Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Sunday afternoon drive

Emma and I went for a drive this afternoon just to see what we could see on some of the back roads that are not on the Tamarac NWR.  The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and I just didn’t want to sit around the rig all day.  When I first signed up for this assignment, I was told it was in the north woods of Minnesota.  Well, yes, there are plenty of woods on the refuge, but much of the surrounding area is rolling prairie that has over the years been turned into farmland.


With no rain the last few days, the farmers are making hay while the sun shines.  It’s also now clearly visible which fields are growing corn and which fields are growing soy beans.  Because of the long and cold winter, it’s only been recently that the different crops have grown enough to be discernible when driving by the fields.  Most corn will be ‘knee high by the fourth of July’, but compared to other years things are a little behind.  Fellow volunteer Steve, from North Carolina, says that saying down south is ‘eye high by the fourth of July’.  Interesting.IMG_3650I stopped at a little cemetery along the way to grab a pic of this most unusual graveside monument.  I’ve never seen a stop and go light before as a memorial.  Then there is the butterfly too.  All sorts of things popped into my mind, but I’ll try to find out ‘the rest of the story’.


In our wanderings, we came across the Hamden Slough NWR.  The headquarters was ten miles down a dusty gravel road, and I decided to just go a short way down that road.  After all, today was Sunday and I knew no one would be working to answer my questions.  I’ll return on a weekday sometime.


I’ve heard the word ‘slough’ pronounced three different ways: slew, sluf, and slou (like in ouch).  I had to look it up in my dictionary when I got home.  The definition for the slou pronunciation seems to fit best in this situation: a place of deep mud; a hole full of mire.  I’m sure there are regional differences in pronunciation, but this is the one I’m going to use here.IMG_3653This brief bobolink sighting is the only thing I saw on my short journey into this refuge.  Who would believe there would be so many vehicles blasting down these gravels roads and obliterating the views with tons of dust?  Ugh!  I think I’ll wait until after the July 4th long weekend before I return for a calmer look at this refuge.

I’ve also got some updates on a couple of recent things.  Remember the mosquito traps that Merikay sent me?  Well, I had one outside my rig for several days before a storm blew through and knocked it asunder.  In that time, I continued to get bitten in the evening, and not one lousy mosquito was found inside the trap.  I’ll try setting up a couple of them again, but this time I think I’ll put some rocks in the bottom of them to help hold them in place.

Then there’s the matter of the new clock and watch.  The blasted minute hand on the new clock gets stuck on 45 seconds, and the expandable band on the watch is too big.  Uff-da.  I hate when my watch slides up and down my arm.  Of course, when I was in Wal-mart, I couldn’t find an ‘associate’ to open the watch holder to try it on first.  This is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of Wal-mart.  I’ll be going back there next week to return both items. Baring teeth smile

I have to set my alarm for 5:30 in the morning tonight so I can stagger down to headquarters for the beginning of the loon and tern count this week.  I’ll give you the details tomorrow if I’m still awake…


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time stood still

Last night after I published my blog post, I put something back into one of the cabinets that is over the windshield.  As I shut the door, there was a loud crash on the dashboard.  For years I’ve had one of those round cheap big clocks stuck to the middle of one of the cabinets with industrial strength Velcro.  Well, it bit the dust last night.  When I got up this morning, both of my cheap Walmart watches had quit working… dead batteries I’m guessing.  Hmm.  Interesting that most of my time keeping devices crapped out within hours of each other.

I left the rig at some time this morning to head to town for my weekly grocery trip with a watch and clock added to the list.  First stop was the Saturday morning farmer’s market to pick up another delicious loaf of bread from the Fargo Breadsmith booth.  There was quite a line this morning, and they were out of my first choice by the time it was my turn, but I got a nice crusty loaf of rustic Italian bread.  Nothing much beats a nice slice of fresh crusty bread slathered in butter in my book.

When I was at the market two weeks ago, I got a nice bouquet of lilacs.  The lilacs are done now, but today a booth was selling peonies.

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Some of you may remember when I had Robyn and Dennis remove the Euro-recliner from my rig in March so I could put these drawers in instead.  Well, it’s the perfect place for a bouquet of flowers on top.  I can also use two of my little treasures.  The white runner on top of the drawers is hand embroidered in a southwest motif.  I picked up that little gem for $2 at a church bazaar in Deming, NM, a couple of years ago.  And the vase is really a jar for holding a celery stalk with water in your fridge.  It has been passed down from my grandmother, but I suppose she kept the celery in the ice box.  Winking smile  Someday I’d like a nice wooden set of drawers there that match my cabinetry.  I love having fresh flowers to smell and admire, and I’m so pleased that I now have a place to display them.

After I finished my chores in Detroit Lakes, I checked the mailbox out at the end of the road on the refuge.  There was a Netflix inside and two packages for me.

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The first package contained the Thunder Shirt that I had ordered for Emma to help her ‘weather’ noisy storms.  She is a real basket case with any thunder, lightening, or hail.  I’ve been very skeptical about this idea, but thought I’d give it a try.  The directions said to practice putting it on before there was any hint of anxiety in her.  It was also suggested to offer her a treat laying on the shirt before putting it on her.  You can see on the left what she thought of the treat idea.  She pushed it onto the ground.  I must say, she was certainly calm while wearing the shirt, and typically tried to avoid looking at me once she saw the camera.  Maybe this wild child should wear this shirt 24/7!  We’ll have to see what happens when the next storm comes along.


The second package was a surprise gift from my brother Carl and his wife, Denise.  It was a new hat for me.

                                                               BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!


I noticed a zipper on the top of the hat, and thought perhaps you were supposed to put a bag of ice in it to keep your head cool during the summer heat.  Ha!  Not so!


Tucked inside is mosquito netting that can be pulled down to protect your face from nasty flying insects!  What a hoot!!  Sun and bug protection all in one neat little package.  I asked fellow volunteer Steve to take these pictures for me, and he about croaked when I pulled the netting out of the top of my head.


Okay Donna Cave-blogger, eat your heart out!  Let’s see you top this fashion accessory.  Smile with tongue out  Just picture it… this hat, my white socks pulled up having my long pants tucked into them, and steel-toed boots.  I’ll be ready for the fashion runway, and who knows… maybe it will help me sneak up on the birds.  Thanks, Carl and Denise, you made my day!


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, June 28, 2013

Testing out my new purchase and a decision for the fall

The first reason I went to Fargo yesterday was to find a Best Buy store.  I finally reached the point where I wanted a much smaller camera for special circumstances.  I’m very happy with the two Canon Rebel SLR cameras that I have, but they are rather big and bulky to carry around.  I thought I’d be going on a wildlife adventure today at the refuge where it might not be the best idea to take my SLRs along.  Turns out that assignment got cancelled due to the windy weather, but is rescheduled for several days next week.


I wanted a camera that was compact enough to slide into the pocket of my life vest should I find myself out canoeing the sometimes unpredictable waters on the refuge.  This is what I chose.  It’s a Canon PowerShot SX280 HS, and when the power is shut down the lens and flash retract.  It’s small and compact, and a challenge for me to learn how to use.

I’ve always had a viewfinder to look through in all the cameras that I’ve owned in the last fifty years.  It’s hard for me to get used to looking at a screen with my arms extended rather than lifting the camera to my eye.


After charging up the battery overnight, I decided to give it a test run this afternoon when the overcast skies gave way to partly cloudy conditions.  I was rather pleased with this shot of tiny mushrooms in my front yard.  That’s a clover blossom on the left to give you an idea of how small these were.

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The pic on the left is with the new camera, and the one on the right is with my Rebel with the 300mm telephoto lens.  These cliff swallow nests are located under the eave of one of maintenance buildings.  The reason the photo on the right has birds in it is that I could stand further away with my Rebel and hold it stiller for the shot. 

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Once again, new camera on the left and Rebel on the right.  I like the shot on the right better, but I’ve got a bit of a learning curve with the PowerShot to learn how to use it best.


                                Landscape scenes seemed okay, but I missed my polarizing lens filter.


It didn’t do a bad job on this showy Lady’s slipper, but like I said, I still need to figure things out on this camera.  I must have hit some button wrong because no matter how bright it is outside, the flash always goes off.  I finally just covered it with my finger.  I’m going to have to figure that out soon.  Of course, the instruction booklet only covers basic setup to get the camera working.  That means I’ll have to look at the CD that came with it to further figure things out.  I’d rather have a paper book in my hands.

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Hands down here, I think I did better with the Rebel, and this was using the macro setting on the PowerShot.  I had expected the background to go more out of focus.  Overall, I’ll not be giving up my Rebels very soon, but the added heft of them probably helps me keep the camera more steady for shots.  I’ll keep practicing.  I do know that the PowerShot will have its place, and I’d much rather lose that camera in a possible tip over in a canoe or kayak than lose one of my big cameras.

I got an e-mail today from the volunteer coordinator at Bayou Cocodrie NWR in Louisiana.  This refuge is about 13 miles west of Natchez, MS.  Looks like that’s going to be my next volunteer assignment for this fall.  They have never had RV volunteers before, so I’ll be happy to break them in.  Winking smile

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I’ll leave you tonight with these pics of a mama loon with her three chicks on Pine Lake.  They were way off on the lake, but I’ve always wanted to see how the young get transported around on the back of a parent.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I’ve been spelling Uff-da wrong!

Heavens to Murgatroyd!  How embarrassing.  I’ve been spelling this Minnesota exclamation Uf-dah, but I found out while playing tourist today that it’s really Uff-da, with or without the dash.  After only twenty years of using it, I stand corrected.

I was off this morning to Fargo/Moorhead for some shopping.  I’m not into shopping much, as my clothes can attest to, but I needed a city with big box stores, and Fargo, ND, is the closest one.  I’ll tell you tomorrow what it was I couldn’t live without.


Fargo is an hour and a half drive away, so I thought I’d stop in at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center while I was there to find out what’s important to see in the area.  For such a huge building, that was a former grain elevator, the visitors center portion is really quite small, but they hand out free bags of tasty hot popcorn.  Score!  Smile  This is a good place to stop if you’re in the area for several reasons.


A couple of weeks ago, I ordered the movie “Fargo”from Netflix, since I thought it would be about this town.  It really wasn’t.  It was more about a bizarre murder/kidnapping thing in Brainerd, MN.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that near the end, one of the bad guys kills his partner and puts his body through this wood chipper.  The scene in the movie zeroes in on the socked foot of the unfortunate partner.  Well, at the F-M Visitors Center, they lend you one of those winter hats to put on, and you can have your picture taken stuffing the poor guy down the actual chipper from the movie, don’tcha know.  I just couldn’t pass that up!   It turns out that the year they filmed the movie, there wasn’t enough snow in Fargo so they moved the set to Brainerd after the initial bar scene. 

_MG_8988Then when you step back outside, there’s a nice grassy picnic area surrounded by the Celebrity Walk of Fame.  It’s kind of a touch of Hollywood in Fargo-Moorhead.

73 Tamarac NWR, 20133Al Hirt was the first star to be inducted.  There are now 113 celebrities that have their feet and hands imprinted in 150 pounds of cement.  I didn’t recognize all of them, but got a kick out of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.  The Great Wallendas included footprints on a tightrope, and Meadowlark Lemon’s footprints were inside of a basketball hoop.  The one that tickled me the most was the barefoot prints of Myron Floren.  Do you suppose he practiced his accordion barefoot before appearing with Lawrence Welk?? 


After doing my shopping, I headed for the Hjemkomst Center.  (pronounced yem-komst… Norwegian for homecoming) Note the unusual white portion of the building.  It was constructed specifically to house the Hjemkomst Viking ship to preserve it after its journey to Bergen, Norway.


Inside the center was a beautiful mosaic tile collage that I’m afraid I didn’t do justice to with this photo. It depicted memorable moments in the history of the Fargo-Moorhead area with the important Red River coursing through it.

73 Tamarac NWR, 20134There are two major attractions in the center.  The first is the Hjemkomst.  Robert Asp built the Hjemkomst in a former potato warehouse in Hawley, MN, beginning in 1972.  In the summer of 1980, Robert Asp sailed his ship on Lake Superior.  He died of leukemia in December of that year.  In the summer of 1982, Robert Asp’s family and friends sailed the Hjemkomst 6,100 miles form Duluth, MN, to Berge, Norway where they arrived on July 19, 1982.  It’s impossible to get a total picture of this Viking ship in the museum as it’s more than 76’ long.  There is a very nice movie that details the story of its building and journey through the Great Lakes and across the Atlantic ocean.  What an accomplishment for a rather ordinary man.  It is a shame that he didn’t get to participate in his dreamed of journey.


The second thing of importance at the center is the Hopperstad Stave Church replica.  Guy Paulson began carving for the church in 1997, but the project took more than 5 years to complete.

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Stave churches were built at the end of the Viking Age in Scandinavia from about 950-1350.  Stave churches combined the native building traditions of the Norse culture and medieval Christian styles.  The church in Moorhead is a full-scale replica of the Hopperstad Church, built circa 1125-1150 in the town of Vik, Norway.  I had to ask what ‘stave’ meant, and was told it means that the structure is built with vertical wood posts.  Huge pine trees were used from the Itasca State Park area for its construction.  The carvings were very intricate and painstakingly done.  Such craftsmanship went into this replica. 

I really enjoyed visiting these few sights in the F-M area today, and would recommend them to fellow travelers.  I’ll leave you tonight with something that brought a chuckle to me in the Hjemkomst Center gift shop.


Some of you may remember when Jack came to visit me about a month or so ago, and we headed out on a couple of journeys to see the ‘World’s Largest’ oddities in the surrounding area.  We visited all three of these Roadside America locations.  Seems there’s a murder mystery series that takes place at these same locations.  Who would have guessed?  If I were a murder mystery fan, I might just read them. 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)

Back in 1966, Chandler Robbins began the North American Breeding Bird Survey.  The results of the BBS are valuable in evaluating the increasing and decreasing range of bird populations which can be a key point to bird conservation.  That first year, there were only 600 official routes mainly starting in Maryland and the surrounding area.  Presently, there are about 3700 active routes throughout the US and Canada.

Each route is exactly 24.5 miles long, and remains the same year after year so population trends can be studied.  The BBS is one of those great citizen scientist projects that birders can get involved in to help insure the continued existence of our avian community.  Cooperators (me) begin the driving route exactly one half hour before sunrise at stop one.  (That’s why I had to get up shortly after 3 a.m. so I could take Emma out, eat breakfast, pack the truck with equipment, and get to the starting point 15 miles away on back roads by exactly 5:01.)

After looking for and listening for all species for precisely three minutes at each stop, you hop back into the truck and drive one half mile down the route and do it all again.  There are fifty stops along each route, and it is expected that you will complete the route in four to five hours before bird song drops off dramatically.  So much for expectations…

It was warm, muggy, and slightly foggy as Rachel and I arrived at the starting point.  Only one person is allowed to identify birds or songs, so Rachel was my official recorder.  I would call out what I was hearing or seeing at each stop, and she would tick the birds off on an official record sheet that is not in any particular order.  It’s not easy to start with.  A couple of readers of this blog have been recorders for me in the past when I did the BBS for 13 years outside of Rochester, MN, so you know of what I speak.


                                                    Egg shell remains of a dug up turtle nest.

We were off to a good start, although moving a bit slower than some routes due to the two track overgrown back roads of the refuge.  Our first major delay came when we were supposed to cross a very narrow bridge over the Otter Tail River.  Upon approach, there were three snapping turtles busy laying eggs in the tracks where there is some open ground.  It’s a popular spot for laying eggs as was evidenced by three other nests that had been gutted by raccoons overnight.  Getting around those turtles and onto the two skinny strips of wood over the river was a real challenge especially when one turtle decided to get up and move under the truck right by the tire!

IMG_3602     One of the pluses of the day was finding this happy Trumpeter Swan family with five signets in tow.

Next up, I was carefully watching the odometer to arrive at exactly the next half mile stop when Rachel hollered bear!  Sure enough, just on my left in a small but deep pond a big male black bear swam across.  He headed for the woods about twenty feet away.  Since our next stop was only ten feet away or so, I told Rachel I was going to shout out my bird sightings to her to be sure the bear knew we were still in the area.  Disappointed smile


We powered through some boggy areas in four wheel drive, and continued on to our next obstacle.  Remember, we had scouted out all of the roads on Saturday, so were really not expecting any problems.


Well, Mother Nature had another surprise in store for us.  We must have really ticked off those beavers that I got pictures of on Saturday, as they decided to put up another dam right on the levy that we had to cross.  In only two days, the result was a flooded road bed close to a foot deep.  No way I was going to try to drive across that.  That meant backtracking, and going the long way around for over ten miles.  That business took us an hour to accomplish on these back roads, which really put us behind.

We managed to finish the whole route, but bird song had surely diminished after the beaver dam fiasco as the temps rose.  I had to remove four stuck on ticks after we finally staggered home.  For the first time in over seven years, I actually took a nap this afternoon.  Getting up at  3:00 took it’s toll.  We had quite an adventure today, but I’m happy it’s done with.


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, June 24, 2013

Some bird nerd trivia

I was up and out early again today to do my atlas-ing of the Booth Lake block.  I don’t just randomly drive around hoping to see birds.  There is some method to this madness.  Nature has a biological clock just like we do.  I’ve pretty much established what birds are present on each of the blocks, but now I have to find proof of their breeding.  The easiest ways to do this is to see a species building a nest, carrying food for young in their beaks, or finding recently fledged young ones.  It all depends on the calendar.


                                                                          Male wood duck.

There are a couple of general rules of thumb.  Just as the larger the bird, the longer its lifespan, the same goes, in general, for the larger the bird, the longer the eggs need to incubated before hatching.  That little chestnut-sided warbler nest we found will only take 12 days or so to produce young.  Eagles, and ducks, and larger birds will take up to or more than a month to hatch.

Then there’s the matter of whether the hatchlings are precocial or altricial.  A precocial bird is capable of moving around on its own soon after hatching.  Altricial means the babies are incapable of moving around on their own soon after hatching and remain in the nest for some time.  Robins, warblers, finches, and blue jays are examples of altricial birds.  On the other hand, loons, ducks, swans, and killdeers are examples of precocial birds.  Those babies are up and walking or swimming within a day or two.  Can you see the connection to Mother Nature’s calendar here?


I don’t even want to talk about the two nasty snapping turtles that I ran into in the early morning light today!  Both of the females were intent upon digging out a hole to lay their eggs in.  Seems the middle of the back road track is the easiest digging.  Confused smile They were each on a mission, and grumpily hissed at me with open jaws!  I gave them a wide berth.

Most little birds have made their nests and are sitting on eggs.  The larger birds started their nests earlier since they’re not so dependent on insects.  So, this week I expected more little fluffy precocial birds, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I confirmed trumpeter swans with signets, and Canada geese, hooded mergansers, and ruffed grouse with fluffy young. 


While on my journey today, I couldn’t ignore the blooming of the smooth wild rose.  There’s a virtual rainbow of wildflowers in bloom right now, and the bees are loving it!

Next week, the little birds should start hatching, so I’ll concentrate on finding adults with food in their beaks for the young ones.  Of course there are always exceptions to the generalities I’ve talked about, but it does help me to focus my attention on ‘nailing’ certain species according to Mother Nature’s calendar.


After checking the weather forecast for the week, it appears that tomorrow should be the best day for doing the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route through the refuge.  That means I have to set my alarm for 3:15 in the morning in order to be at the starting point of the official count exactly a half hour before sunrise.  Uf-duh!  I haven’t been up that early in the morning since the day of my hip surgery almost six months ago. Sad smile


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy