling Cerulean Warblers), but in general I have been attempting to find a way to make a stable income whilst staying local.  Why? What made me leave my birdies and the forests I so love? A man.  The wrong man, that is.

Sooo….yeah.  That didn’t work out.  Somehow, I find myself a few weeks away from thirty, depressed, living at home,  and working a world away from the field work I love.  I’m mopey.  I’m nowhere near the awesome physical condition I once was in whilst scaling the mountains of Oregon in 2014.  I’m that kinda sad that has me weeping at odd moments and going on dates with every doughnut in a tri-state area.

I’ve been wondering what I should do now that my future has changed shape. Should I become a teacher? A homeless vagabond? Somehow brush up my horrible math skills and tackle the GRE? Go to debtor’s prison for free tv and food?

I’m working as a long term substitute in a CIS class and what was our assignment today? Creating a WordPress site.  On a whim, I put in my old user name, somehow unearthed my password, and voila! My little adorable Saw-whet Owl was staring at me.

I miss being that girl: the one who travels and blogs and gets to handle amazing birds.  I feel like a lost wreck right now, but looking back? I was awesome! I traveled the country.  I didn’t make tons of money, but I made enough.  I saw animals and flowers and scenery that boggles the mind.  I got to go to a job I genuinely love every single day.

What happened? I feel like a failure in many things, but one thing I know: I was meant to be a field biologist.  Its my ideal career.

I used to get so excited for new field jobs.  I would look up the birds of the region and plan on what I was going to see.  I would take a gazillion pictures of anything and everything I saw.  I wrote journals, and blogged, and dreamed, and planned.

Somehow I lost the magic, and jobs became a drudgery.  I missed my boyfriend, I took things like banding and birds for granted.  I stopped enjoying my work and lost sight of exactly how wonderful field work can be.

I think, somehow, I have to find my way back to nature.  I don’t know exactly how: should I throw caution and stability to the wind and just become a hard core seasonal biologist, jumping from job to job? Should I get things together and try to make a bid for grad school? Maybe simply digging my camera out and taking pictures again and blogging about it a little bit will help.  I have no idea.

But I do know this: I miss being me.

 

 

I live!

I live!

California Quail. I am, surprisingly enough, still alive after such a ridiculous hiatus from blogging. More soon!

Hello from windy Pennsylvania!  (windy is an understatement.  Felt like a hurricane out there today…!)

It’s been a birdy week for me.  Which has been nice, keeps my thoughts firmly planted on feathers, not feelings, a major plus!

Pennsylvania is currently experiencing an irruption of species such as Common Redpoll and Crossbills, which basically means that these birds, which don’t normally winter in our range, are showing up in high numbers throughout the state.

I’ve always wanted to see a Common Redpoll.  No idea why, its not like they are crazy awesome like a Northern Lapwing (someday, I will see you, cursed bird!).  They just have always struck my fancy.

On Saturday, I yet again motored over to Lancaster, PA in hopes of tracking down a flock of redpolls known to frequent the area.  Despite a valiant effort, no luck!  I did, however, run into a group of rather grouchy birders, whose scathing glances were chillier than the weather.   Their presence wasn’t wholly unwelcome, as it was their stares and pointed scopes which revealed a little flock of White-winged Crossbills.  I watched a male feeding acrobatically for some time, a truly beautiful bird.  I had seen multiple females before, yet this was my first view of a mature male – amazing!

Monday brought ice, which meant a day off for my teacher father.  Ever intrepid, he offered to drive my mom and I up to the central part of the state to try and catch some Redpolls known to frequent a particular feeder.  Though it was raining and sleeting and my fingers still feel frostbitten, we ran into some luck.  Through the rain we were able to see two female Common Redpolls snarking seeds and chattering electrically – second life bird of 2013!

Today,  I was met with a pleasant surprise.  Returning home from some errand running, I was standing in my living room looking out my picture window towards a large hemlock tree just beyond the bird feeder.  Gazing vapidly at the branches of the tree it stuck me that something looked a bit odd out there.  Are there always large red things hanging from the branches?  Nope!  Six White-winged Crossbills were gorging on hemlock cones, just outside my window.  I snatched up my camera, popped out side and was instantly surrounded by the small flock, quietly chattering away to each other as they enthusiastically eviscerated pine cones.   I was entranced by their antics, and watched them until they abruptly vacated the area, in search of their next meal.

crossbill

It made a nice change from the normal feeder fare of mouthy chickadees and our local mockingbird, fondly known as Hitler, who patrols all sources of food in our yard with due dilligence.

Hoping to chase down more of these winter treats this week!  Headed to Texas next Friday for the Spring, will be quite a different crowd of birds to be seen!

Happy birding!

Hello!  I am indeed back from the black hole of no blogging I’ve been in for some time.

Its not that I haven’t had ample reason to blog:  my owl job was amazing!  I truly believe that it will always remain a highlight of my field work career.  In the end I banded at least 200 Saw-whets, as well as multiple Eastern Screech Owls (both red and grey!) and a Barred Owl.  I’ve held many birds over the past few years, from hummingbirds to hawks, but I have to say: there is something special about owls.  Sure, I had my share of nights where if felt like one more painful talon injury would send me screaming into insanity, and working all night every night was by far more difficult than I could have ever imagined!  I learned the true meaning of exhaustion.  But in the end, it was one amazing experience.  I could really see myself wanting to study owls further in grad school.

I suppose I just haven’t felt like blogging.  The past three months have been tough, to say the least.

I really dislike the me! me! me! nature of blogs, and how sometimes people plaster them with way too much personal information (even though, I do see, by nature a blog is generally a self focused venture).  It has always been hard for me to separate parts of my life.  I’ve always had trouble being anyone but me online, if that makes sense.  Whether it is gaming, or blogging, or whatever: I’m always me.  I can’t assume another persona.  So when I’m sad in my real life I’m sad everywhere.

But enough of that. Way too personal for my tastes.  Hoping to get back into blogging in the next few weeks.

So! In an effort to keep my mind occupied I’ve been trying to get out and bird more, partially fueled by the fact that I sold my soul for a Nikon D-7000 camera this past black friday.  I will be paying for it until I’m 80 but who cares.  Money is overrated, right?

Coming from a point and shoot to the new camera, which is, to my inexperienced self, quite involved (the thing has more buttons and settings than a space shuttle!), there is definitely a major learning curve.  I’ve been pouring over the user manual, as well as several How To books, and while I can at least use it, I am still way over my head.  At this point, I can take pictures using pre-set settings.  Like auto.  But when it comes to going beyond that, to understanding what settings I need to change to fix what issue, I’m lost.  I am learning, however, new things every time I pick it up, and I’m having a blast doing it.  If you drive by my house these days you will see me hunched over, haunting my bird feeders, manically chasing around birds with my lens.

It is amazing how having the camera and trying to learn on it has made me see old friends in a new light.  Birds which are mundane to me: chickadees, and other feeder culprits, have come to life again.  I find myself watching them for hours through my camera, being delighted by their antics.  I’ve found the joy in birds again, which sometimes gets lost during field work, when it becomes something tedious and challenging.  Everything I see I’m thinking, how can I shoot that?  And while sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t get the pictures I want, I still get excited at the clarity I can capture that my old point and shoot couldn’t even touch.  For example:

chicken smaller rbnu at feeder smaller squirrel smaller wbnu at feeder smaller

Nothing super great, as I still have no clue what I’m doing.  But still.  Compared to some of my old photos, the quality difference is shocking.

Here in Pennsylvania, this winter has been quite interesting, bird wise.  Extremely high numbers of rare hummingbirds decided to over winter this year.  Along with the rare-but-not-overly-so Rufous, species such as Allen’s and Calliope made apperances (positively id’d by local banders).  Huge numbers of Common Redpolls (which have still eluded me, grr!) have been wandering around.  Pink-footed Geese, Trumpeter Swans, etc etc.  There have been lots of opportunities to see cool birds.

Two weekends ago, my parents and I took a trip out to Philadelphia to the John Heinz NWR at Tinicum,a place I hadn’t visited in many years, to track down a Northern Shrike that has been a regular for months now.  It was a horrid day for birding, Extremely foggy, damp, and cloudy.  Did not see a hint of the shrike, although we did get one of the dreaded “You should have been here yesterday!” speeches from a birder.  Always a day late…!  I lugged the camera out but I have no clue how to adjust it to take decent cloudy day pictures.  Everything was slightly blurry and not impressive.  I do expect a bit much:  I get annoyed when the photos look bad.  In all reality, however, I was taking out a camera I’m just barely getting to know, shooting far away birds in bad conditions without a tripod.  Le Duh.  It wasn’t all a waste however.  We did get to see a roosting Saw-whet owl, which was pretty amazing.  I’ve missed seeing them since banding ended.  And we did find a pretty crazy amazing pizza/stromboli/cannoli place..much to the chagrin of our waistlines!

This past weekend we met with more success.  It was a beautiful day – unlike the 10 degrees F we have today, it was a lovely 45.  Sunny.  No wind.  Clear.  We liesurely hiked the trail into the place where the shrike is usually spotted.  Along the way, we saw a Horned Grebe, a fun bird I haven’t see in a few years.  I also had some fun once more re-visualizing formerly mundane birds.  Even mallards became an amusement, trying to snap a picture or two:

flying rbgu philly smaller nomo philly smaller tinicum mallards smaller

And what awaited around the next bend? The shrike of course!  He was way too far for any kind of decent picture sans a super mega awesome telephoto lens, best I could do was a blurry that blog is the shrike! :

Shrike tin smaller

It has been really fun taking some day trips to try and track down some birds.  I’ve been lazy most of my winter’s at home.  I’m usually a bit burned out from the field season, let alone busy elsewhere.   I’m hoping to track down some Redpolls before the winter ends.

I have about a month until work begins again, I’ll be returning for my third season working with Golden-cheeked Warblers in central Texas.  I’m excited to be able to start something new and be busy again, sure there shall be lots of fodder for blogging!.

Happy birding and stay warm!