Dragons and Bluebirds

My friend Brad M. hung up the daily grind at the same time I did. He mentioned he was beginning to forget what day of the week it was. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but very close – one thing for sure, I am adapting faster than I thought would happen. Getting stuff checked off my to-do list at a record pace and once the holiday decorating is completed (looks like Hallmark threw up in our living room which is complete with a >12 foot Xmas tree hehehe), I can start researching target birds for our upcoming trip. With that said, I did notice one thing that seemed different – clipped a root and took a nasty impact running the trails the other day. Typically I bounce like Tigger and carry on. I had to collect myself for a minute this time, remember where/who I was and topped it off with a nice bruise after the run. Not liking that aspect at all! On a happier note, I mentioned what a wonderful send-off I had and the video they had made for me. After several attempts to upload to our gallery and help from Ron who converted the video for me (only to have Smugmug convert it back ugh), I finally got it rendered correctly. Thought I would share it with you – absolutely love it – on the other hand, Linda is getting tired of me playing it all the time hehehe.

Guessing you are really here to see wildlife! During the last post I mentioned the House Wren has a tendency to take over bird houses intended for our local Eastern Bluebirds. I try not to play favorites too much beyond my well documented dislike for the Brown-Headed Asshats (link here) and those damn Blue Jays. Whoever gets there first and able to defend it wins the house in my book. Except the Wrens need to start putting down a deposit if they take over my replacement birdhouse as they have proven to be lacking on the upkeep responsibilities.

Eastern Bluebird found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL in April 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of our colorful backyard bird.

Continue reading Dragons and Bluebirds

A Hummer Quandary

Well, our trip to Mayo was successful. Linda checked out fine and we were able to get all of our questions fully answered with positive dispositions so SUCCESS on that front. Now we just need to take some precautions to make sure we didn’t inadvertently get exposed to COVID or any other rare transmittable disease. As Linda was verifying her tests/appointments before we left, she noticed that 1/3 of their total staff across all their medical facilities were sick or quarantined with COVID-19. We followed all protocols so not too concerned, but clearly it has made its rounds through the medical fields. I also thought of two more positives out of the pandemic (planting a lemon tree). First, from personal experience I can inform all married males that it takes roughly 8 months before the “ring dent” disappears. Linda and I have an agreement – I only have to wear my ring when out in public and Linda only has to wear her ring all the time. As our public engagements have been limited, my ring has sat proudly on my dresser for most of the year. Hoping for your wife’s sake that information won’t prove too useful. Secondly, if you happen to go into a cold environment (like Minnesota), my preferred mask, the gator, provides a nice extra bit of warmth to the neck and face. Now to take a sip from my glass of lemonade. Okay, now for a call for help from all my birder friends.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

What we have here is a Hummingbird. That is the part of the identification I am absolutely sure about. No question about it, tiny bird, long pointy bill and often located near containers full of sugar water. It gets increasingly harder from there. Now, when it comes to Hummers, you can usually start eliminating a number of the species based on region alone.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Hit the jump for my super-useful Illinois Hummer identification algorithm and see my plea for help! Continue reading A Hummer Quandary

Three Shades of Brown

Curses to you short months!!   Here I was thinking I had plenty of time to address my shortfall with the self-imposed monthly post quota.  Then I look at the calendar to assess the maximum amount of procrastination that could be factored in and then I see it.  Actually, more like DIDN’T see the assumed extra day.  Instead, just an outlined box with the number 1 in it.  Staring at me, taunting me, farting in my general “dee-rection” (in my finest French accent).  As luck would have it, I have some time to address this issue thanks to heading up to Mayo for Linda’s first annual checkup.  Oh, and any talk about purposely delaying this post until we were on the road so I wouldn’t have to drive is assuredly false (as far as you know).   Okay, let’s see what today’s featured feathered friend is going to be.

House Wren found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL. June 2019

Unlike the last couple of posts, we are short on color today.  We basically have our lighter brown, our brown and wait for it .. our darker brown.  If this species is unfamiliar to you, you might be tempted to tally it up as just another brown jobber.  Normally that would be a safe bet, however, our little bird is not from the Sparrow, rather the Wren family.  Oddly enough, this is one of the few times you will see them pictured where their tails are not positioned above the body line.  In fact, even the next shot has its tail shifted down – bonus!

House Wren found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL. June 2019

Hit the jump to read more about this drab bird.

Continue reading Three Shades of Brown

Wax Now Out

Okay, I’ve decided to try and look on the bright side of this pandemic crap.  Now that I am unofficially officially retired.  I’ve decided to try out a bit of optimism.  Not that I consider myself a pessimist by any means – more of a realist.  Sometimes when things are brown and ugly.. you gotta call it crap, pure and simple.  Covid-19 is crap, no way around it – but it has made one American tradition a LOT more civilized.  Yes, I am talking about Black Friday.  The annual day where capitalism and frugality duke it out at the cost of all human decency and altruism.  Admittedly, as a person who truly enjoys studying behaviors both in society and out in the wild, Black Friday nationwide petri dish treasure trove. Pick some strategic locations (number 1 being Home Depot as they pass out donuts and drinks to those standing in their line) and then stay up all night until 4am and rush out to stand in line while your wife hangs out in the car or RV at the back of the lot.  Breakfast, a show and if there happens to be some really good item I don’t have to lose my humanity for, then bonus.  I’ve seen it all, screaming matches, toy tug-o-war, adult fights, adults getting trampled, kids getting trampled, trips, falls, my wife walking briskly up to me with a hot sale item in her hand telling me we have to head for the checkouts immediately … will leave that story right there ha.  All good blog fodder for the other flagship Intrigued blog.  Not sure what the standard behavior is other countries – just assumed this is just a US stigma.  Regardless – the pandemic has accelerated a new era for Black Friday – one more focused on sitting in your most comfortable living room chair and dancing down the aisles with a mouse and keyboard.  I suspect that the emergency room visits outside of Covid cases plummeted this season as a result – maybe some carpal tunnel or extra eye strain cases, but those shouldn’t take up precious ER beds.  So there you have it – the pandemic has brought more civility to the US – who would have guessed that could have happened.  Then there is the benefit of successfully ending the concept of hugs which I’m all for!!! Yikes, my intro got away from me today.  The good news is the animal wildlife part (not the above wild human part) is more of a picture than a word post.  You might recognize today’s featured feathered friend.

Cedar Waxwing found in Wisconsin in July 2013

No, your browser cache is not acting up and bringing in images from the last post.  Over the past 13+ years, this might be the first time I’ve featured the exact same bird species in back to back posts.  I try to be a bit more creative for my readers.  However, in this special case, I wanted to follow-up on a missing element from the last post.

Cedar Waxwing found in Wisconsin in July 2013

Hit the jump for an explanation of the deja-vu

Continue reading Wax Now Out

Wax Not Out

Well folks, I have officially unofficially entered in a new phase of my life as of 4:00pm today. I say unofficially in the sense I am still employed, but on permanent vacation until February 1st of 2021 until it becomes technically official. So I still have my work computer and will still help my colleagues out if they come calling in an emergency – I do not expect that to really happen as I’ve been training my replacement since May and he along with the rest of my coworkers are plenty capable of dealing with the day to day decisions that come with the job. That means yours truly has a lot more time on his hands for those tasks that have been neglected over the years – not to mention a honey-do list that was apparently started from what I can tell at least 5 years ago. She was nice enough not to hand the ream of paper into about 4:03pm ha. No worries, I promise to find some time to get my posts out. I had intended to give you a link to a gift I was given during my work send-off happy hour. After about 2 hours of fighting to get it to properly process on Smugmug I had to give up (hey, I’m on tight retirement schedule!). Anyway, it was a personal retirement goodbye from a Mr. James Faulkner or should I say Randyll Tarley from Game of Thrones. As someone who happens to be a big fan of GoT, I have to admit.. that was awesome. In fact, the entire celebration was wonderful – The memories – they highlighted the funny and embarrassing ones of course – and seeing everyone’s faces was truly overwhelming. As I had predicted in a previous post..incredibly emotional. Told my wife afterwards I had to retire now as I couldn’t possibly go through that again. We’ll see how life after work goes. For now, let’s get this kicked off on the right foot and get straight to our featured feathered friend of the day.

Cedar Waxwing found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL in June 2017

Thought I’d bring you a bit of color in celebration of the day. It has been pretty miserable around here weather-wise as of late with cold winds, a dusting of snow and pretty much 3 days of overcast and rain so far – probably all the tears I was trying to hold back during the celebration. For those not familiar with our brightly feathered friend, it is a Cedar Waxwing. One of the few really colorful birds that hang around in our region through the cold seasons. We do have the Northern Cardinal and that ass of a bird the Blue Jay which definitely add color to the dreary winter backdrop where the other brightly feathered birds like the American Goldfinch put on their dull coats for the chilly season.

Cedar Waxwing found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL in June 2017

Hit the jump to learn a bit more about our smartly colorful friend!

Continue reading Wax Not Out

A Family Goodbye

Hello from isolation state! Looks like my broke state of Illinois is heading for another lockdown starting this Friday. One day after my planned official goodbye to my “corporate” family. Due to the pandemic precautions, we have been required to work at home since March and it looks like that requirement will remain in effect until at least April of next year. I would not be surprised if that gets extended. Truthfully, my IT organization has limited impacts to remote working as we are typically engaged in projects that span to all parts of our enterprise covering all parts of the world. I’ve had the pleasure/inconvenience (pick your viewpoint) of conversing with team members in Asia/India at 10pm, then working with our European members the next morning followed by our North/South American colleagues throughout the day. It has been a wonderful career allowing me to engage with some of the brightest minds across the globe, be introduced to new viewpoints and certainly learn to broaden my own perspectives as a result. The work deliverables I think will be easy to let go – I’ve mentioned before that working on high profile projects (some in the multi-billion dollar range) can take its toll. What I will definitely miss are the relationships. Some I have enjoyed for the entirety of my 31+ years and many others developed over that continuum. I remember the retirement gatherings I used to attend during my early career days listening to the guest of honor refer to his coworkers as family and thinking that was odd. Now I know exactly what they meant and I know exactly how they felt as they said their goodbyes. All the pressures I’ve encountered during my years at work are probably going to pale to how much stress there will be tomorrow trying to keep my composure in front of a computer camera. A virtual goodbye probably has a reduced emotion compared to directly shaking the hand and thanking them for all the advice, all the mentoring and for being an invaluable sounding board that directly lead to my successes. Hoping one day I can take the time to do that once this pandemic crap is past us although clearly it will be more difficult say goodbye in person to my international colleagues. Many of them would travel to the US for our architecture summits I coordinated so we could at least meet face to face once a year – and that, of course, was canceled in this my farewell year.

We will see how this goes tomorrow, but all this talk of family led to today’s featured topic.

Canada Goose and Goslings found at Kaufman Lake in Champaign, IL in April 2018

Although clearly on a different level, it seemed appropriate to bring you a series on a bird family. Now, I have brought you pictures of little goslings before (link here), but they are just so damn cute I can’t stop taking pictures of them. I am not a good judge of age when it comes to birds – not like they come with birth certificates or anything of the such. What I can tell is relative age groupings from the early chicks/goslings seen here, to the more juvi state as they start taking on more of their adult feathering and then finally adulthood.

Canada Goose and Goslings found at Kaufman Lake in Champaign, IL in April 2018

Hit the jump to read more about our family of Canada Geese.

Continue reading A Family Goodbye

Life Through Rose Colored Feathers

Greetings all! My apologies as it has been awhile since my last real post. I actually thought things would calm down after the stress of Halloween had finally passed, but alas, was not meant to be. I formally announced recently, but for those who missed it, I have finally decided to put the official cap on a relatively long career. Fortunately, still young in physical age – after 31.5 years in IT the mental strain is what starts to chip away at you. A mere 8 more mornings of getting up early, grabbing a bite to eat and opening the ol’ laptop for a day spent in the mesmerizing glow of a large international corporation. At this point, not sure who is more excited, me or my wife who will finally get to start enjoying here retirement which officially began at the beginning of the year.

Actually, the most excited should be you! This means more time in the field, more time to observe life and best of all, more time to spend “relaxing” in front of the keyboard producing posts. Trust me, there are times when I have spent 10+ hours on the work laptop and then had to come home and will myself to sit in front of another computer for more hours. Don’t get me wrong, this is a labor of love — there is just a limit to how many words one can produce on any given day. I can tell when this happens in my final post read-thrus – some can get overly cranky and guessing these days, none of us need more of that in our lives. Bear with me a few more weeks and we’ll get this blog thingy running smoothly. Until then, how about we take a look at Mrs. Grosbeak.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak found on Brimfield Lot in May 2018

Our little lady comes to us from my backyard one rainy day in May 2018. Oh, that reminds me. The other big plus with the retirement plans – hoping to get caught up on my photo queue and start bringing you much fresher posts! (should probably stress the word “hoping” there – Linda’s honey-do list is currently longer than Santa’s naughty list.). Our specimen was hanging out in the drizzle keeping watch for any young males that might come strutting by. The Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks will show up here in late spring early summer timeframe and hang around for a month or so before they just seem to disappear.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak found on Brimfield Lot in May 2018

Hit the jump to read a bit more about our local Rosies. Continue reading Life Through Rose Colored Feathers

What’s Better than One Flaming Pumpkin

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!

Happy Halloween 2020

My favorite holiday has arrived. Following the tradition from last year (carried over from our Haunted Trail feature introduced by my partner in haunt Paul several years back… it was time to slice into some pumpkin and grab the kerosene. Except this year we amped it up a bit because if there is one thing better than one flaming pumpkin.. .well, clearly it is TWO flaming pumpkins. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate the increased light would bring out the creatures of the night. Happy haunting, see you in November.

Have You Some Grey Poupon?

It has been a fun, but admittedly long weekend. Our trip to Wisconsin for the agility dog show is now officially in the books and we’re back home – just in time for me to get a quick 7 miles banged out in rather cold damp conditions. This morning Wisconsin managed to give us our first snow experience of the coming winter – mid-October! Last year it snowed here on Halloween so the white stuff keeps pushing west on the calendar every year. The good news is Raven rocked it at the dog show going 5 for 5 on Saturday and then earning his second level Teacup Agility Champion certification this morning. Proud of the little guy … and Mom of course. To close out the weekend post-a-palooza, decided to feature another find at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.

Northern Pintail found at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge in November 2017

At the same time I was trying to get shots of the Horned (or Slavonian if you hail from the other side of the pond) Grebe back in November 2017, Mr. Pintail decided to drop in and rest the wings a bit. Of all the ducks we have the privilege of being able to experience in our area, the Northern Pintail has to be tops when it comes to elegance. Clean crisp lines, stylish feather palette and a posture that eludes “Sorry sir would you happen to have some Grey Poupon?”.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of our stylish visitor.

Continue reading Have You Some Grey Poupon?

Recollection: You Call Yourself a Birder?

Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman

I’ve been staring at a book by Kenn Kaufman that has been laying on my desk for several months now.  Having read it in a couple of marathon sessions it was simply waiting for me to get around to posting a recollection of it.  There it sat, begging night after night for some time to meet the world.  Problem is, these recollection posts take a significant amount of time to a) to capture what I thought about it, b) review various pages to remind myself of compelling takeaways, c) do some research to personalize the takeaways and then d) get it all down in black in white.  Thanks to the first official day of the Wisconsin dog show, the procrastination has come to an end.  Today’s post is about a body of work on a famous birder.  Kenn published his book, Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life  of an Extreme Birder, back in 1997 (2006 for my paperback copy) covering his endeavor to complete a Big Year back in 1973.  Tops of my list of birding related reading is Neil Hayward’s Lost Among the Birds (link here).  That book is an incredible read focused on the emotional healing that birding can bring.  Kingbird is now solidly anchored in the number 2 position. Like Hayward’s, I found myself unable to put the book down.  I’d pick it up for a quick nitecap and next thing I know I’m looking at very small numbers on the clock.  If I remember correctly, Ron had the exact same opinion when I originally bought him this book – he liked it so much he ended up having a copy sent to me.  After I turned the last page I said to myself “I’m not a birder!”.  Kenn sets an entirely different standard, embarking on his Big Year when he was 16 years old.  His mode of transportation – standing on the side of the road with his thumb out.  69,000 miles later he had tallied up 666 birds – three short of Floyd Murdoch, but they didn’t count his + 5 from the Baja’s which would have put him over. The stunner in all of this… the amount of money that he spent in this mission.  $50K?,  $100K?, hell $200K doesn’t sound out of reason based on all the criss-crossing you have to do across North America to even have a chance of getting the needed level of checks.  In truth, Kenn spent a staggering $1K – that is travel and living expenses for the entire year – with nearly half of that in two flights in Alaska.  Getting by on less than a dollar a day.  That my friends is an individual that can stand in front of anyone past and present and claim they are a birder.  One that is willing to eat dry cat food for sustenance and endured several run ins with police who didn’t appreciate his mode of transportation and/or his road weary look and even fended off a knife wielding mugger trying to get his cat food.  A different time for sure.  These days, traveling by thumb to see birds has a good chance of you ending up being circled by Vultures.  I did find myself asking what kind of parents he had that was okay with him dropping out of high school and heading off on a solo adventure to every coastline and everywhere in between.  He did thank them at the end of the book stating how grateful he was for them having the faith to let him follow his dream.

Kenn is a tall oak in the birding field and a regular contributor in our primary birding magazines.  Birder’s World refers to Kenn as “the person who knows more about bird identification than almost anyone on the planet”.  He didn’t get there by burying his nose in books – instead, he put himself out there and gained his knowledge the old fashioned way – experiencing it.  Do you enjoy birding, maybe even thinking about a big year yourself ?- grab a copy of this book – guarantee you will have problems putting it down, eagerly turning page after page to learn how Kenn was able to get another check on the list.

If you can’t wait to get your own copy, hit the jump to see a few of my takeaways.

Continue reading Recollection: You Call Yourself a Birder?